Your Digital Afterlives

Computational Theories of Life after Death

All will agree that computers have radically changed our ways of living - but they have also changed our ways of thinking. One of the more surprising consequences of the computer revolution is that our digital technologies have provided us with new and more naturalistic ways of thinking about old religious topics. Digitalism is a philosophical strategy that uses these new computational ways of thinking to develop naturalistic but meaningful approaches to religious problems involving minds, souls, life after death, and the divine.

Older writers talked about minds as if they were magical immaterial substances. Digitalists reject that mystification in favor of computational clarity: the mind is the part of the body that computes - your mind is a biochemical computer. Older writers conceived of the soul as the form of the body. But digitalists think of this form computationally: the soul is the body-program. Although persons are entirely material machines, this materialism does not entail mortality. On the contrary, the very fact that you are a material machine serves as the major premise in a series of naturalistic conceptions of life after death. Since life is a purely informational process, it can be copied, it can be enhanced.

The concept of the afterlife is central to most theistic religions. The Abrahamic faiths make the afterlife concrete by talking about the resurrection of the body. And yet they lack the resources to describe the resurrection scientifically. But digitalists have developed ways to think with scientific clarity about resurrection. One of these ways is known as uploading - your body will be digitally replicated in some computerized environment. Another one of these ways is known as promotion. Perhaps we are already living in a computer simulation. Our universe is just a software process running on some higher level computer. After you die, the engineers who are running our universe will recreate your body in their higher level universe. Perhaps simulations are nested endlessly within simulations. If so, then you might be resurrected over and over again, through many levels of biological excellence. Your new bodies and lives will be increasingly perfect. Within a system of nested simulations, the old theistic God is modeled as an infinite computer.

Digitalism uses the old arguments for God to new ends. Some of the old cosmological arguments worked their way downwards to an ultimate necessary ground of the physicality of our universe. The digitalized version of that cosmological argument interprets that ground as a foundational computing machine, as the ultimate hardware substrate on which our universe runs as a software process. The old design argument, at the cosmic level, states that some intelligence is involved in the production of our universe. For digitalists, this intelligence belongs to the great computer on which our universe runs. Digitalism says the designer-creator is just a Great Computer. It is benevolent, intelligent, and powerful; but it is not personal - it is merely a mathematical machine.

Of course, digitalists recognize that the old theistic arguments lead to regressions: if the Great Computer made our universe, then what made the Great Computer? The answer comes from the insight that intelligent machines are capable of recursive self-improvement. The digitized cosmological and design arguments generate regressions that run back to some minimally perfect deity. This deity is the simplest computer able to simulate an initial simplistic universe. But this initial deity is also able to design and create successor versions of itself. Each successor deity is more benevolent, intelligent, and powerful. Consequently, it designs and creates a universe that is better for intelligent life. These first generation successors design and create second generation successors, which create third generation successors, and so it goes. All these arguments, when fully worked out, entail an endlessly ramified tree of ever more perfect gods. These are the digital gods, and the tree of ever greater digital gods supports a tree of ever better universes. Well-known mathematical techniques show how to extend this divine tree into the transfinite.

Since the computational interpretation of old theistic arguments produces an endless hierarchy of gods, it is highly unorthodox. Remarkably, this digital polytheism finds more than a little support in recent philosophy of religion. And it has plenty of theologically attractive features to advertise. First, and probably foremost, digital polytheism is a type of purely natural theology. It begins with manifest evidence, which it interprets using the ideas and techniques of the formal sciences. Since is has no prior allegiance to any revelation, it can follow the arguments where they lead. It rejects all mysteries in favor of mathematical clarity. Second, by thinking of universes as software processes running on divine computational substrates, digital polytheism avoids old problems with the god-universe relation. Third, for digital polytheists, concepts like simplicity and infinity take their meanings from the formal sciences. Digital polytheists are therefore able to offer scientifically meaningful analyses of divine simplicity and infinity. Fourth, since every digital god is surpassed by infinitely many greater gods, digital polytheism avoids problems with the concept of an unsurpassable god. Thus digital polytheism avoids at least the logical problem of evil. Every god does the best it can do; but it cannot be faulted for not having done better; it would do better if it could. And every god is surpassed by more perfect gods who amplify the positive potentials of all created things.

On the basis of the endless ramification of ever more perfect gods, who design and create ever better universes, digitalism argues for the revision theory of rebirth (the RTR). The RTR says that your eartly life is the root of an endlessly ramified tree of ever better lives. Your earthly life is followed by a plurality of better lives. For any negativity that you suffer in your earthly life, you have a better life that does not suffer from that negativity. And yet your better lives may still suffer from some negativities of their own. Some of their positive potentials may be unrealized. Hence your better lives have better lives of their own. They too will be revised. From revision to revision, your better lives grow more and more excellent. All their positive potentials are eventually realized. They approach and achieve infinite excellence. But not alone: each of your better lives takes its place in improved version of our society. And the RTR is not restricted to humans. On the contrary, it entails the perpetual progress of all living things - your better lives will inhabit improved versions of our earthly ecosystem, in improved versions of our universe.

All your future better lives are biological processes - they are the lives of ever better human machines. The RTR posits four types of better bodies. The first type includes all optimized bodies. Every organ of an optimized body is as good at its jobs as any human organ can be. Your optimized bodies are as smart, strong, fast, and healthy as humans can be. The second type includes all idealized bodies. Every organ of an idealized body is as good at its jobs as any carbon-based organ can be. Your idealized bodies are as smart, strong, fast, and healthy as any carbon-based organisms can be. The third type includes all extended bodies. There are many generations of extended bodies. The bodies in the next generation are always twice as excellent as those in the previous generation. These bodies have metabolisms that generate twice as much energy twice as efficiently; muscles twice as fast and strong; bones twice as hard to break; eyes that see twice the detail; hands with twice the speed and dexterity; brains with twice the computational power. The endless doubling of extended bodies leads to the infinite. The fourth type of better human bodies includes all infinite bodies. These bodies are infinitely complex, precise and powerful. An infinite body has infinitely powerful organs - it has eyes with infinite visual acuity; a brain with infinite computational power; hands with infinite dexterity.

Digitalism affirms perpetual self-transcendence. All things, from bacteria through humans to gods, are endlessly self-surpassing. Here digitalism has affinities with certain strands of process theology. But this self-transcendence has no final destination. And, through the careful use of formal ideas, this philosophy of perpetual self-transcendence is naturalistic. Of course, this naturalism is the naturalism of information and computation, not the naturalism of matter and energy. Hence the digitalism, worked out as the revision theory of resurrection, is a positive naturalistic theory of life after death. Digitalism entails a positive naturalistic eschatology and a positive naturalistic soteriology. It is an optimistic naturalism. Digitalism is a philosophy of ever greater hope, of absolute affirmation.