on not cloning myself
November 20, 2013
My vacation reading was Iain M. Banks’ The Hydrogen Sonata, another wonderful fun read in the Culture universe, though a bit melancholy: the story revolves around an entire civilization moving on to a new plane of existence, and I kept overlaying that with knowledge of Banks passing away earlier this year, and the whole thing took on the feeling of a long farewell, which made me very sad. But still a great book.
One of the sub-themes/plots is about what happens when people back up their minds and then transmit/manifest versions of themselves in artificial bodies in order to travel more quickly to different parts of the galaxy and so on, a process that it turns out is relatively simple and common in the Culture (note: this is a vast oversimplification of the whole thing. Read the book to learn more!). Existential questions arise: is your copy still you? When your copy goes out and has a bunch of experiences, it returns and reintegrates those experiences into your original self, but then you have two sets of experiences/memories for the same period of time — is one of those more “real”? Does it matter? If we are made up of experiences, doesn’t that copy somehow become its own person after enough time and experiences have passed? Good meaty stuff here.
So, I had this thought, of how lovely it would be if I could make copies of myself so I could write all these things I want to write: the next Kitty book, the Voices of Dragons sequel, the subversive epic fantasy, the screenplay, and so on and so on. A different copy of me to write each of them! But then I realized — no, I don’t think having multiple versions of myself to write things would work at all. Because those clones would, eventually, be different than me, and the books they would write would not be the books I would write. What we write is made up of our experiences, and those experiences include everything I learn and think and gather up as I’m writing each book. The next Kitty book written by the me who has written the Golden Age books and the YA space opera and all that would be different than one written by a hypothetical me who had not written those other books. I really want all the books I write to be my books, and I want the experience of writing each thing to contribute to the writing of the next thing. I want the cumulative benefit of writing all those books! Even if it takes more time than I would like.
So, on that note, I wouldn’t mind taking part in some of the Culture’s life-extending technologies…