Will We Have Multiple “Selves” in the future?


The concept of the self has always fascinated me. What is it that defines you or I? What is that, which can be said applies to all of us, but is unique to each of us, and is qualifying to describe any of us as a self?

The book Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card turned me onto the concept of controlling more than just your body with your mind. We made drone warfare a reality. Also through video games and mind-filing we’ve extended and enhanced our “realm of self” to include engaging activities and environments that do not utilize our physical body.

The future will have a vastly different conception of self than the past or even the present. The inevitable future self will extend far beyond our current physical limitations and include out-of-body experiences, both spiritual and technological hard to fathom given our current abilities.

In the film, Surrogates, starring Bruce Willis, life is no longer lived peronally but through remote control of androids acting as extensions of the self.  This allows one the choice of what self we want to be? What self does one want to be today? Indirectly portrayed in this movie is the question: What if you chose to have a plural self?

How will this evolve?  People will initially think that life is just fine with only one of self, but then they’ll discover advantages to plural selves. For example, it will allow people to look deeper inside their selves by experiencing first hand from other perspectives their own actions. Eventually, people won’t find themselves complete as only one individual.

If you simultaneously occupied and controlled multiple bodies, you could exist as both man and woman at the same time. You could therefore masturbate through traditional intercourse. The boundaries of gender and sexuality would fall instantly as it would be impossible to tell what is in the mind of any body.

Will we solely interact with our own “selves”? There’s a great threat of that, especially as many already have a diminishing desire to interact with others. At first it will be a novelty, but then most of us will truly desire to interact with others. I believe people will thrive in a diversity of perceptions. Diversity of thought is as important as diversity of genes in survival.

Assuming we can agree on what the self is, and that it can be duplicated; if you’re not sharing all the same data in real time, just from the nature of being in two different positions, the beings will evolve differently. Two perceptions of the same incident can be radically different when observed from different perspectives or contexts.

Identical twins raised in the same environment develop individual traits. It seems necessary that for the extension of self to include plural dimensions there has to be a capacity for the simultaneous processing of multiple inputs.

We do this already with multiple senses. If trained, perhaps each section of the brain that focuses on a certain sense could then be trained to focus or interact with a remote self. Are we mentally capable of operating two people at the same time?  The biggest question is, is the mind ready to take in that much info. (Remember what happened to 7of9 when she tried assimilating all of Voyager’s records through a Borg data module?)

Multi-tasking has become not just commonplace, but an expectation. Many of the tasks we perform require little focus, our bodily functions are largely autonomous anyways, or can be trained that way. While asleep your mind can be incredibly active. It is conceivable that you could operate another self while you are asleep, in some form of lucid state. It is possible to operate another being when we’re doing activities that put our mind on “autopilot.” I daydream frequently… oops there I’ve done it again.

Scientists or hobbyist might choose to do this first. You could be your own pet, exist as a falcon or a whale, a fantastcal conception, a spider, or even experience plant life. The possibilities for observation, and entertainment are endless. The first realizations of this will likely be simple creations, like remote control vacuuming or lawn mowing.

Commercial applications might first appear in the airline industry. What if the pilot and crew were all one person? There are a number of cases of pilots getting drunk or falling asleep and overshooting destinations due to boredom from idle time in the cockpit. Today, pilots take off and land the planes, but the rest of the time the plane is on autopilot. The flight staff secures the cabin and alerts the captain they are ready for ascent or descent. They then sit quietly while the pilot becomes active; the two rarely are engaged in activity at the same time. Why couldn’t flight attendants oversee take off and landing procedures, then tend the cabin?

In the next few years, commercial airlines could be remotely piloted from the towers. As the plane approaches the runway the air traffic controller will land it like drone pilots do today. One hurdle to this happening will be public fear, easily overshadowed by considerable economic incentive. Cutting two to three people off each airplane’s staff, half the crew (pilot, navigator, flight attendant, etc.), would make the industry more profitable, and airlines using this method far cheaper.

These uses of technology are well underway and not in threat of declining their pace of accelerated growth. Once a certain level of familiarity is achieved people will begin to perceive their surrogate(s) as a true extension of their self. Loosing your smart-phone today can be paramount to going deaf to many people, can we successfully argue that surrogate(s) are not a philosophical if not legal continuation one’s self?

Today, when we say “me” or “I” we mean our physical bodies, however this will change.

The adaption of prosthetics is already changing our notion of what the self is. Our surrogate body parts or organs are as much “I” as the fleshly parts are. The very concept of self has changed before, as it is now, in accordance with philosophies of property. Native Americans saw the self as being one with the land and the tribe. Ants are an excellent example of the possibility of multiple selves, when referring to individual bodies controlled by a central system.

My friend and colleague Linda Chamberlain told me of a book she is reading Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer, where when people got old, their bodies were replaced by androids. Another friend and colleague Mike Clancy offered the short story by David Brin entitled Stones of Significance where people have augmented abilities allowing for greater powers of perception and processing of data. Both excellent reading when contemplating these questions of “self.”

We are heading into a world where the self is expanding and multiplying. Are “you” just “you”?  Where does your body begin or end? What philosophy/theology of property does makes you think that? Are “you” what you’re born as, or is it what you are capable of?  If you can operate five androids simultaneously, are they all you? Is in invalid therefore not a self at all?

Inquisitive minds would like to know.


One thought on “Will We Have Multiple “Selves” in the future?

  1. Hey this has a very visionary quality. That’s some nice imagination you’ve got there. Haha, I’m not sure if I can operate one person at a time, let alone two. Sure, if my self consisted of three high school part-timers on a production line, I might be able to handle it. But as soon as you move beyond the mundane and actually engage in life, I don’t think I’ve yet come close. To what extent is your vision tied into the myth of progress? We’re post-evolutionary. Someone spilt ink into the gene pool. Darwinism and our Grecio-Judeo-Christian heritage make it hard to think beyond the idea that we’re not moving forward, but we’re just moving; we’re changing, but not towards an ever-present ideal of perfect humanity. Is a future possible where multiples selves are not attached to one person but rather symbolise the myriad perceptions and philosophies of self? Will individualism return to its primeval predecessor and we discover that the forces of nature and the decisions of others are one in the same as our own, the idea of individual will disappearing altogether? This may explain the discrepancy between my own desires and material actions: I as an individual am not in control of my self, is then my self just a part of a larger self? Am I existence itself? I hope that’s not at all too bombastic and you find some value in the departures…

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