Sunday, February 4, 2018

Does Siri Have a Soul?: Some thoughts on Netflix's Altered Carbon

Altered Carbon is Netflix's new series based on a book by the same name. Last night Hubby and I watched the first episode. In the episode we are introduced to the characters, the plot, and a sub plot. The sub plot is what I want to largely focus on because it involves the Catholic Church.

The show is a sci-fi. Humans now create digital downloads of themselves that they then can transplant into human bodies. Naturally the Church protests this, but is it because of what the series surmises?  Altered Carbon says putting your digital download into another body does something immoral to the soul and that humans who do this will go to hell.

Yes, the Church would have a problem with it, but not for the premise the show has.  The problem is the treatment of the body.

Catholics believe that angels are pure spirits or souls. Humans are soul and body. A soul is there just like the body from the moment of conception. Once the body dies the soul separates so even if you have a way of digitizing the brain signals, it's just a copy. It's not any different than a body cam digitizing a person's actions. A body cam is not a soul. Siri likewise is just a computer algorithm. She's not a person even if her creators digitized a human voice. So even if you redownload the person's digital copy into a box like Siri, that's not the person. That's computer code. There's no soul there even if that digital copy is the person's conscience. It's basically an AI.

The problem in Altered Carbon is with the reuse of the body. Bodies are treated like car parts. The digital copy of a person is uploaded into a very much human body. The body doesn't have to look like the original person. It's someone else's body. In the first episode a 7 year old murder victim is redownloaded into an 50 year old lady's body.

The Church teaches that cloning and creation of human bodies for the use of their parts is immoral. You can't create a designer baby for the purpose of having a boy or green-eyed child. You also can't create a person in order to have a living organ donor, which we can now do. Therefore it stands to reason you can't take a person's body and insert a digital download into it. Nor enhance it as the book says the bodies are sometimes treated.

This abuse of the body and reducing ourselves to being purely cerebral is what the Church would protest. And like forced abortion, if a Catholic specifically says not to treat bodies in this manner, but the authorities upload them anyway then the Catholic's soul isn't going to hell. The Catholic isn't culpable for what happens after their death to their own bodies. The persons culpable are the ones doing the uploading. The television show seems to make the premise that Catholics are worried about their own souls going to hell. That wouldn't be very linear in how Catholic theology teaches.

Needless to say the series gives a lot of food for thought about how the roles of technology and Church teaching will continue to evolve.

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I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!