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Teleportation problem
Posted: 11 October 2007 04:10 AM   [ Ignore ]
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So, suppose somebody invents a human teleportation machine which is capable of reading in all of your “data”, the position of your atoms and so on (I know there is more to it than that but bear with me), and obliterating your body, then rematerializing it in another teleportation machine which is located somewhere else.  A key point is that the rematerialized body has the same make-up but has entirely different atoms which were collected and processed at the rematerialization site.  The person who steps out of that teleportation machine remembers being on the other side, and every event in his or her life up to that point.  In essence they are you.  But—here’s the rub—what happened to your stream of consciousness?  Essentially this person has a brain made of completely different stuff from your previous brain.  So, did you, on the previous machine, experience death? in a sense?  Does this new you just -think- that they are you with no idea the the previous you actually died?

Is anybody going to want to step on a teleporter like this even if it’s the only way they’ll ever be able to walk on Europa or something considering the above question?  Maybe they won’t get to Europa, and some copy of them will be having all the fun!  But would that be the case?

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Posted: 11 October 2007 04:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Hi godblessgeorgecarlin,

As far as I know this is a thought experiment originating from Dennett. It is a good test if you really (sorry Doug) believe that your mind is just a function of your body. If you really believe it, you would step into the teleportation device without any hesitation.

On your question, I would say in the first place what I assume Dennett would say as well: the stream of consciousness is an illusion itself, and your ‘copy’ would just have the same illusion. So my answer would be that it must be like falling asleep, and wake up at another place.

But I have an even harder problem with this teleporter: what if it is malfunctioning, and the original is not destroyed? Who is ‘I’? The one says ‘Shit, I am still here’, or the one that says ‘Wow, I did not know that Europa is so beautiful!’?

So I confess that on theoretical grounds I really think that the mind is a function of my body, but I still do not quite feel that way. This is the main reason that I practice Zen meditation: the promise of Zen buddhism that it is possible to really experience that my mind is not an independent existing soul, free of the influence of natural laws.

GdB

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Posted: 11 October 2007 05:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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GdB - 11 October 2007 04:43 AM

But I have an even harder problem with this teleporter: what if it is malfunctioning, and the original is not destroyed? Who is ‘I’? The one says ‘Shit, I am still here’, or the one that says ‘Wow, I did not know that Europa is so beautiful!’?

 

What interests me is the original who was perfectly willing to be destroyed, would lose that willingness if you said sorry you weren’t destroyed as intended but we would like your permission to go ahead now as you’ve already appeared on Europa!

What is the difference in being destroyed at precisely the right moment and a couple of minutes later?

Stephen

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Posted: 11 October 2007 07:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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GdB - 11 October 2007 04:43 AM

As far as I know this is a thought experiment originating from Dennett.

Actually, no. It’s one of a series of brilliant thought experiments on personal identity originating from Derek Parfit’s groundbreaking book Reasons and Persons.

He has a number of others, including split brains, fused brains, memory losses, and a number of similar teleporter confusions.

FWIW, his general solution is along Buddhist lines (though I believe not explicitly so—Buddhist and Humean versions of personal identity are pretty close). That is, that what identifies us is a stream of causally connected mental states. Since there is no “substantial soul”, there is no single “I” that can’t be split into two, or fused from two into one.

But there will always be a residue of uncertainty, I think, when it comes to the transporter ... does it destroy you and create a perfect copy? Or does it simply move you from here to there? Is it the same consciousness that looks out of the eyes of Mars-you? Or is it a different, new consciousness?

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Posted: 11 October 2007 07:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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dougsmith - 11 October 2007 07:29 AM

But there will always be a residue of uncertainty, I think, when it comes to the transporter ... does it destroy you and create a perfect copy? Or does it simply move you from here to there? Is it the same consciousness that looks out of the eyes of Mars-you? Or is it a different, new consciousness?

Hi Doug,


The way I’ve answered this is to imagine we did the same with say a vase.

Here we would think of it as a vase being destroyed and a new one being created.

We have extra properties, self awareness and memory but why would those extra properties make us view the situation differently when thinking about a human and not a vase?

I’m sitting here telling myself there is no reason to, so we are destroyed and a copy made.

I’m not sure if I’m missing something though?

Stephen

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Posted: 11 October 2007 07:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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StephenLawrence - 11 October 2007 07:41 AM

The way I’ve answered this is to imagine we did the same with say a vase.

Here we would think of it as a vase being destroyed and a new one being created.

Well, I’d say that begs a lot of questions. I mean, let’s say we’re in a culture that uses transporters all the time, like in Star Trek. Let’s say you have the Mona Lisa, and you want to display it in a museum on Mars. Would you HAVE to send it by spaceship? Or couldn’t you just transport it?

If you could transport it, that would show that the culture deemed that the Mona Lisa survived teletransportation. (We wouldn’t end up displaying a mere forgery). And then so too would your vase.

I’m not necessarily saying that that’s the right reaction here—I’m just pointing out that it’s apparently the same reaction we would get with personal identity of humans.

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Posted: 11 October 2007 09:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 11 October 2007 07:55 AM
StephenLawrence - 11 October 2007 07:41 AM

The way I’ve answered this is to imagine we did the same with say a vase.

Here we would think of it as a vase being destroyed and a new one being created.

Well, I’d say that begs a lot of questions. I mean, let’s say we’re in a culture that uses transporters all the time, like in Star Trek. Let’s say you have the Mona Lisa, and you want to display it in a museum on Mars. Would you HAVE to send it by spaceship? Or couldn’t you just transport it?

If you could transport it, that would show that the culture deemed that the Mona Lisa survived teletransportation. (We wouldn’t end up displaying a mere forgery). And then so too would your vase.

I’m not necessarily saying that that’s the right reaction here—I’m just pointing out that it’s apparently the same reaction we would get with personal identity of humans.

Ok.

I think a useful question is can we view humans and paintings in the same way regardless of what the answer is?

So will the answer necessarily be the same for paintings and humans?

Is what the culture deems to be true the important thing?

The culture may view the new painting as the thing itself but isn’t this one of the cases where there is a fact of the matter and the culture maybe wrong? Or shall we be postmodernists on this issue?

We could say the new copy has equal value to the culture as the original but still is not the original.

By changing the example and keeping the original rather than destroying it, we can see that it is not a case of the painting surviving but a new one being created can’t we?

Isn’t destroying it at the same moment and having it “reappear” just a conjuring trick which we can see for what it is by simply making a copy maybe three feet away on the same table and keeping the original in tacked?


Stephen

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Posted: 11 October 2007 10:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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StephenLawrence - 11 October 2007 05:12 AM

What interests me is the original who was perfectly willing to be destroyed, would lose that willingness if you said sorry you weren’t destroyed as intended but we would like your permission to go ahead now as you’ve already appeared on Europa!

What is the difference in being destroyed at precisely the right moment and a couple of minutes later?

Hi Doug,

I am curious how you would answer Stephen’s question?

GdB

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Posted: 11 October 2007 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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GdB - 11 October 2007 10:42 AM
StephenLawrence - 11 October 2007 05:12 AM

What interests me is the original who was perfectly willing to be destroyed, would lose that willingness if you said sorry you weren’t destroyed as intended but we would like your permission to go ahead now as you’ve already appeared on Europa!

What is the difference in being destroyed at precisely the right moment and a couple of minutes later?

Hi Doug,

I am curious how you would answer Stephen’s question?

GdB

It’s a good question! These Parfitian examples become quite paradoxical when you think about them in any depth. They raise all sorts of very profound questions about personal identity.

The easy answer (insofar as there is one) is that the destruction is only permissible if it happens before the creation of the farther pair. Once the other pair has been created, if the original remains, you immediately have two distinct people, and killing either of them is murder.

Although this answer may be easier than some, it is not obviously correct.

Of course, the standard Trek escape here is that you can’t create the farther pair without destroying the nearer one. That is, in some sense it’s all the same particles involved. Now, that is a somewhat more convenient story, although even so, the question about whether we would survive having our atoms scrambled up and re-formed is quite real.

But at any rate, the Trek transporter is fictional, and since we’re only speculating here, it might well be that transporters didn’t work in such a convenient fashion. Perhaps they could make TWO yous if they malfunctioned, one on Europa and another on Io. So which is the real “you”, then? Or are they both? If you were running from a crime, should they track down and lock up both the Europa-you and the Io-you?

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Posted: 12 October 2007 09:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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My Amazon shopping list continues to grow reading all of these posts!

I didn’t know that people had written significantly on this teleportation problem, but it is one that fascinates me, not because of the identity problem it presents, but the stream of consciousness problem.  (That’s just my particular passion in regards to this problem, not trying to disrespect the identity problems!)  If two yous ended up being created as a result, I’d imagine the teleportation industry would have some explaining to do, and the two yous would end up in the society as something similar to other survivors of bad vehicles and plane crashes.  It would be a terrible tragedy, and hopefully the teleportation industry would clean up their act.  Or, the accident would be buried by the industry and the first you would be shot, or something.

So guys, if you don’t mind satisfying my curiosity, if the above did happen and the first you was shot after the second one was created, what do you think would happen to your stream of consciousness then?  Would Dennet’s falling asleep comparison be upheld?  Stephen posed a question similar to this, but haven’t seen anyone’s ideas on it yet…

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Posted: 12 October 2007 10:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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godblessgeorgecarlin - 12 October 2007 09:53 PM

My Amazon shopping list continues to grow reading all of these posts!

I didn’t know that people had written significantly on this teleportation problem, but it is one that fascinates me, not because of the identity problem it presents, but the stream of consciousness problem.  (That’s just my particular passion in regards to this problem, not trying to disrespect the identity problems!)  If two yous ended up being created as a result, I’d imagine the teleportation industry would have some explaining to do, and the two yous would end up in the society as something similar to other survivors of bad vehicles and plane crashes.  It would be a terrible tragedy, and hopefully the teleportation industry would clean up their act.  Or, the accident would be buried by the industry and the first you would be shot, or something.

Ha!

First of all, as regards your Amazon list ... Parfit’s book is great, but it’s also professional philosophy, which is to say, it doesn’t make very easy reading! Not something to curl up with by the bedside at night. wink Just FYI!

As for the teleportation problems ... I imagine they’d be treated the same way as if you found out all of a sudden that you had a long-lost identical twin living in Idaho. Only in this case your twin would be VERY identical indeed, and share all of your memories up to the point you went into the transporter.

Killing either one of you would surely be murder. After all, you’re both human, neither of you has any less “right” to exist than the other ... just hope that your form isn’t stuck in the transporter buffer, otherwise it could go on creating dozens of “yous” all night long ...

godblessgeorgecarlin - 12 October 2007 09:53 PM

So guys, if you don’t mind satisfying my curiosity, if the above did happen and the first you was shot after the second one was created, what do you think would happen to your stream of consciousness then?  Would Dennet’s falling asleep comparison be upheld?  Stephen posed a question similar to this, but haven’t seen anyone’s ideas on it yet…

Well, you don’t have a single stream of consciousness that includes both yous. You’d have two streams of consciousness ... or rather (it’s difficult to explain) you would appear to be one of the two twins, and it would appear that another person would be the other. Now, lovers of logic would say there has to be some answer as to which of the two the prior you would be identical to ...

      T2Y
    /
T1X
    \
      T2Z

Time————>

So at time T1, you exist as X. At time T2, you’ve been split into two people, Y and Z. There isn’t any fact of the matter as to which ONE pair of Y’s or Z’s eyes “you” would be looking out of. Ontologically, the most you could say is that “you” would be looking out of both pairs of eyes at the same time, but since you would be in different bodies, you wouldn’t have any way of knowing that. Z-you would feel it was just Z. Y-you would feel it was just Y.

Probably this is just the way consciousness works generally.

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Posted: 12 October 2007 10:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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This kind of topic doesn’t turn me on because it seems akin to questions about a spiritual tango in a nanoballroom. However, how much of this is obfuscated by talking about humans rather than about the process?  For example, how much of the above discussion would be germane if one were talking about teleportation of a computer with its programs rather than a human?

Occam

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Posted: 12 October 2007 10:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Occam - 12 October 2007 10:36 PM

This kind of topic doesn’t turn me on because it seems akin to questions about a spiritual tango in a nanoballroom. However, how much of this is obfuscated by talking about humans rather than about the process?  For example, how much of the above discussion would be germane if one were talking about teleportation of a computer with its programs rather than a human?

Yes, well, it’s a sort of esoteric topic.

Agreed with you about the computer. But do you believe that you would survive if someone was able to read the state of your brain and program a supercomputer to simulate it? Would that really be you? Or would you die when your physical body died, and would the computer be a mere simulation?

Or again, knowing what you know, would you be willing to step into the transporter? Or would you believe doing so would amount to suicide and replacement by a twin?

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Posted: 12 October 2007 11:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Are we not some kind of a teleportation machine anyway? What is the life span of a cell in our body? When the cell dies it must transfer its info (including our thoughts) into a new cell. I might be wrong but I don’t think this is much different from the human fax machine you, guys, are talking about. Is it?

[ Edited: 13 October 2007 09:25 AM by George ]
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Posted: 13 October 2007 12:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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It seems to me that the identity of an object is a quality of its functional properties, and that if those were recreated exactly than it is not meaningful to say there has been any change at all, even if all the atoms and such were different. Likewise with a person, if I am indistingusihable to myself and everyone else before and after the event, how could I be in any important sense different? Now implanting your consciousness into a computer is a different thing, since the consciousness is a funciton of the material body, IMHO, and so the change in substrate would be expected to have some significance. Certainly for how others viewed and interacted with me, if not for how the world and my own thoughts appeared to me.

I’m sort of with Occam that this stuff is a bit divorced from anything that is likely to affect real life. And George is, I think, exaclty right that we are changing all the time in exactly the sort of ways we are woolgathering about. You get a whole new liver every X months, but so what?

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Posted: 13 October 2007 02:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Lol, I guess that was sort of what turned me on about the whole thing, the fact that this teleporter thing is pretty much what happens to us all the time anyway.

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