Aeon Sub-Title: Your body is scanned, destroyed, then reproduced. Do ‘you’ live on the copy?
- This paper reviews a Closer to Truth interview of Andy Clark by Robert Lawrence Kuhn that appeared on Aeon1 on on 19 August, 2019. There are probably clearer and more extensive accounts by Clark on this matter, but it’s interesting to see him in action.
- Closer to Truth has started to provide transcripts, but not for this interview, so – after noting the Aeon summary, I provide a summary of my own, followed by a commentary. I’ve included the YouTube timings to make it easier to match my paragraphs against the video itself.
- Aeon Summary:
- For centuries, philosophers – and more recently, science-fiction writers – have been concocting riffs and variations on a particular thought experiment: if every bit of your body could be perfectly scanned and replicated, in what ways would the replica still be ‘you’?
- In this interview from the PBS series Closer to Truth, Andy Clark, a professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, dissects a version2 of this experiment posed by3 the US philosopher Daniel Dennett, in which a body is scanned, destroyed, and replicated in a distant place.
- While science hasn’t yet brought us close to putting Dennett’s conundrum to the test, we can still grapple with the intriguing and perhaps troubling metaphysical questions it raises, questions that might become even more material as we careen further into the information age, including: would ‘you’ be dead, or would your sense of self perpetuate in the copy? And, if you were recreated several times, where exactly might you expect to find your embodied sense of self?
- Kuhn (00:00): There’s an assumption – a “given” – among technologists and futurists that it’s only a matter of time before the “engineering problem” of how to upload our subjective consciousness to a non-biological device is solved. It’s an “engineering problem”, and while 10 years is wildly optimistic, no-one in this camp doubts that hundreds of years will be sufficient. Kuhn doesn’t think this is intuitively obvious, and asks whether Clark – with his background – does think so. That is, once uploaded, he’ll feel no different than he does now.
- Clark (00:55): There’s something in Kuhn’s set-up that makes him uncomfortable. The notion that there’s a consciousness here that might be uploaded over there. Where he wants to start is by thinking of “my consciousness” – myself – as a pattern of some kind: a pattern in information-space. If you stop thinking of yourself as a locus of this special thing “my consciousness”, but think of your consciousness as a pattern of some sort, then the concept of uploading doesn’t seem too outlandish. The upload itself would be “kinda weird” because it would just be reproducing that pattern rather than pushing it down a tube.
- Clark (01:45): There’s a nice little thought experiment that originated with Daniel Dennett called “Death or Transport”. Brief description: Technology exists where you get into a cubicle in one location, your body is scanned and the information about how everything is organised is transmitted to a distant location, and the result of the scanning process is that the original body is destroyed. At the distant location, the pattern of stuff is put back together in the same kind of way and something that looks and sounds like you gets out the other end. Dennett’s question is “is this death or is it transport?”. Would you get in there and would you think this is a way of getting from A to B safely or not?
Kuhn (02:45): Well, if we say that worked, since we have “the information” we could repeat the process – maybe multiple times – and we have a multiplicity of Andy Clarks all saying “that worked”. But then each on would be shocked to see one of the others.
- Clark (03:15): That’s true – though I might be less shocked than some people. Some people would be outraged – John Searle, for instance – because these people are just pretending to even have consciousness, let alone being you, depending what you made them of.
- Kuhn (03:35): But there is a thing to be your internal consciousness right now – I can feel myself being that – and when we go into this multiplicity, even though every one of them will claim it, will any of them be it?
- Clark (03:55): I think that’s a very funny question. For example, suppose that we just froze you completely somehow – so there’s no neuronal activity whatsoever – and had the ability to bring you back again. I think most of us would be fairly happy with that. Most of us would think that a little interruption in the pattern that is me doesn’t stop it …
- Kuhn (04:20): General anaesthesia … you get it … you’re out …
- Clark (04:25): But then there’s certain subterranean processing and stuff …
- Kuhn (04:30): But then …
- Clark (00:00):
- Kuhn (00:00):
- Clark (00:00):
- Kuhn (00:00):
Footnote 1: Footnote 2: Footnote 3:
- We’re not told where, either in this summary or in the interview itself.
- Also, I don’t think this is originally down to Dennett.
- This is very detailed, because I don’t want to miss out on important points – particularly those I’m not inclined to accept.
- However, it is not always verbatim, though it often is, more or less.
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)