The Shellbot Parable: Identity philosophy and transhumanism

One man wanted his son to be a great man, but his son was born with too many eccentricities, so he tried medications for his son, first to improve his attention, then to cure mental illness caused by the attention improving medication. After that didn’t make his son great the father turned to brain surgery, to implant a chip in his son’s brain to make him into a great man. After the son’s twelth surgery he indeed became a great young man, but he made a curious decision, to change his name into Shellbot-1467 and also curious, he decided to use his great intellect and abilities to become a detective, and soonafter getting out of detective school, he promptly came to the father, and arrested him for murder. In the effort to make his son great, his son died on the operating table. His father had him changed so much to his liking that nothing living remained of his son.

I wanted to know how far down the line of altering a person’s soul is psychiatric medications? Are we not doing the same thing by trying to change a son or daughter, a brother or a sister or a friend to be more to your liking?


How many parts can you replace before the thing is no longer the thing?

This is a very old question in western philosophy, so you can find mountains of deeply thought out writings about it.

There is a also a good Star Trek Deep Space 9 episode on the topic. :slight_smile:

One of the core concepts of Buddhism is anatta, the upshot of which is that people do not have souls or any other kind of elemental, unchanging identity.

Dear @FrazierWing,

Welcome to the D&D forum!

There are numerous resources here available: may these be of assistance along the path!
If there are any questions, you may contact the @moderators via PM.

A possible way for continuing your discussion may be this thread.

With Metta,
On behalf of the moderators

1 Like

This reminds me of a story I heard, I’m not sure if it’s a true story but I think it is, it has to do with someone who was exceptionally intelligent who did a bunch of logical calculations and determined that life isn’t worth living so he ended it. What if “sentience” is just an error in nature? a flaw and not a feature? and life just a random fluke in in the universe? Not trying to justify suicide but it is interesting from a purely logical and objectives position, why do anything if you’re just going to lose it all anyway. I guess the catch 22 is by the time you find out it’s already too late as you’ve already fully matured and invested in the system.

Everyone is pushing and pulling kids into their own liking, why do you think schools push so much non-essential non-scientific doctorine onto kids. I remember when my grade school forced us to sell cub scouts chocolates and we had to meet a certain quota, I guess child labour is fine if the government is doing it.

There is constant influence being exerted onto people everywhere, whether it’s over sexualized advertisements everywhere, consumerism, direct propaganda, etc…

This is why it’s important to be a critical thinker and not simply accept something because it’s convenient.

On the flip side, what would we be without any influence at all? just in our default cave man tribal state. Would violence and short life expectancies be the norm? Who knows. There is no such thing as a “natural state” with no influence forced upon us, it just is what it is.

When you inject people with chemicals, either force them to take oral “medications” in order to alter their brain chemistry or brain structure to make them more to your liking, you’re changing who they are, are you not? It seems like many parents cross the bridge into the unholy, their kids are not their kids, they are their medications, their kids are adderal, or lithium, or invega or seroquel. We ought not alter our children’s brains in the quest for greatness. Maybe love them for who they are.

A possible way for continuing your discussion may be this thread.

Read some of what that thread was about, it seems there is much for me to learn here.


I belief, becoming a wise, a sensitive person in the world, compassionate, loving, only means becoming more and more oneself. If defilements ends one does not change totally as a person but one becomes more and more oneself, more sensitive. That’s why it not really an alternation of a persons soul, self, identity.

The furious and often angry spirit that oneself or others have to change, bodily and in mind, is often based on hate, disapproval of oneself and others, negative self-and other judgements, mistaken self-belief, an inabilty to connect with the richness of oneself and others.

While Buddhism is about ones inborn perfection. The heart, any heart, is by nature wise and sensitive and peaceful and free and pliant but adventitious defilement defog that.

A message of imperfection sending out to yourself , others, the world is very worldly and keeps us going, trapped in an endless effort to change ourselves, change others, change the world. Endless effort, endless conditioning. When will it be perfect? When will you be perfect? When do we break with this cycle called samsara?

Trapped in this idea of imperfection we are never at peace, never free, never giving up, never in contact with ourselves.

1 Like

Not only our behaviors, much of what we say, and even our thoughts and decisions, are actually generated in our subconscious mind with little awareness. Our subconscious mind interprets, evaluates, and analyses a great deal of incoming information and react to that information as thoughts and decisions. This is done automatically even when our conscious mind is occupied. Our subconscious judgement, feeling, and motivation constitutes our personalities and habits, including traits and abilities (e.g., “What is my main objective or motivation in life?” “Why am I socially inept in certain situations?” “Why do I sometimes lack motivation for doing homework?”). They give us a false sense of self. We are not who we think we are. If we look at the nature of it, they are just accumulated past experience (habits, karma), which leads to sufferings. If we consider this aggregate of consciousness from past experiences as real self identity, then we will love and entrapped in it. Instead, we need to view it as changeable and work on it with mindful awareness.


This sounds more like Abrahamic faith arbitrary line. I doubt the ancient scriptures of any religion would draw a line: you can parent how you want, but don’t inject people with chemicals to alter their brain.

Perhaps the closest is no intoxications of the 5 precepts.

Anyway, other than no soul/self ultimate truth Buddhist philosophical solution which invalidates the OP story, let’s see what conventional truth level Buddhism has to offer on this moral issue of transhumanism.

If altering the brain too much really causes the person to be a philosophical zombie, can act, behave, but no mind there, just matter, then it’s technically killing, the son has been reborn elsewhere and the robot body remains only. This is assuming that mind cannot be reborn or inhabiting or channel through robot/AI brains/chips etc. One way to verify would be to have someone with mind reading ability to tell. However, the experiment maybe deemed as participating in killing, thus maybe immoral for the mind reader to participate in. As those who lose morality loses Jhana, which loses the supernormal power of mind reading.

So indeed, there could be justification for the OP’s story too using conventional truth level Buddhism. However, philosophical zombie is merely a thought experiment thing, it might not be real or possible, and the only way to test it is the mind reading ability, which is normally not considered in non-Buddhist philosophy.

On more general transhumanism trend, it can be argued that not giving kids superior genetic enhancement is not loving them as it makes them have no competitive advantage as the rest of the world upgrades. Current way of genetically enhancing kids of making many embryos and select only the best, can be deemed as killing the other embryos in Buddhist morality, thus indeed we are forced to object to this genetic enhancement if the method involves killing.

Otherwise, if it can be done without harm, without killing, even in implanting chips etc, then I don’t see any moral objections to upgrading humans. Maybe some vinaya issue to consider: are transhumans still considered human eligible for ordination?

I edited your title to make it more interesting, can attract more readers and commenters.