I saw an interesting question and answer on Facebook. Basically, much of the book is about the war that is waged between proponents of afterlife literal hell, and those who oppose it. Without any spoilers, the hell is a place created by digital simulation, where beings suffer horrendous physical and emotional tortures, endlessly and repeatedly, with great detail. Many civilizations are pro-hell, while the Culture and some others are anti-hell. Warning, there may be some MINOR SPOILERS in the answer. Question: did you approve or dis-approve of the digital hells in Surface Detail? Answer: Thanks for the question. The reply will be a bit longer, because it's a hugely important question and also a reason why do we read sci-fi. My first thought is, by what objective, universal standard can anyone approve of the digital hells in Surface Detail? There are such standards for acceptance of logic and periodic table of chemical elements and a few other things, is there one for the digital hells? There is a good reason why in Surface Detail there was a whole war to decide this question, that is because there were no good arguments for the pro-hell side. And without good arguments, the last resort is violence. To be honest, I do not remember that the anti-hell side would mention any arguments, I could supply some here, because it's too late for IMB. I regret that IMB was not a philosopher, because rarely does one enjoy a sharp moral debate in fiction. The digital hells do not make sense both logically and empirically. Logically, there is the is-ought problem. Just because someone commits the act of X, it does not necessarily follow that there should be a digital hell in which he spends Y amount of years, undergoing Z types of torture. That is a huge step in an arbitrary direction. Empirically, punishment does not work. Death sentence does not prevent much crime. And we know that the greatest criminals are in politics, so they decide who gets the punishment and it's never them. Hell only catches the small fry. Basically, the whole digital hell debate is the same as the debate whether children should be spanked (yelled at, given time outs) or whether we should use peaceful parenting without coercion and with creative negotiation. If I lay these options next to each other, how you I convince me which one to choose? By coercion, yelling or punishment? Or will you negotiate with me? Argue peacefully, that coercion is better? See, the pro-aggression side gets into self-contradiction pretty fast. The conversation deteriorates pretty fast, because if the digital hell is claimed as a just punishment, then anyone who disagrees with the digital hells vehemently enough, will be sent to the digital hell. http://pbfcomics.com/223/ Of course, I care the least for those who happen to get to a digital hell used to initiate aggression against peaceful people. While I'm against the digital hells in general, these people I would rescue the last or rather left it on personal choice of whoever will do the job willingly. Anyway, I do not believe in the simulation of consciousness. Not without growing another brain of equal mass, synapse density and configuration, A fungal mass with lesser density will not do, because it will be comparatively unreal. Consciousness is equal to the synapses and neurons and the mass of the brain. The whole digital hell in Surface Detail is basically a big mass of suffering fungus, at least as far as the permanent, dead residents are concerned, not the ones being tortured in stasis (like the main protagonists). If there was such a fungus with such computing powers to simulate many living minds fully, then it would be a super-human sentient life form with its own will that must be respected. There is no such possible thing as a super-efficient substrate for consciousness without its own sentience. Mod Edit: Removed link due to current, real world political content.