Aug 102012

Continuing from the previous post on mental plasticity. Warning – spoilers for Total Recall and major spoilers for Diaspora.


Value drift is the term for the incremental changes that occur to people as they go through life that slowly turn them into different persons.

It has been said that value drift is akin to dying. The personality transplant is a common example. Total Recall is a cheesy movie, but it is fun, and it serves as a fine example. Quaid hates Hauser, and works against his interests. They are very much two different people who happened to both inhabit the same body at different times. What does it matter if the personality change happens over a period of minutes, or a period of decades? Either way the first individual is effectively dead, and has been replaced by the second. Why should I strive for immortality if I am destined to fade away anyway, if my labor is for the benefit of some individual I may hate? Thus the argument for preservation of values.

I disagree. Life is a process of change, it cannot be static. A static body is a dead body, and a static mind is a barren mind. In Greg Egan’s “Diaspora”  the protagonists search for a civilization of ancient trans-dimensional spacefarers. They eventually find their legacy – a structure of such immensity it’s difficult to describe*. In a single dimension it is the size of a planet, but it spans uncountable dimensions, a total mass so great it would collapse into a super-massive black hole should all that matter be gathered in a single dimension. It is composed of memory diamond, and is hypothesized to store the complete mental run states of every person in the civilization across their entire existence. Everything everyone has ever thought in every second, preserved eternally in a solid state. And they even shaped it to physically resemble a typical member of their species.

That is true static perfection. To win against value drift one needs only to create such a statue of themselves, preserving their entire existence across time in an indestructible physical form. Never will they change.

One may argue that this is not life, this does not accurately capture their values, because one thing they value is to interact with reality. I’ll pick this up and continue with it in the next post in this series.


* This is from memory, I don’t have the book in front of me, so my details may be off.

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