Stellaris 1

Materialists and Spiritualists have the Wrong Views on Synthetic Ascension.

stellaris 7 - Materialists and Spiritualists have the Wrong Views on Synthetic Ascension.

I think the views of materialists and spiritualists on synthetic ascension are reversed.

This may sound crazy, but hopefully, I can convince you that it's at most only a little crazy.

First, we must clarify what materialist and spiritualist actually mean.

From my knowledge, materialists believe that everything in reality can be explained through observation of reality itself; there is nothing that is caused by something that is outside or "beyond" reality. Spiritualists believe that there are things that can't be explained through observation; they are caused by forces beyond reality (the Shroud) which can never be understood, no matter how much the naive materialists may try to observe them.

Concerning consciousness, materialists would believe that, since all things are caused by processes within reality, consciousness too is caused by real processes: chemical and physical reactions. Spiritualists would believe that consciousness is caused by souls, not chemical reactions.

Before getting into the main discussion, I want to emphasise I am talking specifically about synthetic ascension – transformation of organics into synths – not entirely artificial synths which were never organic creatures. In terms of wholly artificial synths, the ethics' views make sense; materialists would have no reason to believe a machine of meat and hormones can be conscious whereas a machine of transistors and current cannot, whereas spiritualists would find abhorrent the very notion of a soulless consciousness.

Now that we have established our axioms, let us discuss synthetic ascension. In-game, materialists are in favour of it whereas spiritualists are against it. I think this is the wrong way around.


Materialists should be against the idea of "transferring their consciousness" to a machine. Not because they believe machines can't be conscious, but because they believe consciousness is caused by chemical and physical processes. This premise leads naturally to the realisation that an individual's consciousness can only exist within their own brain. After all, where else would these chemical reactions occur? If an individual's consciousness is confined to their brain, then the idea of "transferring consciousness" makes no sense. There is no way to "transfer" a process that is occurring within a certain location. Of course, it is possible to replicate that process in another location, perhaps even perfectly, but it is not the "same" process. Even if a computer could perfectly replicate the exact neuron firings and hormone movements that occur within my brain, there is no reason why I would suddenly "be" that computer – the computer would now be a separate consciousness exactly like myself, but still separate. And to prove this, one needs only to turn on the computer. The chemical reactions in one's own brain will continue, continuing one's own consciousness, making it evident that the now active computer's consciousness has nothing to do with one's own.

Realistically, materialists would do everything possible to preserve their organic bodies, as those are the only containers in which their conscious minds exist. The destruction of one's organic body would mean an irreversible end to one's consciousness. Genetic upgrades, artificial organs, and even replacement of some parts of the brain with machines are all on a materialist's bucket list – but "transferring" consciousness would be a concept unimaginable.

Spiritualists, on the other hand, would be all too eager to "transfer" their consciousness to a machine. After all, their consciousness exists in the form of an immortal soul – indivisible, immutable, and indestructible. As long as an embodiment exists for their soul to inhabit, their consciousness will continue in reality. It wouldn't matter what form this embodiment has; organic or synthetic, it would still house the same soul, and with the same soul, the same consciousness. As such, spiritualists would have no reason to stick to fragile organic bodies – as long as the soul is transferred to any new embodiment (however that would work), the preservation of their consciousness would be ensured.

In summary, materialists would never attempt to transfer their consciousness to a machine, as such a thing is impossible, whereas spiritualists would have no qualms with doing so, as their soul would protect them.

Do you think I'm crazy? I've been thinking about this for a while. Let me know what you think.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    A person
    Apr 27, 2021 6:09 pm

    It all depends on how its done and the specifics of how each group beleives.

    If you ‘Theseus Ship’ a brain, replacing it a bit at a time, your cognition should be essentially uninterrupted, and you wouldn’t know any different. As a continuous process, it would be a gradual change from electro-chemical to pure electrical. It also wouldn’t change the materialist perception of what happens after death, as compared to the spiritualists.

    If you look at the spiritualists, and if you think how many spiritual groups are in human societies, it may be a way for ‘the soul’ to continue, but assuming they believed that a robotic body could even contain one, they could likely view it as something deeply unnatural. It would be a people keeping their souls in robotic bodies for all eternity rather than going to whatever afterlife their people believed in. If they don’t believe that they could transfer their souls in that way, it just consists of an entire people essentially committing suicide, with whatever theological implications that would bring in a given society.

    On the whole, Stellaris has it right. There may be sub-groups which disagree, but as a generalization (which is all we can really get with the ethics system we have), its the overall picture.

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