Monday, February 28, 2005


Suppose we discover how to make a teletransporter that works like the one on Star Trek. It decomposes your body and your brain and records all the information about them. It then radios a signal to Mars, where another machine uses raw materials on Mars to create a person who perfectly duplicates you. This person walks and talks just like you. It thinks it's you. It seems to remember your life. Would this person be you? Would you survive going through this teletransporter? Or would this person on Mars merely be a copy of you? Would you use such a teletransporter?

Suppose that I kill you, painlessly and without warning, but I introduce a perfect duplicate of you into your life. So no one knows you're gone, because they all falsely believe that the duplicate is you. Even the duplicate thinks he is you, because we gave him a bunch of false memories of your childhood.

Some philosophers think that's exactly what it would be like, if you went through a teletransporter. On their view, teletransportation isn't a way to TRAVEL. It's a way to get yourself killed, and to have a perfect duplicate of you made at the other end. It might not make much of a difference to your family and friends, whether they're dealing with the original or the duplicate. But since you're not the duplicate, you're you, and you'd like to still be around next week, it will make a big difference to you.

Suppose you step into the teletransporter, and it records all the information about your body without destroying you. Then as before, it creates a perfect duplicate of you on Mars. You can hang around and talk to the duplicate on the phone or via webcam. Then after an hour or so, we'll kill the person left on Earth. (Since it would be inconvenient to have two versions of you running around.)

In this case, when there's a delay between the time when the machine records the information about you and the time when your body on Earth is destroyed, it does seem that the person who comes out of the teletransporter on Mars is only a copy of you. So why should things be any different if your body is destroyed immediately after the teletransporter records the information about you? Or if it's destroyed simultaneously? Why should those matters of timing make a difference to whether the person who steps out of the teletransporter on Mars is really you or just a copy of you?

So now we have two different views of how teletransporters work. Which is correct?


Blogger Michael Silverman said...

Long answer: no with a ‘but’

I think it’s clear I would never want to be teleported, because who knows if I don't die in the process and why would I take such a risk? However, I'm not so sure 'I' really am so concrete an entity as we are all giving me credit for. Personally I think it may be completely possible that the belief that I am some kind of entity that has a continuous identity is an emotion that evolved as a mechanism for survival. It seems evident that ‘will’ is a similar emotion. It can be described as a “emotion of authorship.” It is impossible for intelligence without such an emotion because how can you learn anything if you don’t feel like you’ve caused anything? This concept is explained in detail in the book The Illusion of Conscious Will by Wegner, but the question is does the same thing apply to consciousness, and PI? My question is: Why not? Lets say life evolved due to some random thing (lightning struck the primordial soup). Then it is possible that organism’s survival is merely some sort of complicated feedback loop. All the critters on earth are stuck under some mathematical evolution principle and the organisms are merely shifting the parameters of the equation of life off in some direction. Then I am merely a thing stuck in this loop and my feeling “I don’t want to die” is useful to the equation that I am living under. It is possible that someone omniscient watching me not go through the teleporter would be like me watching a remote controlled car turning left. The car is governed by rules, and it is easy to predict what it will do, why aren’t we simply emotionally attached to the idea of living, and not basing this on reality?

11:59 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

I would like to cite the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Second Chances" where Riker actually gets cloned by a transporter beam. He is trying to get beamed off a planet with high levels of interference, and (I'll save you the technobabble) duplicate copies of Riker are made, one up on the ship and the other on the plant (although the one that stayed on the planet remins undiscovered for a number of years, when they return to the planet and find him). When they do return the two Rikers have seemingly the same body, but the one that was on the ship has had different experiences than the one who stayed on the planet, and they each developed different personalities, so in this case relating to the transporter destroying you it would seem that in the Star Trek universe, it merely makes a copy of you. (assuming that the transporter actually destroys you.)

I believe that, in fact, the transporter on Star Trek doesn't copy you and recreate you somewhere else, but deconstructs you and sends your own particles through space to be reconstructed elsewhere. The problem with the Riker clone came from the beam strength being doubled and half of it being reflected by interference.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

well, i think i might use the teleporter, i would never know i stopped existing and my clone would in most aspects be me and continue to act, think, and look like me and would continue my life and do everything as i would have done it. now i say this in theory because i don't have the option of using one and my mind might become quite changed if i were presented with the opportunity. but i do agree that i would, in fact, cease to exist because when i arrived wherever i was going i would not be composed of exactly the same matter, "another machine uses raw materials on Mars to create a person who perfectly duplicates you," not the materials you were originally composed of.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Dan McCormick said...

I don't think transportation is such a good idea, because there seems to be too many problems relating transportation and duplication. I therefore believe that I can't be decomposed here, and am just my meat and bones. Even though perhaps no one would know I had been transported, they would still interact with my duplicate, etc, I can't be fine with that. Maybe I would have the same mind / soul etc., but then it seems to me that I am only a set of relationships. As long as I act and interact the same way to people and things, my mind and so on need to persist, but my body does not. However, I think there is something more to what I am than relationships, so my identity must at least have something to do with my body.

10:19 PM  

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