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are you the same person if you teleport?

 
author & internet detective
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Last night at a World Science Festival session on the human brain, an interesting question came up: if you teleport (or otherwise replace all of your neurons with equivalent ones) are you the same person or a copy?

I think the same person if you have the same memories/thought process. Our mind changes constantly, so I feel like a correctly made copy/re-assembly would be the same person. With three caveats:
1) The original must vanish so it is a transfer not a copy.
2) The whole body must be copied exactly. Copying the brain into a robot is not something I would consider the same because the context for the brain is different.
3) The copy process must be identical and reliable. This is the sticky point. Even if the technology existed, it would be a long time before there was trust in copies being made perfectly.

And yes, I'm aware of the irony in using the word "copy" to defend something being "the same".

Thoughts?
 
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Ship of Theseus
 
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It completely depends on what makes a person a separate person. I think especially your first caveat is interesting.

If in the teleporting process, the original would not disappear, then there are not two instances of the same person (as per your caveat) but merely one person and a copy.

But then, if you have a person and a copy, and the original person would disappear at a later stage (maybe annihilated in some cosmic event), would the copy then become the original person? Surely you agree that this isn't the case, we established that this person was already a copy.

Now, how much time should we allow between the creation of the new person, and the vanishing of the old, for the new person to "be" the old person? If your answer is no time, the events should happen simultaneously, I would like to point out that according to special relativity, the order in which two events occurred depends on the reference frame of the observer, and that there's no way to say in an absolute sense that the person would be the same or a copy. For some people it would be the same, for others a copy.

If the old person is allowed to exist for a certain amount of time, after the creation of the second instance, then how much time would you allow? Any amount would seem arbitrary, and therefore, this is not a valid option.

If the old person needs to vanish completely before the new instance comes into existence, it means that for a brief period of time, a person has not existed. I know about people having near-death experiences, but not existing at all, for a short period?

I would argue that your first caveat makes it impossible for teleportation to recreate the same person in a different location, and not "merely" a copy.
 
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Two thoughts came to mind:

  • The very first novel based on the Star Trek universe Spock Must Die was based on the premise of duplication
  • .
  • The whole topic of what makes a human human is a central premise of the Ghost in the Shell franchise. How much can you replace with mechanical prostethics and still be human? What is the human soul (the "ghost")?
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    Saloon Keeper
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    For a very readable treatment of this subject, have a look at the book 'The New Emperor's Mind', by Roger Penrose.
    Very funny is the situation where a copy has been succesfully made, but there was a malfunctioning in the
    destruction process of the original. So, the operators come to you with the message that this hasn't happened
    before, apologizing for the inconvenience, but that they now have to kill you. Of course, they will use a painless method...

    He answers this question later on: it is theoretically impossible.

    But there is a much bigger problem here, which I've never heard any answer to.
    There's this Captain Kirk, sitting in his comfortable chair on the bridge, issuing 'Warp 6, mr Zulu'.
    (computers understanding human speach were not invented yet, I assume).
    Well, in an eye's blink the whole ship going at warp 6 speed. But then that goes along with some
    phenominal acceleration forces. Since no crew mamber is killed by smashing against the wall,
    I asume there is a machine aboard that somehow neutralizes these forces. Okay so far.

    But then there comes this Klingon ship. It fires a tiny photon torpedo, and suddenly the whole bridge
    goes hayward. The Captain nearly dropping on the floor, sparkles jumping out of every wall,
    big chaos. Now, what happened to that phenominal machine?

    ;)
     
    Bear Bibeault
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    Piet Souris wrote:(computers understanding human speach were not invented yet, I assume).


    The ship's computer was quite capable of speech recognition. But it just wouldn't be the same without George at the helm!

    I asume there is a machine aboard that somehow neutralizes these forces


    Inertial dampers.

    But then there comes this Klingon ship. It fires a tiny photon torpedo, and suddenly the whole bridge
    goes hayward. The Captain nearly dropping on the floor, sparkles jumping out of every wall,
    big chaos. Now, what happened to that phenominal machine?


    Sparks look good onscreen.

    Not sure what all that has to do with replication, though.
     
    Java Cowboy
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    Piet: Not to mention the strange retro CRT screens and controls (like displays with rolling numbers) in the Enterprise. Does it mean that in the future we'll forget how to make LCD monitors and touch screens, and we'll go back to CRT screens and big buttons?
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Stephan,
    Logic? Yeah, I suppose that is true. Maybe the question is when the "copy" gets treated as the original?
     
    lowercase baba
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    aren't they dropping in and out of warp space? So they are not actually accelerating to 5 times the speed of light...they are accelerating, sure, but maybe only to five hundred miles an hour, but distances are different in warp space, so when they come out, they are trillions of miles away.

    The inertial dampeners can handle this gradual acceleration to 500 MPH, but not the sudden shifts when the klingon torpedoes hit.
     
    Bear Bibeault
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    fred's got it right. Warping space is exactly that -- it's space that's "moving" not the ship.

    Impulse power is another matter.
     
    Bear Bibeault
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    Gawd, do I love a good geekfest!
     
    Sheriff
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:fred's got it right. Warping space is exactly that -- it's space that's "moving" not the ship.



    Yes, and railroads work the same way too. When you start up the locomotive, it pulls on the earth and causes it to rotate until the destination arrives at the train.
     
    fred rosenberger
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    Bear Bibeault wrote:fred's got it right.


    Four of my favorite words!!!
     
    Sheriff
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    Paul Clapham wrote:When you start up the locomotive, it pulls on the earth and causes it to rotate until the destination arrives at the train.


    Aren't we reading the same comics?



    Although some nitpickers (for example me) would say that it's the train who's feeling the acceleration, but don't listen to these folks. They spoil all the fun.
     
    Piet Souris
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    I'm convinced. It is the Enterprise that is pulling the Warp Space.
    Now hoping that the folks in Warp Space have an 'inertia damper', otherwise
    the whole Warp Space gets extinguished whenever Captain Kirk is in a hurry.
     
    Martin Vajsar
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    I'd say that scanning the entire state of a brain (rest of the body notwithstanding) will probably be pretty difficult. Even mice (those creatures from the Hitchhiker's Guide), a race so advanced that they can have entire planets custom build, including Earth, needed to slice and dice a brain to read its contents. I'm not sure I'd want to undergo that procedure.

    Similar problems would arise with time travel. Say that you travel back in time and meet your earlier self. Which of various time versions of you holds the rights to your bank account? Can you steal your past self's car? Can you sue your future self?
     
    Piet Souris
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    Well, I don't think it is wise to sue your future you, since he knows the outcome already. Of course, you can ask him how the trial ended,
    and since he is you, you know if he's an honest guy or not. But the mere fact that your future you came back knowing he's going to be sued,
    is a sign of the outcome...
     
    Martin Vajsar
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    Of course, if I sue my future self in his (can I use 'he' to denote my future self?) timeline, our chances are even!

    (I've probably watched too many Doctor Who episodes recently.)
     
    Piet Souris
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    Martin Vajsar wrote:(...)
    (I've probably watched too many Doctor Who episodes recently.)


    A wise thing to have done, if the alternative was reading Meaningless Drivels
     
    Bartender
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    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Last night at a World Science Festival session on the human brain, an interesting question came up: if you teleport (or otherwise replace all of your neurons with equivalent ones) are you the same person or a copy?...


    Sounds like your focus is on the brain as representing the "same person" i.e. the person is the same so long as the brain is the same. But your brain isn't the same as it was a year ago, ten years ago or even a day ago: the neural connections change all the time, the individual atoms change all the time, and so on. So if your teleporter works perfectly, it would actually create a more faithful version of "you" than you can achieve even if you just sit in a chair and try not to change anything.

    Imagine your teleport device worked perfectly but with a slight delay - say a millisecond - which is plausible because teleporting is a big job and would be expected to take some time. If you teleported successfully and emerged from the target teleporter 1 ms later, how would you or anybody else be able to distinguish you-after from you-before, or even tell whether the machine had worked or not, except that you came out of a different door? As Spock says in one of the old Star Trek shows, "A difference that makes no difference is no difference".

    And what's the difference between a teleporter and a copier? Imagine the zapper stops working on the outward teleporter i.e. you get copied, but the "original" isn't zapped (maybe testing was a bit patchy because, well, who the heck wants to be the first person to test this thing anyway?) so the original you climbs back out of the teleporter after you-2 has been teleported off to Star Fleet HQ. What's the difference between the two copies? Now there are two of you walking around and diverging from your common ancestral you of a few moments ago - are they both "you", or neither? (Either way, better change your bank PIN and passwords pretty quick). Maybe people would have to be time-stamped so you could always check which was the latest version (Git for people). Now you need a reliable universal time-stamp mechanism, or people teleporting across timezones are really going to mess things up.

    Probably just as well this is never going to happen, as many of us can barely cope with the photocopier in the office, let alone a person-copier/teleporter. Even if I copied myself and sent the copy off to work while I sat in the garden, I'd (OK, he'd) need to earn enough to feed us both, or I'd need to start digging some big holes in the garden...

     
    Piet Souris
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    chris webster wrote:(...)Even if I copied myself and sent the copy off to work while I sat in the garden, I'd (OK, he'd) need to
    earn enough to feed us both, or I'd need to start digging some big holes in the garden...


    Money will be the least of your problems. Just go robbing a bank or whatever. Since no judge in the world can figure out
    who of the two is guilty, no one can be convicted.
     
    Bartender
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    One thing's for sure: it would be awesome.
     
    Bartender
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    You could try the approach used in The Prestige, but that's a bit messy.
     
    Martin Vajsar
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    Piet Souris wrote:Just go robbing a bank or whatever. Since no judge in the world can figure out who of the two is guilty, no one can be convicted.


    I'd say that in the world in which it is possible to create an indistinguishable copy of an individual it is also possible to scan someone's brain to obtain evidence of committed crimes.
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    chris webster wrote:

    Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Last night at a World Science Festival session on the human brain, an interesting question came up: if you teleport (or otherwise replace all of your neurons with equivalent ones) are you the same person or a copy?...


    Sounds like your focus is on the brain as representing the "same person" i.e. the person is the same so long as the brain is the same. But your brain isn't the same as it was a year ago, ten years ago or even a day ago: the neural connections change all the time, the individual atoms change all the time, and so on. So if your teleporter works perfectly, it would actually create a more faithful version of "you" than you can achieve even if you just sit in a chair and try not to change anything.



    I agree. In my original post, I had written:

    ur mind changes constantly, so I feel like a correctly made copy/re-assembly would be the same person



    I like the git for people analogy .
     
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    IIRC, this question came up in "The Physics of Star Trek".

    I thought the author posed an important question: Are we teleporting "bits" or "atoms" ?
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Bert Bates wrote:I thought the author posed an important question: Are we teleporting "bits" or "atoms" ?


    Hmm. I'm having trouble envisioning why this distinction would matter. Can you elaborate?

    I'm off to the "bionic body" talk shortly. It'll be interesting to see what that makes thing about while the "bionic brain" part is still settling in!
     
    Bert Bates
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    If the teleporter is grabbing your atoms and moving them, then there is no duplication.

    If the teleporter is making a digital copy of you and transmitting bits, then we get into all the "duplication" issues you guys have been discussing.
     
    Jeanne Boyarsky
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    Bert Bates wrote:If the teleporter is grabbing your atoms and moving them, then there is no duplication.

    If the teleporter is making a digital copy of you and transmitting bits, then we get into all the "duplication" issues you guys have been discussing.


    Ah. That makes sense. I wasn't even thinking about physically moving atoms. That would require faster than light travel. Which would be totally unreasonable as it is a technology that doesn't exist. Unlike the teleporting we are discussing which also doesn't exist .
     
    Bert Bates
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    I think Star Trek strongly implied (or maybe even stated explicitly), that their teleporter was moving bits.

    That said, it still took the teleporter a couple of seconds to work, so couldn't we move atoms at near the speed of light? Why would it have to be faster than light?
     
    Martin Vajsar
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    Bert Bates wrote:couldn't we move atoms at near the speed of light?


    You'd still need to move all of the atoms in human, all (say) 80 kg of them. To accelerate them to large fraction of speed of the light (and decelerate them on the receiving end) would require a lot of energy. It would also assume a direct path between the starting and ending point. And since even the vacuum of space isn't completely void, some of them would collide with other atoms of space on their way, not reaching the destination, and they would be probably missing when you tried to assemble the passenger again from them. Plus, atoms are more or less indistinguishable from each other, and you'd still need some information about the exact location of each individual atom in the body, so you'd still need to send some additional information in some form.

    Moreover, digitizing the complete state of a human being would produce astonishingly large amount of data. Some sources say that transporting that much data between two places would take long time. Impractically long time. That is still an understatement - you'd need more time than the entire age of universe.
     
    Marshal
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    Atoms of organisms are NOT what make "you" in the sense of consciousness. I think the formation and building-blocks of consciousness is something that not even science can explain - maybe it is something that has nothing to do with matter or a measurable form of a 'field'. Consciousness is yet more of a philosophical thing that some religions awkwardly chime in too. What you can't move faster than light travel are things that are formed with matter and have mass. IF consciousness is something that doesn't take matter to form up, that's another story, and maybe it is movable FASTER than light travel.

    And, one of my favorite channels on youtube is Vsauce!

     
    Martin Vajsar
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    That was an interesting video. And actually pretty disturbing to me, firstly to learn that there are people who had half of their brain (half of their brain!) removed, and secondly, since the possibility of splitting the brain between two viable individuals, while still impossible (we can't transplant brain just yet) is much, much closer to be technically feasible than teleportation (or creating a copy of a human in general). This is where I start to feel the question as real.

    <boring>Our current understanding of special theory of relativity actually says that nothing can move faster than light. Not even mass-less particles. Most importantly, information can't move FTL. So, I'd say there isn't a scientific reason to assume consciousness can move faster than light - it would result into the well known kill-your-grandfather paradoxes - but since science really hasn't an idea what consciousness is, we can't really rule something out, especially if it turns out that consciousness is indescribable by science. Sorry for the intermezzo.</boring>
     
    Bert Bates
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    devaka:

    Atoms of organisms are NOT what make "you" in the sense of consciousness.



    It seems to me that there are thousands of neuro-scientists exploring that question.

    Think about the first moments of awakening from a deep sleep. It seems to me that one way of looking at that moment, is that your physical brain is "rebooting" to some extent, reconstructing your world.

    Now religious folks believe that we have a "soul", and perhaps that's what you're referring to. That discussion might have to be moved to the rattlesnake pit
     
    chris webster
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    Bert Bates wrote:If the teleporter is grabbing your atoms and moving them, then there is no duplication...


    True. But then the "teleporter" could just be a really fast truck under that definition...
     
    chris webster
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    Daniel Dennett on "consciousness explained".
     
    Bert Bates
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    Dennett +1
     
    Martin Vajsar
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    Piet Souris wrote:For a very readable treatment of this subject, have a look at the book 'The New Emperor's Mind', by Roger Penrose.


    Thanks for the reference. A very interesting book indeed.
     
    Ranch Hand
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    Just came across:

    "Dutch scientists have unlocked the secret to the sci-fi phenomenon of teleportation, successfully causing
    an atom to vanish and reappear nearly 10 feet away."
    http://elitedaily.com/news/world/scientific-breakthrough-may-laid-groundwork-human-teleportation/613912/

     
    Martin Vajsar
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    Martha Simmons wrote:"Dutch scientists have unlocked the secret to the sci-fi phenomenon of teleportation, successfully causing
    an atom to vanish and reappear nearly 10 feet away."


    This sentence comes from someone who didn't understand the process entirely. No atoms have vanished and mysteriously reappeared. This article links to its source (yet another newspaper article), which states:

    "What we are teleporting is the state of a particle," Prof Hanson, from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said.



    Teleportation, as understood by physicists, is different from the teleportation shown on Star Trek (and similar shows). When physicists speak about teleportation, they speak about moving information, not matter. It is still a breakthrough, of course.

    If this mechanism had to be used to teleport someone (say, me) from my home to my office, a copy of my body would already have to be present there (and I can only hope it would be a fresh copy, in every sense of the word). Teleportation would "just" move the state of all atoms in my body at home to the atoms at the same location in the body of my copy at the office. I believe that the states of the atoms in the home body would be reset during the process (as required by the quantum theory - but I may be mistaken here), which I'm afraid might be somewhat painful. Of course, what wouldn't we do to avoid commute!

    What would happen to my consciousness during the process is quite certainly up for debate. Perhaps it would be transferred to the office in the process, or perhaps the original body would retain an independent consciousness, leading to some of the situations we've discussed here. I'm afraid, though, that the net result would be the amount of my consciousnesses dropping to zero, an outcome whose positive could be seen in avoiding some really difficult legal problems.
     
    Consider Paul's rocket mass heater.
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