I'm hoping to develop a hybrid genre setting for a game, a 'post-singularity' situation developed from a traditional fantasy/magipunk world - though the allegory doesn't fully encompass what I want, think "eclipse phase or John C. Wrights 'golden age' via eberron".
The key themes I'm hoping to explore are the usual ones of identity in a world where it can be as arbitrary and artificial as one wants, based around the standard tropes of:
- Identity or mind is no longer bound to body; minds can be shifted between receptive vessels as needed
- Identity is no longer unique and inviolate; minds can be recorded, copied, forked, altered, merged, or even built from ground principles (at various levels of sentience) a'la an A.I.
However I want to explore these tropes as an outgrowth of a magical understanding rather than a scientific one.
Fantasy ~tends~ to run towards a dualism vein, where identity is separate from the physical form anyway - body/soul format. Its pretty easy to extend that to meet trope 1, decouple the soul and implement a ghost/possession system (c.f. the d&d ghostwalk setting).
Trope 2 is a lot harder to meet from that starting point; souls are usually considered pretty inviolate (barring themes like contamination or corruption), and very unique (I can't think of any stories with soul-copying that results in a full-fledged duplication; plenty of soulless abominations, but no total clones).
The good news of course is that I'm not locked to a generic dualism in my culture, so what are my alternatives?
Sci-fi post-singularities (at least the ones I'm familiar with) stem from a hard materialist theory of mind view; ultimately all ones thoughts and personality etc are emergent from a physical phenomenon - duplicate the phenomenon, duplicate the individual. Compounding this is that the knowledge to build an actual model of how we'd go about this stems from advanced physiology, biology, and physics.
Unfortunately, I'm constrained by my own culture, where widespread acceptance of a materialistic view is relatively recent (and may or may not be dominant even now depending on the beliefs of your local culture, though it does seem to be growing(?)), and access to the scientific models is very recent indeed.
Obviously some of this can (and will) ultimately be handwaved - ultimately a wizard will do it, and magic will stand in for sufficiently advanced science - but I'd still like an idea of how to get 'here' from a more traditional pseudo-medieval (or pseudo-renaissance) fantasy mindset...
Thus my question, as above: what cultural beliefs could my basic fantasy settings have held originally, to encourage them to have a sufficiently materialistic theory of mind in the past, to have developed such a post-identity society now?
As a further, leading thought (though I'm totally open to, and very keen to hear, answers that reach a conclusion from a different starting point), I suspect that I need an original belief in some alternative to a 'soul' that lends itself more towards materialist metaphors.
edit: Though it will push this even further towards an open question that (I presume) this community doesn't like, I'm early enough in my designs that I'm not wedded to anything settingwise, and happy to look at frame-challenging answers that allow me to achieve the effects above.
I don't mind if the solution is a sci fi recording of electrical impulses and a justification of how a fantasy society realised that, or whether the solution is soul copying and a viewpoint that makes that relatable and not totally alien to a reader/player.