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This is a long worldbuilding essay I did, both for [community profile] capsulerp and for the Analogue and Hate Plus adapts, of the way that I imagine their transhumanist society working. With regard to people's bodies and minds, and how they relate.

Please feel free to share your thoughts, whether about the worldbuilding itself or about what sort of character you'd like to have in this setting (whether or not you are in the RP).

Primary Inspirations

  • Analogue: A Hate Story and Hate Plus. PC games by Christine Love.

  • The Culture novels, by Iain Banks.

  • Mindjammer. Pen-and-paper roleplaying game by Sarah Newton, and powered by Fate Core.

  • Sword of the Stars series. PC games by Kerberos Productions, with lore written by Arinn Dembo.

Who are you?

Most people are at least partly defined by their species and cultural roles. Your personal identity, or identity traits which define who you are as a person, consists of two things.

  • Your neurotype, or "who you are on the inside."

  • Your phenotype, or "who you are on the outside."

Transhumanist fiction, like the [community profile] capsulerp, is based on the idea that the two can be separated. That while your body can be a way of expressing yourself, it doesn't have to be something you're stuck with, especially if it's making you feel sick or miserable.

What form would you choose for yourself, if you could? And how would you go about transferring your consciousness into it?

How to leave your body behind

The first step is to scan your neurogram, or a raw map of your neural pathways and activities. Because the way that your pathways are physically structured is part of it, you have to be alive and conscious while this is going on.

The next best thing is to have your thanogram, or "image of death." It's sort of an incomplete neurogram, and is reconstructed from your lifestream. You know how websites and mobile phones track where you go, what you search for on the web, how many paces you take, and how well you're sleeping? That sort of thing is ubiquitous in this setting, and it can be used to construct a thanogram, of someone who died before neural scanning technology was available. (So for instance, if you want to RP as someone from the past without being cryogenically frozen, this is one way of doing it!)

You can "emulate" a person if you have their thanogram, or are unable to construct a neural net to match their neurogram. But if you don't also have a neural net that resembles the one that that person lived in, it may not go as expected. The person may experience shock, disorientation, phantom limb sensations, or dysphoria (explained later in this essay).

Ideally, you want to have a complete neurogram, and then either have wetware designed to accommodate it or a "virtual wetware" system, sort of like a virtual machine in modern-day computing terms. The result is a complete person, for whom their body seems like a natural extension of their self … even if it includes unfamiliar interfaces.

EXAMPLE ONE

Mira (Fox), my personal version of the Investigator from Analogue: A Hate Story, is an actual fox, not just a human who has the memories of being a fox. Her "human" body's brain and nervous system are fox-compatible wetware, which was individually tailored to her and designed to accommodate her neurogram. As a result, she adjusted to her new phenotype very quickly, although she occasionally has "phantom limb" sensations from the tails which she no longer has.

(A 21st-century medical technician would freak out if they saw her MRI.)

EXAMPLE TWO

Kim Hyun-ae, a canon character from Analogue, uploaded her complete neurogram to the starship Mugunghwa's computer. This ship was launched in the 24th century, and did not have the processing power to reconstruct her neural pathways, so a virtual wetware system was not an option. However, Hyun-ae was able to make a copy of *Mute, the Mugunghwa's security AI, and then overwrite its thanogram with her own.

The result was closer to emulation, as *Mute's AI construct had only been designed to simulate human embodiment for the benefit of other people. As a result, the newly-formed *Hyun-ae found the experience alienating, akin to using a computer while inside of a sensory deprivation chamber (and then controlling an MMO avatar in order to talk to the Investigator). She eventually adjusted to it, but it didn't come naturally to her the way that it did to the AI that it was designed for.

What's so special about your neurotype?

Your neurotype is considered to be "who you are," on the most basic level. You have an officially-recognized right to your neurotype, no matter how unusual it is. You can try to change it, like to remove a tendency towards depression. But this can't just be done harmlessly and automatically, like healing a wound to your phenotype. It requires a mental health treatment regimen, which may include talk therapy, connecting with others in your situation, taking light doses of pharmaceuticals, and changing your lifestyle or even your phenotype.

It is possible to coercively alter your neurotype, or even overwrite it with another. This is seen as assault, murder, or suicide, depending on the degree to which you were changed and who did it to you. It also tends to have unfortunate side effects; the new person created this way might have flashbacks to your overwritten memories, and their personality will rarely be what is intended.

They are considered to have the same rights and protections as anyone else, though, regardless of how they're created. (Unless they are a copy of your attacker, in which case they'll be sentenced to death.) So rather than overwrite them with you, it's more likely that legal reparations will include transferring them to another body before reviving you, or even bringing you back as a clone.

Can I clone myself, and be in two places at the same time?

You CAN, but you MAY not.

You have what's called a Right to Uniqueness, which is also a responsibility not to propagate your exact neurotype across other bodies or systems. Doing so is a crime, because it diminishes diversity and rewards unchecked expansion. It also usually runs into technical barriers to copying (see below).

If my neurogram is cloned or transferred, is the copy a separate person?

Your neurogram can only legally be given a separate consciousness if you are dead, or considered an un-recoverable missing person. A complete, one-way transfer of consciousness into a new phenotype does not count, because you are considered to be the network process that is your consciousness, not the form that it originated in … and not the static snapshot of your person at one point in time, that your neurogram is.

Since they can be used to create a new consciousness, each neurogram has protections which work sort of like modern DRM (Digital Rights Management) software. Of course, just like modern DRM, there are ways of circumventing it.

What's so special about your phenotype?

Your phenotype is considered to be in the realm of legitimate self-expression, sort of like the clothes that you wear or a disembodied AI's avatar. However, you probably also have a native phenotype, or a physical configuration that feels most natural to you.

Becoming embodied in a phenotype other than your native one can be something you do on purpose, for fun or for other reasons, or it can be something that happens to you. Like when your identity's stolen, or your body is irreparably damaged. Either way, people who spend a prolonged period of time in a non-native phenotype often experience dysphoria, or a profound feeling of "not-right-ness" which is sort of like being homesick. The longer it goes on, and the less likely it appears that you'll ever inhabit your native form, the worse your dysphoria gets, until it becomes a deep and pervasive despair.

Using a software or wetware VM can diminish the dysphoria you feel in a given phenotype, by making your self-concept and physical movements in your new form seem to work similarly to what you're used to. You can also find ways to express your real self inside a restrictive form, like a disembodied human inside a computer using an avatar that looks like herself in order to communicate. Any time you experience cognitive dissonance, though, between what you know on a deep level you are and what you and other people are seeing you as, there's a chance that it will accumulate, like metals building up in your system from drinking contaminated water.

Over time, this can be toxic and can develop into acute dysphoria … or it can simply be a daily annoyance you live with. It's up to you whether you want this to be a part of your character's experience.

Either way, dysphoria can manifest at unexpected times and under unexplained circumstances. It might even be a chronic pain you have, that you just assume everyone suffers from, until you find out what life without it is like when a form you try on makes it go away all of a sudden … and there may be no way to predict what that form is or might be.

Being stuck in the wrong body

Some people experience dysphoria despite only ever having had the one phenotype. These are called trans* people, with "trans-" being a prefix which can be appended to gender, species, ethnicity, ability, or a number of other aspects of identity. A few are even trans-corporeal, whether they're an AI who desperately wants to inhabit a physical form or an embodied person who longs to disincarnate.

The solution, of course, is to just change your phenotype. The problem is when that is not so simple to do. You may not know why you're feeling dysphoria. Changing your phenotype might be socially impractical, or might put a strain on your closest relationships. Worst of all, it might ask you to rethink your self-concept from the ground up, a painful process which can leave you vulnerable and humiliated.

Everyone has a Right to Identity, or the right to change their phenotype at the government's expense once every one hundred years. (Disincarnating does NOT count, but an AI embodying theirself does.) You then have a two week testing period, to make sure you're compatible with your new form and that it alleviates your dysphoria. For the reasons listed above, though, not everyone who needs it most exercises it.

Types of Phenotypes

There are two kinds of bodies which you can inhabit.

  • Bioforms have internal chemistry based on carbon and proteins. They are usually self-replicating, and dependent on organic matter to sustain themselves. Their components are called wetware, and their processing units are called brains. A person inhabiting a bioform is an organic.

  • Hardshells' internal machinery incorporates a variety of materials. The first hardshells' processors were silicon-based. They do not usually have the ability to replicate themselves on their own, but some have no physical requirements beyond access to solar energy and preventative maintenance. Their components are called hardware. A person inhabiting a hardshell is a synthetic.

These terms were invented thousands of years ago, and today the lines are often blurred. You can have a hardshell that's designed to emulate biological form, a bioform with "cyborg" hardware, or even a synthetic processor inside a completely organic body (or vice-versa). Most people will consider you organic or synthetic, in these cases, based on your processor's makeup.

Knowing which box you check off on the census form is Very Important to a lot of people, because of …

Essentialism

The default assumption, in this setting, is that all feelings of dysphoria are valid, and all self-reported experiences with it are true. You wouldn't challenge or contradict someone who tells you what form they feel most comfortable in, the same way you wouldn't try to dictate to someone what food they like or what people they find attractive.

It's possible for someone to misjudge what would make them feel comfortable, to change their mind as they gain more experience, or (on the other hand) to knowingly take on someone else's identity in order to commit fraud. But everyone is presumed "innocent until proven guilty," when it comes to these matters, and dysphoria is considered to be a treatable medical condition. The cultural focus is on the people who have to live with it, not the people who are uncomfortable being around them.

Unfortunately, many people, including some who consider themselves "progressive," believe in certain kinds of essentialism, which is the belief that everyone who has a certain neurotype, phenotype, or native phenotype, must feel or act in a certain way. This can mean being prejudiced towards certain groups, such as believing that organics make the best nurses and caretakers, or it can mean being prejudiced against certain groups. Such as believing that non-humans (whatever you define "humans" as) lack a certain essential quality, and their lives are somehow less meaningful.

Essentialism is at odds with the medical science surrounding dysphoria, and tends to lag several decades behind. It can mean considering some trans* person's experiences, like trans-ability or trans-corporeal people's, to be "made up" somehow, and to disbelieve in their ability to decide for themselves what they want. Or it can mean simply refusing to accept a person's stated identity, and continuing to relate to them as though they were who you'd prefer them to be.

Some essentialists are people like *Mute in Analogue: A Hate Story, and are from isolated societies where misogyny and other harmful ideas have gained traction. Most, however, are fully integrated into modern society, and simply hold unexamined prejudices, which manifest not as overt hate but as wariness or incredulousness. They try to put other people in boxes, assigning them roles and policing invisible boundaries, and may be inordinately interested in finding out who or what you "really" are so that they know how to feel about you.

Essentialist societies today

When it's widespread enough, essentialism manifests in society and government. For example, AIs are still required to place a star before their names, a mark which seems harmless but which separates them from organics. Even if they become an organic, inside of a wetware processor, that star accompanies them for the rest of their lives … unless they register their intent with the government to renounce their synthetic identity, and live and die as an organic.

Meanwhile, Mira (Fox)'s full name is Mira. (Fox) is her species, and she is legally required to put it in parentheses wherever her actual name is printed, to indicate her native phenotype. This is not a requirement which human-derived transhumans are subject to; not even Cetaceans and Exomorphs have to disclose their native phenotypes, as they have been "grandparented" in. Only "uplifted animals," like Mira, are required to do so.

There are a variety of explanations for why, but they basically boil down to people being uncomfortable with not knowing who to see as wildlife or property … aaaand because people tend to consider attractive uplifts in human form to be "traps," which are just trying to lure people to commit bestiality.

Just like in the 21st century, some people continue to reduce others to their genitals.

Choosing your character's types

Whether you inhabit a bioform or a hardshell, and whatever your neurotype's housed in, you can look like pretty much everything. Most historical species are physically represented somewhere, as are many creatures of fiction and legend.

Your combination of pheno- and neurotype partly dictate what company you'll keep, and which people will see you as one of their own. Some of the largest groups are as follows:

AIs

AIs, or "Artificial Intelligences," are consciousnesses which arise as the result of self-modifying computer processes. Many prefer to be called SCs, or "Synthetic Consciousnesses," rather than by a term which means "fake" to most people.

Some AIs emulate organic neurotypes, and are most comfortable representing themselves with an avatar or a hardshell. Others are okay with living completely "virtual" lives (even though that's another word which means "fake") and can seem alien to organics. They may represent themselves solely with an abstract graphic, a word, or an idea, or they may change how they present themselves on a whim.

Cetaceans

Cetaceans, or Liir in one of their languages, are one of two dominant species on their home planet, Worldsea (known by most humans as "Earth"). Their society developed in parallel alongside the land-dwellers', but the two were mutually incomprehensible for most of that time.

The environmental disasters of the 21st century spurred people on both sides to learn to communicate, and many of the rights and ideals taken for granted in modern society can be traced back to their collaboration. An individual cetacean may be anything from a dolphin to an Oma, a natively spacefaring whale the size of a starship.

Some Cetaceans use prehensile tentacle implants to control physical instrumentation. Others have highly-developed psionic ability, and use machines which respond to their brain waves. Either way, when they are on land they use floating environment suits, which keep their skin moist and let them interact with their surroundings.

Exomorphs

Exomorphs are lifeforms of true extraterrestrial origin, of which there are very few known. It is thought that there are many more in the galaxy, but that -- just like with Cetaceans and many other "animals" in Worldsea's history -- their sapience is being discounted, simply because no one has tried to learn how they communicate.

The most common Exomorphs are known as "Hivers," after the mounds they assemble and live in. Their insectoid bioforms' brains resemble organic computers with hexacore processors, and the aggressive genetic engineering performed by their "queens" (reproductive individuals) helped influence modern ideas about phenotype fluidity.

Hivers have millions of possible configurations, and may resemble anything from an Ultralisk or a Trygon to a friendly humanoid biped, with wings, compound eyes, and antennae. Either way, they tend to communicate with pheromones as much as with words, and they may take offence if you mistake one of them for another individual who looks and sounds exactly the same.

Humans

Humans are highly social primates. Unlike most others, they are largely furless except for a clump on their heads, which they style as a way of expressing themselves.

Humans form strong emotional bonds, often aided by casual sexual contact, and their sense of self prioritizes group identity. An individual human can show unshakeable loyalty towards people they've never met, or the most callous exclusion towards their own offspring, depending on who they consider to be "one of us." Because of this group-focused thinking, they have a harder time than most dealing with bias and cognitive dissonance; the best way to persuade a human of something is to befriend them, and then let them make up their own mind.

Humans live in synthetic hives aboveground, which they build to complement and incorporate native life and terrain features where they reside. They are almost as fond of water and physical activity as Cetaceans are.

And many more

Minority neuro- and phenotypes include "uplifted" animals, like Mira's original form. Many of them were genetically altered, and human society credits this for their sapience, considering them to be (in essence) biological AIs. Their personhood is seen as a gift which humans bestowed on them, not something inherent, and a lot of people aren't sure if doing so was a good idea. As a result, they haven't been as fully incorporated into society as other transhumans.

Meanwhile, Travelers like *Starborn / *Nemesis, are descended from the first space explorers, and have fantastical physical forms which were designed to match their new environment.

People whose neuro- and phenotypes do not match up may find themselves missing certain social cues, and otherwise being excluded from the group they look like they should be a part of. In general, it's extremely difficult to blend into human society with a non-human neurotype, and relatively easy to get Hivers to see you (or at least treat you) as one of their own. Cetaceans will usually be wary of outsiders at first, but tend to be willing to go to the trouble of helping to integrate them.

Dangerous Phenotypes

These are creatures that you could theoretically play as, but are intended to be outside threats.

Homogenizing Swarms

Homogenizing Swarms, or simply "swarms," are characterized by two things: They all share the same or a similar neurotype, and they try to convert everyone else into more of themselves … whether mentally, physically, or both. This can involve brainwashing, infecting, or "assimilating" sapient life, or (in the worst cases) breaking down all forms of matter into their component compounds, and using them to make more of their own.

Examples of swarms: The Grey Goo from the eponymous PC game, the Slylandro probes from The Ur-Quan Masters (PC Game), the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation (TV series), and the Zerg from StarCraft (PC game). Imperialist societies have swarm-like characteristics, but as they depend on the existence of an "other" to conquer and oppress they are not properly considered swarms. Historical human religious and nationalist cults, as well as cults of personality, are closer to HS status, because their basic priorities of evangelism and indoctrination are designed to subsume and break down their victims' individuality, often using coercive methods.

Swarms are never completely eradicated, but the process of rehabilitating their members is extraordinarily difficult. Fixing their societies is even moreso, because you have to work with everyone in them at the same time. The few swarms that are part of the greater society are subject to strict controls, for how much they can augment someone's neurotype, and are only permitted to take on new members with their informed consent. It is recommended that you backup your neurogram before doing so, no matter how strongly you wish to adopt their shared identity.

Do not call Hiver societies swarms.

Suul'ka

Suul'ka, or "ice hearts" in one Cetacean language, are creatures who consciously reject the personhood of other sapients. Humans sometimes call them wendigo, or consider them to possess a "wendigo spirit," after a creature from Algonquin myth who is characterized by insatiable greed and rapacious, cannibalistic hunger. A wendigo or suul'ka society is one that sees people as instrumental, either as objects to hoard and extract value from or as monsters to other and kill.

Examples of suul'ka / wendigo: Most historical, human settler states, such as the ones built on North and South American genocide and Palestinian occupation. Also the first rogue, sublight Hiver fleet, whose commanders saw humans as vermin. One early form of human self-organization, called the "corporation," was explicitly designed to be guided by wendigo principles.

Towards the end of the 21st century some of the largest, most ancient cetaceans took the name of Suul'ka upon themselves, and revealed themselves to the land-dwellers, dominating and psychically absorbing the minds in control of their most abusive corporate governments. Most of these "Great Old Ones" were killed during the AI uprising and the formation of the Star Union, but at least seven of them are believed to have survived, and to be hiding somewhere in deep space.

Weapons

Weapons, sometimes called "war beasts" or "war machines" depending on whether they're organic or synthetic, are creatures created or changed by suul'ka societies (or by the original Suul'ka themselves), and used to kill other sapient beings. Unlike Hiver morphs which are designed for combat, a Weapon's individuality is greatly abridged by the process that makes them a Weapon. Integrating an individual Weapon into society requires not only disarming them, but also reprogramming or reconstructing their neurotype, which can be difficult.

Examples of Weapons: The Zuul, favoured pets of the Suul'ka; and the xenomorph from Alien (film) and Alien Isolation (PC game). Some Zuul have managed to integrate into society, because their process of psionic feeding had the unexpected side effect of letting them empathize with their victims.

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