Today, however, I want to present some examples of the so-called hard approach, which is typical of cyberpunk and of all that science fiction in which the role of the net (anyhow this is represented) and virtual reality is predominant.
Cyberpunk actually was born in the 80s, that is, before the Internet (which comes for the first time to the public in 1991), but it is the access to the net and the concept of virtual reality that have added to this sub-genre of science fiction the ability to represent post-physical life. This is thanks to the presence in the stories of some technology that can digitize the consciousness of a human being, giving the illusion of making it eternal, thus defeating death.
Beyond the fact that you are defeating death or not, if you accept the concept that a software application created as a copy of an organic consciousness is in fact alive (and this is taken for granted in this type of stories), this is definitely post-physical life.
Given the topical theme, there are numerous examples of this type of approach. The following relate to some of my readings and a film I've seen recently, but you could write a treatise on the subject.
In fact I have already talked about post-physical life in some of my previous posts (and podcasts) dedicated to the relationship between science fiction and spirituality.
Within the Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton (here the series of posts dedicated to it) we saw the so-called ANA-Government, where ANA stands for Advanced Neural Activity. The ANA is nothing but a collection of digitized consciences of all human beings who, tired of the physical life (the story is set in 36th century where the physical life may be extended almost indefinitely), decide to migrate to Earth and then download their digitized consciousness into ANA, in which they can communicate with each other in a virtual reality, while, thanks to the net and/or the ability to download themselves temporarily onto clones or solid projections, they can continue to interact with the physical world.
In the franchise of Battlestar Galactica (here is the post dedicated to it), instead, particularly in the spin-off Caprica, we saw a different kind of post-physical life. Zoe Greystone creates a virtual copy of her, thanks to her invention of a program that generates it by a process of extrapolation from all the activities in the net by the original person. This copy of Zoe not only has all the memories of the original, but does not feel at all as a copy, and when Zoe dies, it is considered like a post-physical version of her.
But let's briefly see two more examples.
Feersum Endjinn by Iain M. Banks is a cyberpunk novel, where in the distant future, after using the 8 physical lives granted, a digitized consciousness pass to a post-physical life in the Cript (a very complex virtual reality), where 8 more digital lives are granted to it. The difference is that the digital consciousness does not age, but it can be killed by accident or murdered.
Transcendence is the recent film with Johnny Depp where, in an attempt to create a strong artificial intelligence, they come to the conclusion that the only way to be sure that an AI has a consciousness is to copy an existing one. Will Caster is going to die and uploads his consciousness (through a long process explained in a pseudo-scientific way) creating an immortal copy of himself, which is carrying all the baggage of experiences and feelings of the original person as much as it feels as such.
A peculiar aspect of (almost) all these stories about virtual consciousness is that they tend to consider a digital copy equivalent to the original, as if the true consciousness/soul is passed to virtual reality, in a process comparable to that of the soft approach (ascension of the soul). In truth it is not so.
The original dies and what remains is only a copy.
Rarely this issue is addressed, because those who interact with this copy has the impression, or rather the illusion, to have to do with the original. In fact, however, the digitization of consciousness does not defeat death, it's just an illusion to defeat it, because the original no longer exists. The original dies anyway. Who thinks of becoming immortal by digitizing their conscience is only creating another form of life (non-organic life) with their memories and their character, a sort of virtual twin (which is the same, theoretically, as all twins, but yet another person).
Only the copy will have the illusion of having defeated death. The copy, having memories of the original, has the perception of being passed from a physical to post-physical condition. But nothing of the sort has happened.
If you think about it, from the original idea to fight against your fears of death you come to the fact that, when you die, no one will cry for you, because for the others you don't die.
Personally I find this quite disturbing. More than a victory over death this is simple the denial of death. It would be interesting to see this issue addressed in science fiction. (Maybe someone can suggest a good book or film about this?)
Even in Caprica, where the fact that Zoe is a digital copy is clear, having been created by the original, and having lived with her for some time, when the real Zoe dies, the other characters, despite being aware of the true nature of the virtual one, decide to ignore this fact.
In the end, the digitization of consciousness is a method to avoid suffering for the death of others rather than to avoid fearing for your own death.
With these almost philosophical considerations I'm closing this post.
In the next one, that will be the last dedicated to post-physical life, I'll report two other examples of books, definitely less known than the Void Trilogy, in which, however, the return from post-physical to physical life reappears. From this last point, I will make some concluding remarks on the similarities and differences between post-physical life and another topic that somehow appears in science fiction, that is reincarnation.