[inspired by Daniel Dennett and considered by several such as Susan Schnieder, but hopefully this version is unique]
After a few thought experiments, the question of where is my mind becomes harder to answer than it might seem at first, and it may not speak well for all the effort placed in trans-humanism and its notions of how to preserve us humans (well, at least our minds) on into the future.
Consider the transport of the Star Trek universe. This nifty device is supposed to somehow take apart our molecules move them to a remote location and then reassemble them. Well, that’s not too much trouble for consciousness. For the dualist it’s easy to think that one’s soul or mind moved along on its ethereal plane or whatever to where the new body is. But even the materialist has little trouble here. After all, I am in this new place and identical in every way to the how I was in the old place. The only weird thing is the disassembly reassembly and where I was in the meantime, but it’s easy to ignore that. Fair enough, right?
Imagine a new inventor in the Star Trek universe comes along and notices that one of the challenges of the transporter is sneaking all those molecules into certain places or over great distances. He knows he could send information faster, easier, and further so, he assembles great jars of goo with every possible molecule you could find in a human at one end of a transporter. He takes the transporter signal and instead of reassembling your exact molecules, he pulls new ones from these jars. One by one every molecule is place in the identical relationship it would be with the original transporter. The dualist is wondering if the new body is really the right one, but the materialist isn’t too worried yet. After all, it’s not like our personalities are contained in the actual impersonal molecules! Surely it’s the organization of those untold billions of molecules that matter and the inventor has assured us that this uses the same technology as the transporters, but instead of the original molecules it uses ones from these jars. Clearly, if the organization is key and then where those molecules came from can’t matter. We are who we are, even though our own molecules are changing over time!
But now we’re running into to trouble. What if another inventor has a look at the latest non-molecular transporter and realizes that the disassembly process isn’t exactly necessary. He could, simply transport you to a room next door, but siphon off the signal for the non-molecular transporter. Or, he implements a scanner that foregoes the need to disassemble at all. When our latest inventor tries out the modification, the result is two of “you.”
Which one is the real “you?” It definitely impossible for anyone else to tell. The new “you” and the one that didn’t move very far really are “you” in every possible way going forward and no one could ask you a question to convince themselves otherwise. Worse, even you can’t tell! The new “you” in the remote location remembers stepping on the transporter pad and finding him or herself in a new location, but memories, sensations, everything is perfectly identical…there’s no way to feel any different.
Except there is a difference in some way. One of you has the same molecules she or he had a minute ago and the other doesn’t. That’s got to count for something, right? Even if we admit we’ve created a perfect duplicate, without error, doesn’t it mean something that one is a copy while the other is the original?
What if the invention worked out so that we were obliged to eliminate one of the duplicates. You’re still around, so it doesn’t matter, or does it? And isn’t this what’s going on in the first revision of the non-molecular transporter (which disassembled to scan? Didn’t we, well, kill that person, or that person’s personality, or consciousness? Consciousness got reassembled somewhere else, sure, but did it some how move there too? Because it’s not sure where to go when we don’t destroy the original. Don’t we all at least intuitively see consciousness as some contiguous flow over time. Because in one case the timeline stopped and in another it doesn’t (even if there is a hiccup).
It seems to me at least, that while we can’t tell from an interview, that a personality ends if we destroy the original. That the me in there is eliminated; ceases to existdies. Sure anyone who chats with the new copy, including the copy and his own introspection, is perfectly happy with the procedure, but the me that didn’t move is gone, that timeline is ended.
If you accept that, well, what happened in the original transporter? Sure the new Spock is happy to have been transported, but how is the transported Spock different than just a copy would be? Didn’t, then, the original cease to exist? And what would it mean to upload my brain into something other than my own molecules or copies of my molecules, but rather a computer as trans-humanists propose? Sure the new computer consciousness is happy about it, but am I not dead anyway?
Is there anyway to move my conscious out of my own head? And how or why is it stuck there? That seems rather odd if the mind really is only the organization of molecules in my body. Don’t we at least have to add over time to that concept? Is locality important here at all.
Your comments, as usual, welcome!
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