Last night on Sky 1 they showed the first two episodes of the Battlestar Galactica prequel series Caprica. I can’t say I was all that impressed, though it is still early days yet, but the show seemed to lack any of the immediacy or tension that the parent show had by the bucket load. Choosing to set the show in a time of peace and having it focus so heavily on the deeply personal loss of two families just seems a rather odd choice to me given the planet spanning, humanity wide issues at stake in the original. That said however it did raise a number of topics that I feel would be more at home on this blog than on a Battlestar Galactica forum, namely the issues of monotheism vs polytheism and the idea of life after death by way of technology. Here are a couple of things the show got me thinking about.
Monotheism vs Polytheism
One of the central themes of the show so far seems to be monotheism vs polytheism. The world(s) of Caprica are generally polytheistic, based loosely around the Greek Olympic gods, with the various planets having patron gods as well as specific gods governing specific aspects of life. There is however a growing sect, apparently popular amongst the young, of monotheistic believes who are portrayed as an interesting mix of wide-eyed youths seeking a more meaningful life, fundamentalist purity police and religious terrorists. So far this group is definitely being portrayed as the bad guys, an idea that was summed up nicely when one character stated his fear of anyone who followed the commands of one all powerful god who was always right and could never be questioned. This got me thinking.
Does monotheism, with its idea of a single, all-powerful, all-knowing god who can not be questioned, lead more naturally to violent and negative outcomes, as portrayed in the series, than does polytheism, with it’s multiple much more human like gods each with their own foibles and eccentricities?
Leaving atheism completely out of the equation does monotheism or polytheism, and the various things these belief systems entail, more accurately reflect the reality of the world around us? And, given the answer to this question, does this help to explain the rise of monotheism over the last few centuries?
Life After Death
Maybe the more interesting idea raised by the show was that of life after death by way of technology. The question was raised that if it were possible to somehow create a synthetic copy of yourself, completely with all of your memories, emotions, points of view etc, would that be you? What if this copy was somehow kept completely up to date so that, should you die suddenly, there would be a continuation of what makes you “you’, would you have survived your own death? My feeling on this is that, no, it would not be you but rather a copy of you, as I can’t help but think that what makes you “you’ is more than just your memories etc. However if does raise an interesting thought experiment, an answer to which I am still not sure of.
Imagine you have a car that you love.
Over the years variously things go wrong with this car. It gets a flat tire, so you change it. A head light blows, so you change it. The engine conks out, so you change it. But you still think of it as your car, and more importantly as the same car. Over the many years you have it you end up changing every single part of the car so that the car you have now has not a single original part found on the car when you first bought it. And yet again you no doubt still think of it as the same car.
Now apply this to yourself.
We all know the story that every cell in your body is replaced over a 7 year period. Now while this isn’t exactly true let’s run with it and take it a bit further. Imagine a point in the future where you can do to yourself what you did to that car. When your kidneys start to go you just replace them with synthetic ones. Same for your liver, then your lungs and heart. Eventually you replace all of your internal organs, save your brain, with synthetic ones. Then you start on your bones, your muscles, your nerves etc. Bit by bit you replace every part of your body but in such a way that there is always a continuation of “you”. Finally just your brain is left of your original body, but now you start upgrading this as well. You replace your motor cortex with a synthetic one that works better with your synthetic body. You change out your visual cortex to get better use out of your new eyes. Bit by bit you change every part of your brain until one day you swap out the last natural part of you and become a fully synthetic human.
Ultimately is this any different from creating a fully synthetic copy of yourself and just transferring your memories across? The end result is the same. All the biological aspects that made up your body no longer exist and yet there has been a continuity of your memories, thoughts etc. Does it make a difference that the change takes place gradually rather than all at once? Once your body is fully synthetic can it actually be said that “you” are still alive? Assuming this process of replacing broken parts could go on indefinitely would this mean you have cheated death, or did you die years ago and something else now exists in your place?
Some things for you to chew over. I look forward to reading your thoughts on these issues.