In my novel The Hereafter, the mind state is collected into a Personality Storage Device at the time of death and then loaded into the artificial afterlife for life ever after. But is this the actual person that lived their life or is that an artificial replica of them stored and loaded into the afterlife?
This question fascinates me. What is life? What is consciousness? Are you just the result of the chemical and electrical activity in your brain or is there something more such as a mind that lives within you and uses your body and brain to achieve its goals or a soul that exists outside of your body but hitches a ride for a lifetime.
Human consciousness seems clear as you go about your daily life – you are the sum part of your memories, beliefs, expectations, dreams, fears and behaviours, and you aware of the interplay of all these aspects as you do what you do, but they are all stored in the brain, learned as you go through life. The minute they are stored somewhere else other than the brain though, do they become something else different to you, just a collection of everything that was you?
Or how about this: as you lie down to sleep that night that stream of consciousness ends for a while. It stops when you go to sleep. Is it therefore you that wakes up again when consciousness reboots or is it someone new with access to everything that was you believing they are you?
It is a popular feature in the Sci-Fi works of Iain M Banks among other writers for his characters to back themselves up in case they die but it's always bothered me a little because it is not the same consciousness as the one that perished so would it really be a comfort? Human consciousness is very personal and unique.
With this in mind then, if the technology existed to record the mind state without a biological brain, can it guarantee us an afterlife in the form of a digital heaven or is The Hereafter a big con? Life and death are complete opposites after all and therefore cannot exist at the same time so can human consciousness survive after death or even in death?
Death is unlike anything we can experience in life and therefore cannot be understood from a life perspective any more than a blind person can describe what a sunrise looks like or a fish could describe the sensation of thirst. It is alien but it at the same time is a very important part of life and we must somehow prepare ourselves for it.
In my novel, The Hereafter is storing something more than a replica of each inhabitant's consciousness as in the world of the story this upsets the balance of Nature by trapping part of her mind state in the physical world.
In the real world though we make up stories about what we do not understand in order to understand it. The collective human consciousness creates a mythology of life and death, a collection of metaphors from which individuals or cultures pick their favourites in order to cope with death's inevitability by attempting to answer the question of what lies beyond death, and these metaphors can form fundamental building blocks upon which we can build our lives.
There is a Human Consciousness Project set up in the real world which is an international consortium of multidisciplinary scientists and physicians who have joined forces to investigate the nature of consciousness and what happens between the mind the brain when we die.
Before they are done and I suspect afterwards as well, death will be a mystery – we may find some answers but they will be from an alive perspective and therefore for the living – we can only look after ourselves. We cannot do anything for the benefit of the dead, at least until we get there and find out what it is all about for ourselves.