Apr 23 2013

The Continuity Problem

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436 Responses to “The Continuity Problem”

  1. BillyJoe7on 23 Apr 2013 at 8:42 am

    On the other hand, I don’t understand what the difference is. Why would it matter if you are transferred all at once or gradually over a period of time. And over how long a period of time would you be happy with? A minute, a day, a month, a year, several years?

    What constitutes “you” is a particular brain state, nothing more. If that brain state can be duplicated somewhere else, that is as legitimately “you” as the original “you”. Even if the original “you” is retained. If the duplicate is produced on a table right next to the original and a random switch made it impossible to say from their positions which is the original and which is the duplicate, there would be no other way to tell the difference. Both are “you” – meaning that particular brain state we started with (only for a moment though, because then those two identical brain states would immediately commence changing in different directions because of different experiences).

    I have put the word “you” above is “scare quotes” as Daniel Dennett calls them. That is because it is a term straight out of the dualist’s lexicon and is used by monists only for convenience. However, when considering questions such as the above, we must be careful not to mistake the convenience for the real thing. There are only brain states. There are no souls/spirits/persons inside brains controlling brains and making decisions.

  2. Marc David Barnhillon 23 Apr 2013 at 8:42 am

    Steve, I’m puzzled by your puzzlement at the sleep analogy. Clearly those who use it are thinking only of the subjective experience of continuation, not of the physical substrate. As a young person I fell into that camp—but, far from seeing this as justification for optimism about the prospect of digital immortality, I became skeptical of the subjective experience itself, and loss of continuity actually made me afraid to go asleep when I was younger. While I’m longer plagued by dread that me-as-conscious-iteration is destroyed each night and reconstructed as a copy each morning, I’m wondering if you can explain further about why it’s the physical substrate rather than subjectivity that really matters here.

  3. Steven Novellaon 23 Apr 2013 at 8:52 am

    BillyJoe – you are addressing the wrong question. Yes, the copy has the subjective experience of being you. No problem from it’s perspective. But you have not moved to the copy – there is the original you and a copy. If you were destroyed in the process, it doesn’t matter what happens after, you have been destroyed. A copy has it’s own independent existence. It has the same state as you, but it’s not you.

    Also, you misunderstand the hybrid brain idea. You are not being “transferred” into an AI, you are merging with it, in the same exact way that your two hemispheres are merged into one brain.

    Marc – the answer is in my premise. You are your brain. As long as their is physical continuity it doesn’t matter if there is functional continuity.

  4. BruceBogtrotteron 23 Apr 2013 at 9:02 am

    @Marc – Seconded.

    I’m trying to work out how I would feel if I ever discovered that someone had without my knowledge put me through a transporter the previous night in my sleep.

    I was waiting for Steve, or one of the Rogues on last week’s show to mention Hugh Jackman’s character from The Presitge. That movie’s (albeit magical) portrayal of the concept is always slightly haunting to me.

  5. Steven Novellaon 23 Apr 2013 at 9:26 am

    Bruce – The Prestige is an interesting portrayal. Would you go into the machine knowing that there was a 50% chance you will drown and die, as long as a copy of you continues?

  6. locutusbrgon 23 Apr 2013 at 9:53 am

    Is this even possible? Doesn’t the Heisenberg uncertainty principal invalidate the concept. No matter how thoroughly you try to copy something on the sub atomic level it will be different therefore not a true copy. In star trek they dismiss this with the “Heisenberg compensators”. I may have physics naivete but if it takes at least some measurable time to copy something, and given the uncertainty principal is it actually a true copy? Would the differences produce a measurably different consciousness or just average out to undetectable?
    Beyond that If artificial consciousness interacts with the environment during it’s production by definition it will be distinctly different than the “mother” consciousness.

    Assuming instant transfer, and perfection of copy, it may not be a problem. But very much like a clone. DNA may match but consciousness is different. Much more subtle difference in digital consciousness than a clone but still different.

  7. BruceBogtrotteron 23 Apr 2013 at 9:59 am

    Would I risk anhiliation for a succesful career in magic, or the benefits of instantaneous travel?

    Well, my biggest fear of death is the grief of those I leave behind. With that being a non-issue, the pain I will experience in the process is, admittedly, a non-trivial factor, but I don’t know how to place value on the obliteration of self.

    AI hybrid solutions aside, it seems to me that some finite pain followed by oblivion is my certain destiny in the next 0-70 years. If that inevitability arrived sooner rather than later, in exchange for some certain net benefit to the world outside of my own self, maybe I’d be tempted, but it sounds awfully nihilistic now that I’ve said it.

  8. evhantheinfidelon 23 Apr 2013 at 10:06 am

    This reminds me of an episode in Star Trek: Enterprise where one of the guys on board Enterprise was stolen to have his brain added to this massive neurological computer being constructed. So that the rest of the crew wouldn’t notice his absence, the computer made a perfect copy, but dead. Now, keep in mind that the computer’s technology had much more sophisticated technology than Enterprise, and Enterprise already had a transporter. The ship’s doctor figured out that the copy was a copy because some cells that should have still been alive if the crew member had died were also dead. Someone made the comment that it was amazing how perfect copies of life could be made dead, but no one was able to make living copies of living things. WHAT ABOUT THE TRANSPORTER?????

  9. evhantheinfidelon 23 Apr 2013 at 10:08 am

    Don’t make fun of me for asking, but why’s continuity important? Say an astronaut passes the event horizon of a black hole, managing to stay intact. From everyone else’s perspective, time for the astronaut had stopped. Then, the black hole evaporates away, and time for the astronaut starts again. From his perspective, he would still be him, his continuity never was broken. To everyone else, he would be someone else, since his continuity had been broken. It doesn’t WORK!!

  10. jocorokon 23 Apr 2013 at 10:46 am

    The error is when you’re personalizing the consciousness.
    It’s copying itself from one part of the brain to another all the time already. If not that, the atoms in the brain get replaced everey xx years.
    That it somehow feels unique and continuous is an illusion.
    It’s extremely hard to get this concept for some people. Because it’s not only a neurological/biological, but also a theoretical/mathematical problem.
    This “3″ is not the same as this one: “3″. But the three-nes is the same. If I substract a 3 from that 3 and then add another 3 I get the same 3?
    My consciousness is your consciousness.
    No, I’m not on LSD. I’m just saying that you can’t answer this with a biological answer because it’s not a biological question (only).

  11. Ori Vandewalleon 23 Apr 2013 at 10:56 am

    This is a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years. I recently had a debate about it due to this SMBC comic:

    http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2908

    I think I’ll try to adapt what I wrote then, because I don’t feel like typing all that again. In short, however, I mostly agree with Dr. Novella.

    Say we perfect some sort of quantum teleportation that creates a perfect copy of you and does not destroy the original. There are two identical instances of you in two locations. Do you see through both sets of eyes? If the answer is no, then killing yourself and creating a copy means killing yourself, the end. If you accept the premises of this argument, then the conclusion follows inevitably. There are a couple of points you can use to counter, however. You can postulate a soul that is transferred, for example. You can argue that you *do* see through both sets of eyes, but then you’d need to propose a physical mechanism by which that occurs. You can’t go with continued entanglement, because decoherence happens way too quickly. Or you can ask the question, what is it that is you that is seeing through those eyes? And that’s where things get tricky.

    Some may argue that while the “original you” is dead, because some version of you survives, it doesn’t really matter. But another thought experiment shows why that’s a bad idea. This time, imagine a poor copy. Imagine that your entire life experiences have been recorded — every thing you see and hear from birth to death. And when you die, a very, very gifted actor reviews all of the footage of your life and then takes your place so convincingly and so faithfully that no one can tell the difference. Are you still alive? Your answer is almost certainly no. Which means that copies of the original are not the real thing. And you are dead.

    Now, obviously, there is some line between an actor taking your place and a quantum teleportation. This gets to the real heart of the matter, which is that consciousness is a fuzzy thing. You can start to offer counter arguments such as: are you still you when you wake up the next morning? Or from one moment to the next? How is consciousness maintained at all? Or is it? Theseus’ ship and all that. The only good answer is that consciousness is a high level abstraction of various phenomena that we observe. And what we observe is that, at some point, consciousness does not persist. There is a certain level of elasticity, such that we say the person you are as a child is the person you are as an adult, despite the great differences in personality, but that at the moment of death, your consciousness snaps.

    There are other things we describe in this fashion. Take matter, for example. Matter is elastic, and can be pulled and squeezed to various degrees, but eventually it will become deformed. And it won’t go back to its original shape. But really, it’s still just atoms, and the degree to which a lump of matter can be deformed is an emergent property of that lump’s chemical makeup. We can say that a certain spring has a spring constant of x newtons/meter, but the spring law is an approximation, and that constant doesn’t really describe anything fundamental. It’s just a useful description for a limited range of values. Consciousness is much the same. We can make up useful terms to describe consciousness, such as awareness and a sense of self, but the reality is a much more complicated, possibly impossible to analyze system.

    The upshot is this: consciousness is defined by its continuity and its self-referentiality. After a certain point, we say that this continuity is violated, such as by death. Or the self-referentiality is violated, such as by, I don’t know, brainwashing or a spike to the head that manages not to kill you. A copy that has your memories implanted into it seems to me to violate the approximated limit of what we call continuity. You may disagree with that, but then you have to propose increasingly absurd scenarios in which we know for a fact that consciousness is maintained. And, of course, there is the fact that we can never really *know* that consciousness is maintained, and we’re just basing this on our somewhat arbitrary classifications.

  12. pumberkinon 23 Apr 2013 at 10:58 am

    I have to side with BillyJoe7 on this. Yes, the physical “you” would be destroyed and the physical continuity would be destroyed, but why should that matter?

    I think that mental continuity is all that should matter, and why do the mental processes have to occur on a continual physical platform?

    When your old body dies, you lose experience, but a new body starts to experience when it’s turned on. What’s important about “you” thus lives on. Why should we care about the old “you”?

    I think Steve demonstrated that physical continuity is broken, but has not argued why physical continuity is important. It seems like a materialist version of the soul – somehow your biological body has some sort of quality that is essential to “youness” that is absolutely paramount to your identity. Whereas I would argue that the software is the only important part worthy of preservation.

  13. Bronze Dogon 23 Apr 2013 at 11:00 am

    I’m not really concerned with the type of physical continuity described here. I’m me because the matter and energy in my brain is in a certain arrangement that leads to my behaviors and thoughts, not because any particular molecules are involved. Reproduce my recognizable features to a high enough accuracy, and you’re reproducing me. I don’t see any real philosophical challenge behind saying that a copy of me is also me. In fact, it seems rather tautological that a copy of me would be me because, well, it’s a copy and thus it has all the characteristics that define me.

    It gives me the jibblies thinking about stuff like this, but I think it’s an irrational response grounded in instinctive dualism.

  14. csbrownon 23 Apr 2013 at 11:08 am

    A massive asteroid is bearing down on earth and scientists tell us that all human life will be destroyed in an instant. There is, however, one way out. A secret government program has developed a transporter system that will allow a few skeptics and their families to be transported (a’ la Star Trek) to a secret self-sustaining moon base run by The Men in Black :)

    Your dilemma: Do you take this offer or do you decline since your continuity will have been disrupted and you are dead in either case?

  15. MTCon 23 Apr 2013 at 11:39 am

    You haven’t addressed the main question, Steve, why do you consider physical continuity to matter? The fact is, to call one version “the original” and the other “the copy” has no meaning when you go down to the level of the individual particles. The particles aren’t labelled, if you take a particle from the original and a particle from the copy, you would be unable to tell the difference, they are at the same time both originals or both copies, there is no fundamental difference between them. Continuity itself is an illusion. The fact of the matter is that all the time you are being destroyed and another you is coming into existence slightly different from the you that existed before. There is never any of this magical “continuity”.

    The difference between the copy of “you” created by a device analogous to a Star Trek transporter and the “you” it just destroyed would be much smaller than the difference between the “you” just after you wake up and the “you” just before you sleep. That is the intent of the sleep analogy.

    The solution you propose reminds me of this analogy: say you own a sword, then the blade breaks and you replace it with another blade, and then the hilt breaks, and it is replaced with another hilt. Is this the same sword you started with, does it have the magical physical continuity, the unbroken chain, that you so want it to have? What if you take the broken hilt and the broken blade, and fix them and put them together again? Which one is the “original”? Which is the “copy”? Which has the unbroken chain of continuity? (This is based on an analogy I heard or read somewhere, possibly even on the SGU, and I have no idea if the original used a sword or not, I can’t find it right now.)

    And here’s an alternative argument, if you still cling to the idea of an unbroken chain of continuity… why do you not count the information copied and transferred from the original count as part of an unbroken chain of continuity from one to the other? Exactly how much of the original do you need to keep to have this magical unbroken chain?

    All of what I have said is true based on the understanding I have of physics. If any of what I have said is wrong, I would very much like to know it. The important part, or side, of the argument (that continuity itself, like consciousness, is just an illusion created by the brain) seems to be left out whenever the subject comes up on the SGU.

  16. locutusbrgon 23 Apr 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Depends on who the other skeptics are. Maybe death is preferable. If Will Smith is on board I might be too. Would be fun to meet him.

  17. Marshallon 23 Apr 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Steve: “But you have not moved to the copy – there is the original you and a copy. If you were destroyed in the process, it doesn’t matter what happens after, you have been destroyed. A copy has it’s own independent existence. It has the same state as you, but it’s not you.”

    I don’t understand this argument. When you say “you have not moved to the copy”–what do you mean by that? That is not a well-defined statement. What is the “you” that has moved? That is the entire essence of what we are arguing about, so you’re immediately begging the question.

    The reason I hate this continuity problem is because it’s pretty much the one philosophical discussion that I can’t wrap my head around. I’m with you that I would never step into a teleporter, because it seems that physical continuity is of utmost importance. But–I think the reason I think that is because I have a flawed grasp of what my own consciousness is. And even though I am aware of this flaw, I still cannot overcome it.

  18. Steven Novellaon 23 Apr 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Physical continuity does not matter to the rest of the world – they will not be able to tell the difference between the original you and the copy. But it will matter to the original you, whose existence has ended.

    The matter that makes up your brain does change, albeit slowly. Which protons and electrons make up your brain is irrelevant. That is not the point.

    There is, I think, almost a dualist logic to the notion that only the information matters, as if the information is the essence of you. But if you are a materialist, then your consciousness is the real-time functioning of your brain. Continuity does not mean never-changing, it just means that the original brain continues it existence. A copy, no matter how it is made, does not have continuity with the original.

  19. Ori Vandewalleon 23 Apr 2013 at 2:26 pm

    Versions of the Ship of Theseus argument are being bandied about here. It’s a powerful analogy, but I think there are at least two counterarguments to it.

    The first is to think of consciousness as a time-dependent function. If the changes between moments of time are infinitesimal, then consciousness is continuous. If there are breaks and holes, however, then consciousness is discontinuous and, like a step function, can’t really be described by a single function.

    This might seem like a silly analogy, but I think it has value. No matter what, consciousness is a thing, even if it’s an illusion. And even if the illusion is that consciousness is continuous, that illusion is continuous. So there is something continuous behind the phenomenon we call consciousness. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that if you inject discontinuities into that thing, whatever it is, then whatever comes out after that discontinuity has to be substantively different.

    The other argument is that humans have something ships (seem to) lack: self-awareness. On a basic level, our brain is constantly sending out pings and getting responses to let it know the rest of the brain is still there. It never fails to get a ping back, even if you slowly replace parts of the brain over time. But if your body is destroyed completely and rebuilt somewhere else, then a bunch of pings are never going to be received, so the self-awareness aspect of being conscious is gone.

  20. Rayon 23 Apr 2013 at 2:32 pm

    FYI. “Kiln People” by David Brin addresses some aspects of the above and I found it well written.

  21. starikon 23 Apr 2013 at 2:32 pm

    “the original brain continues it existence”

    What makes the brain you possess at this moment the same brain as the one you had yesterday in any meaningful way? Is it that they are made up of mostly the same atoms? Some have been replaced. Or is it the organization of the atoms, the “software”, that gives you the sense of continuity? If it is simply the physical matter that matters, you have already died many times over. If its the software that matters, then an exact copy is you just as much as the original.

    Our self isn’t a discrete thing traveling forward through time. We are a wave in a sea of matter. Just like a wave in the ocean, from one moment to the next we are composed of different molecules than the moment before, constantly being replaced by new “selves”.

  22. Enzoon 23 Apr 2013 at 2:35 pm

    How do people feel about the transporter continuity dilemma if the very same atoms and particles were used to reconstruct the new you at the new location? Now you are not so much a copy as a re-build.

    I always bring this up when having the continuity discussion, and it’s a polarizer.

  23. chrisjon 23 Apr 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Steve, you said that each hemisphere is a separate functioning brain. What if it was possible to remove one hemisphere and transplant it into a new body. So, one body has your left hemisphere and the other body has your right hemisphere. Let us just stipulate that this is a real possibility for the sake of argument. In this case do you think that you ceased to exist, that there are two copies of you, or that one or the other person is the real you?

  24. DCSLon 23 Apr 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I think the more interesting aspect of the continuity problem is the slow replacement problem. You have a ship. Over the next 100 years as you repair and modify the ship, and at the end of 100 years ever part in the ship has been replaced. Is it still the same ship? Someday we might able able to do the same thing to a brain. Over a few years or whatever nano machine slowly replace each neuron until you brain is 100% nano-neurons. Are you still you? Some of this already happens in that all the atoms that make you up change over your lifetime.

  25. Steven Novellaon 23 Apr 2013 at 2:57 pm

    If you were able to divide the brain in two you would not have two copies of you, you would have two new entities, each would have part of your identity, memories, etc, but both would be missing significant neurological function. Each would be a partial “damaged” version of you.

  26. chrisjon 23 Apr 2013 at 3:03 pm

    Oh, by the way, the point about sleeping comes up a lot because it is the first counter-example to John Locke’s theory of personal identity that most people think of. His view is that our identity consists in “the same continued consciousness.” In Locke’s view identity does not consist in our body, because if you imagine exchanging consciousness with another person, a la freaky friday, then it seems right to say that you have a new body, and not that you have a new consciousness. Of course, neuroscience wasn’t really around in Locke’s day, so he would not have thought of brain continuity.

    I don’t get why you think physical continuity is necessary. Consider the following scenario. I am guessing that if we transplanted your brain into a robot (let’s assume this is possible), then you would say you still exist with a new body, right? The brain is you. This would obviously require giving you anesthetic. So there wouldn’t be straight up continuity of consciousness, but once you woke up in the robot body, you would have all the same memories and personality traits. If you are willing to accept that, then why not the following?

    Suppose we knock you out with anesthetic again. But this time we use our handy dandy brain neuro-connection scanner to map out all the connection in your brain. We now upload that pattern into a computer in the robot body instead of transplanting your brain into it. We then destroy your original body and brain. Do you want to say that you didn’t survive this? The robot would have all your same memories right up to the moment you went under on anesthetic. It would feel to the robot, that it went unconscious in your body and woke up in a robot body. Isn’t that still you?

  27. Steven Novellaon 23 Apr 2013 at 3:20 pm

    This is the same thing I originally discussed. The robot would certainly feel as if it were me, but it would not be. I would be dead the moment you destroyed my brain.

  28. chrisjon 23 Apr 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Okay, fair enough. I think these things are difficult to argue, because we are just relying on our intuitions about cases. One thing I will say is that this psychological view of personal identity need not be dualist. You can insist that the information has to be physically realized in some way and I think this is the right thing to say. I think we agree on that much. I think we also agree, that the self need not be composed of exactly the same atoms. Where we seem to disagree is whether there has be some actual physical contact between the new realizer of the self and the old one. I don’t see why that matters. For example. In my scenario above would it help if the brain scanner and the robot’s computer and your brain were all touching one another as the upload process happened?

  29. ConspicuousCarlon 23 Apr 2013 at 3:36 pm

    I don’t see why physical continuity is so valuable (as far as it mattering more than conscious continuity) as a matter of logic. It sounds like a good legal argument, and it certainly appeals to intuition. What if you are frozen or anesthetized or whatever, chopped down the center into exactly two pieces, then reassembled and awakened? Is that physical continuity? What about 3 pieces?

    I don’t like any of this stuff either, but physical continuity as we now know it seems more like mental comfort than logic.

  30. PNJeffrieson 23 Apr 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Awesome. This is one of my favourite stayed-too-late-at-the-pub topics of conversation, so I’m delighted to see it crop up here.

    “But it will matter to the original you, whose existence has ended.”

    Ah, but it only really ‘matters’ if the existence of ‘you’ is not going to end anyway – that there is some perceptive core of our being (a ‘soul’, perhaps) that is persistent. To my knowledge we don’t really have any evidence that is the case, however. The only thing that really links ‘me’ now with ‘me’ a year ago is that we share (most of) the same memories, but that is also true of a teleporter-clone. What I think of as being ‘me’ could just as easily be an entirely temporary phenomena and ‘I’ will have ceased to be by the time I reach the end of this sentence (*Urk!*).

    If a teleporter creates a copy of me then I’m not going to suddenly have my perspective from before the teleportation shift to that new body. But equally, we don’t really have any reason to think that my perspective from before the teleportation is going to be the exact same as the one that resides in the initial body after the teleportation if it were not destroyed. The post-teleportation me will *think* it is the same being, but the pre-teleportation me is not going to have anything to say about the matter because that precise version of me will have ceased to exist either way.

  31. evhantheinfidelon 23 Apr 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Even the whole continuity thing doesn’t resolve all of the problems. What if, without breaking continuity, an individual smoothly breaks into two identical copies?

  32. evhantheinfidelon 23 Apr 2013 at 5:32 pm

    I view “me” or “you” as the end product of whatever is producing it. It’s like when someone writes a book. Even though the copy you buy in the store probably isn’t the copy that they originally wrote, it’s still their book (talking intellectual property). Similarly, if my mind is copied in one of the manners described above, that’s just a different copy of “me”. The changes that occurred later would be like the new releases or remasters (maybe the special illustrated edition!) of me.

  33. BillyJoe7on 23 Apr 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Ori (and Steven)

    “Say we perfect some sort of quantum teleportation that creates a perfect copy of you and does not destroy the original. There are two identical instances of you in two locations. Do you see through both sets of eyes?”

    No. The instantiation of “you” in the original sees through the original eyes and the instantiation of “you” in the copy sees through the copy eyes. But the instantiations are identical. They are both “you”. Suppose “you” step into the teleporter and a random switch determines if either nothing happens and the original “you” steps out of the machine, or the original “you” gets vaporised and a copy “you” is put in place of the original “you”. “You” would have no way of telling whether “you” are the original “you” or the copy “you”. Because, in both cases, the feeling of being “you” would be absolutely identical. And there is no way of explaining away this inconvenient fact of the matter. There is no story that you or Steven can spin to make your version coherent. Which is why your version has to be incorrect.

  34. ConspicuousCarlon 23 Apr 2013 at 7:12 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYkrMCxXsh0

    I like Dan Dennett’s segment in this movie. He gets both a robot brain and a real brain, and can switch between them.

  35. AndrewTysonon 23 Apr 2013 at 7:37 pm

    You are a product of your biology and your experiences. You change on a daily basis. I am not the same I was yesterday because I’ve had different experiences. The continuity is what creates the illusion of my self being the same for the 30 years I’ve existed.

    If we create a copy of me a la Star Trek transporter method, without killing the original me, we will have 2 exact copies for one immeasurable moment in time. At any point after that moment they will not be exact copies because they will have different experiences.

    A hydrogen atom is not the exact same entity as another hydrogen atom because of locality. Location is defining information.

  36. jasonnybergon 23 Apr 2013 at 7:57 pm

    IMHO calling a particular instantaneous arrangement of a particular set of atoms “me” (while calling the exact same instantaneous arrangement of a _different_ set of atoms “_not_ me”) smacks of dualism the same way duallists ascribe some “qualia” to their consciousness that can’t be found in the particular instantaneous arrangement of atoms in their brain.

    I personally think that Steve is reacting to a hypothetical scenario in which not enough scientifically vetted detail about the process of teleportation is available to allow him to feel comfortable enough to undergo the process… I.e. he’s worried about being hamburgered during the trip, or merged with a fly.

    If the scenario is posited as “Absolutely Perfect Teleportation In All Respects”, with “Zero Chance Of Failure”, I doubt he’d _really_ have a problem with it, given the potential benefits of the technology sufficient to fulfill that advertisement.

    The way I see it, the issue is not about IF a “me” is “destroyed” during the process; it’s whether I should CARE if a “me” is destroyed during the process… And that’s a 100% subjective question.

    Jason

  37. Gareth Priceon 23 Apr 2013 at 8:18 pm

    According to physicists (see eg Brian Greene’s “The Hidden Reality”) in some of the (perhaps) more speculative ideas in physics and cosmology, there may already exists exact copies of us in a parallel universe.

  38. Steven Novellaon 23 Apr 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Let’s say I can make a perfect scan of your body without causing any damage. Then I use that information to make a perfect copy of you. The copy experiences being scanned and then appearing in the replication booth. You experience being scanned and then a copy of you appearing in the replication booth.

    Now I point a gun at you and say that I need to vaporize you. Do you mind? If so, why?

    What if I say, “Now, I have to vaporize one of you.” Do you care which one? How is this any different than being vaporized as part of the scanning process?

    Only the original carries forward your continuous consciousness. The other started it’s existence a moment ago, but has the memories of a past it never lived.

  39. Philosofrenzyon 23 Apr 2013 at 8:25 pm

    I find it weird people don’t “get” the continuity problem. I always explain it like this:

    What if things happened in another order? What if the guy appeared on the transporter pad, THEN you ‘de-materialized’ on the planet. Few people would say that they still have no problem with it. Yet exactly the same thing is happening: the computer is scanning your body, de-materializing you atom by atom, and making an exact replica elsewhere. The order in which this is achieved (well, with the exception of scanning having to happen first) is irrelevant: the same thing is taking place. High-speed cloning, and murder. :)

  40. Philosofrenzyon 23 Apr 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Damn it, Steve.

  41. SimonWon 23 Apr 2013 at 9:04 pm

    I’m thinking any technology that sophisticated could rearrange you in the process.

    By which I mean you have some terrible terminal disease (rogue nanobot infection in the blood stream), we can easily transport you and leave the nanobots behind, you have 3 minutes to decide before the nanobot infection irreparably damages you.

    Still don’t fancy it Steve? You’ll come out with your body mostly like it was before, but obviously we’ll remove any obvious defects and cancers, correct the length of your telomeres, remove clearly spurious DNA which slows your repair mechanisms down, removal viral left overs from your cells, and any rogue auto-antibodies. Instead of dying you’ll feel better than you did on your 21st birthday and omitting accidents easily live another 100 years without the common problems of aging. We can of course repeat this process in 60 years time.

    Of course in this case maybe we can replicate you without dismantling you, and the new you can stand hopelessly by watching the old you be painfully consumed from the inside by nanobots which were suppose to be making protein snacks in the industrial food production plant out of waste protein. Your choice, it won’t hurt….

  42. Nitpickingon 23 Apr 2013 at 9:13 pm

    Steve,

    So continuity is your definition of “staying alive” and it has to be continuity as perceived by someone outside your head?

    Since we’re making up technology: I use my time machine to transport you five minutes into the future. There is a discontinuity there–you didn’t exist at all for five minutes. Are you dead? Why not?

    Would you consider a time machine an execution chamber in the same way you do a transporter?

    Now consider that you will in fact travel five minutes into the future. It will just take five minutes. Are you dead? What’s the difference?

    Continuing … time seems to be quantized. There are (imperceptible) gaps in your existence. Is nanosecond-ago Steve dead? Why not?

    There is not a single atom in your body (OK, there are very few) that were part of infant-Steve. Why do you have continuity with him? Is he dead now?

    You seem to be privileging Steve’s-perception-worldline-as-modified-by-physical-appearance over other possibilities for no reason except personal preference.

  43. The A-Unicorniston 23 Apr 2013 at 10:50 pm

    Michio Kaku addressed this question a while back, and concluded that it would actually be you:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcivmBojzVk

  44. The A-Unicorniston 23 Apr 2013 at 11:00 pm

    Argh, sorry… wrong video. I can’t find the one I was looking for, but it’s a Big Think video. He explains that it would still be you, because the quantum information is preserved.

  45. jasonnybergon 23 Apr 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Steve, Re:

    “Now I point a gun at you and say that I need to vaporize you. Do you mind? If so, why?”

    and

    ‘What if I say, “Now, I have to vaporize one of you.” Do you care which one? How is this any different than being vaporized as part of the scanning process?’

    Do I mind? What’s the difference? Easy!

    “Choice.”

    In your “scary, threatening” scenarios, you’re scanning, duplicating, shooting, destroying, etc. “me” _without asking nicely or explaining how “I’ll” benefit._

    Try flipping things around a bit: I point a gun at you, and say that you need to teleport, or I’ll shoot…

    Furthermore: Re:

    “Only the original carries forward your continuous consciousness. The other started it’s existence a moment ago, but has the memories of a past it never lived.”

    Try telling that to the copy! Its memories are just as vivid, by definition, as the original’s. The copy has the same scars, wears the same glasses, and is in every respect indistinguishable from the original. It’s impossible to anyone _else_ to see any difference in appearance or behavior. The copy actually changed less during it’s journey than the original would have by simply walking across the room…

    Other than location, what _exactly_ is the difference between the copy and the original? (Answer: By definition, _nothing._)

    More thought experiments:

    Are memories formed while in “The Matrix” (or while daydreaming for that matter) so different than those gained by _actually_ taking a walk in the forest?

    Is it still “me” in The Matrix?

    If I (at your request) freeze you, perfectly, and then perfectly thaw and wake you up in 20 years, is it still “you?” Certainly, there’s been a “discontinuity” in your physical and mental processes relative to everyone else…

    If you were to suffer a debilitating stroke tomorrow, would today-you be the same “you” as tomorrow-you?

    IMHO, “You” are your wiring. Not the wires themselves (wires are just wires), but how the wires are arranged.

    SimonW., Re: “healing transporters…” See Larry Niven’s “A World Out Of Time”. Definitely one of the “benefits” I was alluding to earlier. I.e. “Teleport everything but the cancer, please…”

    Jason

  46. Davdoodleson 23 Apr 2013 at 11:14 pm

    I tend to go wiht Nitpicking (above) here. surely, we are all “George Washingtons Axe” many times over.

    No cells, and very few molecules in my body were there even a few years ago, let alone from the moment I was born (or even from the moment of conception, at the risk of arousing quaint religious notions around self and personhood and life and whatnot).

    Why, then,am I still “me”, if an exact albiet artificial copy of me would not be as entitled as I am to call itself “me”?

    Does the fact that the change occurs subtly, rather than in a big electronic clunk make a difference?

    What if I was “transported” to my precise current location? “Copy” particles replacing, seemlessly, each and every “original” particle? Over weeks and months this occurs naturally, and I remain “me”. Does the fact that it might one day be achieved via some technology change things?
    .

  47. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2013 at 7:17 am

    All the responses to my latest comment were non sequiturs.

    Time travel or freezing – this is confusing functional continuity with physical continuity, a point I have already addressed.

    “Choice” – irrelevant. What if I ask you nicely which one (the original or the copy) I should vaporize, and explain nicely that really there can be only one. Do you care? (that was my question).

    There was a sci fi short in which aliens transported humans to their utopian planet. However, what was really happening is that the original was being destroyed on earth and a copy made on the alien planet. Occasionally the destruction part did not work, and then the rogue original humans had to be hunted down and vaporized.

    Bottom line – if at any time in the process you are vaporized, then you are dead. It doesn’t matter if there is a copy, if the copy thinks it’s me, if the world thinks the copy is me. I’m dead.

    George Washington’s axe is not a good analogy – it is defined entirely by the physical substance, whereas our brains are functional entities where the wiring matters, not just what they are made of.

    I already acknowledged that the physical substance of our brains slowly changes over time, but this does not cause physical discontinuity.

    And, for the record, you do not turn over all your brain cells in three years. In fact you have many of the same neurons you did as an infant. Hippocampal cells do turn over, and there is some stem-cell plasticity, but largely your neurons do not turn over. The brain is a stable organ.

    To answer the question about the stroke, if you have a massive stroke that damages a large part of your brain, than you have changed. You have been damaged. Sometimes this can result in profound personality changes. You are your brain.

  48. BillyJoe7on 24 Apr 2013 at 7:27 am

    Steven Novella,

    “Let’s say I can make a perfect scan of your body without causing any damage. Then I use that information to make a perfect copy of you. The copy experiences being scanned and then appearing in the replication booth. You experience being scanned and then a copy of you appearing in the replication booth.”

    First of all, in this scenario, the original and the copy are not identical. Their experiences of the scanning and copying procedures are different for the two of them. Therefore the original knows that he is the original, and the copy knows he is the copy.

    “Now I point a gun at you and say that I need to vaporize you. Do you mind? If so, why?”

    Of course the original cares if he is vapourised. He wants to keep on living.
    So would the copy care if he is vapourised. He also wants to keep on living.

    “What if I say, “Now, I have to vaporize one of you.” Do you care which one?”

    Of course. If one of them has to be vapourised, the original would want it to be the copy, and the copy would want it to be the original. Because both want to keep on living

    “How is this any different than being vaporized as part of the scanning process?

    There is a difference. The original has agreed to be killed. Moreover, the original has agreed to be killed provided a copy is created to instantiate the brain state of the original and carry it forward.

    “Only the original carries forward your continuous consciousness. The other started it’s existence a moment ago, but has the memories of a past it never lived”

    The original carries forward the brain state of the original, but the copy also carries forward the brain the brain state of the original. That is all that matters. Certainly a continuous consciousness can’t be an important factor because, as has already been pointed out, consciousness is not continuous in any case.

  49. starikon 24 Apr 2013 at 7:47 am

    “# Steven Novellaon 23 Apr 2013 at 8:23 pm
    Let’s say I can make a perfect scan of your body without causing any damage. Then I use that information to make a perfect copy of you. The copy experiences being scanned and then appearing in the replication booth. You experience being scanned and then a copy of you appearing in the replication booth.
    Now I point a gun at you and say that I need to vaporize you. Do you mind? If so, why?
    What if I say, “Now, I have to vaporize one of you.” Do you care which one? How is this any different than being vaporized as part of the scanning process?
    Only the original carries forward your continuous consciousness. The other started it’s existence a moment ago, but has the memories of a past it never lived.”

    You’re still taking it as a given that the original copy is the “real” you. The are both you now. The copy does have continuity with your past, just as much as the original. As far as you can say the original has been alive for X years, the copy has too. It’s the consciousness (pattern/software) that is X years old, not the physical body. Both bodies are 13.8 billion years old.

  50. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2013 at 8:23 am

    BillyJoe – knowledge of being the original or copy is irrelevant. As you point out – both want to live. Why?

    Choice is also irrelevant to my point – the point is, in the example I give it is obvious that the other person living is small compensation for you being vaporized. This is the identical situation to being transported in that – you are still vaporized. The other details are all irrelevant – the order in which things occur, choice, perspective, etc. None of these things change the fact that you are vaporized, i.e. dead.

    starik – If the copy was just made it has absolutely not been alive for X years, only since the moment it was created. It’s memory and perception are an illusion. Granted, it is an illusion in the same way our consciousness is an illusion. Once created, it has its own existence and probably wants to live. No matter how many copies exist, each copy wants itself to live – meaning its physical continuity to continue.

    The pattern determines the personality, memories, cognitive function, etc. Yes. but not the individual. We are not just patterns, we are patterns in a physical substrate that has function, and part of that function is consciousness. If you copied the pattern onto a substrate that was not capable of being conscious, the pattern itself would not be conscious.

    This is the hard vs soft AI problem. I am definitely on the soft AI side – you need pattern and substrate, not just pattern.

  51. Murmuron 24 Apr 2013 at 8:30 am

    It seems the root of all the arguments above are based in what people believe to be their consciousness. I am in the Steve camp here, I would not let someone copy me and let me be destroyed. We know way too little about what makes us conscious for me to gamble destroying the one that is in my current head.

    Some people are also still missing the point about the difference to you and to the you that the other world sees. If you are vaporised, the conscious you goes away (Science has yet to find any evidence of any kind of lingering consciousness or “life” after death), and if another is created at any time then that is something completely separate no matter how identical it is to the original (Heisenberg principle compensated for or not) or where it is located (even if it is right on top of the original). We don’t even know if that new you would have a consciousness at all (though it is most likely they will).

    To me this is fascinating, it excites me and chills me to the bone at the same time and links in to the whole Tipping Point for computer consciousness and even if animals have any meaningful consciousness.

    As for all the Star Trek comments: It is my understanding that the transporter does not create a copy, but rather transports the molecules using some kind of techno babble phlebotium. Aside from all of that, I think the clue is actually in the name, it is a Transporter, and not a Copy-at-a-Distance machine. I am not a Trekkie though, so I might get shot down for that.

    Anyway, love the article.

  52. jasonnybergon 24 Apr 2013 at 9:25 am

    ‘“Choice” – irrelevant. What if I ask you nicely which one (the original or the copy) I should vaporize, and explain nicely that really there can be only one. Do you care? (that was my question).’

    That’s a little goalpost-moving… Your scenario, as written, involved duress.

    Anyways, choice is the _root_ of your issue, and the choice you make will stem from your subjective view of it… If I’ve “chosen” to experience whatever scenario you come up with, then _by definition_ I’ve consented, i.e. pre-declared my acceptance of the process and its outcome.

    Regardless: This exercise (“would I or wouldn’t I?”) is nothing but a means to extract a _subjective_ opinion about whether a duplicate “me” is “me”.

    OBJECTIVELY, an identical copy of “me” both is and is not “me”: It is an “other/alternate me,” which is by definition identical except for location and post-duplication experience.

    If one of “us” has to then be vaporized, there is still a version of “me” left. Of course, something is lost in that case; Some redundancy, some post-duplication experience, and all of vaporized “me’s” future potential.

    In the original teleportation scenario where I destroy one copy to make an _identical_ one, the “alternate me” hazards are avoided and the only visible effect is simply a space/time discontinuity, which objectively is unimportant WRT _identity_, no matter how large or small it is.

    Jason

  53. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2013 at 9:41 am

    Jason – I have not moved any goalposts. You have simply missed the context of my point.

    I am addressing one question – after any uploading, teleportation, cloning, or whatever process that results in the destruction of the original you and the creation of an exact duplicate you, are you alive or dead? That is the question I am addressing. I have argued, persuasively, I think, that you are dead, and the existence of duplicates (no matter how exact or convinced that they are you) is irrelevant.

    To that question, choice is irrelevant. I am not discussing the morality of teleportation here.

    The point of my analogy is that is makes it obvious that you are being destroyed. The introduction of “choice” as a variable is a non-sequitur.

  54. 1RickDon 24 Apr 2013 at 9:55 am

    I’ll play, going for the overly simplistic.

    If the ‘teleportation’ is a destruction/rebuild from new matter, then you’re screwed. No such thing as an exact copy. Similar but not same.

    If the being that created the memories ceases to exist, the new being is simply starting from that reference point – it cannot process the next observation the same way the original would have.

    I don’t see how it’s is different than any other asexual reproduction.

    The process would have to be more of a spacetime bending or phasing to be legit.

  55. etatroon 24 Apr 2013 at 10:15 am

    I’ve often thought about Davdoodle’s premise. We know that much of our body is replaced by new cells constantly; the skin and the intestinal epithelium are the examples with the highest turnover. But other cells, like fully differentiated neurons, do not. They don’t divide or replace their nuclei. Caveat: I think I have seen several electron microscopy neuropath papers that showed via serial sectioning large pyramidal neurons in (I think) the cerebellum with two nuclei, implying that a cell may have fused with it. (the cerebellum has an easy and predictable architecture to do this sort of experiment.) I haven’t read of this process observed, though. But if we assume that many neurons, once they are fully developed, do not divide and die, only replace their proteins and lipids and such slowly over time, then their DNA (and possibly their mitochondrial DNA and possibly nuclear histones, but not necessarily) would have to be the same as from its last mitotic division. Which very well could have been close to the time of birth.

    We have 46 individual chromosomes. The first cell with a full complement that is “you,” made copies of those chromosomes and split them between two daughter cells. One could have gotten all original 46 and the other all new 46 (unlikely); or any combination of new+old. This happened many times over, but the original 46 should persist, probably dispersed throughout 46 different cells somewhere on the blastocyst. If one of them happened to be a cell in the neural crest whose progenitors went on to be a long-lived neuron— are the atoms the DNA of the nuclei of neurons the same atoms that were there at the time of your conception and/or birth? Is this possible? Can we calculate the probability assuming random assortment at mitosis? Could we do this experiment? Surely we could simulate it. Does it matter or solve any problems? No, but it’s something I’ve thought about.

    (I know my post is not related to the original topic. FTR, I agree with Steve, the problem of brain continuity makes teleportation problematic. You’re destroying a separate, sentient, individual living being with consciousness whom you presumably had a relationship with)

  56. jasonnybergon 24 Apr 2013 at 11:23 am

    Steve, re: “Jason – I have not moved any goalposts. You have simply missed the context of my point.”

    I only introduced “choice” in response to your introduction of duress. If duress is excluded, then I agree: The issue of “choice” becomes irrelevant.

    Re: “I have argued, persuasively, I think, that you are dead, and the existence of duplicates (no matter how exact or convinced that they are you) is irrelevant.”

    I think we’re using “death” differently. Normal, intuitive understanding of “death” implies a termination of continuity… However, in this exercise, by definition, we’re positing an UNintuitive mode where there’s a DIScontinuity (but not a TERMINATION of continuity) in mental state.

    I guess that I’m arguing a larger point… If a person walks into a black box, and 10 seconds later something identical walks back out of the black box, I, personally, don’t think it really matters what happened inside the black box. The impact on the rest of the universe is nil.

    I.e. How many of my original molecules need to dance on the head of a pin for them to be “me?”

    I don’t care. For all I know, every infinitesimal movement of every particle in the universe occurs via the destruction/replication of the particle in a new location at the Plank scale. Who am I to judge?

    It’s no different than Searle’s Chinese Room; If the actions of the room/reproduction are of sufficient fidelity, is it intelligent?/”me”?

    1RickD, Re: “If the being that created the memories ceases to exist, the new being is simply starting from that reference point – it cannot process the next observation the same way the original would have.”

    If I tap you on the shoulder, can you process the next observation the same way you would have if I had not tapped you on the shoulder?

    My answer: Who cares? The vast majority of events that our minds sense/process come from external sources that are outside of our control. What’s one more?

    Obligatory Non-sequitur: “I woke up this morning and discovered that everything in my apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica. I told my roommate, “Isn’t this amazing? Everything in the apartment has been stolen and replaced with an exact replica.” He said, “Do I know you?”" — Steven Wright

    Jason

  57. the absent-mindedon 24 Apr 2013 at 11:23 am

    Why hasn’t anyone answered Steven’s simple question?

    “# Steven Novella on 23 Apr 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Let’s say I can make a perfect scan of your body without causing any damage. Then I use that information to make a perfect copy of you. The copy experiences being scanned and then appearing in the replication booth. You experience being scanned and then a copy of you appearing in the replication booth.

    Now I point a gun at you and say that I need to vaporize you. Do you mind? If so, why?”

    What if an exact copy of you is made, and because of the intricate copying process it appears in the next room or in Australia. At the moment the copy is created do you feel different, do you see, hear, feel like you’re in the other room or Australia. My guess is you don’t. So why would it matter to me that a copy (or dozen copies) of me exist. If my body/consciousness here is vaporized that’s the end for me. I don’t keep on living through the other copies in the next room/Australia. Only a non-materialistic, dualistic worldview would allow me to believe such a thing and I don’t think anyone here is arguing for that.

    I actually registered so I could post a link to John Weldon’s “To Be”, a short animated movie “offering a lighthearted overview of a central problem of ontology: the continuity of existence.”

    John Weldon’s “To Be”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pdxucpPq6Lc

    P.S. And to answer Steven’s simple question: Yes I do mind! Shoot the other guy!

  58. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2013 at 11:47 am

    Jason – duress is not a necessary part of my example. I simply asked – do you care which one gets vaporized, you or the copy. Have you answered that question, BTW?

    But let’s say we alter the example as follows. You step into a booth. The booth will scan you and create an exact duplicate which will appear in another booth. The booths are arranged so that you are not aware if you are the original or the copy. You and the copy step out of the booth where one of you will get vaporized and the other is free to leave. Again – do you care which one gets vaporized?

    This room with the booths can be your black box. Do you really not care if you or the other identical version of you are vaporized?

    Also – whether or not it makes any difference to the rest of the universe is a non-sequitur. That’s not the question. The question is – does it matter to you. Is your existence continuing to your subjective experience if an exact copy of you exists but you are destroyed?

    The point of this exercise addresses my formulation of the continuity problem at the beginning of the post. Scanning, vaporizing, and then copying someone at another location effectively creates the illusion that the person was “transported” from A to B when in reality the person was destroyed and a copy was made at location B. The person is dead. My example just breaks the illusion by changing the order of events.

  59. starikon 24 Apr 2013 at 11:50 am

    What if we picked one of your brain cells and teleported it out of existence, simultaneously replacing it with an exact copy? Are you still alive? What if we replaced 5% of your brain this way, or the whole thing?

  60. jasonnybergon 24 Apr 2013 at 11:52 am

    One more point: In the thousands and thousands of portrayals of instant transportation (be it technical or magical), how many times have you ever once _intuitively_ thought to yourself, “They KILLED him/her, and _that’s_ just a COPY!”?

    Unless the issue is _directly addressed_ in the story’s narrative, probably not very often. It takes a somewhat extraordinary train of thought just to get there. Not that intuition trumps all, but the intuitive response is to accept the “copy” as if it were the original… Perhaps this is somewhat due to a natural acceptance of the narrative of the story, i.e. suspension of disbelief.

    Jason

  61. jasonnybergon 24 Apr 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Steven: Re: “This room with the booths can be your black box. Do you really not care if you or the other identical version of you are vaporized?

    Also – whether or not it makes any difference to the rest of the universe is a non-sequitur. That’s not the question. The question is – does it matter to you. Is your existence continuing to your subjective experience if an exact copy of you exists but you are destroyed?”

    Short answer: If one HAD to be destroyed, as per your scenario, I don’t care which copy makes it through if the copies were indeed “identical.”

    Longer answer: I do have a greater repulsion to your “reordered” scenario, in which you posit the technical capability to make an identical copy of someone and then state, for the sake of your exercise, that one MUST now be destroyed. I certainly would feel sad that a supposedly viable, intelligent being would need to be destroyed arbitrarily, and knowing this might repulse me enough to treat such a technology differently than the “usual” teleportation scenario.

    In the “black box” version, as an outside observer, as long as the output person avoided experiencing whatever possible mental or physical trauma you conceive of inside the box, I don’t care which copy comes out, because they’re by definition identical.

    Jason

  62. jasonnybergon 24 Apr 2013 at 12:38 pm

    PS: If it isn’t already obvious, I’d have an issue with actually going into the “copy then destroy 1″ box. It would be traumatic for both “myself” and “my other self” to have to either be vaporized, or watch the other be vaporized.

    If both inside observers and outside observers are unaware of the activities inside the box, i.e. no-one is ever the wiser, then I don’t see any moral or ethical problem for the teleportee… For all I know, aliens are constantly stopping time, hamburgering me, restoring me, and restarting time again… The moral/ethical faults lie with the aliens, not me.

    Jason

  63. JJ Borgmanon 24 Apr 2013 at 3:41 pm

    My thought on all this,

    What a wonderful way to end life with dignity! Vaporization! I think it might be a popular option when confronted with what some of us have no issue with…mortality. We just prefer not to endure the suffering requisite to many of the ways that end us.

  64. Marshallon 24 Apr 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Hi Steve,

    I know this is a lively debate. I have a big issue with your “gun vaporization choice” scenario, and that is that you’re assuming that “I” am the un-copied version, which is begging the question. The entire point of the scenario is–is your copy any less you than the original you is?

    If you want to be fair in your scenario, play the scenario twice. First have the person point the gun at you and ask if you’d rather have the other be vaporized (you’d of course say yes). Then replay the scenario, and have the person point the gun at the copy and ask HIM if he’d want the other to be vaporized (he would say yes).

    We’re back to square one. We still haven’t determined which one is “really” you (if that is even a valid question)–all we’ve determined is that we have a sense of self-preservation.

  65. Steven Novellaon 24 Apr 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Marshall – I believe we already addressed this. Even if no one can’t tell the difference between the original and the copy, including the two people, there still is an original and a copy. The question is not – can you tell them apart. The question is – would you enter a process knowing that it involved destroying you and creating a perfect copy? Will you experience the copy’s existence in the same way that you are currently experiencing your own existence?

    The answer is obviously no, and no one has actually addressed that point here. Most responses so far amount to answering the wrong question, addressing irrelevant points, or saying that it doesn’t matter.

    The only point that comes close, in my opinion, is the question of gradually replacing the brain with an artificial substrate. What if artificial neurons replaced your biological neurons one-by-one, but exactly duplicated their function the entire way. Would that preserve continuity? Or would that just be a slow and imperceptible death? That is a tough one. I certainly would consider doing something like that at the end of my natural life, but I would see getting vaporized as death, no matter what else happened.

  66. Marshallon 24 Apr 2013 at 5:16 pm

    Steve, I still disagree with your argument, because I think the question you’re asking is irrelevant.

    I don’t know if I would experience the copy’s existence in the same way, and I don’t think anybody can honestly answer that question. We all say “no” because we all have our entire lives of experience knowing that “destroying you” means death to your consciousness, and we cannot overcome our aversion.

    I don’t think “would you enter the process?” is a valid question. This is like asking someone going for homeopathic treatment and who hates SBM, “Would you enter a hospital, or take this homeopathic medicine?” It doesn’t matter what the subject thinks, because what they believe is not the truth. The same is here–we all *think* that we won’t continue existing, but we don’t really know that. Your choice that you would not want to enter the process is based on your assumption that your consciousness will cease. That you wouldn’t enter a process because you think it would destroy your consciousness is not a valid argument that your consciousness would be destroyed!

    This is why I think the question doesn’t matter, and the situation is rigged for your side of the argument. I like to view the question put another way: let’s say you looked over and saw a copy of yourself on the other side of the room, and someone walked in and said, “we made a copy of you, but you don’t know which one is you. Should we destroy the other version of you, or should we destroy you?” You’ll choose the other version. but what if afterwards they said “Hahaha! You were the copy!, the original you just got destroyed!” The whole issue of continuity here is moot; you were discontinuous, and the other you was probably appalled and was destroyed. But–you still had the same continuity the other you did as well. It’s weird and I still can’t really wrap my head around it.

  67. jasonnybergon 24 Apr 2013 at 5:44 pm

    Steve, re: “Will you experience the copy’s existence in the same way that you are currently experiencing your own existence?
    The answer is obviously no, and no one has actually addressed that point here.”

    “Obviously?” I don’t think you’ve established that point _at all._

    What exactly is the difference in the way the original experiences its existence, vs. an identical copy? From the copy’s perspective, it walked out of the same booth it walked into…

    Surely their experiences will begin to diverge due to leading different lives from the instant the copy was made, but the random chaos of reality jostles the path we take through life all the time. That doesn’t mean one instance’s experiences are any “better” than the other’s.

    As I said earlier, once you revert to the “traditional” teleportation scenario, you eliminate, quite literally, the entire dilemma: So…

    Re: “I certainly would consider doing something like that at the end of my natural life, but I would see getting vaporized as death, no matter what else happened.”

    Why? Why not consider it to be merely a very serious injury, from which you can perfectly recover given sufficient technology?

    Re: “gradually replacing the brain with an artificial substrate.”

    I had actually written half a post positing this very question, as it forces you to make a subjective decision as to how to define “you” vs. “not you anymore.” Assuming the artificial neurons are functionally identical to the “real thing:”

    Is a totally converted brain still “you”?
    If not, was there a specific moment you ceased being “you?” Or did your “youness” merely depreciate gradually during the process… etc. etc. etc.

    I say as long as there are no serious discontinuities in your behavior, it’s always “you.”

    Jason

  68. BillyJoe7on 24 Apr 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Steven,

    You step into a booth. The booth will scan you and create an exact duplicate which will appear in another booth. The booths are arranged so that you are not aware if you are the original or the copy. You and the copy step out of the booth where one of you will get vaporized and the other is free to leave. Again – do you care which one gets vaporized?

    You are begging the question here.
    The fourth sentence should read:
    The original and the copy step out of the booth where one of you [the original or the copy] will get vaporized and the other is free to leave.
    So now the answer to your question….
    “Do you [the original or the copy] care which one gets vaporized?”
    The answer is that both the original and the copy care which one gets vapourised

    The question is – would you enter a process knowing that it involved destroying you and creating a perfect copy?

    In my opinion, only a dualist would answer “no”. This is why. What is essentially being copied is a brain state. After the duplication, there is the original brain state and the copy brain state, and we have agreed that they are identical. In other words, original brain state = copy brain state. So where do “you” come in. You are this brain state. In other words, you are the original brain state and you are the copy brain state. You = original brain state = copy brain state = you. If you think that you have ownership of only the original brain state and some other entity has ownership of the copy brain state, then you are speaking as a dualist. In fact the word “you” is superfluous here. There is just the original brain state and the copy brain state.

    Will you experience the copy’s existence in the same way that you are currently experiencing your own existence?

    Can you see the dualist language?
    At the point of duplication, your experience = the original’s experience = the copy’s experience.
    “You” don’t have ownership of either. There is just the original’s experience and the copy’s experience and they are identical at the point of duplication.
    …unless you believe in the ghost in the machine?

  69. daedalus2uon 24 Apr 2013 at 6:48 pm

    The idea of the continuity of consciousness is an illusion due to human hyperactive agency detection. You won’t have the resolution to notice differences in self-identity due to brain replication.

    The “problem” is not one of continuity, the “problem” is one of recognition of self-agency. In other words, how is it that you recognize yourself as “you”, and would that change with brain replication?

    The way we recognize self-agency is with our agency pattern recognition directed on ourselves. This presents a problem because humans have hyperactive agency detection. To recognize agency, humans compare the entity under test with a “control” entity that is known to have agency. My hypothesis is that people use themselves as the “agent pattern” for doing pattern recognition with to determine if another organism has “agency”. But when any pattern is compared against itself there is always 100.00000000% correspondence, no matter the fidelity of the comparison. I think this is why people virtually always perceive themselves to be self-identical with their selves of yesterday.

    Even when people experience brain altering events, brain damage for example, they still feel like themselves. Is Gabby Giffords still alive? Is the Gabby Giffords who lost a large chunk of her brain still “the same” entity? Legally the answer is yes, cognitively the answer is no. But at a fine enough resolution there are changes minute to minute that make the “you” of now different than the “you” of 10 minutes ago. Your own internal self-agency-matching pattern recognition can’t recognize the difference as being sufficient to constitute a “new you”. Very likely Gabby Giffords doesn’t feel that she is a different person either.

    You are not the same entity you were 10 minutes ago. Why do you accept the changes that occur with aging? Because it beats the alternative.

  70. tmac57on 24 Apr 2013 at 6:57 pm

    I would like to introduce a new element here,just for fun:

    Suppose that a new exact copy of you is created at age 25,and then put in a suspended animation state for the next 35 years. Now the copy is awakened, and you are faced with the following choice,as the original:

    (1)You get continue to live out your expected life expectancy (say it is still only about 15 years at best for this example only) and the copy must be destroyed.*

    (2) The copy of you is allowed to start life anew at age 25,but you must be destroyed (along with the 35 years of your past life that the copy will never have knowledge of).

    A pragmatic,academic answer might be to go for the obvious choice of getting to be resurrected as a 25 year old,but try to really immerse yourself in the implications of what it would feel like to be confronted with this as a real life scenario.

    * No fair inventing new variables,such as “If we could duplicate people,and use suspended animation,then we must be able to live beyond 85 years.” :)

  71. starikon 24 Apr 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Steve, if you were teleported to another location by disassembling your atoms and putting them back together at the destination, did the real “you” die?

  72. BillyJoe7on 24 Apr 2013 at 7:05 pm

    The following scenario makes the answer to this question very clear:

    You went to sleep last night and you woke up this morning.

    But last night a vapouriser/duplicator vapourised you and then duplicated you where you lay. Or not. Or maybe there was a vapouriser/duplicator but it malfunctioned and nothing happened. Or maybe it randomly did or didn’t vapourise and duplicate you. Or maybe it vapourised you, saved all your atoms and used them to duplicate you. Or maybe is used different atoms.
    Does it make any difference? Because, from your point of view….

    You went to sleep last night and you woke up this morning.

  73. pumberkinon 24 Apr 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Throughout all this I still don’t think Steve has given an adequate argument as to why physical continuity is important. Again, as many commenters have pointed out, we accept that the original you does die after stepping through the teleporter. What we need is an explanation as to why we should care about this fact other than just stating by fiat that physical continuity is essential.

    Why does it matter if the original you dies or not? The way everybody experiences life is only ever in the present. As soon as this present becomes the past, we no longer experience it. We only have the memories of the past. So what is really the difference between the original you experiencing the new presents and a new you experiencing the new presents? Yes, the original you happened to be the one who experienced all the presents up until the teleportation, but again this begs the question: why is that important? We never actually experience this physical continuity, so it doesn’t hurt us when it is interrupted.

    It’s like death – it doesn’t harm the dead person because s/he doesn’t feel it. I would feel perfectly ok for someone to kill me and replicate me with 100% fidelity down to the atom. For all intents and purposes the important parts of me lives on.

  74. Nitpickingon 24 Apr 2013 at 8:36 pm

    . Even if no one can’t tell the difference between the original and the copy, including the two people, there still is an original and a copy.

    Physics would disagree with you, or at least physicists would. In physics, if no difference can be defined between two situations or objects, they are the same, period.

    I still want to know why you are privileging your own, very idiosyncratic definition of continuity (which is somehow not continuity of physical stuff nor continuity of function nor continuity of experience, but something else which has aspects of all three).

    To answer your question above: if I was sure the duplication process really made identical copies I’d have no problem being recorded, then being shot dead, if I was reasonably confident a copy would be run off afterward. Why would I? Nothing except a short bit of experience would be lost, and I forget more than that every day.

  75. ccbowerson 24 Apr 2013 at 9:11 pm

    “Does it make any difference? Because, from your point of view….
    You went to sleep last night and you woke up this morning.”

    BJ7- Well it wouldn’t matter to the “morning you,” but explain that senario in advance to the sleepy “last night you.” I don’t think ” last night you” will sleep at all.

    This is precisely the point- From each individual’s perspective there is a difference between themselves and the other “copy,” but for some reason many commenters want to dismiss this as irrelevent.

  76. ccbowerson 24 Apr 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Many of the people who feel like they have a disagreement with Steve simply don’t understand the point he is making, or they are addressing a different question altogether. I think Philosofrenzy’s example is a good one, and is effectively the same as one of Steve’s senarios.

    D2U makes a good point or two, and touches on the problem I have had with how the continuity problem is sometimes described… I don’t think the word continuity describes the issue exactly or fully. The perception of self is tangled up in these senarios, and that is why so many people have trouble wrapping their minds around the issue. References to physics and other sciences misses much of the point. This is not simply a scientific question.

  77. Nitpickingon 24 Apr 2013 at 9:43 pm

    I (think that I) understand Steve perfectly well. I just disagree.

    Steve, you’re a confessed SF fan. (For that matter, I’ve invited you to speak at two science fiction conventions, and I don’t even work for Dragoncon.)

    Have you read the fiction of, say, John Varley? Wil McCarthy? Charlie Stross?

  78. ccbowerson 24 Apr 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Nitpicking –

    If you understand Steve, then you should understand that your recent reference to physics is not relevant to the issue.

  79. Ditheiton 24 Apr 2013 at 9:53 pm

    To answer your question above: if I was sure the duplication process really made identical copies I’d have no problem being recorded, then being shot dead, if I was reasonably confident a copy would be run off afterward. Why would I? Nothing except a short bit of experience would be lost, and I forget more than that every day.

    You should care because you would be dead. What makes you think you would experience what your copy is experiencing after you die?

  80. ccbowerson 24 Apr 2013 at 9:56 pm

    “Again, as many commenters have pointed out, we accept that the original you does die after stepping through the teleporter. What we need is an explanation as to why we should care about this fact other than just stating by fiat that physical continuity is essential.”

    You should only care about it to the extant that we don’t want to die. If you don’t care about being dead, then you shouldn’t care. The copy of you will live on just fine without you.

  81. Nitpickingon 24 Apr 2013 at 10:17 pm

    @ccbowers–because I disagree with him (and apparently you) about its relevancy.

  82. ccbowerson 24 Apr 2013 at 10:35 pm

    “@ccbowers–because I disagree with him (and apparently you) about its relevancy.”

    I think that means that you don’t understand what he is talking about then, because it is not a question of physics… at all. More charitably put, you are talking about something else entirely, as valid as that may be. I think this is a key point that Steve said:

    “The question is not – can you tell them apart….
    Will you experience the copy’s existence in the same way that you are currently experiencing your own existence? The answer is obviously no, and no one has actually addressed that point here.”

    You seem to be referring to the first question he is (not) asking, or a variation of that. The answer to latter question is no, you will not experience your copy’s existence, but your copy will experience the remainder of their existence and you will be dead. To the rest of the universe they won’t know the diffence, but that is not the issue being discussed in this post, this is a question from the perspective of you.

    If you are not attached to your own existence and experiences in any way, then you have an objection to what Steve is saying, but I don’t think that is the argument being made

  83. BillyJoe7on 25 Apr 2013 at 12:03 am

    ccbowers,

    “BJ7- Well it wouldn’t matter to the “morning you,” but explain that senario in advance to the sleepy “last night you.” I don’t think ” last night you” will sleep at all.”

    You completely missed the point of my scenario.
    Sure, if you knew this might happen, psychologically it might play with your mind and you might not sleep at all. But that was not my scenario and you have avoiding addressing it by changing it.
    My scenario could have happened to you last night and there’s no explaining away the fact that it doesn’t matter it it did or it didn’t. Nothing will have changed for you either way.

    “This is precisely the point- From each individual’s perspective there is a difference between themselves and the other “copy,” but for some reason many commenters want to dismiss this as irrelevent”

    Again, you have completely miss the point.
    It is not “you” and “the copy”, it is “the original brain state” and “the copy brain state”
    If you want to claim ownership of “the original brain state”, you are making a dualist argument.
    And I don’t think you are a dualist.
    If you want to use “you” as a label, then it applies equally to “the original brain state” and “the copy brain state” and there is no difference between the two.

    “Many of the people who feel like they have a disagreement with Steve simply don’t understand the point he is making”

    Or, perhaps, you and Steve, don’t understand the point some of us are making.
    (In fact, I used to think Steve’s view must be correct. At the same time, it seemed to me to be incorrect from the point of materialism. It took me a long time to understand the error I was making and that you and Steve are still making – unless you are happy being dualists ): )

  84. evhantheinfidelon 25 Apr 2013 at 2:10 am

    Steven

    With the scanner and then copy, you’re cheating. The copy would be the same version of “you” only for the exact instant that it was created. After that, and especially with the dilemma you presented, the individual would cease to be, as, by necessity, the copies would be viewing things from different perspectives. I think that the problem is more of when the continuity ends. If one’s consciousness continues for longer than when the information was gathered to make the copy, then of course the copy wouldn’t be the “you” that’s sitting there. If I upload a document on my computer to the internet and then change the local one without changing the uploaded one, they become different versions. So, in conclusion, if two copies of a person were made that progressed in exactly the same way, they would be one and the same. That, however, is impossible, and so a non-problem.

  85. evhantheinfidelon 25 Apr 2013 at 2:35 am

    Invite me on your show, or I’ll make a press release about how you admitted that I’m right!

  86. evhantheinfidelon 25 Apr 2013 at 2:36 am

    Hey, MISTER <–hahaha! Novella, can I comment enough to bring the number of comments up to 100?

  87. Vanillaon 25 Apr 2013 at 5:41 am

    I agree that if an internally identical copy of myself is produced, and then I’m destroyed, that I will cease to be. However, I also think that one second from now I will have ceased to be, in the strictest sense, since it will no longer be the same object. Whoever is there then will feel like they are something that spans many time intervals, but they will not truly be me now, because they will not be the exact same object. Below I’m primarily attempting to explain a certain viewpoint rather than argue against other viewpoints.

    The first thing I would argue is that a person cannot tell whether their consciousness is continual or not.

    Imagine that a demon destroyed someone’s body every two seconds, and then recreated it each second after he destroyed it. Here is how he does it. He observes the universe at t=0, predicts one of the many likely states the universe could be in at t=1 assuming he were to not intervene, and then destroys the body. Then, at t=1, he creates the universe in the exact state he predicted, which is one of the likely states the universe would have been in had the body not been destroyed.

    The question is, would the person, from their own point of view, notice that this was happening? Would anything seem strange? I reckon everything would seem normal, even though they would only be living half of their life. They would still feel as though their consciousness was continual, even though physical continuity would only exist for one second at a time. Now, of course, in actuality their consciousness would not be continual. However, the point is that they would perceive it to be continual, at least during the moments in which they could have such a perception. Their existence would be interrupted mid-thought over and over, but whatever part of their thought actually exists will be of an ordinary nature.

    One could say that what is happening here is that there are many lives that are only lasting for one second at a time, but if the demon had not done anything then there would just be one long life. In other words, when the demon destroys the bodies, we have several different conscious entities in some sense, whereas when the demon does not destroy the bodies, we just have one. However, consider that during every other second, the experiences of the person being destroyed and the person not being destroyed are both the same. I think it’s an unnecessary additional postulate to say that even though this is true, one of the sets of experiences ranges across multiple conscious entities, while the other ranges across only one. So let’s not assume such a thing. If we don’t assume such a thing, or anything similar, then we are forced to say that whether the person is destroyed every second or not does not matter insofar as how many conscious lives are being involved. In other words, they both have the same number of conscious lives, assuming we can define that notion rigorously. Since it seems to be a rather fuzzy concept to say that a conscious life is only preserved up to some arbitrary amount of change, we can adjust our intuitions slightly and accept a stricter and more rigorous notion of identity which holds that any change in external relations or internal state constitutes a distinct object. The point isn’t to say that there is no meaningfulness to the notion of a continual life, but rather to say that we can use a more powerful tool in assessing certain philosophical questions by appealing to a stricter definition of identity. Then, if we are fortunate enough, we can meet up with our intuition again at the end of it, even if our intuition changes in the process of the analysis.

    One could say that there is still some form of physical continuity, even though the bodies are being destroyed every other second. Well, I would say that since the body that is recreated is of a different arrangement, and inevitably of a different location as well, that it is for all intents and purposes a copy. It’s not even an identical copy, and the original is destroyed.

    One could say that it would be impossible for the person to feel that their experiences were ordinary and continual if they were being destroyed every other second in the manner described above. However, if this were true, then we might imagine at some point they would have a thought to the effect that something awkward was going on because something didn’t feel right. Where could such a thought come from? Either they were going to have such a thought anyway, or something above and beyond the physical situation must be playing a role, since physically they are identical to the version of themselves (during every other second) that is not being destroyed every second.

    Ultimately, it would be of no real consequence to me whether the copy or the original were destroyed, because the sense in which I would cease to be were the original destroyed would be practically the same as the sense in which I would cease to be anyway, just as a result of normal physical changes. I tried to explain why I see it this way above. I should also mention that I don’t believe consciousness can be broken down into moments. Physically that’s just not working, and I think that’s clear if one attempts to imagine what a single conscious moment would look like in terms of brain activity. So on short time intervals there are some perplexing questions about how to define certain things, but I think we can mostly ignore this problem for the kinds of questions being asked here.

    Perhaps the strangest part about this whole notion is that it seems like what happens to me in the future is of great personal concern. However, if that person isn’t strictly myself now, then why should I feel personal concern? If it’s not for some intrinsic reason concerning our similarities, then what could it be? I can’t argue against that, but I can provide an alternative viewpoint that might make it less necessary to argue against such a notion. I would say that I certainly feel like they are of great personal concern, but this is clearly a result of evolution doing its job. If I didn’t feel concern for them then I might earn a Darwin Award. Even though it seems right that they are valuable to me in a way that transcends the value of someone like my neighbor, this is simply a perspective that comes along with being human. It would theoretically be possible to alter a brain so that someone found their neighbor’s life to be of their own intrinsic concern in the same way we feel our future lives are of our own intrinsic concern. Would we be mistaken? Perhaps, but I find it comes at no cost to do away with that notion.

    I’m not aware of any inconsistencies in these views, although they are not intuitive for most people. If I ever manage to make better sense of a different view then I would be happy to adapt it.

  88. Davdoodleson 25 Apr 2013 at 5:49 am

    Perhaps the problem I’m having with this question is not a medical or physical one, it’s a philosophical one.

    “Oh man, imagine if the universe is an atom in an even larger universe” blah blah. That kind of stuff.

    It’s all been downhill since Bertrand Russell.

    It seems to me that:

    If a person is “transported” a-la Star Trek, they are the one-and-the-same person. For All It Matters.

    If a person is “copied” (ie an “original” and an identical “copy” both exist), it’s complicated, but they are both people who probably think they are the same person, at least for a while. ‘Who owns what’, and ‘who lives where’ are the biggest issues here. For All It Matters.

    If a person is seamlessly de- and re- constructed, so they are a continuous, albeit entirely artificial re-constructed, in the same spot, in ‘real time’, s/he is the same person. For All It Matters.

    But, as I say, I’m only interested in philosophy, to the extent it matters.
    .

  89. Vanillaon 25 Apr 2013 at 5:50 am

    Of course there could be many inconsistencies. As I said, it’s what makes the most sense to me right now, but it’s all tentative and philosophical.

  90. BillyJoe7on 25 Apr 2013 at 5:58 am

    Well, Davdoodles, dualism is intuitive and it’s an intuition that’s difficult to overcome.
    The teleporter shows up this difficulty.
    That’s why it matters. (;

  91. evhantheinfidelon 25 Apr 2013 at 6:09 am

    A very Feynmanish approach. I actually love this sort of thing! I agree that philosophy that “doesn’t matter” should be put on the back burners when there are more pressing matters, but I don’t like all of the poopooing that some of the empiricists do.

  92. Nitpickingon 25 Apr 2013 at 6:51 am

    “The question is not – can you tell them apart….
    Will you experience the copy’s existence in the same way that you are currently experiencing your own existence? The answer is obviously no, and no one has actually addressed that point here.”

    For values of “obviously” that include “… to Steve and ccbowers.”

    I disagree. Given that continuity in any of the three senses I mentioned above is an illusion in the first place, given that three-seconds-from-now me has already had countless discontinuities from now-me (because time is quantized), I once more disagree with that assertion. In the quoted text Steve is presuming that “you” is well-defined, even as he has written previously in Neurologica that consciousness is an illusion, and has failed to clearly define “continuity” for this purpose.

  93. PNJeffrieson 25 Apr 2013 at 7:22 am

    I think that the teleporter example muddies the water a bit, so I’d like to propose a slightly more straightforward illustration:

    Imagine we have built a machine that, over a couple of months, takes every single atom in your body and one by one discards them and replaces them in-situ with another atom in an identical state.

    Using Steve’s logic, continuity will be preserved and the ‘me’ at the end of this process will be the same as the ‘me’ at the start. It’s just an accelerated version of what is going on anyway.

    Now we start to improve this machine and make it faster and faster, so that we go from taking months to do it down to days, hours, minutes, seconds and finally nanoseconds. Continuity is still maintained, it’s just that the transition period is shorter.

    Finally, we improve the machine to the point that it can do the job instantaneously – every atom in our bodies can be simultanously replaced with a new one that is identical in every observable way.

    Is this still ‘me’?

    I’m guessing Steve would say no, because continuity has been broken – what we are doing is not really any different from creating a copy and deleting the original – but the net result in this last case is exactly the same as that of the slightly slower version. The only real difference is that there’s no stage where the old and new matter are intermingling, so the only way I can really see continuity making any meaningful difference is if, during this period, something were being transferred from the old matter to the new, which smells rather strongly of dualism to me.

  94. jasonnybergon 25 Apr 2013 at 9:44 am

    To boil all the latest thought exercises down:

    Given: A Person walks into a “black box”; An identical Person walks out of the “black box”;

    Question: If there’s no external evidence whatsoever of what happened inside the “black box”, including the physical and mental state of the Person, _is what happened inside the black box important?_

    IMHO, no, given that _anything_ that happened inside the “black box” is indistinguishable from _nothing_ happening.

    Jason

  95. Murmuron 25 Apr 2013 at 9:57 am

    Jason, your thought experiment depends on whether you are the one to walk into the black box.

    If it is someone else, then it matters little to you and you can say no, it is not important.

    If it is you. If your consciousness ends when you walk into the box, then it doesn’t matter what walks out afterwards.

    If you are not talking about yourself, then everything else is just an elaborate Schrodinger’s Cat quandry and not really what the blog is about.

  96. Steven Novellaon 25 Apr 2013 at 10:36 am

    I love a good nerd debate, and the continuity problem is always a reliable trigger. Thanks for all the awesome comments.

    Couple of further observations – regarding the sleeping example.

    What you would experience is this: You go to sleep at night, and at some point your existence ends and there is nothing but oblivion. What happens after that is irrelevant to you.

    A consistent point if disagreement is over POV. When I say that continuity matters, I mean from the pov of the person who either has continuity or not, not the rest of the world. I think we all agree that to the rest of the world an exact copy is as good as the original.

    The most interesting part of the discussion to me is the gray zone between continuity and obvious discontinuity. In short, I think that we agree that our current state is one of fairly durable physical continuity, but this continuity is not absolute. While our neurons largely are not replaced (as someone falsely stated) our atoms are being constantly replaced. Also, we are constantly chaning by experience and biological processes. Brains are not static.

    At the other end of the spectrum there is total physical discontinuity – your brain is vaporized.

    I am arguing that brain vaporiziation = death because of the absolute physical discontinuity it represents. From your subjective perspective, no amount or precision of scanning, copying, uploading, etc. matters. Pattern information alone is not enough.

    The real philosophical question is this – as people are aptly demonstrating there is a smooth continuum between our normal living physical continuity and brain vaporization. We can construct endless scenarios pushing the limits of continuity. I don’t think I can construct an algorith or list of criteria that will draw a sharp demarcation line between acceptable continuity and clear discontinuity. That does not mean, however, that the two ends of the spectrum are not meaningfully different (that’s the false continuum logical fallacy).

    I will also say that I don’t think elementary particles matter. They are ephermeral anyway. You being you is not dependent on being made of particular electrons.

    But, at the macroscopic scale of your brain, there is a certain material stability, and that (in addition to the pattern) is part of your existence.

  97. Ian Wardellon 25 Apr 2013 at 10:51 am

    I’m not a materialist, but there’s absolutely no continuity problem here for the materialist because the materialist cannot believe in a persisting self in the first place!

    I’ve already written about this on a blog. Just skip down to the 4th Paragraph:

    http://ianwardell.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00Z&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00Z&max-results=2

    BillyJoe7 are you the same guy who used to go on the JREF forum? If you are I was “Interesting Ian” on there.

  98. jasonnybergon 25 Apr 2013 at 11:29 am

    Steve: “I am arguing that brain vaporiziation = death because of the absolute physical discontinuity it represents. From your subjective perspective, no amount or precision of scanning, copying, uploading, etc. matters. Pattern information alone is not enough.”

    I simply don’t see your “absolute physical discontinuity” as being so “absolute”, when there is an absolutely physically identical restoration created in the scenario that can carry on as if nothing happened.

    What exactly is the mysterious ingredient that the original has, that the restoration lacks?

    Jason

  99. Bruce Woodwardon 25 Apr 2013 at 11:32 am

    Jason.

    Wow… ok… here, answer this, if someone creates an exact copy of you, do you think that you will now experience being both of those people as on consciousness?

    Or do you think that the copy will have a separate consciousness?

  100. ccbowerson 25 Apr 2013 at 11:39 am

    “Sure, if you knew this might happen, psychologically it might play with your mind and you might not sleep at all. But that was not my scenario and you have avoiding addressing it by changing it.”

    No, I did not avoid it- I was just pointing out why your senario doesn’t shed any light on the issue. The reason why it wouldn’t matter to me is that, in your senario either: 1. I would be the “replacement,” and therefore none of that matters to me or 2. I would be my original self, which again is fine. The senario that matters is if you are the one who is to be replaced (there is the valid argument that you wouldn’t know it therefore it doesn’t matter, but the original senario is that you have a choice) Removing the choice changes the senario

    “It is not ‘you’ and ‘the copy’, it is ‘the original brain state’ and ‘the copy brain state’
    If you want to claim ownership of ‘the original brain state’, you are making a dualist argument.”

    It is not a dualist argument because we are not talking about anything immaterial here: there are actually two individuals involved, and one is gone. Although they are “the same” in this thought experiment, do you conclude that 2 of the same thing = 1?

  101. jasonnybergon 25 Apr 2013 at 11:55 am

    Ian, you’ve presented the materialist position as well if not better than any I’ve seen here, and I agree with your conclusion that the materialist position by definition _necessitates_ that “the copy is the same as the original.” To argue otherwise is to argue for something non-materialistic.

    Jason

  102. Steven Novellaon 25 Apr 2013 at 12:16 pm

    jason – you are confusing identical with the same. The original and the copy can be identical, and even contrived in such a way that their experience after copying is identical and they do not know who is the original and who is the copy – but there are two of them. They are not the same physical thing, they are two identical copies of the same thing -they are two things. This fact seems to be missing from your logic. There is nothing magical in the original (that’s a straw man), the original is simply a different being than the copy. One copy does not carry on the existence of the other – they both carry on their own existence.

  103. ccbowerson 25 Apr 2013 at 12:51 pm

    “One copy does not carry on the existence of the other – they both carry on their own existence.”

    I have said nearly the exact same thing above, and have been accused of thinking like a dualist. Why, because I think 2=2, and not 2=1? Just because they are identical, that does not mean that there is no longer 2. I don’t even know how people are thinking that there are. If there are 1 million copies, does that also reduce to 1?

  104. the absent-mindedon 25 Apr 2013 at 2:24 pm

    ccbowers, I too agree with you and Steven. And as I said in my first comment, I think the other side’s understanding of consciousness is tantamount to dualism. I get a feeling they think that because the copy is identical, there is some mysterious connection, a shared experience.

    And jasonnyberg’s black box example is absolutely baffling to me. Imagine a similar box that copies the original, spits out copies, but leaves the original unharmed and trapped in the box. From the outside perspective it really doesn’t matter what happened inside the box. But from the perspective of the poor, trapped, original jasonnyberg?

  105. jasonnybergon 25 Apr 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Steve, re: “They are not the same physical thing, they are two identical copies of the same thing -they are two things. This fact seems to be missing from your logic. There is nothing magical in the original (that’s a straw man), the original is simply a different being than the copy. One copy does not carry on the existence of the other – they both carry on their own existence.”

    Actually, I’m in total agreement with you on this, and I even wrote earlier saying the same thing. (see link below) I.e. it’s not “missing from my logic.”

    BTW, I said “mysterious”, not “magical.” I said this because, despite your apparent _current_ agreement that there’s nothing special that the original has that the copy doesn’t, you’ve been claiming that a perfect copy of “you” isn’t as much “you” as “you”.

    Let me juxtapose two statements from you which IMHO are contradictory:

    Current You: “The original and the copy can be identical, and even contrived in such a way that their experience after copying is identical and they do not know who is the original and who is the copy – but there are two of them.”

    Earlier You: “Only the original carries forward your continuous consciousness. The other started it’s existence a moment ago, but has the memories of a past it never lived.”

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-continuity-problem/comment-page-2/#comment-52905

    I argue, that if even THEY can’t devise an experiment to tell which is which, then _it doesn’t matter_ which is which. I.e. materialism in a nutshell.

    As far as I can tell, you’ve just been slapping a label saying “Original Continuous Consciousness” on one of two indistinguishable entities, and then claiming that the label is significant.

    Jason

    PS: I would pay to see Original Steve Novella try to tell Copy Steve Novella that he wasn’t actually Steve Novella…

    PPS: If I can get you to apply a little introspection to your position, Is it possible that you’ve argued that “death”=”cessation of materialistic mental state” so many times that you’re simply failing to appreciate the repercussions of introducing the ability to replicate and re-embody a person’s materialistic mental state?

  106. jasonnybergon 25 Apr 2013 at 2:50 pm

    ccbowers, I too agree with you and Steven. And as I said in my first comment, I think the other side’s understanding of consciousness is tantamount to dualism. I get a feeling they think that because the copy is identical, there is some mysterious connection, a shared experience.

    A shared history. Not any post-copy link.

    And jasonnyberg’s black box example is absolutely baffling to me. Imagine a similar box that copies the original, spits out copies, but leaves the original unharmed and trapped in the box. From the outside perspective it really doesn’t matter what happened inside the box. But from the perspective of the poor, trapped, original jasonnyberg?

    So you agree then, unless you look in the black box…

    Point, me.

    Jason

  107. daedalus2uon 25 Apr 2013 at 6:24 pm

    A problem with this discussion is that our definitions don’t hold in many of these extreme examples. If you want to deny that an identical copy is the same “life”, you have to be able to use a definition of “life” that can distinguish between these different identical copies, and you have to use definitions that are consistent with reality as we know it.

    In other words you can’t invoke “action at a distance” or “instantaneous” any more than you can invoke an immaterial mind, magic or a soul.

    In other words, we don’t need to have coherent ideas of what will happen in impossible situations that are not just unlikely, they are impossible. The making of an identical copy seems to be actually impossible under quantum mechanics.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_cloning_theorem

  108. randallon 25 Apr 2013 at 6:32 pm

    The point you insist on missing is that physical continuity is not important. The fact is clear that any reproduction of your brain functions, no matter what the physical mechanism, will result in the same subjective experience. The illusion of consciousness is not the subjective experience of consciousness, but our notion that consciousness has a “unique” physical continuity beyond the operation of the physical constituents which carry out its subfunctions. These subfunctions, as you pointed out, may be implemented by different physical mechanisms. Hence the physical constituents on which consciousness depends, are not unique. Having two reproductions of the same mental state on two different platforms both experiencing “uniqueness”, is not a problem or a paradox. It is exactly what would happen if we set up a “simulated” version of ourselves electronically and a “real” version of ourselves with an organic brain, or if we made a completely organic copy of ourselves. If we transport ourselves via reproduction, the original could be left in place, or destroyed. The original would rightly object, only if it knew it was about to be destroyed. Your reluctance to release your organic brain without some direct physical connection to a reproduced part, a “backup”, is testament to the strength of the illusion that your consciousness has physical continuity. It is such a strong illusion that you ignore the obvious facts, and create a “problem” where there is none.

  109. Vanillaon 25 Apr 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I absolutely agree that the copy, even if it was somehow exactly the ‘same’ as the original, is distinct. There would be two consciousness, each distinct from each other. This might seem strange, because from each person’s point of view they couldn’t tell the difference. That is irrelevant though. What’s relevant is that the set of relations to the external world will be different for each of them. Think of two identical particles, but one is nearer to the sun than the other one is. It is then distinct from the other particle. It has a different location, for example.

    If two things are the same internally, and they share the same set of relations to the external world, then they would be the same exact object. If there is any statement of one which is not true of the other, then they are different. If there were two people who were the same internally, they would still be distinct from each other externally. It would be two conscious entities. It would be the same set of experiences, but twice.

    So if the original dies, then the original really does die. However, I think there’s no real difference between creating a copy and destroying the original versus just changing the original, given that the end state is the same. If someone destroyed me and created a copy of me in state B, then that would be of no significant difference than if I just changed into state B without being destroyed. It would be the same life in state B, at least if we ignore differences in the history (one was created, one just came into being from a prior being) for a moment and just focus on the raw idea here.

  110. DouglasJBenderon 25 Apr 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Two things:

    …First, this whole “conundrum” vanishes if one recognizes that a person is NOT merely a physical being, but that they have a spirit which “enervates” their physical body (the two are separated at death, yet the spirit maintains consciousness, and is the “true” person).

    …Second, the core issue doesn’t require that the original be destroyed — Just imagine that there was a “replicator” instead of a “transporter”, from which one or more similarly identical copies of “you” are produced, but without the destruction of your original body. Would those new copies all be “you”? Would the “Continuity Problem” then not simply disappear? After all, to make such a situation essentially the same as in the transporter scenario, you could just vaporize the original you upon the creation of the copy. Presto — “Transported” a few feet.

  111. Nitpickingon 25 Apr 2013 at 9:01 pm

    If you make a reasonably exact duplicate of me (as D2U says, you can’t make a truly exactly duplicate–but then, you can’t be the same for longer than one Planck duration even as the original for the same reason), each of the two people you end up with will have a separate consciousness, surely.

    And both will be “me” to exactly the same extent. Vaporize one and “I” am still alive, to the extent that those quoted words mean anything.

  112. Haystackon 25 Apr 2013 at 10:46 pm

    Thanks for discussing this. I’ve been puzzling over this problem for some time and was glad to hear you bring it up on the SGU. If you get a chance, I’d be interested to hear your further thoughts.

    I didn’t quite follow why you placed such significance on the historical continuity of the physical substrate. You say, for example, that the post-transport version of you “has your memories and thoughts and everything that is your consciousness,” but that, regardless, “It’s just not you. It’s a copy.” But–what makes it “not you?” In the absence of some kind of metaphysical soul that belongs only to one version and not the other, how is it possible to draw a meaningful distinction between the two? Would it not make more sense to say that the copy is “also you?” Or, for that matter, that three such copies would be “a lot of you?”

    To me the continuity problem seems to suggest that our concept of “self” is a lot more fluid than we suppose it to be. That is, that we experience our self as more fixed, and more distinct from others, than it is in reality.

    How would you respond to an Eastern philosophical or monistic interpretation of the continuity problem?

  113. OrbiterFunon 25 Apr 2013 at 11:18 pm

    I also wouldn’t want to use a transporter. For me, one of the most memorable “Outer Limits” episodes is “Think Like a Dinosaur”, which touches on this topic. Maybe you’ve seen. They “balance the equation” after transporting. You can watch it here
    http://www.hulu.com/watch/69830

  114. OrbiterFunon 25 Apr 2013 at 11:43 pm

    And here’s a Sci-Fi short
    http://vimeo.com/6312563

  115. BillyJoe7on 26 Apr 2013 at 8:24 am

    Ian Wardell,

    “I’m not a materialist, but there’s absolutely no continuity problem here for the materialist because the materialist cannot believe in a persisting self in the first place!”

    Unfortunately, many materialists do not actually understand materialism. For the materialist, there can be no soul, spirit, or self, and that’s the only way to achieve continuity. Clearly this is a dualist concept. I’m truely surprised to see that Steven Novella and ccbowers do not understand this point. The problem is that dualism is intuitive – our whole language is dualist – whilst materialism is counterintuitive.

    “http://ianwardell.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00Z&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00Z&max-results=2″

    Some quotes for the materialists here to think about:

    “At that instant when the replica is created the replica necessarily must be you if it is physically identical. To deny this is to affirm that what “you” are is something over and above the totality of your physicality”

    ” to deny that the replica is the very same person is not only to deny that ones total physicality fixes identity, but also that the totality of ones psychological states, including memories, fails to fix identity too!”

    “the materialist has to reject the notion of a persisting self. That’s all an illusion. There is only the sense of a self, but that sense corresponds to no real self”

    “Of course psychologically she is likely to be very frightened indeed! This reflects the fact that we are all instinctively strong dualists, or at least that we are persisting selves i.e substantial selves. It is overwhelmingly counter-intuitive to suppose otherwise”

    Well, here we have a non materialist who understands materialism better than those claiming to be materialists!

    “BillyJoe7 are you the same guy who used to go on the JREF forum? If you are I was “Interesting Ian” on there.”

    Yes. I got sick of the moderation, and the double standard. And Randi attacking long time posters who disagreed with him, especially after his misreading of the climate change debate, was the last straw.
    And, if I remember correctly, you are an Idealist?

  116. BillyJoe7on 26 Apr 2013 at 8:37 am

    Steven Novella,

    “What you would experience is this: You go to sleep at night, and at some point your existence ends and there is nothing but oblivion. What happens after that is irrelevant to you”

    For a materialist, that word “you” is simply a label for a mental state. And that mental state is identical in the original and the copy at the point of vapourisation/duplication. “You” go to sleep. “You” wake up in the morning. Really, think about it. You could have been vapourised/duplicated last night and absolutely nothing would be different.

  117. BillyJoe7on 26 Apr 2013 at 8:40 am

    ccbowers,

    “I…have been accused of thinking like a dualist. Why, because I think 2=2, and not 2=1? Just because they are identical, that does not mean that there is no longer 2. I don’t even know how people are thinking that there are. If there are 1 million copies, does that also reduce to 1?”

    This is so far from the point we are trying to make that it is hard to know where to begin to respond.

  118. sonicon 26 Apr 2013 at 10:06 am

    The difference between the original and the copy is where they are viewing the world now.
    One thing that makes me unique is that I am the only one who sees exactly what I see right now.
    Two different places to view form- two different beings.

    The notion that there is no difference between an original and the copy ignores this physical fact.

  119. ccbowerson 26 Apr 2013 at 10:31 am

    “This is so far from the point we are trying to make that it is hard to know where to begin to respond.”

    Probably because the latter part of this comment has to do with someone else’s comments not anything you said. You have failed to point out what the flaw is, and how dualism even enters the equation. The people who have a similar understanding to me on this post (as far as I can tell) are Steve, philosofrenzy and theabsentmined, and not a dualist among us (they can correct me if I’m wrong). I have yet to see anyone point out the problem in a convincing way. If anything you have failed to demonstrate your point:

    “For a materialist, that word “you” is simply a label for a mental state. And that mental state is identical in the original and the copy at the point of vapourisation/duplication. “You” go to sleep. “You” wake up in the morning. Really, think about it. You could have been vapourised/duplicated last night and absolutely nothing would be different.”

    For a materialist, saying a “mental state” isn’t enough, because “mental states” don’t ‘exist’ outside of a physical body, correct? And yes, the mental state is the same in both the copy and the original as the physical body is the same, and yes in the morning for whichever ‘you’ is there, nothing would be different. However, if the original was vaporized, and replaced with a copy, there is one dead individual (i.e. no longer living because no longer existing) and an additional identical individual. Which part do you disagree with?

  120. jasonnybergon 26 Apr 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Steve,

    I was going through the thread researching your position for one intended post, and in doing so found we’re in more agreement than I thought, negating the purpose of my original post. To wit, early on you wrote (and subsequently reinforced):

    Physical continuity does not matter to the rest of the world – they will not be able to tell the difference between the original you and the copy. But it will matter to the original you, whose existence has ended.

    I.e. you accept that what happens “in the black box” doesn’t matter to the rest of the universe.

    The issue you seem to feel hasn’t been addressed is:

    A consistent point if disagreement is over POV. When I say that continuity matters, I mean from the pov of the person who either has continuity or not, not the rest of the world. I think we all agree that to the rest of the world an exact copy is as good as the original.

    I believe that the illusion of consciousness will bridge the discontinuity, therefore I would use the teleporter; I trust the materialistic viewpoint, i.e. that if the mechanism that generates the illusion could be sufficiently reproduced, then the illusion of consciousness will appear continuous, from “my POV”.

    Jason

  121. jasonnybergon 26 Apr 2013 at 1:34 pm

    For a materialist, saying a “mental state” isn’t enough, because “mental states” don’t ‘exist’ outside of a physical body, correct? And yes, the mental state is the same in both the copy and the original as the physical body is the same, and yes in the morning for whichever ‘you’ is there, nothing would be different. However, if the original was vaporized, and replaced with a copy, there is one dead individual (i.e. no longer living because no longer existing) and an additional identical individual. Which part do you disagree with?

    Actually, there would be no dead individual (it’s existence erased by the “vaporization” process) and, thus, no additional person. I.e. net zero gain/loss of people.

    Assuming the copy is of sufficient fidelity (which is implied if “the copy and the rest of the universe can’t tell the difference”) it will continue with the generation of the illusion of consciousness where the original left off, which includes “your POV.” I.e. there is no discontinuity in the illusion of consciousness.

    In the case of duplicates, there is no discontinuity, but a branching.

    Jason

  122. starikon 26 Apr 2013 at 2:34 pm

    I agree with the last half of what Jason just said. You would branch into two distinct individuals, neither of which has more claim than the other to continuity with the original single stream of consciousness. If you told me before copying me that the copy would immediately be vaporized, but the original me would be allowed to live, it would bother me just as much as the Star Trek transporter method (killing the original). In both cases I will die.

    Now after the copying, it depends on which me you asked. Knowing me, I’d definitely say kill the other guy. But BEFORE the copying, I’m BOTH of those future me’s.

  123. starikon 26 Apr 2013 at 2:49 pm

    We have a very strong intuition that our consciousness exists as this single entity moving through time. This is an illusion, because you only exist in the present. The illusion is created by the fact that you have memory of the past. To believe that the original substrate contains the real, original consciousness, while a structurally identical copy does not, is dualist.

  124. ccbowerson 26 Apr 2013 at 3:03 pm

    “Actually, there would be no dead individual (it’s existence erased by the “vaporization” process) and, thus, no additional person. I.e. net zero gain/loss of people.”

    ‘Existence erased’ for a living thing = death. It looks like you are making a disctintion with no difference, but perhaps it was just a limitation of language or how I worded it.

    The fact that there is a net effect of zero change in number of people from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ does not make what happens in between ‘A’ and ‘B’ disappear. If you make a copy of person then you should have 2 identical people, if you only have 1 person, then the other one died.

  125. ccbowerson 26 Apr 2013 at 3:06 pm

    “To believe that the original substrate contains the real, original consciousness, while a structurally identical copy does not, is dualist.”

    I don’t think anyone is making this argument. In fact I am arguing just the opposite… they both have the same consciousness, but that since there are 2 of the same individual, there are 2 of the same consciousnesses. Yet it seems that some here are arguing that because they are the same that the death of one doesn’t matter.

  126. starikon 26 Apr 2013 at 3:51 pm

    It seems to me that Steve is arguing that bit you just quoted from me.

    To me, both copies matter equally to the person from whom they came, before the copying. To Steve and others, the original is what carries on the original person’s life and the copy is brand new (even though he/she doesn’t feel like it).

  127. BillyJoe7on 26 Apr 2013 at 3:59 pm

    sonic,

    “The difference between the original and the copy is where they are viewing the world now”

    If, at the point of vapourisation/duplication the original and the copy are asleep, or anaesthetised, they are not even viewing the world, so where is your difference now?

    “One thing that makes me unique is that I am the only one who sees exactly what I see right now”

    Does that mean that, when you are asleep or anaesthetised, you are no longer unique?

    “Two different places to view form- two different beings”

    In the vapourisation/duplication scenario, the copy occupies the same space as the original, if they are awake during this process, they would both view the same things.

    “The notion that there is no difference between an original and the copy ignores this physical fact”

    I have just demonstrated that “this physical fact” makes no difference for a materialist.
    Now, if you were to posit a spirit, soul, or self, then you would have a point. Unfortunately that would also make you a dualist.

  128. Vanillaon 26 Apr 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Haystack,

    “In the absence of some kind of metaphysical soul that belongs only to one version and not the other, how is it possible to draw a meaningful distinction between the two? Would it not make more sense to say that the copy is ‘also you?’ Or, for that matter, that three such copies would be ‘a lot of you?’”
    -Haystack

    The ‘meaningful’ distinction is that the two objects aren’t the same. One might be closer to a certain planet than the other, for example. From each person’s point of view, there is no difference, but they are still distinct. I don’t think you would be either of them, in a strict sense. The “original” is no longer the true original because time has passed and it has changed physically, and the copy is not the original either. Would it be best if the copy died? I don’t think there’s an answer. In exotic scenarios the concept of there being a best decision tends to break down.

  129. Vanillaon 26 Apr 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Well, if you consider that a meaningful distinction. I imagine you don’t, in which case I agree with you on that point.

  130. jasonnybergon 26 Apr 2013 at 4:27 pm

    ccbowers,

    The fact that there is a net effect of zero change in number of people from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’ does not make what happens in between ‘A’ and ‘B’ disappear.

    What happens between A and B doesn’t go away, but if it’s you going from point A to point B, you won’t notice what happened whlie the material engine generating the illusion of your consciousness/POV is “down.”

    “Your POV” will be restarted, with no apparent discontinuity, when the new engine starts to generate it again.

    I don’t think anyone is making this argument. In fact I am arguing just the opposite… they both have the same consciousness, but that since there are 2 of the same individual, there are 2 of the same consciousnesses. Yet it seems that some here are arguing that because they are the same that the death of one doesn’t matter.

    It doesn’t matter to the continuation of “the consciousness” if one of the “2 of the same consciousness” is destroyed.

    Of course, there is a moral issue with the unnecessarily imposed destruction of a perfectly viable consciousness!

    To that effect, the owner of the consciousness might find it VERY important to maintain a single, unbranching line of his own consciousness, precisely to avoid the ethical issues that arise from allowing it to branch. In a world with teleporter technology, I’d expect that society will have to work out what rights (copyrights?) an individual has relating to ownership of their own consciousness, just as society is currently working through what rights an individual has relating to ownership of their own genome.

    Jason

  131. jasonnybergon 26 Apr 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Missed a “close blockquote” in that last message after the first sentence…

  132. BillyJoe7on 26 Apr 2013 at 6:13 pm

    ccbowers,

    “The people who have a similar understanding to me on this post…are Steve, philosofrenzy and theabsentmined, and not a dualist among us”

    But your conclusion, your way of thinking about this question is identical to how a dualist thinks and concludes about this question. Doesn’t that give you pause for thought?

    “I have yet to see anyone point out the problem in a convincing way. If anything you have failed to demonstrate your point”

    Obviously. But others had a hard time trying to explain it to me, so I won’t feel too bad.

    “For a materialist, saying a “mental state” isn’t enough, because “mental states” don’t ‘exist’ outside of a physical body, correct?”
    Yes.

    “And yes, the mental state is the same in both the copy and the original as the physical body is the same”
    Yes, except that I would have used the word “identical” rather than “same”.

    “and yes in the morning for whichever ‘you’ is there, nothing would be different”
    Correct. Because the ‘you’ in the original brain is identical to the ‘you’ in the copy brain.

    “However, if the original was vaporized, and replaced with a copy, there is one dead individual (i.e. no longer living because no longer existing) and an additional identical individual”
    Or, in materialist’s language, there is a dead ‘you’ replaced by an identical living ‘you’

    “Which part do you disagree with?”
    The fact that it matters.
    Ccbowers went to sleep last night and woke up this morning.
    It doesn’t matter whether or not he was vapourised/duplicated while he slept.

  133. sonicon 26 Apr 2013 at 8:28 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    You seem to be unaware that you are aware when you sleep. (And perhaps in a coma too!) :-)

    And no two copies are going to be seeing the same thing– that is two objects don’t occupy the same space.
    If you mean one is destroyed completely and the other is remade in exactly the same place, then the copy has to be different from the original in that the original no longer exists and the copy does exist.

    So the copy will not be seeing what the original is seeing– the original is dead and can’t possibly have the same brain state as the original.

    BTW- A dualist would have no problem with a spirit inhabiting one body and then the other. The ‘continuity problem’ doesn’t exist for the dualist– the spirit is in one body and then the other– and yes, bodies come and go– in fact the one I have now doesn’t have many of the same atoms or whatever than it did a few years back- right?
    So I would think the dualist would agree with you- nothing important dies when you vaporize a body and it is no problem to resume with a new one- I would suggest Dr. N.’s perspective on this would be more perplexing to a dualist– why would he care what body he has as long as they are both the same?

    It is the materialist in me that notes the original and copy are not the same and that it matters.

  134. ccbowerson 26 Apr 2013 at 9:11 pm

    “Yes, except that I would have used the word ‘identical’ rather than ‘same’.”

    Yes, I meant same in the ‘same’ sense as ‘identical’ NOT that there is a shared mental state.

    “But your conclusion, your way of thinking about this question is identical to how a dualist thinks and concludes about this question. Doesn’t that give you pause for thought?”

    No, because I believe you are incorrect in saying that my thinking is “identical” to a dualist, in fact it is not even similar. As uncomfortable as I am in saying this, Sonic has a point when he says a dualist could have more similarities with your perspective if the person’s “spirit” associated with both bodies. Another commenter above made the same point.

    “The fact that it matters.
    Ccbowers went to sleep last night and woke up this morning.
    It doesn’t matter whether or not he was vapourised/duplicated while he slept.”

    So you don’t disagree with my description of the senario, but you don’t think that it matters. Matters to whom? Again we are going around in circles with your point never being made other than it doesn’t matter. It matters as much as you think your continued consciousness matters. Making a new one (even identical) doesn’t change the fact that yours is now gone if vaporzied, because the alternative senario could have been that you are not vaporized and there are now 2 of you.

    Would it matter to you if the new you was slightly different in a way that no one else really notices?

  135. BillyJoe7on 27 Apr 2013 at 1:13 am

    ccbowers and sonic,

    I don’t think you understand the different perspectives of the dualist and the materialist.

    The dualist believes there is something above and beyond the physical. The materialist believes there is only the physical. So, if there is a physical brain that has a mental state labelled ‘X’, then if we make a duplicate brain identical to the first, it will also have a mental state labelled ‘X’. For a materialist, that is all there is. Two identical brains with two identical mental states labelled ‘X’. For a duellist, there is something above and beyond the physical – a spirit, soul, or self. The spirit/soul/self cannot be replicated in the duplicate, because it is non-physical and because it is unique. You cannot have the same spirit/soul/self present in two brains.

    Does this make it any clearer?

  136. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 1:35 am

    wow. I have an uneasy feeling – the web site that was here a while ago has been replaced by one that appears to be the same, but there are unmistakeable differences! Dr. Novella is now a dualist and BillyJoe is making a logically coherent argument…. :)

  137. starikon 27 Apr 2013 at 1:37 am

    The original physical substrate is (mostly) unchanged from one moment to the next. This contains the magic soul that the dualists can’t part with. It’s no use.

  138. starikon 27 Apr 2013 at 1:44 am

    Yahoo Answers is already way ahead of us on this: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090320055607AADuqIB

  139. BillyJoe7on 27 Apr 2013 at 3:47 am

    mlema, thanks for the…um…support.

  140. bsooon 27 Apr 2013 at 8:55 am

    I feel like you have made a lot of assumptions without any evidence to back them up. Given that we have no way to differentiate between a “continuity” of consciousness and a series of “new” consciousnesses with the exact memories of the previous ones, how can you be so sure about any of your statements? How do you know you don’t wake up every day as a new consciousness? How could you distinguish between that and any previous consciousnesses? How do you know that would be any different than being completely disassembled and reconstituted as an exact duplicate of yourself? I don’t think we can definitively state anything about a continuity of consciousness until we understand what consciousness is and why we feel a sense of continuity.

  141. ccbowerson 27 Apr 2013 at 10:14 am

    “I don’t think you understand the different perspectives of the dualist and the materialist.

    The dualist believes there is something above and beyond the physical.”

    Perhaps you are the one lacking in this understanding, because you are the one who brought up dualism, and no one here is promoting the idea of the supernatural. You are the one who attempted (unsuccessfully so far) to draw parallels between dualism and caring if a person is replaced by an identical copy.

    And, since you brought it up, others have pointed out how a dualist could end up not caring that one physical body is destroyed if the “spirit” remains or transfers to the new body. The only comparison being made here is whether or not you care that the original is replaced with a copy. If you have a problem with this comparison, you should wonder why you brought it up. Dualism is really not important for this discussion, and it just clouds the discussion, because no one is making a case for it here.

    I think much of the back and forth is confusion over what the other person is saying.

  142. ccbowerson 27 Apr 2013 at 10:28 am

    “mlema, thanks for the…um…support.”

    BJ7 It looks like this gives you pause. =)

    One thing you did not answer:

    “Would it matter to you if the new you was slightly different in a way that no one else really notices?”

    I’m just wondering if the identical status really makes a difference to you, because your answer to this question will really shed light on if we are disagreeing about anything significant. For me, It makes no difference at all if the new “me” was slightly different (and no one else could tell the difference and he thought/behaved more or less the same as me for the remainder of my life) versus identical. I would still prefer to be the one who remains, but the identical status is not important as long as the copy lives my life as I would and it wouldn’t affect others. The only reason why I care that the copy is not noticed as different is because that could affect the people in my personal life if they noticed big changes, particular bad ones.

    If you have a preference in this senario (if you view the identical and nearly identical senarios differently), then I think you have a problem, but if you don’t- I’m not sure that we disagree about anything of significance.

  143. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 4:00 pm

    BillyJoe, I call ‘em like I see ‘em. I find no fault with your take on this as a materialist. If consciousness and “youness” is a function, or result, or oscillation, or epiphenomenon, or whatever other physical thing you want to claim – of the physical “you” – then an identical copy is every bit as much you as the original you – including any memory of being copied. Why would either have a greater sense of being “original”? and why would you prefer one over the other if they are identical? And who would be doing the preferring? This preference does seem to suggest the belief that there is “something” that makes an original me more me than a copy of me. But identical is identical.

    If I could instantaneously be in Paris by agreeing to have every atom in me exchanged with completely different atoms, exactly arranged as those that constitute my current self, I would do it. Why would I judge that I would really have died and was now somehow not “me” if, when I arrive, I am exactly the same in every way as when I left?

    Probably overstating this, but, it seems like some believe there would be “something” left behind with the original atoms – something that can’t be reconstituted physically and would be lost once the original atoms are disarranged. What is it about the “original” that would be different from an exact copy? if both are identical physical arrangements? To a materialist, it’s the arrangement of physical particles that makes a person and his consciousness unique, not the actual particles. Right?

  144. BillyJoe7on 27 Apr 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Mlema,

    We are in complete agreement here. (:

    ccbowers,

    This is indeed an argument between dualism and materialism and, if you can’t see that, then you don’t understand either. In fact, it is one of the two quintessential arguments (the other being the argument about freewill) that distinguishes those who are materialists from those who think of themelves as materialists but talk as if they are dualists.

    “Would it matter to you if the new you was slightly different in a way that no one else really notices?”

    You are asking a question using dualist language, which means you must be thinking like a dualist and therefore reaching conclusions like a dualist. It is fine to use dualist language in everyday conversation, but not when we are discussing the difference between dualism and materialism. The question, “would it matter to you?” is loaded with dualist language and therefore the concepts and premises that underly your question are dualist. In other words, you are asking me to accept dualist concepts and premises to justify my materialist stance!

    But, so you don’t think I’m avoiding the question, I will translate it into materialist language based on materialist concepts and arrive at a materialist conclusion. You should then have an account of what a materialist concept of identity looks like. And then you will have a choice – are you a dualist or a materialist when it comes to the question of identity? I will use both dualist and materialist language in an attempt to show the difference in thinking. This is difficult, so bear with me.

    Suppose that all that happened last night was that you were scanned. Or, in materialist language, that a particular brain in a particular brain state at a particular point in time was scanned. We are assuming here that the actual scanning procedure does not change the brain state in any way. Or, in dualist language, that the scanning procedure does not matter. In other words, you wake in the morning and feel just like you would have if you were not scanned. Or, in materialist language, that the brain state will be just as it would have been if it hadn’t been scanned. Of course, this is not to say that the brain state will be the same as it was at the time of the scanning procedure, because brain states are continually changing even when it is asleep and unaware of the changes (in dualist language: when you are asleep and unaware of the changes). Brain states are continually changing. In dualist language: your brain state on going to sleep is not the same as your brain state on waking.

    Bear with me.

    Now, suppose the scan was used to create an exact replica at a distant location. You ask: “would it matter to you?” The materialist wants to ask what do you mean by “you” and what do you mean by “would it matter”? The materialist wants to ask instead: “would it change things for the original brain with its ever changing brain state that an exact replica of its brain and brain state at some point in time was created at a distant location”. See how complicated it gets speaking in materialist language? But it has to be done. The answer is ,of course, not in the slightest. On the other hand, if the duplicate was created right beside the original then, of course, it would change things. Meaning that the trajectory of that brain’s brain state would be different because of the different experience of waking with a duplicate lying beside it.

    Nearly there.

    So now suppose we return to the original scenario where that brain was scanned and vapourised, and duplicated in the same position (in dualist language: suppose we return to the original scenario where you were scanned etc etc). Does it matter to you? Or, in materialist language: does the fact that that brain was scanned, vapourised, and duplicated change the trajectory of ever changing brain states occurring in that particular time and place. The answer is: not in the slightest. What if a slight scanning or duplication error occurred? Would that change the trajectory of ever changing brain states. Yes it would. Obviously. Does it matter to you? Well, now you have to decide if you are a materialist or a dualist. Because that question is only meaningful for a dualist.

  145. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 7:54 pm

    If I make an identical copy of you right now on Mars, you are still sitting at the computer reading my comment. You don’t experience what the Mars copy is experiencing (this should be obvious, but if you disagree, please state why). If you die, you don’t continue living through your identical copy on Mars. You’re dead. The copy continues to live.

    If you disagree with this, please explain exactly where our interpretations differ.

  146. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 8:08 pm

    BillyJoe, this is such a weird feeling to totally follow your argument and say that it makes sense (sorry if that’s offensive).

    Let me ask a confounding question: at the moment when the sleeping person is vaporized (with a sort of “copy” waiting in the wings to be created) did that person die? Is the copy then a sort of technical resurrection? Or, because the brain state was the living person, and that exact brain state continued to exist as a sort of blueprint, was the person continually alive? Or, similarly, since the waking person will have no consciousness of discontinuity, he was therefore never really “discontinued”.

    I think it is perhaps this sentiment that Dr. Novella finds unpleasant: that the one physical state must end and an exact one like it begin, and he is mistaking that physical state for some sort of “self” that exists in cooperation with it, and can’t exist any other way even if the same physical thing is constructed in the same spot or elsewhere. This would definitely be a dualist position.

    What about the information component? The information which must exist and be used to reassemble a person becomes an element in itself. Or, in other words: the technology used to scan, vaporize and reconstitute a person can’t be separated from the physical existence of the original and copied person (so to speak).

  147. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 8:15 pm

    The answer to this is the scenario is one where the original is not killed. You are obviously the original; you would be the one looking upon the copy if a copy of you was made two feet to your left. You would turn your head from the computer and see an identical copy of you. If you were then killed, you would be dead forever. What am I missing?

  148. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Ditheit, I think your example illustrates something that’s simply impossible for us to conceptualize, which is: what is it like to be two individuals. If you made a copy of me on Mars right now, I would begin to experience what it is like to be me experiencing life on Mars, while still experiencing life in fron of my computer. If I die here, I am still experiencing life on Mars. Since it’s not really possible to experience consciousness as two individuals, the situation is not really one we can explore.

    This discussion is about how anyone identifies with his or her physical body as something they’re living in and looking out at the world through as if eyes are windows. If you’re a monist, an exact physical copy of you would be you, regardless. That is, if you are a materialist who believes that the only thing that exists is your physical body, and the sense of being a living self is merely a function of that physical arrangement of “stuff”, then that identical physical arrangement of “stuff” will always create: you (the sense of being you). If there are two identical physical arrangements of stuff that you identify as yourself, then there are two yous. There would be no reason to identify with one arrangement of stuff over another exact replication of that stuff, because there’s no real “you” to prefer this identification. The “youness” is created by the arrangement of stuff, not visa versa.

    The me on mars would be experiencing: “How did I end up here? I was sitting at my computer, and all of a sudden, here I am on Mars!” And I would have no idea that there was another me still sitting at my computer. And when I died on Mars, I would be dead forever (as far as I knew)

  149. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 8:32 pm

    ps: if it’s “obvious” that I’m the original, then it wasn’t really a true copy of me. A true copy of me is me. If I wake up next to another me, we are both going to think the other is the copy, because an exact copy will have the same sense of continuity through memory and sense of self.

  150. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 8:34 pm

    If you made a copy of me on Mars right now, I would begin to experience what it is like to be me experiencing life on Mars, while still experiencing life in fron of my computer. If I die here, I am still experiencing life on Mars. Since it’s not really possible to experience consciousness as two individuals, the situation is not really one we can explore.

    It isn’t like anything to be two individuals. You’re one individual. You’re not on Mars, you’re the consciousness in front of your keyboard. This is what it means to be you. In the sense that other people can’t tell, there is a “you” on Mars and a you at the keyboard. But you’re the consciousness on Earth, right? (Because you’re not experiencing what it’s like to be the consciousness on Mars).

    If there are two identical physical arrangements of stuff that you identify as yourself, then there are two yous.

    Yes, from other people’s perspective. But from your perspective, you’re on Earth, not experiencing what the other “you” is experiencing.

    And I would have no idea that there was another me still sitting at my computer.

    Bingo. When I say you, I’m talking to you, not some hypothetical “you” that is an identical brain state. If you died, you’re gone for good regardless of how many copies you have on Mars, Venus or Vulcan.

  151. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 8:37 pm

    ps: if it’s “obvious” that I’m the original, then it wasn’t really a true copy of me. A true copy of me is me. If I wake up next to another me, we are both going to think the other is the copy, because an exact copy will have the same sense of continuity through memory and sense of self.

    It’s obvious in the sense that I actually *did* make an identical, true copy of you on Mars. Feel any different? No? Didn’t think so. If I killed you now, you’d be dead forever, not knowing how awesome it is to be alive on Mars. The copy of you is having a good time, though. Does that make you feel any better?

  152. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 8:57 pm

    It feels like you believe that you have a soul that can only exist in the “original” and that therefore it’s not really possible to make an exact copy. The copy wouldn’t have your soul, even if it had a duplicate consciousness, memories, loved ones, etc., therefore, if the original died, you would really be dead. It doesn’t matter that you exist on Mars because you don’t have your soul in that existence.

  153. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 9:00 pm

    It feels like you believe that you have a soul that can only exist in the “original” and that therefore it’s not really possible to make an exact copy. The copy wouldn’t have your soul, even if it had a duplicate consciousness, memories, loved ones, etc., therefore, if the original died, you would really be dead. It doesn’t matter that you exist on Mars because you don’t have your soul in that existence.

    No, I do not believe in a soul or anything of the sort. If an exact copy was made of me on Mars, I would still be sitting here, discussing the continuity problem. I would not experience anything on Mars, I’d be sitting here at my computer, right?

  154. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 9:04 pm

    (ps: you’re talking to the ape sitting at his computer on Earth. In your response, please take that into account even though there is a copy of that monkey on Mars right now, oblivious to the rest of this discussion).

  155. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 9:11 pm

    again, this is perhaps the difficulty in imaging what it would be like to have two “me”s. Yes, you would be sitting at your computer and you would not be experiencing anything on MArs. But, you would also very much be on Mars, suddenly finding yourself there and still very much yourself, with all your memories, and the feeling of being very much you and not a copy. And you would have no awareness that you still existed on earth, sitting in front of your computer. It would be your life, continuing on Mars!

    try it this way: you’re sitting at your computer, and a copy of you suddenly takes your place without you knowing, and the original you is put on Mars. The copy doesn’t know it’s not still the same original you, because it is in every way physically identical to the original you, so it has all the same feelings of being you, with your memories, your emotions and sensations, etc., and looking at exactly what you were looking at on the computer – no discontinuity of sense of self. The original you is on Mars, having the memory of sitting at the computer and then suddenly finding yourself on Mars. There are TWO yous. If you do not believe in a soul, but only believe that you are a unique arrangement of physical particles with a unique subjective experience of being you, why is one exactly identical arrangement of physical particles more you than another exactly identical arrangement of physical particles?

  156. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 9:16 pm

    A copy of me was literally made on Mars twenty minutes ago. Nothing from my perspective has changed. I’m still on Earth, discussing the continuity problem. Agree or disagree?

    My perspective is the only thing that matters to me in this regard. I wouldn’t even know a copy of me was made on Mars. If I died right now, I would be dead. I don’t care how many copies live on.

    I fully acknowledge that from everyone else’s perspective, there would be another me on Mars that is, from their perspective, actually me.

    why is one exactly identical arrangement of physical particles more you than another exactly identical arrangement of physical particles?

    Because I am my brain. If my brain is destroyed, I cease to have consciousness/existence.

  157. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 9:23 pm

    “If my brain is destroyed, I cease to have consciousness/existence.”

    Then, if your brain is recreated, you will again have consciousness/existence! :)

    you’ve come back to the nature of the original discussion: if I vaporized, then reconstituted somewhere else with the exact configuration of the vaporized version, would I do it? Yes, I would. Because I don’t see how I could exist in the exact same way that I did somewhere else without being myself, in the same way that I always was only in different location.

  158. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 9:25 pm

    try it this way: you’re sitting at your computer, and a copy of you suddenly takes your place without you knowing, and the original you is put on Mars.

    I re-read my last post and realized it might not answer your question fully. I agree that there are two me’s from everyone else’s perspective. If I was teleported to Mars and a copy of me was made in my place, I would be the one experiencing Mars and my copy would continue this discussion right now.

    If I was randomly either the duplicate or the original, I couldn’t tell which I was. The dupe thinks he’s the original of course, but I’m the original. I never asserted that I could tell the difference, merely that I am most definitely only one of them and that I care if I die.

  159. Ditheiton 27 Apr 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Then, if your brain is recreated, you will again have consciousness/existence!

    If I make your brain right now on Mars, do you experience its consciousness/existence? Obviously not, therefore I wouldn’t again have consciousness/existence, another person who thinks he/she is you would.

    you’ve come back to the nature of the original discussion: if I vaporized, then reconstituted somewhere else with the exact configuration of the vaporized version, would I do it? Yes, I would. Because I don’t see how I could exist in the exact same way that I did somewhere else without being myself, in the same way that I always was only in different location.

    …because you’re not the copy I made of you on Mars twenty minutes ago. You’re still at your computer, not experiencing Mars.

  160. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 9:35 pm

    ” The dupe thinks he’s the original of course, but I’m the original.” How do you know? If you are exactly alike, with the same feeling of being the original, how do you know you are the original? Only the person who did the copying knows which is the original, right? I still think this part of our conversation is confused by the impossibility of being able to “think with two brains”

    “If I make your brain right now on Mars, do you experience its consciousness/existence? Obviously not, therefore I wouldn’t again have consciousness/existence, another person who thinks he/she is you would.”

    Again, impossible thing. I WOULD experience the consciousness of my brain on Mars. If the duplicate is exact, and we are only physical, with no soul, then: it’s NOT another person who thinks he/she’s me, IT’S ME. If I am my brain, as you say, then wherever my brain is: I am!

  161. Mlemaon 27 Apr 2013 at 9:37 pm

    I am enjoying this conversation, but have to run an errand before the store closes. i will look back to see you.
    cheers

  162. ccbowerson 27 Apr 2013 at 10:04 pm

    “Why would either have a greater sense of being “original”? and why would you prefer one over the other if they are identical? And who would be doing the preferring? This preference does seem to suggest the belief that there is “something” that makes an original me more me than a copy of me. But identical is identical.”

    Mlema, I think you (and possibly BJ7) are adding things that are misrepresentations. I do not believe that the original is any more authentic than the copy, nor do I believe that they are not identical. Its just that we can’t forget that there are 2 individuals (2 mental states if you must) and when writing we have to get them straight to have these discussions… even if these are identical- the fact that they are identical does not change the fact that there are two. We are also somewhat avoiding the idea that exactly identical maybe an impossibility, so I attempted to introduce nearly identical to see if it changes anything for BJ7, but I’m still unsure from his response.

    “You are asking a question using dualist language, which means you must be thinking like a dualist and therefore reaching conclusions like a dualist.”

    BJ7-