Friday, August 6, 2010

Re: The Teletransporter

This argument arose a ways back when I brought up something I remembered from my first issue of "Nintendo Power" magazine, concerning a release called "Lode Runner 64." The game has a teleportation device that breaks down the player's character, destroying him in the process, and rebuilding him of new matter in the same configuration elsewhere. The question posed is, "would you use such a machine?"

I have always consented to hypothetical invitations to use the device. Dan has always declined.

My favored analogy is of the human flash drive. My philosophy thinks of identity as information, which should be transferable between bodies. Consider: when you lose a limb, does it change who you are? Or when you get a pacemaker? How about when your body gradually replaces its cells, until you no longer have anything in common physically with yourself at an earlier age? They say that the body totally replaces itself over a period of seven years. What would happen if it changed itself all at once? This is what the teleporter offers.

Dan always says, "When I step into the teleporter, I close my eyes, never to open them again, while elsewhere, something that is not me opens its own." To this, I ask what makes him think that that new thing couldn't be him. He responds by asking a new question, "what if the teleporter didn't destroy the original, but just made a clone? Which one would be me?" This is sticky territory.

They would both be you, and then neither would be you. While both would be identical momentarily, as soon as they have dissimilar experiences, they diverge. In response to the question of which is the original, what does it matter? Suddenly we have Dan^a and Dan^b. The world has seen twins before. We could handle it.

The fear of death strikes me as a refusal to consider that the machine would actually work. The body replaces itself slowly. What if it replaced half of itself all at once? Is that a death? How about 3/4? Completely?

To Dan, I ask: How do you feel about the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory when Mike is transported via "Wonkavision" through a television signal? If it didn't shrink you, would you use this technology? It reassembles the original physical elements.

Reacting more to what Dan has put forward about the subject of identity as continuity over time... I wonder, why must it be physical continuity? Physical continuity is an assumption anyway, given the changes that our bodies go through, and the fact that we can't be sure of them while unconscious. I think what matters most is a coherently linear narrative of experience, which constitutes and identity. If it can persist through blackouts and comas, I should think it could withstand a blip between bodies.

New problem: Quantum mechanics allows for the possibility that random particles can spontaneously form into, for instance, Abraham Lincoln. Let's say this configuration of particles is indistinguishable from Lincoln as he was about to give the Gettysburg address. Perhaps he's looking around confusedly, wondering what happened to the battlefield he was standing on moments before. But that doesn't change the fact that Lincoln's body is still encased in concrete in Illinois. So is this newly generated Lincoln really Lincoln, or not? I say he is, as much as any Lincoln could be. He is a Lincoln, just as the buried one is a Lincoln. It'd be easier to discuss if there was only one, but we just have to roll with the circumstances.

Things that my view on the teleporter implies:

1. The mind is reducible to functions, like complex equations that decide behaviors.
2. There is nothing irreducible about man (no soul, no magic, no spirit).
3. Artificial intelligence is theoretically possible.
4. Artificial intelligence must be co-existant with the teleportation technology.
5. The word "artifical" needs a new definition.

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