On Thursday, February 23, from 7:00–8:30 pm, in the Reading Room of Cowles Library, we host our first scholar lecture of the semester in our “Transhumanism, Religion, and Immortality Series.” Gereon Kopf, Professor of Religion at Luther College, will speak about “Trans-humanism, AI, and Memory: Zen Buddhist Ruminations on Digital Immortalities.”

Transhumanism is not a controversial topic in Japanese Buddhism. To the contrary, one could say that many Buddhist texts advance a transhumanistic, or as Masao Abe would say, “de-anthropocentric” worldview. The idea of the six realms of saṃsāra imply that human existence is not separate from but continuous with many life forms. Many forms of Mahāyāna Buddhism believe that the divine, whether it is Kannon Bodhisattva or the Buddha Mahāvairocana, can take one any form, and Japanese Buddhists celebrate memorial service not only for departed human beings but also for animals and objects. Subsequently, it is of no surprise that, in general, Japanese Buddhists are quite open to the idea of digital immortality and trans-humanism. 

In this presentation, I will explore, first, the practice of digital immortality in the context of Buddhist beliefs and practice concerning death and the afterlife in Japan and, second, introduce an innovative heuristic schema based on Japanese Buddhist philosophy to understand digital immortalities and trans-humanism in general. Concretely, my presentation will consist of four sections introducing 1) the context: beliefs and practices concerning death and the beyond in Japan, 2) the new landscape: the role of AI and digital immortality in Japanese religion, 3) the conception of digital memory as 3rd, 1st, 2nd, and 4th person memories, and, finally, 4) the attempt to conceptualize the relationship between AI and human beings. It is my hope that this heuristic schema will contribute to the general discussion on digital immortality in particular and trans-humanism in general. 

Here is a video of the lecture:

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