Art is Art and Water is Water

March 15, 2019

Ablative Humanity

Filed under: Twitter Threads — foone @ 4:39 pm

Original Twitter thread August 10, 2018

So the war comes, and we have to use mechanical exoskeletons to have any chance of fighting back. They’re mind-linked, so you control them by just thinking of moving, and they learn from you to get better, predict your motions, and you become a better fighter.

At first you’re just wearing it for when you go out on raids, or when you’re on guard duty, but after so many surprise raids you end up wearing it all the time. It’s comfortable enough to live in, and with the sensors hooked up you don’t really feel “you” anymore, you feel the suit. After a while it starts to feel weird when you have to take it off for a medical check up. In the early days, you felt “big” in the suit. Now you feel “small” when you take it off. You stop taking it off, as much as possible. Towards the end of the war you’re wearing it for weeks at a time, then months at a time.

Finally, the enemy is pushed back. Security can exist again, the random raids slowly trail off, and slowly things settle down. You remember what “calm” is.

There’s never a treaty, but at least you’re no longer staying up for days at a time watching the horizon with the suit’s far-beyond-human eyes, watching for an attack. You’re no longer keeping a satellite feed up in the corner of your vision, watching for movement. And the day you were waiting for, at least at first, finally comes. You’re going home. The war is over, or over enough that you’re no longer needed here. You can take off the suit for the last time, and go back to your pre-war life.

You approach that appointment with some trepidation. you’ve felt so weak and tiny and powerless when you’ve had to be outside the suit before, will you ever get used to being a normal human again?

It takes three techs and two doctors to get the suit open at this point, given all the armor and modifications that have been made. It’s basically grown around you like a second skin, just a second skin that can shrug off high-explosive anti-tank rounds.

They start with computer connectors and migrate to screwdrivers and by the end they’re using something that looks like halfway between a crowbar and the jaws of life, while you’re busy keeping your automatic self-defense reactions from frying them.

And finally they crack it open, and someone vomits from the smell. There’s nothing but a decaying corpse inside. There’s confusion at first, someone asks if you’re controlling the suit remotely, but they check the dog tags. Then the DNA. It’s you. Or, “you.” Because you’re you, aren’t you? This is just a human body… and you’re still alive.

The suit’s mind-link systems grew into your brain and took over functionality and worked on emulating your reactions so it could do what you want, better, faster. And at the same time, your mind did what human minds do: they adapt. Humans are naturally cyborgs, you only have to pick up a pencil to realize that. It’s part of your body image, and you think of moving the pencil, not moving your fingers to move the pencil.

So your human mind got more robotic, and the suit’s computerized mind got more human. At some point you met in the middle. And then one day on the battlefield when the biological half died, you didn’t even notice. It was just another redundant part, just your ablative humanity.

You’re still you. You’re not the you that was born all those decades ago, but the you that was built and given life by bonding with a biological “you” that you’ve since discarded.

It’s the ship of Theseus, replacing every plank and beam as they rot, and there never being a point when it stops being the original and starts being a new thing. You have continuity of self from when you were born to now. It’s just that the ship of Theseus started as a single-sail wooden ship with oars, and is now an aircraft carrier made of titanium and iron, with nuclear fire in its heart.

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