Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Something Else For You To Oppose

Since Good Catholics like being against things so much, I thought I would point out another dangerous biotechnology that we all need to be vigilant in opposing. It's not exactly within the realm of possibility yet, but it's coming, and all hell could break loose when it does!!

I'm talking, of course, about so-called "teleporters." But not all teleporters. Teleporters based on wormholes or something like that could be okay. But what many people seem to imagine is some sort of device that would dematerialize a person and simply reconstruct them elsewhere. This is clearly an abomination fraught with grave metaphysical problems.

As the Wikipedia article itself points out:
"There's also the philosophical issue of whether destroying a human in one place and recreating a copy elsewhere would provide a sufficient experience of existential continuity. The reassembled human might be considered a different sentience with the same memories as the original, while the original human would have ceased to exist. Furthermore, if several copies were constructed using merely descriptive data, but not matter, transmitted from the origin and new matter already at the destination point, each would consider itself to be the true continuation of the original; moreover, because each copy constructed via this data-only method would be made of new matter that already existed at the destination, there would be no way, even in principle, of distinguishing the original from the copies."
I mean...haven't you seen The Prestige, people?!?! This is super serious!!! I think it's best to start the moral panic now before we wind up killing people and replacing them with armies of soulless teleclones!!!!!

I write all this in a jestful tone, since any such scenario is a long way off, if even possible at all, and it's funny how much energy some armchair philosophers put into debating hypotheticals like this. But don't get me wrong either; I do believe the problems raised would be serious ones, and I would probably object (even just an instinctual level) to any such methods of teleportation that destroyed the original only to "reconstruct" a copy with new matter elsewhere. The Prestige does indeed make a good point about what magic is repulsively unnatural in this regard.

The idea of such a teleporter is utterly repugnant to me, as I do feel it provides no meaningful continuity of identity, especially given that multiple copies could be made. I've pondered this issue since I was a kid and the "reconstructed somewhere else" idea never seemed right to me. This would represent the ultimate triumph of atheist materialism when it came to our conceptions of the human soul and personal identity.

Similar problems are raised by this idea that some futurists have where they think someday minds could be uploaded. Nonsense. Neural maps of brains, perhaps, but not consciousness itself. See my Qualia post.

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