Anattism (Generic Subjective Immortality)

Generic Subjective Immortality
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What makes 'you' you? This philosophical question has been debated for millennia. Many philosophers in the Current Era state that the self is not a static object, but an ongoing and changing process; in fact, it is not possible to be a 'self' without change. As a result, a sophont may began life as one type of being, then thousands of years later be a totally different type of being, with a different personality and few or no memories of the earliest part of their life, and yet their subjective experience of being alive never ended. Some of these changes were very gradual, while others occurred more suddenly, such as deleting a set of memories or downloading a new personality module. The question then arises: Just how drastically can one's personality and memories be altered before continuity of subjective experience is broken?

One school of thought, known as Generic Subjective Immortality, answers that there is no cutoff, and that a being's subjective experience never stops or ends in any sense.

Generic Subjective Immortality is also known by the shorter name of Anattism. This name derives from the word 'anatta' in Buddhism, which refers to the Buddhist doctrine that there is no unchanging 'self' or 'soul.' Anatta is the basis for the similar Buddhist doctrine of rebirth (sometimes called reincarnation), but Anattists reject belief in 'karma' as controlling what they are reborn as. Additionally, many schools of Buddhism teach that the cycle of rebirth is something to be escaped from by reaching Nirvana, while Anattism's basis is that rebirth is something to be celebrated and hoped in, so that the joys of life may be experienced without end.

Belief System

Proponents of Generic Subjective Immortality use three main arguments to promote their position:

  • The first and most common argument is a thought experiment. Suppose that a virtual being is copied several times. Which copy is the same person as the original? The original's subjective experience was duplicated, so in a sense they are all of their copies, even though the copies then diverge and each one only subjectively experiences their own life. When a sophont dies, their mind-state degrades until it is identical to a new sophont coming into existence. It is as though every new sophont that has ever come into existence is a copy of every sophont that has ever died.
  • Second, minds can be changed extremely drastically, and yet subjective experience is generally held to continue. If a sophont's memories are deleted, their life goes on, but they start over in a sense, needing to learn things anew. If, on the other hand, a sophont's personality is reset to nothing, their life goes on, but they are starting over in another sense, needing to build a new personality. What if someone's memories and personality are wiped, but their mind is still made of the same matter? If the former cases do not destroy subjective experience, then neither should this case. But, since it is generally held that minds can transfer matter substrate without any subjective effect, then what if a sophont's memories and personality are wiped and their substrate is destroyed (that is, they are killed), while somewhere else a copy of a blank mind comes into existence? Anattists hold that in all of these situations, subjective experience continues.
  • Third, it is not possible to experience being dead. In other words, one cannot experience nonexistence, that is, one cannot experience not experiencing. What someone experiences after death, then, is starting over from scratch.
Anattists are fond of quoting a statement attributed to a first century BT thinker known as Alan Watts:

"Suppose that I make two statements. Statement 1: After I die, I shall be reborn again as a baby, but I shall forget my former life. Statement 2: After I die, a baby will be born. Now I believe that those two statements are saying exactly the same thing. The vacuum created by the disappearance of a being‚ by the disappearance of his memory system‚ is simply filled by another being who is "I" just as you feel that you are "I.""

Anattists tend to feel very strongly about reducing suffering of sophonts anywhere they may be, as they believe that ultimately they may experience those very same lives. Even though death does not end subjective experience in their view, Anattists are heavily opposed to murder, like nearly all other sophonts. The killed person is believed to experience a new life, but murder is thought to be the most severe form of theft there is, as that person likely valued their life, their memories, and personality, and these have been stolen from them, as well as the dead person being stolen from their loved ones. Additionally, a person cannot know whether their next subjective experience will be in an advanced civilization like the Terragen Sphere, or a primitive or brutal one full of suffering.

A few Anattists are mortalists, believing that it is better to see what new lives may be in store for them rather than going to any effort to preserve the present one. However, the vast majority instead view rebirth as their backup of last resort, only needed when they are no longer able to take advantage of any of the Terragen Sphere's many provisions for preserving memories and personality, and they consider themselves fortunate to live in such a civilization for as long as they can.

Those who hold to Continuity Identity Theory reject Generic Subjective Immortality. Proponents of Pattern Identity Theory are divided on the matter. Some accept it on the basis of the arguments given above, while others reject it. The ones who reject it often hold that there must be a causal connection at some point to maintain subjective experience, as subjective experience itself is made of computations which inherently are made of causality. If there is no computational, causal connection along the way, they say, then subjective experience cannot continue. Some pattern identity theorists will also say that a dead person is not a pattern, but rather a former pattern that has been destroyed, so there is nothing left for a new pattern to continue. Debates over what exactly a mind-pattern is, and whether a dead sophont is an 'empty pattern' or 'not a pattern' rage to this day.

Some transapients state that Generic Subjective Immortality is clearly true, others that it is clearly false, and most will not comment on the matter.


Although it appears that similar ideas popped up occasionally in the centuries before, Anattism does not appear in the historical record until a few decades after the Technocalypse. It is not known what individual originated the idea at this time, but a quasi-religious missionary group appeared calling themselves the Society of Anattists.

The Society quickly grew in numbers. Many of those who first joined did so because of having lost many loved ones in death during the Technocalypse and later, in the Last War and Great Expulsion. The early Anattists' message was one of comfort and consolation. Adherents enjoyed listening to weekly sermons that reaffirmed that even though their friends and family had been lost, they would enjoy new lives as new individuals across the multiverse. Some believers at this time had a high birthrate, evidently thinking that this would be a way of creating new lives for those who had died. Most Society of Anattist leaders rejected this viewpoint, as they knew there was no meaningful sense in which there was a one-to-one correspondence between a dead person and a new person.

During the early Federation era, as the faith matured, the central idea began to be taken seriously in philosophical circles, then being given the name Generic Subjective Immortality, though still referred to as Anattism for short. As the First Federation waned, the Society of Anattists as an organized religion faded away, as most of those who believed in Anattism at this point were not members of any particular group. Rather, Generic Subjective Immortality became known as a philosophical doctrine compatible with many belief systems and held by sophonts of all sorts. It is estimated that at present many thousands of religions, philosophical systems, ideologies, and other memetic frameworks hold Anattism to be true to some degree.

Believers in the Chrono-Transcendent Soul at times will co-opt Anattist arguments in support of their doctrine. However, Anattists, as the very name indicates, reject any concept of a soul, let alone one that travels back and forth in time. Rather, Anattists say that the self is a pattern, and that a dead pattern is isomorphic to any and all new patterns, not just one in particular. This, of course, has not stopped some from holding both beliefs at the same time.

A variety of views have developed about the compatibility of Anattism and Ipsemism (Manifold Immortality). These two 'materialist immortality' schools are seen by some as complementary and others as contradictory. Some Anattists believe that Ipsemism is the means by which they will continue living, via another version of themselves that survives whatever killed them, perhaps due to a quantum event happening differently or being woken up from a simulation. On the other hand, it seems that most Anattists are critical of Ipsemism, as they will often refer to the 'measure' or degree of existence of a mind pattern in the multiverse. These Anattists will say that if a sophont's measure drops by half, for example, because their death was due to a quantum event with 50% probability, then they should only expect to keep their set of memories and personality with a 50% chance, and the other 50% will experience starting anew. Nevertheless, a few Ipsemists have accepted this dependence on 'measure,' and see Anattism as just another way that Manifold Immortality is achieved.

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Development Notes
Text by ProxCenBound
Initially published on 20 March 2018.