This morning I don’t have too much time to spare and will be doing my writing this evening, so instead I’m sharing my crappy philosophy essay (because I undertook a philosophy subject this semester and I don’t think my reasons were good enough, now that I look back on them) for you to all read.
Not great by any means, but might still make for a satisfactory read.
I hope you enjoy.
Suppose that computer technology and neuroscience both advance to the point where it is possible to (1) perfectly copy the state of a human brain on a supercomputer, and (2) run a perfect (or even enhanced) simulation of that brain on the computer, indefinitely. The advantages of that procedure include immunity to all human diseases, and the possibility to experience the world via a huge variety of robot bodies. The catch: the process that copies the brain also destroys it (the brain has to be sliced up into sub-millimetre thin slices). The procedure has been shown to be extremely reliable; moreover, the company will keep several backup copies of your brain state, for extra security.
Suppose that this were presented as an option and you were to undertake the operation. Would you still be the same person? It is likely that, whilst the resultant creation would share the same personality traits, name and (if possible) appearance as the person who was replicated, they would no longer be the same person, even if those who knew them accepted them to be the same person, for there is nothing left of the original person. It is stated that this is a copy and not the original and for that reason I would not go through with the procedure.
Let us for a moment consider the procedure.
In order to put the brain into the computer, the brain needs to be cut into parts and in the process of cutting will be destroyed. This implies that the brain will be removed from the body in some form. At the conclusion of this process, the brain will still exist, albeit in pieces in order to study it to make the transfer to the computer. However, the transfer will be in the form of data and is explicitly stated to be a copy. It is no longer the same person, nor is it their “spirit” looking for a new vessel. It is not the brain that is being transferred, but merely a recording of its state.
Furthermore, it could be taken that when saying that it is the state of the brain that is being copied that that could mean only the state and not the thoughts, emotions and memories that help shape the person to be whom they are.
This has been thought about in regards to media such as Star Trek¹. In Star Trek, when someone uses a transporter, they are moved from a location to another location. In the process of their being moved, they are broken down on an atomic level and then reassembled when they reach their destination. If the disassembly does not work and the signal to reassemble you at the other side is sent through, then atoms would be assembled in your likeness and it would appear as though you would have reached your destination. However, you would still be waiting to be teleported. Then there would be two versions of you, although the one at your destination would be a new person. They may think that they are you, but they are not as they have been replicated in your image.
Many would argue that The Ship of Theseus being replaced piece-by-piece would no longer make it the same ship once all the original pieces were replaced. Whilst there is merit in that argument, a ship does not carry memories and build experiences in the way that a person does, so instead I shall use a different analogy.
Let us assume that it is true that your body has a set of cells every 7 to 10 years that are not the same as the cells 7 to 10 years prior due to the body replacing all the old cells. It is likely that there would be some cells in the body that may not get replaced, such as the ones in the brain. However, if the cells of the brain were replaced, then things such as memory, thoughts and experiences would be transferred in order to help us remain who we are. These likely would be transferred without the brain ceasing to function, otherwise if they were transferred and the brain ceased to function we would become unconscious and likely die. In transferring the memories, thoughts and experiences that make us who we are without losing consciousness, there is a continuous stream of our existence despite the cells in our body being replaced as despite the new cells being there to replace old ones, they still exist within the same body.
However, if the brain did have to shut down to replace cells then there would likely be some mechanism that it would have developed in order to allow for the transfer of our memories, thoughts and experiences to the new brain cells in order to preserve how we are when we wake up.
If we were to copy those thoughts, memories and experiences and then put that copy into something else, then that would no longer be the same person. They may be indistinguishable from the previous person. However, what they have is a copy. There is continuity of consciousness but for the new person it has only just begun due to their experiences being a copy of the original and not the original themselves.
In John Perry’s A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality², Miller argues that the identity of someone is beyond just their body and can exist after the event of death, whereas Gretchen argues that the self is tied to the body. Miller argues for psychological continuity and Gretchen argues for physical continuity. Miller uses Kafka as a reference to the idea of being able to imagine waking up in another body, but still as your own persons due to your identity and experiences that you carry, whereas Gretchen argues that if you woke up in another body, then that new body would be a new person regardless of conscious.
When Miller is arguing that part of who we are is memory connected in the correct way, Gretchen mentions that there is a difference between something actually being remembered and seeming to remember something in that an actual memory is something that has personal causal links, whereas something that seemingly remembered is something that you may remember but have no personal link.
For example, in Blade Runner³ there is a replicant called Rachael created by Tyrrell. She is an experimental replicant created with memories of someone else’s life implanted in her mind, leading her to believe that she is indeed that person. However, she is not; something that is revealed shortly after her appearance in the film. She was created with memories (and likely the personality) that she seems to remember but belong to someone else. The original memories and personality were copied and not transferred, therefore leading to the link of consciousness being broken due to the original memories and experiences not being transferred.
In having a copy of one’s brain being made and placed into a machine, they are no longer in existence and instead a new “person” is created. The brain is not being transferred, as it is a recording of the information in that brain that gets put into the machine. This requires for the brain to be destroyed, destroying the original person and for that reason I would not choose to go through with the operation.
1. Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Second Chances”, episode, Directed by LeVar Burton, 1993, NBC, Television
2. Perry, John 1978. A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality. Indiannopolis: Hackett Publishing Company
3. Blade Runner, Directed by Sir Ridley Scott, 1982, Warner Brothers, Film