SP: 'The brain manages to maintain identity from moment to moment without perfect copying or infinite computing power... '

MP: True, up to a point, but I want to quibble about that later [maybe below, maybe in another posting]. And upon more, [and more, and more,] mature reflection I can see that we are leading each other up the garden path, [or is it just you laughing - with justification I admit - at me? :-] We have to distinguish between identity as evidenced by finger prints [if we have been naughty], driver's license, Medicare number, birth certificate, account numbers + PIN, etc., and the belief I have in the story of me which I rehearse and act out during my waking hours. Then there is the identity of Identity Theory.

   * The first identity above is social identity - consisting of what I
     know about myself, what others know about me, and a whole host of
     social relations which constrain what I may do, assert what I
     ought to do and anchor me as a responsible citizen of Australia
     and if I don't act responsibly then I will be HELD responsible. It
     is who and what I am deemed to be by those who might care. It is a
     story, stored in several brains, computers and filing cabinets,
     which focuses on my person and is epitomised and focused on my
     body and what it does.
   * The second is my personal beliefs about me and in particular those
     qualia which embody my sense of self from moment to waking moment.
     Obviously this overlaps with my social identity in the part of
     that which lodges in my head. The essential nature of this is that
     of a story; my life is NOT LIKE a story, my life IS a story. I
     suppose I can say that the qualia of sense of self make my story a
     'graphic novel' [which sounds so much more posh than 'picture
     story' doesn't it  :-]
   * The identity of qualia with the activity of neural networks
     appears to be something that you either believe or you don't. I do
     so life is much simpler for me than it is for many people who
     contribute to discussions about consciousness. It is in this
     particular subject area, if you like, that the issue of exactitude
     in copying becomes truly relevant. In the first two dot points, it
     is not necessarily the most important point, indeed may not matter
     greatly or at all depending on how we view the ethics of the

When I wake up each morning, I am brought back to my habitual view of things and feelings of being here by external and internal stimuli. My clock radio sounding out ABC Radio National breakfast program or 'AM', the view of our bedroom ceiling, the sensations of the doona** resting on my body, the pressure of a full bladder ... Sometimes it is a bit fuzzy at first and very occasionally, such as happened a month or so ago, I might have awakened out of a powerful dream the effects of which do not leave me so that I am still wrapped in suspension of disbelief and can find myself thinking quite weird thoughts. But that is a digression.

What would be the affect on me if I awoke in a totally unfamiliar place? How would I know I was me? If I remembered being somewhere in particular and being told that I would wake up far away in Beijing for example this would be helpful if in fact that was where I found myself. If on the other hand a glitch in the system caused my data to be sent to the wrong destination I would be very confused. Furthermore, if the quality of the copying was not up to scratch, I might be feeling very fuzzy indeed or very sick. Without external clues to tie in with what memories I had of my life story leading up to the last time I went unconscious, I would be very dependent on staff at the read out station to tell me what was happening. It is around about here that the location of a person or thing can be seen to be a very important component of its/his/her identity.

So back to the question: can I be copied? Answer: More or less yes.
Next question: Is the edition of me that gets copied then flushed away committing suicide? Answer: Yes Next question: If the copying did not destroy the original of me then who is the new edition of me in Beijing or wherever? Answer: [and this is simple] He is my identical twin brother. That is the easy philosophical answer. His legal status will depend on what the law has evolved to prescribe about the situation.

And there we have it! THAT was the answer I have been looking for for years actually, ever since reading /Reasons and Persons/ [well ... reading most of, because the first half or one third of the book is VERY dry]. Twin brothers, or triplets, whatever. What could be conceptually simpler than that?!

MP: And here I was going to quibble: The first two dot points above relate processes of ASCRIPTION. This is important. This is still true but I don't care any more. I just wandered off to commune with nature and spent some time running fantasy scenarios in my mind- 'tutorial' type scenes with me holding forth - and the whole thing has slotted into place. As follows:

   * Assuming that it is in principle feasible to 'copy' a person and
     either store the data obtained without deterioration or transmit
     the data without noticeable loss, then when that data is used to
     reconstitute a medically and legally acceptable facsimile, the new
     copy is NOT the original it is his/her identical twin brother or
   * In this scenario, if the original which is copied ceases to exist
     at the place of copying, he/she has died. If the copying took
     place without destruction of the original then he/she is [ceteris
     paribus] the same person and unchanged. The legal status of the
     new twin will be the subject of common or statute law provoked by
     the invention of the new technology.
   * In a discussion with one of my son's friends just now we agreed
     that the 'Star Trek' version of the teleporter is a rather odd
     beasty in which not just the information/data concerning the
     structure and dynamics of a crew member's body was sent to a
     destination but the actual atoms of the body were sent also. This
     might seem like a tidy sort of solution to someone who didn't want
     to think too deeply about it, but the sending of the original's
     atoms would add an enormous overhead to the system, firstly the
     amount of energy required to accelerate all the particles to
     something close to the speed of light would be enormous, and
     secondly it would not change anything significant because it is
     not the fact of it being those particular atoms which is
     important  but which kind of atoms and exactly where should they
     be. So when 'Scotty' or whoever beams them up, they die on the
     planet's surface and their identical twins are created in the
   * This whole scenario actually works to support the contention of
     Steven Lehar that the identity of a thing includes its location
     and that this fact is a reflection of how our brains work in
     creating the phenomenal reality of our experience [see

I think that is enough for now!
Mark Peaty  CDES
** http://www.reference.com/search?r=2&q=Doona <http://www.reference.com/search?r=2&q=Doona>

Stathis Papaioannou wrote:

Mark Peaty writes:

SP: 'Getting back to the original question about teleportation experiments, are you saying that it would be impossible, or just technically very difficult to preserve personal identity whilst undergoing such a process? As Brent pointed out, technical difficulty is not an issue in thought experiments. , MP: I have answered this, in responding to Brent. In summary I say: if it is just A [any old] rendition of a human you want, then given that thought experiments allow that all practical challenges can be overcome, the answer is Yes! On the other hand if the strict requirement of an exact copy of a particular person is required to be output then it becomes a question of whether or not truly infinite computing power is required to calculate the changes occurring within the original at scan time. If it is then the answer is NO, because infinity is infinity. I think Derek Parfit's copier [Reasons and Persons Ch 10] was 'usually' producing complete and accurate copies, because one of his scenarios addresses what would happen if there was a fault in the transmission.

The brain manages to maintain identity from moment to moment without perfect copying or infinite computing power. Of course, you may need very good copying and very great computing power, but this is different in kind, not just in degree, from perfect copying and infinite computing power.

Stathis Papaioannou
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