Study on what makes people approve or condemn mind upload technology; references LW

by Kaj_Sotala2 min read10th Jul 2018No comments


Academic PapersMind UploadingSocial & Cultural DynamicsWorld Modeling
In four studies (including pilot) with a total of 952 participants, it was shown that biological and cultural cognitive factors help to determine how strongly people condemn mind upload. [...] The results showed that people who value purity norms and have higher sexual disgust sensitivity are more inclined to condemn mind upload. Furthermore, people who are anxious about death and condemn suicidal acts were more accepting of mind upload. Finally, higher science fiction literacy and/or hobbyism strongly predicted approval of mind upload. Several possible confounding factors were ruled out, including personality, values, individual tendencies towards rationality, and theory of mind capacities. [...]
We also found consistent age effects (older people condemn mind upload more than younger people), which together with our Science Fiction Hobbyism Scale imply that cultural factors, such as exposure to the ideas of consciousness transfer from young age through books, films and pop culture is also an important factor. In other words, familiarization with transhumanist themes together with biological components related to disgust and purity seem to play a significant role in determining whether people condemn or approve of mind upload technology. [...]
One of the more intriguing pieces of our results is the one that relates to Death Anxiety. In Study 2 we controlled for individual differences in death anxiety (Templer and Ruff, 1971) and suicide condemnation (Renberg and Jacobsson, 2003; Arnautovska and Grad, 2010), both of which—contrary to our initial expectations—predicted higher approval of mind upload technology. It is quite interesting that despite the scientist losing his actual physical body in the vignettes, his actions were not perceived as dying or as being suicidal. Throughout human history and cultures, there are myths about fountains of youth and stories about becoming immortal. It is noteworthy that these same motivations, dreams or intuitive existential and moral concerns surface in postmodern technological contexts. From this perspective, our findings link back to the perennial questions driving our civilizations; the results do seem reasonable since people who are anxious about death probably find the idea of extending life, or even transcending death, comforting (O’Connell, 2017; Kurzweil, 1999, 2004).
To our knowledge, we have now for the first time empirically shown that approval of mind upload technology aligns with the hopes and wishes of central transhumanist advocates (O’Connell, 2017) who actually want to develop these technologies to achieve immortality. Perhaps the preference towards attaining immortality is even more widely shared than previously imagined; and if this were the case, future mind upload technologies might be of great interest to the general population. However, many questions still remain unanswered, such as whether people view mind upload as 'merely' life-extension or actual immortality, and whether only those who want to be immortal approve of mind upload. Further research is needed to answer these questions.

Also a paragraph that's likely of interest:

Some visible advocates for mind upload technologies are clustered around a popular online community called LessWrong ( In this community the main focus point is in increasing the potential for human rationality and rational action. We therefore evaluated whether or not the approval of mind upload technology is related to individual differences in rationality-related thinking styles. We entered both REI8 scales into the analysis without any other variables, but only the Rationality sub-scale was statistically significant (B = −0.19, 95% CI [−0.34, −0.04], p = .01). Further probing, however, revealed that the effect disappeared after entering the MFQ Purity variable into the analysis. This analysis suggests that rationality does play a role in adopting a positive attitude towards mind upload technology, but the effects are probably dependent on deeper cognitive structures associated with Purity orientations, which, in turn, are associated with the emotion of disgust. Thus, low levels of individual disgust sensitivity—instead of high levels of rational thought—might explain the approval of mind upload (see Studies 2 and 3).