A Thought Experiment

My friend put this experiment to me a few weeks ago.

Imagine the quantum teleporter has been invented, a device that can destroy any object and recreate it exactly as it was in another location, in a very tiny fraction of a second. Imagine that you are being asked to use it, knowing that it is completely safe, and that it will preserve the electrical states of every atom well enough that your thoughts, personality, and body functions will all be the same as before.

Would you do it, Best Beloved? Would you still be you? (really, feel free to comment with an answer and your reasoning, as I find this question terribly interesting)

My friend would not, because he believes there is a nonphysical, nontransferrable something that would be missing when he reached the other side. I would use the teleporter, because I think the entire self is a product of the body. The physical stuff of the brain is wondrously labyrinthine and amazingly engineered, and knowing what I know of biology, chemistry, and electrics, I believe this is all there is. It was supposed to be a difficult question to ponder, and I think I frustrated him by being so completely sure of my answer, but if the slopping chemicals, electrical impulses, and connections in the brain do not create a person, what does? And why is the person irretrievable? This is probably a matter of the difficulty in restoring the electrical state of the entire body and the brain; the reason we laugh at Frankenstein’s monster is that we know merely shocking a corpse will not cause it to become a person. It’s much more complicated than that, and if it does not start simply, with the few, carefully monitored cells in the womb, it is impossible to get exactly right.

But I am getting a bit off track. My friend also asked me, what if the teleporter did not destroy the original? Would you consider both physically identical (at least for a moment) copies ‘you?’ There was a corollary involving personalities backed up on computer networks, each running stimuli identical to the flesh original, to expand on the point of the exercise. And I? I say that if the programs cannot tell themselves apart from you, they are functionally (if not actually) you. The teleporter copy, however, soon receives different stimuli and by the time you meet it, it will be an extremely similar person who you will probably hate (we, as a species of hypocrites, hate nothing more than our own defects in others).

I cannot quite communicate the sense of what I mean, but I hope it carries enough meaning to be interesting for you to think about, Best Beloved.

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2 thoughts on “A Thought Experiment

  1. I’ll even say that the two things can be absolutely simultaneous. It still isn’t you – it’s a copy of you – and one doesn’t need to believe in an ineffable something that is not transferred. We exist in four dimensions, not three, and even if you recreate all of the patterns and how they were moving, such that the thought one brain starts to have, the other finishes, it is still a copy that is finishing it, with the first having been killed. So there is no problem for identity once you additionally say that the first isn’t destroyed. All of these were examined nicely in an 80s movie called Victim of the Brain (without solution), but the ship of theseus problem isn’t so much of a conundrum if we accept that thoughts take time, which they do, and that “we” are identified by our thoughts, which are a product of the structure of the brain.

    • An excellent point, but it does still leave room for the ‘ineffable something’ to be missing, because not everybody accepts that thoughts are our primary indentifying factor. Nevertheless, I at least wholeheartedly agree.

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