Tom Caylor wrote:

Stathis wrote:
> If you wander into the middle of one of our discussions, it might seem that we've all forsaken common sense. As a general rule, bizarre-sounding physical scenarios are proposed as "thought experiments", to explain, explore or clarify a theory by applying it to a concrete example. > What the post you have quoted deals with is basically the philosophical problem of personal identity....


Yes, I'm aware of the recycling of our bodies. This fact reduces to the deeper fact that our identity changes over time, just like (almost) everything else. In fact, this is the very fact that I'm appealing to. The "theory", or hypothesis, in this case is that "living for the moment" makes sense. But in fact it is the very denial of continuous consciousness. This a contradiction. Of course if we say that we are allowed to divide by zero, then dividing by zero makes sense in the sense that we just said we are allowed to do it. But it doesn't really make sense.

We do experience continuity of consciousness, despite the fact that we may be completely different physically. If you got into a Star Trek type teleporter, the idea is that your body is destructively analysed, the information sent to a distant place, and there your body is rebuilt from local raw materials. As far as you are concerned, you walk into the machine in one place, then suddenly find yourself in a different place. There is no test you could do to show that the teleported person isn't "really you", assuming the machine works properly. But what if the machine malfunctions, and you are *not* destructively analysed? There are now two of you, one local and one distant. The local version will argue that he is the "original", and that he now realises that the machine's designers are actually murderers, who kill people and create imposters able to fool everyone (including themselves) that no crime has taken place. The distant version will argue that as he is an exact copy, both versions have an equal right to claim they are the "real" you. If the two versions meet, they are likely to become bitter enemies, especially when it comes to deciding who gets the house, the wife etc.

Before you had this problem with the two versions existing simultaneously, you were quite happy to use the teleporter, and quite happy to let the guy who came out at the destination carry on as if he were "you". Now, you see him as a rival and a fake. You can think of other examples like this. You are saving money for your future; but if your future self comes back in a time machine and withdraws all the money and spends it, arguing that this is what it was for all along, you will be annoyed. Another: if all the atoms in your body that are excreted and lost were actually saved and assembled into another body, that person could claim to be the "original", and you just the copy.

The point of all this is that you basically are just a series of copies (not even exact copies), and the only reason this is not obvious is that the copies never meet. If they did meet, they certainly wouldn't have the same concern for each other as they do for themselves; they would have the view that the other guy is just someone who looks like me and thinks he's me, but obviously isn't me, because *I'm* the only one who is me!

Having made this point, I certainly wouldn't advocate "living for the moment" as the right thing to do. How we live our lives has nothing to do with these sorts of philosophical issues, and everything to do with how our brains have evolved. If you point out to a patient that phantom limb pain is "irrational" because their limb has actually been amputated, it doesn't make the pain go away.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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