Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beam me up...

Again, I have heard of this question before and I was beaming :)... Interestingly, I heard of this problem from the character Dr. Sheldon Cooper, from the sitcom, "Big Bang Theory". The original source is from "Reasons and Persons", by Derek Parfit.

The question is this - Stelios has come up with a teletransporter that can transport a person within minutes to Mars. Sort of like the phenomenon of Apparation, from Harry Potter. The teletransporter scans every cell of our body and brain and stores this information. Then it destroys the current form, and recreates the person cell by cell, in Mars. So you fall asleep and then wake up in Mars. The question is - is Stelios actually killing a person and then recreating their clone on Mars? Will you be the same person on Mars, or is it only your clone?
People who have used it, don't lose any of their consciousness. They still know they are themselves when they land up in Mars, and they could continue with their life as if nothing happened. But wasn't their physical body destroyed on Earth? For a few brief moments, they did not exist... so doesn't that mean death?

My thoughts - I have wondered what the difference between sleep and death really is. Death is when someone never wakes up, and probably doesn't dream when they don't wake up, and continues to "sleep". In addition, the physical body degenerates. BOTH these criteria need to be satisfied to call a person dead.... their consciousness is dead and so is their physical body. I know for sure that the teletransporter destroyed the body, but the consciousness seemed to be intact, for the person "woke up" remembering who he was. Or was consciousness also destroyed and recreated?

Our clone is not the same person that we are. A clone may physically and biologically be identical, but not mentally. If you're psychologically "the same person", then you're not a clone. So far, Baggini's views resonates with mine. But for those brief moments, I don't know if the person's consciousness also ceased to exist. What was the person going through when he was teletransported.... did he have visions and dreams or did he have nothing? Well... some people don't have dreams when they sleep, so what is my rule to understand if consciousness did exist when the body was destroyed... can consciousness exist without a physical body or a brain?

I don't think the teletransporter can scan the "mind and consciousness". They are not physical entities to have shape, or structure or properties to be stored. Yet the person on Mars did not lose his consciousness, which lends me to think of two possible explanations for his consciousness to have been retained:

1. "consciousness" is indeed a property that emanates out of the unique composition of our physical brain. When a jar of jasmine perfume is opened, one smells the scent of jasmine and not rose. So, when the chemical structure of jasmine is scanned and recreated, it will emanate the same smell, although the scent by itself was not stored. If we were to imagine the brain to be a hard disk, and the transporter scanned the hard disk, then the data is preserved and hence the "program behavior" is preserved. If this is the case, then, when the brain was destroyed, the "scent" or program was also destroyed, because it doesn't exist without the physical structure. And hence the person was dead for those brief moments. The person on Mars is not a clone... just a recreation of the person. Sort of like waking up from being dead, like we've heard of some patients in surgery whose heartbeat stops for a few seconds and then revives.

2. "consciousness" is probably the soul. A soul exists without body or mind. If this is the case, despite the physical body being destroyed, the soul was not destroyed. Since this soul took up the same body and remembered everything and retained the identity of the same person, the person was not technically dead. In Hindu beliefs, when souls take on another body and lose their memory of past life, it is called Re-incarnation of the dead. Here it is not re-incarnation.

I don't know which of the two explanations is true, or rather which one I tend to believe more :). "Logically", 1 seems more appropriate to me at this point, for 2. has a lot of unaccounted questions themselves - what is the soul, is there a soul, is re-incarnation possible? I don't have answers to 2., but I tend to not dismiss it just because I don't have the answers. So I'm undecided between the two....

Baggini argues that the person is not dead, since by the theory of "psychological continuity", the consciousness was continued, and as long as consciousness was intact, the person is the same person, not a clone. Hence he was never dead, for the dead cannot come to life.


SUMI said...

I tend to think that the person reconstructed in Mars is different! :-)

There are two ways of defining a person. One is, as merely a state. If a person is defined as a unique state, then, no person is ever the same person along the time axis because the state keeps changing. By this theory, every moment in time a person dies and is reborn since their state keeps changing (neural activity, biological activity etc), and hence by this token, the person in mars is different as well.

Another way of looking at a person is to look at them not only as their state but also look at their trajectory along the time axis. Lets say that for the person to be the same at least one of their dimensions MUST exist at any point of time, starting of course, form their instant of origin (birth).

We are constantly changing biologically and mentally. Our bodies grow and age, our thoughts change, our psyches and intellects also undergo changes. So what makes us ourselves; i.e., how do we maintain association to a specific identity and be "the same person"? I guess it has to do with dimension 1. there's a part of us that is aware of ths change and is seeing us change, a constant observer. dimension 2. other people see us, recognize us, and bind us to the same identity over time.
What about people who go into coma or suspended animation? Their minds temporarily shut down. However when they come back to normal, that dimension of self awareness is back. Does it mean they were different people while in a coma/suspended animation? I don't think so, since the other dimension of other people's recognizing them and associating the same identity with them exists. So there is still a continuity of existence of at least one dimension in the cases so far.
What about a person who goes into amnesia? They have no awareness of their past any more. To themselves they are a different person. But to the other people around, their identity is still bound to the same one all along. Again, continuity of at least one dimension exists.

In the case of the teletransporter, what dimension of the person exists between the instant when the orginal person is destroyed and the instant the person is recreated in mars? One may say that his state exists, perhaps in some silicon or some other hardware, but I mean, a 'manifestaton' of the state- the 'state' is mere potential. A manifestation of the state must exist. In this case when you look at the trajectory of the person along the time axis, it's as if for that delta between destruction and recreation, no dimension of the person exists. So to me, it's a different person.

So by both routes (purely state based and state + temporal charecteristics based routes) my reasoning leads me to think it's a different person on mars. :-)

That said, the person himself will definitely think they are the same person, there's no question about that. But to *me*, they will be a different person. Since a third person observer is implicit in the question, I took the liberty of considering it as a valid dimension in defining a person...

SUMI said...

Oh I forgot to write another thought - what if the guy's state is preserved, and then he is recreated in Mars, but the original person is not destroyed? Are they then the same person or two different people? I think they are two different people... (I anyway think in the earlier case there were two different people) but if one thinks otherwise in the former case, and they think the two guys are different people in this second case, what's the reason? Is it just cause the same two people can never occupy the same space at the same time? :-) Pretty interesting... so in that case can we put the person's location and volume in space as a parameter of their state? If so, then when the person is recreated from that state they'll occupy the same position in space, and there will be two people superimposed on each other ! wow! Crazyyy!!!

Neeraja said...

Wow Sumi that's quite a thorough analysis!! And you've pointed me towards a different perspective :) I never considered us evolving along the time axis on many dimensions, and hence essentially being different with each change.

And I concur with your analysis that there was no dimension of the person existing during those brief moments between destruction and recreation. I called it being briefly dead... yet I cannot view the person being recreated as being different... I see it as his state being regenerated from the data stored in hardware. The data stored in hardware is a manifestation of the state but in a different dimension altogether. So maybe he wasn't even briefly dead... the physical manifestation of himself was converted to another form in an electronic world. But I see that you don't view it as a tangible manifestation.

I think the main reason why I view him as being the same is because his consciousness is intact and to me each person has a unique consciousness and state of awareness of themselves. Hence I find it hard to concede that there can be n-number of different persons created with the same consciousness (although they all don't exist at the same point in time). And if the person were different and didn't exist at the delta between destruction & recreation, then how does he proceed with his life fully aware of the delta existing, fully normal and continuing from that point in time? If my interactions with him and the identity I associate with him continue to remain the same, why would I call him different?

But I do see your point. If I were to consider a physical object, such as paper, and recycle it to form another batch of paper of the same size and quality, I would call it different... although the physical properties are retained and recreated. But the only difference is the new batch of paper has a fresh start so to speak, whereas the man being teletransported does not start from scratch (his life continues and encompasses the whole length of the time axis including all deltas).... and he has an identity that is not lost by him or in the eyes of others; Coming back to self-awareness.

And if the same person were not destroyed but recreated, they would be two different people because, 1. yes no two people with identical consciousness can exist in the same point in time and 2. assuming these two people are on different planets, their experiences in life will tend to be different, meaning their lives will be different, their minds will evolve differently based on their experiences and hence they will soon no longer have the same exact state of consciousness anymore... or so I presume :).

And if two people were superimposed on each other... lol :)... that is too bizarre for me to even comprehend!!