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Gordon. T1G1T1

(Text as at 18/12/2010 19:58:05)

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I was impressed by your sketch of the issues involved in the beam-me-up-Scottie case! The legal training hasn't done you any harm, I see. I've added some superficial comments below. A lot of work is required to make the arguments sound, I admit.

You are right to make the distinction between transferring matter and information. I gather that in the show itself, it's a plasma that's concerned, but, as you point out, this is unlikely to get to its destination without causing havoc, so the information-only transfer is more reasonable. I've mislaid my copy of "Krauss (Lawrence M.) - The Physics of Star Trek", but I found a useful article1 by him at (Link). It raises a lot of physical obstacles in the way of the practicalities of teletransportation, but doesn't overlap much with the philosophical issues I'm interested in, beyond pointing out the obvious difficulties for a dualist.

However, even in the plasma-transfer case, I'm unconvinced that I'd survive. For two reasons:

We now turn to the information-transfer case. My main worries initially here were to do with the possibility of duplicates (a possibility you point out). We all know (especially you legal types) that a counterfeit, however well done, isn't the same as the original. The logic of identity is rather boring, but constraining. A thing is identical to itself and to nothing else, so if a thing is identical to two "other" things, these "two" must be identical to one another. Given that my two beamed-up versions aren't identical to one another, at least one of them can't be identical to me. And, since they are exactly similar, why choose one rather than the other? So, neither is me. Both are exactly similar to me, but identity is to be distinguished from exact similarity. This is similar to the case you mention where the "original" isn't destroyed. This sort of thought experiment is referred to as the branch-line case. Canonically, it's where I've only a few days left (because the scanner has done me a mischief). Would I be happy in the knowledge that my duplicate would go on and on, and take up with my wife and career where I left off? Is this as good as if I survived? Not exactly. Note, however, that the case is tendentiously described to lead to this seemingly obvious conclusion. The "main line" candidate would be perfectly happy that his rival back home was about to perish.

Philosophers split into two main camps in response to this: Firstly, is identity what matters in survival. Well, it matters to some degree. If there are 1,000 of me squabbling over the same friends, relations, job etc, that might be rather a nuisance. However, this isn't fundamental to whether I do or don't survive. If I'm a ballet dancer or body-builder, I might not find it much fun surviving as a brain in a vat, but that would just be tough. The standard philosophical test is the "future great pain test". I believe that the future continuant will be me, whether I like it or not, if I'm as terrified of that continuent being tortured tomorrow as I would be if I were to be tortured tomorrow in the normal course of events. Our BIVs would be even more upset at the prospect of torture-simulation being fed into their brains than at the loss of their beautiful bodies.

I can imagine fissioning, by the bungled-beaming-up process, into 1,000 continuents, none of which (on a 3-D view) is identical to me, but all of whom continue my first person perspective. I can imagine (just about) going into the machine, and coming out again 1,000 times (when the life-histories of the 1,000 then start to diverge, as you point out). While the psychologies of the 1,000 are initially identical, they are not connected to one another, though they are each connected continuously to the pre-beamed-up person. So, if even one of them were to be threatened with torture, I'd be terrified if I thought that that one (even amongst all the others) would be me.
But, do I survive? I don't think I do, for reasons given above (too radical a reassembly). It's clear (as you say) that a duplicate, looking backwards, wouldn't be able to tell apart the situation from the normal one of (say) just having woken up after a dreamless sleep. However, I imagine it's possible (in the benign case where I'm not fried) for there to be nothing it's like for me after the beaming - it's as though I never woke up, though someone else woke up thinking he was me. This would be a tragedy but, as you say, we'd never know about it, because (on this hypothesis) I wouldn't be around to tell the tale, and my duplicate would claim everything was fine (he remembered going to bed and waking up, as it were).

This worries me slightly about our every-night bouts of unconsciousness. How do I know that the me that wakes up is the same me that went to sleep, and would it matter if it wasn't? Is this worry parallel to beam-me-up case? I suspect the answer is that for a physical thing to persist, there needs to be appropriate physical continuity, and this continuity guarantees its persistence. On the assumption that my brain supports my conscious experience, this is enough to reassure me that, as it's the same continuing brain in my skull overnight, it's the same me that's conscious in the morning. I don't have the same reassurance in the case of beaming-up. So, I wouldn't go in for it, even if it came to be seen as a cheap form of transportation.

All the best,

Theo (May 2005)

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Gordon. T1G1T1G1 Kraus - Beam Me Up      

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Gordon. T1G1        

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