Infomorph Psychology


In EVE Online, Infomorph Psychology is a skill that regulates the maximum amount of jump clones you can have at the same time. How exactly psychological training influences the number of dormant bodies you can have waiting to receive your mind is beyond me; the description of the skill—however—does include some elements I’d like to discuss:

“The reality of having one’s consciousness detached from one’s physical form, scattered across the galaxy and then placed in a vat-grown clone can be very unsettling to the untrained mind.”

This quote from the skill description does provide food for thought. How exactly do capsuleers deal with that mind transfer? Even more so, what is it like to experience death momentarily, only to wake up in a new body that is more or less exactly like the previous one, but with subtle differences. When a capsuleer looks into a mirror the first time after “rebirth”, do they wonder whether that is actually the same person looking back? How do they deal with the fact that their physical body has become a mere extension of the infomorph that they really are?

What is an infomorph anyway?

The term infomorph approximately translates as “instruction given form”. In a more specific sense, it describes a virtual body comprised of the complete mental state of a human being. One of the key aspects of this concept is that the infomorph can be transferred between different media. It can be contained in a human body but also stored in a machine. The idea of the human consciousness as a collection of data that can be stored in a sufficiently advanced computer and even moved into a new body has become more common in science fiction throughout the recent two decades. Hannu Rajaniemi’s Quantum Thief (2010) prominently features whole societies built around the idea that consciousness can not only be transferred between bodies, but also customised, reprogrammed, “hacked”, and subverted. Then, there is the rather underrated movie Transcendence (2014), built on the assumption that true artificial intelligence is harder to achieve than uploading a mind into a computer, and thus creating an intelligent machine, or Source Code (2011) where the mind of a soldier is kept alive and repeatedly projected into a specific body to uncover a terrorist plot.

Central to all those plots is the idea that everything which makes us who we are is the result of brain activity which is sufficiently similar to computer function and data processing to be copied effectively into a machine and copied back into a biological vessel, i.e. a brain. I have asked a biologist friend how viable that is; she told me that there are some more elements involved in the whole of a human personality than just brain function. Apparently, we are also strongly influenced by hormone levels and other physiological factors like the workings of our adrenal glands, our sexual organs or how our body feels to us. The adverse effects of transferring a human mind into another body or even a machine is often addressed by the authors of science-fiction literature and screenplays. In many stories, the subjects of such processes become “inhuman” as a result.

The term infomorph as we understand it today is rather new in science-fiction writing; it was first introduced by Charles Platt in his 1991 novel, The Silicon Man. The underlying concepts are not new at all though. The idea that part of us is potentially reproducible, transferrable and separate from our physical body is almost as old as human imagination itself. Religions all over the world believe in an immortal soul or spiritual self that continues to exist even if our bodies die. In some belief systems, this soul moves on to an afterlife, in others it gets reincarnated into a new body where it will become changed but still retains part of its “personality”. Besides religious and spiritual belief, there are also many legends about the separation of mind and body. Tales of possessions, hauntings by disembodied spirits and out-of-body experiences can be found in virtually every culture.

In the modern age, such mystical stories were largely replaced by narratives that imagined “scientific” and “technological” explanations for the separation of mind and body. In H.P. Lovecraft’s The Whisperer In Darkness (1931), alien creatures extract a man’s brain and preserve it in a container while keeping his consciousness intact and connected to devices which replace his ability to sense the world and speak. In the story Professor Dowell’s Head (1925), the Russian author Alexander Belyaev imagined a visionary surgeon finding a way to remove a subject’s head and transplanting it onto a new body while keeping the brain alive. With scientific advances in neurology which lead to the understanding of the brain as an electrochemical information processor and storage system, and the parallel development of ever more powerful computers, we began imagining the possibility to fully extract and transfer a mind by means of information technology. In the end, the hopeful vision remains the same: The essence of who we are transcends the body and would endure beyond its death. Over the centuries, we traded our imagination of a mystical immortal soul for a quasi-scientific hope; another way to preserve who and what we are—the infomorph.


Becoming The Machine

In the EVE online mythology, capsuleers are subjected to extremely demanding training which is supposed to prepare them mentally for taking the next step in human evolution. A major hurdle in this training is the dissociative experience involved with the linking a capsuleer’s mind to the hull of a ship. The game’s lore addresses the neuropsychological difficulty capsuleers face during the effort to overcome their sense of proprioception. That complicated word describes our conscious and subconscious awareness of the body. It tells us how our limbs are positioned even when we are not seeing them, and this sense is so strongly developed, that our brains often still “imagine” a limb that is lost. As a result, many amputees experience phantom pain, tingling or awareness of a missing body-part. Having one’s proprioception impaired or disturbed would therefore be a profoundly unsettling experience. Likely, you have had a brief glimpse of what that could feel like at the verge of falling asleep. If you ever jerked awake momentarily shocked because you could not feel your body anymore, then you know what I speak of.

Now imagine a training program where you are being put through that experience deliberately and repeatedly for extended periods of time, to prepare you for a mental state that enables you to switch from the proprioception of a human body to one that encompasses a spaceship the size of a skyscraper. The thought is quite staggering; it comes as no surprise that many capsuleers-in-training fail to cope with that.

Crossing Over

While overcoming the proprioception problem is a fundamental part of the path towards becoming a capsuleer, something much more profound lies at the end of that road: The willful destruction of one’s original body as the last step towards becoming a being of pure information. We are told, that the process of scanning and storing a mind for transfer is so invasive, the brain becomes irreparably damaged by it. As a result, a capsuleer’s body gets killed at the time of transfer. This does not simply record the mental state as a set of electrochemical processes, but actually creates a computer model of the complete brain. The brain then gets reconstructed on the atomic and molecular level in a new clone body. This procedure forces the subjects to overcome some of their most primal fears and instincts because they have to go knowingly and willingly into death. Sure, thousands have done it before, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

When I was a kid on a holiday in Greece, I saw some older boys and girls jump into the sea from a high cliff. It looked like fun and I wanted to try it too. Still, it took me two days of several attempts to work up the courage and make the jump, even though I had seen the others do it multiple times every day. Now imagine that such a dare involves taking your own life. Every sufficiently advanced living being has a built-in sense of self-preservation coupled with a healthy fear of death, and a capsuleer-in-training has to suppress those instincts. We are told by the game lore that a large percentage of those who remain at this stage of the training are unable to take that one last step, despite all the rigors they have endured and overcome.

Those who do manage to cross that threshold might actually be exemplars of an evolutionary step. The Geneticist Richard Dawkins proposed in his influential book, The Selfish Gene that life does not simply have an instinct for self-preservation. On a much more basic level, Dawkins suggests, life has a built-in mechanism to replicate. Self-sacrifice and death become a feasible approach when there is a significant potential that it will ensure further propagation. What better chance of propagation could there be than achieving a state where several fully functional bodies at their prime can be occupied repeatedly?


The Capsuleer State-Of-Mind

The players who fly around ships in EVE represent all that’s left after years of physical, scientific, technical and psychological training. At this point, we face an interesting conundrum when it comes to the internal consistency of our shared virtual world. If capsuleers are these incredibly advanced human beings, how is it that effectively, many of them act stupid, psychopathic, unethical, lazy, or in other ways pretty flawed when we apply our real-world yardstick of ethics and values. Sure, it’s just a game; people simply play without thinking about the moral implications of their actions. It’s not like EVE makes an effort to guilt-trip people with the tragedy of the thousands who die in stupid fleet welps. The game would be pretty depressing if it dealt too much with that. On the other hand, the way capsuleers are played by us could be explained by their flawed nature.

The combination of cloning, burn-scanner and capsule has only existed for a bit more than a decade. Nobody really knows what the long-term effects are. What is it really like for a capsuleer to wake up from the dead and find that their hair is different, that they are missing recent scars, and that their body smells and feels different from the last time they experienced it? That alone can make people a little weird in their heads. At the same time, capsuleers have become both more and less than other humans. Through their transformation, they become effectively immortal, but they also lose part of their humanity in the process. They do not age anymore, and, much like the ships they fly, their bodies become replaceable vessels. In fact, much of the time a capsuleer’s ship effectively is their body. Considering that not everything that makes us who we are resides in the brain, some aspects of a capsuleer’s humanity are irrevocably lost by becoming an infomorph. As I mentioned, the tales of disembodied minds being transferred into machines often contain that cautionary aspect. The subjects of those procedures become strange, inhuman, potentially even insane. It is not a significant stretch of the imagination to assume capsuleers could suffer from similar mental disorders, especially as every time they die and get reborn, they are removed further and further from the human condition.

To not only separate the mind from the body, but also assume the form of immense starships which could destroy cities and move through space at superluminal speeds is quite likely to lead to a number of sociopathic disorders, too. During this progressive desensitization, a capsuleer would potentially become more out-of-touch with the crews that man their ships or those of others. After all, to them the crew is basically a group of organisms who move through the insides of the massive war-machines that the capsuleer minds inhabit. They are part of their bodily functions, so to speak. It would be as if the bacteria in your intestines could talk to you—a very strange thought indeed.

In the end—despite all the training and preparation—the capsuleer’s mind is originally human: Having all the flaws and limitations. Who can say what happens to such a consciousness, developing over years under such extreme conditions.

Tags: cloning, lore, science, tarek

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.

  • Fuzzysteve

    Altered Carbon is also worth a read. Download into alternate bodies. Or backups.

    As a random thing of interest, treatment for phantom limb pain can be weird. (House got it mostly right)

    Voice of the Whirlwind was also an interesting read. Wake up missing 15 years of memory, because your original never got round to updating their backup.

    • Kamar Raimo

      That is pretty cool. Never heard about that. Fascinating.

    • Jon Camp

      I love all of Walter Jon Williams’ stuff, and Voice of the Whirlwind was why — 1st book by him that I read, and it was amazing.

      Another author who I like his take on something similar is Peter F Hamilton and his “Commonweatlh” series beginning with the book “Pandora’s Star.”

      He posits a world in which one can “rejuvenate” and thus be effectively immortal, though it’s very expensive so people generally work their entire lives to save up for it, then it takes a couple of years to actually do, and after rejuvenation they’re 20-ish years old again physically. They almost always treat each cycle as a different life. they also have memory implants and can pick and choose which memories to keep.

      This makes solving crimes hard becuz a criminal can excise memories of doing crimes and therefore literally not be able to remember having done such a thing. Memories are also on a constant upload to a central repository, so murder is pretty much non-existent — they call it “bodyloss” instead, and if you get killed a new body is cloned out for you and you get your memories uploaded up to the point of your death.

      Anyway…. it’s a fascinating world, IMO, and has some very interesting ideas. I haven’t even touched on the people who try to make themselves more advanced with cybernetics and gene therapy and call themselves “highers” or the people who decide that a meat body is too much trouble and upload themselves permanently into a giant AI core and then they’re all AI’s together in a simulated world where they can do nearly anything. And yes, the human minds make up the AI, but there’s also the “SI” which is a true machine intelligence as well.

      Yeah, it’s actually pretty dense reading, but a really good tale.

  • You’re easily my favorite CZ writer. Great article!

    • Kamar Raimo

      Thanks for the compliment.

  • Gerald Hollis

    My personal theory which ignores most lore but fits actual gameplay is that the clones are a lie. When you become a capsuleer your mind is recorded and your body destroyed. You then become nothing more than a brain in a jar… In a spaceship. When you die your consciousness is transfered to a new brain in a new jar. As evidence I offer:

    1. Economics – Why spend so much extra resources building new meatsuits when they are just going to be destroyed. Much more efficent to just replace the necessary parts.

    2. Implants. Future tech or not implants shouldn’t be swappable at a moment’s notice even out in space unless, perhaps, the brain they’re being put into its already exposed.

    3. The Captain’s Quarters – Isn’t it odd that every system everywhere has a room set aside just for you with the same books and nick-nacks. And why can’t you leave that room… Maybe cause it’s a simulation.

    4. Appearance – Somehow your fresh clone not only has the same hair and accessories… They even have the same clothes. That’s because your clone represents your self image not a real physical body.

    5. Logistics – building clones takes time and there are thousands of capsuleers and yet they somehow always have a fresh one ready for you no matter how many times you die. It would be impossible to forecast that well.

    Just food for thought.

    • Kamar Raimo

      hehe, nice conspiracy theory. It would be quite a bit like in the Source Code movie I mention where the guy is basically a corpse but he thinks he is sitting in some kind of capsule when he is not projected into his target body.

      On the other hand, I think it would come out eventually except if virtually the whole of New Eden is in on the conspiracy, don’t you think?

      • Gerald Hollis

        Capsuleers don’t interact with normal people, only other capsuleers.

  • Zakalwe

    That article was superb. You have a great writing style which really keeps the reader engaged.

    These articles are a welcome change from the norm of “Super down in…..” that other sites frequently write about. Whilst they do have their place, the writing here is top notch and on an entirely different level to other sites.

    To write about the lore of an Internet spaceship game in such a profound way as to provoke intellegent thought is no mean feat.

    Keep up the good work mate.

    • Kamar Raimo

      Thanks a lot. In all fairness, we at CZ do not report news and that gives us much more time to think about and work on our pieces. To keep your ear on the “pulse of EVE” and write news reports is a completely different ballgame.

      Also +1 for using the protagonist name from one of my favourite books. Which actually reminds me of a crass oversight. Talking about mind transfer in sci-fi and completely forgetting the Culture (facepalm)

      • xanderphoena


        • Kamar Raimo

          Yah, that one even has a particularly interesting combination of the oldschool and the new hightech verion of the myth. We take your original living brain and transplant it into a completely artificial machine body.

      • Zakalwe

        I wondered if you’d notice. Iain M. Banks was a legend.

  • Resa Moon
    • xanderphoena

      Resa, can you contact either by email (midi2304 at gmail dot com) or via Skype (m1d124) so I can have a word? Thanks.

    • Kamar Raimo

      That’s a funny take on the situation. Similar to one comment on reddit: What if the person dies when becoming the capsuleer, and the infomorph
      is just a program being controlled by a bunch of nerds in another

  • Smokey

    Excellent article 10/10.

    Cloning can very well kill a part of someone’s humanity, but that’s not universally true. I think capsuleers can keep at least some form of their “humanity”, if they so choose:

    One the one hand is Silat Enfour (All these lives are fit for ruin chronicle) who seems to care about his death and that of his crew, saying about cloning that “[..]the whole experience is tinted with that quivering fear your subconscious vomits up: That this is the last, this is the end, this is the final run before the infinite nothing. I have been cloned more times than I can recall, and this is the one part of the process that I will never, in my life of lives, get used to.”

    On the flip side, we have the psychopath Omvistus (Xenocracy chronicle) who calmly explains that “With a single thought, I can reduce your entire city to a smoldering crater; the boiling wind rushing in to replace the void left behind will be laced with dust particles that were once the bodies of everyone you know and love.”

    I’m not a lore guy, but it’s fascinating to hear how capsuleers can act and why they do things as written in the story. And to see how different their motivations usually are from machines (like in postnatal or the one with the guy alone on a mining station for 10 years). And yes, all i know comes from evereader.

    • Kamar Raimo

      I am pretty sure some capsuleers would really develop to some higher form of consciousness and develop a suitable ethic. There are even equivalent things happening in game, look at Chribba or Mike Azariah for example.

  • Freelancer117

    +1 article, loving the lore, also I miss Tony Gonzales

  • Danikov

    CCP like to walk the line between sci-fi for the sake of the universe and blurring the line between the game and the fiction, especially when it comes to the players for the sake of immersiveness. The in-universe actions of capsuleers often is fathered in as a partial side effect of the rather unique mental position capsuleers are put into.

    That said, if one were to experience the depiction of life EVE gives us, with a form of immortality and planetary wealth at our fingertips, who’s to say there isn’t an element of truth in how such beings might act in some galactic empire of the far future? Fundamentally, sci-fi is often a vehicle to explore the human condition and the community we’ve built for ourselves in New Eden does reflect the people who’ve built it. One might question that, if we discovered such a technology, do we deserve it in our current state of being?

    • Kamar Raimo

      “One might question that, if we discovered such a technology, do we deserve it in our current state of being?”

      Even today we are in a situation where people have incredible technologies at their fingertips but many are not actually evolved to a point where they can use those technologies in responsible or mature ways.

      Just look at all the crazyness and stupidity that happens on the internet, and those are some of the richest and best educated people in the world doing those things.

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  • You left out Wet Grave syndrome, which is what happened to the first capsuleer, where they become trapped in their own minds, screaming but unable to scream, and have to be euthanized.