Copydeath or copyright

The teleporter problem is an interesting one because the swish science fiction view hides a fundamental philosophical problem that is rarely addressed in the science fiction programs that have teleporters.

The teleporter (or teletransporter or similar wording) is usually just a plot device to save all that boring travel time. Personally I don’t think our universe can permit such a device but I’m happy to be proven wrong. I say permit like I mean it in the same way that the universe doesn’t permit light to travel faster than 299,792,458 metres per second in a vacuum. Sure I like the idea of faster-than-light travel but let’s be reasonable.

Just to go over what the teleporter problem is, you walk in one end, something happens and then you pop out a long distance away the same as you went in. Lots of difference fictional devices proposed here from beams to portals or gates. The problem is that some claim that you, the original, have actually been murdered at the origin, and that a copy of you, which is not actually you, is at the destination. It’s a very good copy at the destination, just not YOU. What they say is at the destination varies from another person through to P-zombies.

Don’t forget that this is a fictional device so this is a thought exercise that I believe was first proposed by Derek Parfit in 1984 but it is more or less a twist on the age-old ideas behind the paradox of Theseus.

My view is detailed in this post and has come out of a long series of discussions about 3 years ago on this problem. Obviously if you subscribe to a dualism and have a supernatural soul then you have different problems. The teleporter doesn’t usually copy souls – it copies matter.

My worldview only has matter. I don’t believe in things that are unlikely without evidence. So to me teleporters only copy information about matter and that is all they need to copy. If you think you have a soul to copy then good luck with that.

What is “You” as a conscious entity is constructed from memories in a brain. The brain has chemical reactions and what is consciousness is emergent from that. A brain with the same (or sufficiently similar) memories is the same “you”. Remove those memories (stroke or injury) and that brain ceases to be “you”. Use chemicals to stop the brain function and you cease to exist as “you” until the chemicals are removed and the brain chemistry is restored to its norm (anaesthetics do this). People place too high an importance on “consciousness” and “free will”. These are animations of the brain. Copy the matter and connections and you copy the animations and so copy the “You”.

Why people have so much problems with this idea is because the idea of self has been evolutionarily selected for. We are not a hive organism. We are altruistic but maintain a strong sense of self. I call this sense of self the Overwhelming Point of View. The overwhelming point of view makes it hard for you to think that a copy could be you at all.

If you think it must be someone else then ironically the copy is doing the same thing. Oddly enough if they are the same “You” but then if they are both allowed to run alive then they will become different. Morally and legally this is a hard problem to overcome. The same hard problem applies to computer hosts. If you clone a host then it comes back up and running identically and it is happy but if you run the clone and the identical original at the same time then they also become different. If you have just said that computers are not brains so this isn’t relevant then you have not understood the information theoretic death problem here at all.

The twist is that if the first “you” is not allowed to run but remains dead, unconscious, or de-materialised or is erased, and the one copy of “you” is animated then to me there is no moral problem. The original “you” can be safely deleted. There is no murder (or copydeath) because there is no information lost. Now others disagree and they see the original as being unique in some way that precludes the copy process of the teleporter. I just think this is the Overwhelming point of view that makes it hard for them to rationalise this topic.

This is the basis for the development of the Credodia project. The rationale is that as a reductionist then you ask what do we need to copy “You” and the answer is just that we only need to copy your brain and stick that in a body. Taken further you will see that we only need to copy your memories and stick them into a brain into a body.

Today we have no teleporters and we can’t copy “You”. All Credodia does is to plan to store “You”.  In time we expect to give you a body. In time we could also copy you across vast distances at light speed. Sure we can’t do that now but there isn’t any reasonable arguments to date as to why we can’t do this at all.

I think that this Teleporter problem is a fundamental problem that we need to teach all children. Not teach them my ideas of information theoretic death and Credodia as they’ll find those in the end but to get them to think about this idea of what they are at a fundamental material or supernatural level. This one question divides society when they are adults so let children understand this question when they are young.

So what is Your move ?

  • Bryony

    Ah, never step in the same river twice!