Teleportation Thought Experiment

Suppose there exists a teleportation device such that when you enter it, it simultaneously destroys the atoms composing your body and recreates them at some other location. You can enter a teleporter here on Earth, for example, and from your viewpoint you will instantly be on Mars if you chose to have your body reconstituted there. Let us accept this premise for the purposes of this thought experiment.Here are two scenarios that get me thinking.

1) For some reason the machine that is supposed to destroy the Earth version of you messes up and you are now both at Mars and Earth at the same time. Which would you consider the "real" you?

2) For some reason your Earth body is destroyed but you are reconstructed at Mars and somewhere else (the Moon or somewhere). Which one is you? Do you split you consciousness/soul/whatever?

This thought experiment makes you decide what really makes you…you. Is it your soul, your body, your memories? It is tough to say.

June 9, 2011 at 2:27 am
Sean D Stevens (155) (@thelaughingfool) 8 years ago ago

Do you by any chance have a copy of “The Pig That Wants to be Eaten”?

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Luigi (1,454) (@luigiblue) 8 years ago ago

Hmm Pretty interesting subject actually. I’ve always thought about something similar but let me ask, if you enter a teleporter here and your atoms are broken down and destroyed, would there have to be a teleporter on mars for your atoms to reconstruct in? Or would you be able to reconstruct it anywhere without a receiving teleporter?

1) If your Earth body doesn’t get destroyed and you end up with two physical bodies, which one does your soul reside in? Which one are you physically in at that moment? You wouldn’t be able to experience both at once would you?

To be honest, this kind of question is completely difficult to answer..But it’s got me thinking….

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Austin (1) (@austindcramer) 8 years ago ago

How about

3) When your Earth body is destroyed and your replica is created on Mars, does the Mars body have the same soul as your original? Technically you’re killing yourself then reconstituting yourself anyway, so it’s a valid question.

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Nathan Rotunda (4) (@macenro) 8 years ago ago

@sean – I’ve never even heard of it before. I just talked about this experiment in a Philosophy course.

@Luigi – I guess the whole idea would be that once we had someone take the 100+ year journey to Mars we could build a teleporter to reconstruct people on Mars from Earth. It’d kinda be like faxing your atom configuration to Mars where a machine used the information to remake you.

@austin – That is part of the problem with 1). If you think that the Earth you was the real you then you were just about to destroy yourself.

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Austin (1) (@austindcramer) 8 years ago ago

then it’s settled. just don’t get into any teleportation machines!

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Nathan Rotunda (4) (@macenro) 8 years ago ago

I am not sure I believe in souls. I’m not sure that I am some sort of intangible entity inside my body. I think that we are more our experiences and memories. With the causal link between brain injuries and memory loss it seems to me I am my brain really.

So if my brain can be exactly reproduced then it seems like I might as well use the hypothetical teleporter. If my body existed in the two different places then for that moment I would be two places at once. every moment after that though it would be two different versions of myself. Every experience after that would be a fork in the original me. The two constantly evolving from the me before the teleportation.

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Sean D Stevens (155) (@thelaughingfool) 8 years ago ago

Well, here’s the problem:
Even if you had the technology to rearrange atoms to create an exact replica of a human being (or to make it simpler, let’s start with an amoeba), placing every atom in the exact same place as the original, all you would create is a perfectly made corpse. This is related to a thought experiment I’ve done. In order to teleport a living person in the form of reconstructing them somewhere else, you need to be able to kick start the metabolic process. As far as I know, this is a complete mystery. And it may be impossible. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that you can’t know where an atom is and know what it’s doing at the same time. Since you can’t recreate action, teleportation is a fancy way to kill yourself.

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Nathan Rotunda (4) (@macenro) 8 years ago ago

I really don’t care about the teleportation part of it. I was more trying to get people to think about what makes up consciousness/identity.

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Michael (8) (@mklrivpwner) 8 years ago ago

Supposing that we can actually produce the technology, that there are no ‘complications’ aside from the assumed scenerio, and that the new entities can function, have ‘memories’ and mannerisms, and even the same eating habits as the previous entities (the Earth entities), then there is no reason to believe that they are not one and the same.

According to my own personal believes, we are all connected on significantly higher dimensions to a unified consciousness, but can only “remember” what this 4-dimensional instantiation experiences, because we are such a limited portion of the whole.

The other option is that it amounts to a complex case of identity theft, except noone cares because the ‘new’ you is completely identical in every manner as the old you. And as far as the ‘soul’. No I don’t think it travels with you. But I also don’t believe heaven will become conjested with the multiple copies of souls for ‘frequent fliers’, mostly because I don’t really have a concept of heaven. Also, suicide is a mortal sin, condemning you to hell, and by freely entering the machine, knowing that it destroys the ‘old’ you, you are committing suicide (destroying yourself).

Think of it this way. If you knew about the attacks on 9/11 before it happened, and informed the ‘galactic police, who then (without anyone knowing until afterwards) came to Earth, abducted Osama bin Laden and replaced him with a perfect copy that wasn’t so hate ridden, so basically 9/11 didn’t happen, would you care if it was a copy and demand the real Osama? Or would you go on with your life happy to have the copy instead of the original?

Let’s say that the Mars teleporter had broken down so you couldn’t complete any teleportations. So the Earth teleporter threw a failsafe, which reconstituted your body here on Earth. Is it the same as the one that walked in?

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Julian22 (1) (@sanatan) 8 years ago ago

To Sean : Well said man. I totally agree with you. I can’t believe that people still talk about this science fiction stuff as if it were real.

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Nathan Rotunda (4) (@macenro) 8 years ago ago

To Julian22: If you actually read what I was talking about it has little to do with actual teleportation. ITS A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT. That means it is a total hypothetical just for the purpose of ferreting out people’s belief in the human identity. It is to present a situation in which people would need to decide whether they believe we are our souls, our bodies, our minds or just our memories. It really has nothing to do with teleportation. It is just a way of starting a discussion.

If things that aren’t real anger you that much then read this version of the same thought experiment.

“The original puzzle is this: over the years, the Athenians replaced each plank in the original ship of Theseus as it decayed, thereby keeping it in good repair. Eventually, there was not a single plank left of the original ship. So, did the Athenians still have one and the same ship that used to belong to Theseus?”

It just is less powerful then the teleportation thought experiment.

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Anonymous (1) (@) 8 years ago ago

This is actually a very nice way to present the problem. The versions I’ve heard before all have mad scientist or aliens.

I would think of which ever one I would happen to be as the real me :)

That is, both of us would think they are real. We would both use the word me to refer to the particular one that is speaking. Just like I’m doing now.

I would assume that both of us would be conscious, as long as we had functioning brains. At least we would think we are conscious and I can hardly see the difference.

Of course I don’t really believe in an immortal soul that is somehow separate from the being itself. If a soul would exist, I suppose the body lacking a one would simply not be alive, and never wake up after the teleportation.

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damoon004 (2) (@damoon004) 8 years ago ago

They had this idea in Fringe with soul magnets. I’d like to think that a) there are souls with a physical distinguishable energy b) that energy cannot be destroyed or (or more importantly) created. Really we are flesh and bones, our experiences give us uniqueness (look at Plato’s cave).
But I think the premise is wrong the idea of self doesn’t mean your flesh and bones but your experiences or state of mind, which by definition is being created every single moment. You are not the same you the next moment, if you were able to clone your self exactly that would not be you in the next moment. If you really want to get technical any small details even down to the biology makes you different, even by standing in a different place from your clone.

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Nathan Rotunda (4) (@macenro) 8 years ago ago

@damoon004

I don’t remember the philosopher or story, but I remember reading this somewhere. It has to do with the fact that we change as who we are constantly.

Basically the story is something like this:

Two guys are arguing. Man A owes Man B a bunch of money. Man A try to get out of his debt by telling Man B that his cells have slowly been swapped out and all these other things that are different about him. He says that he doesn’t actually owe Man B anything because the guy that borrowed the money was not the same Man A that was before him.

Man B begrudgingly agrees. He sees the logic in it. Then he punches Man A in the face. Man A is mad and yells “why did you do that?” Man B says “Oh, that wasn’t me…that was some other guy.”

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Anonymous (1) (@) 8 years ago ago

That is why we, a society, need the idea of self. Most of the way we organize ourselves becomes meaningless without that arbitrary definition. The ideas of debt, of ownership in general, of contracts between individuals, require that there be a self that can be tracked consistently in time.

So our legal systems rely on the idea of a self. That of course does not mean that the idea has any counterpart in actual reality or that there could not be a situation were the idea becomes invalid, such as the hypothetical teleportation incident.

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