Seeing double

This is the scenario and it’s slightly geeky:

You are involved in a transporter accident similar to that which always seems to be occuring on Star Trek (why not just take the shuttle?) and an exact duplicate of you is produced.  Instead of one of you being “Evil Kirk” both are exactly the same.  This was also the sort of thing that The Prestige glossed over….

A transporter functions (for the sake of argument) by making a copy of your atoms in a remote location and then destroying the original atoms.  OK not destroying but converting them to energy.  This means that technically both versions of you are duplicates and the original no longer exists.  At least not in a form that could be considered you.

Which one is you?  If one duplicate dies is the other one you?


Filed under Thought experiment

31 responses to “Seeing double

  1. Dom

    Oooh – tricky one. I’m still stuck on the ‘once you’ve teleported is it still you’ argument (yes I’ve thought about it before, no I can’t come up with an answer). I guess it boils down to how you define ‘self’. I’m not sure the world could cope with 2 of me 😀

  2. My head hurts! Why am I “me” anyway?

  3. Dom, can the world cope with one of you? If it helps the atoms that make up your body are replaced with other atoms all the time. This means that you are not the you that you were when you were you a moment ago (I wrote this whole blog entry just so I could say that). Given that you aren’t you (or at least not all of you) then “self” is really a function of consciousness. Where does consciousness reside? What is it formed from? How is it supported? In the above scenario is consciousness simply duplicated along with the physical structure of the body? If we assume that it must be then how are they different?

    Pinky, oh don’t say that. Join in.

    Cat, good question. Why are you you? Is it the accumulation of experiences stored in the wet bag inside your skull that make you the person you are or is it something more?

  4. Offtopic: was that the Star Trek where the audience could recognise the fakeKirk because he was wearing tons of eye-liner and the other one wasn’t?

  5. OUCH! that’s kinda like the question “What comes first? the chicken or the egg?”

    too much…………TOO MUCH!!!

  6. Tender, it might have been. It wasn’t the mirror world episode where Spock has a very dodgy beard.

    Mylozmom, it was the egg…it just wasn’t a chicken egg.

  7. oh wow, no you REALLY have me thinking!

  8. I’m gonna sound geeky here. What the hell.
    From the moment that two ‘yous’ are created you effectively get what we might describe as a parallel universe – but not quite because its just you that’s parallel, but in the same universe. Both versions are you, but with everything they encounter and experience from that moment onwards they become different to the you that stepped into the transporter. Both have the memory and the experiences up to that point, but they will develop different versions of your future because they may have taken different decisions and been exposed to different experiences. Both continue to be you, but you get two, increasingly different yous as time goes on.

    If it happened, you’d have to differentiate between them (Me1 and Me2 perhaps? So that if one was killed, people would know which one remained).

    Am I making sense?

  9. tam

    Head. Spinning. Out of. Control.


  10. Mylozmom, or maybe it was a chicken that hatched from an egg that wasn’t lain (laid?) by a chicken but a near chicken.

    Spaniel, geeky? Not at all. I agree with you. However of the two yous which one would you be? Would you both be you but begin to diverge to two separate entities as I think you suggest? When does one cease being you but becomes someone else? Does this ever actually happen?

    Tam, who, how, what, where, when? Come on in, that water’s fine.

  11. Dom

    I think this falls down to belief more than anything else. If we take the premise that teleportation is done via quantum entanglement you’re simply exchanging one set of atoms for a new set aranged in exactly the same way. The resulting construct would (in theory) be identical to the origonal in every way, resplendant with a sense of self and a belief that he is the ‘real’ him. If the origonal was not destroyed in the process you’d now have two beings who both, from their persepectives, are the real them despite the fact we have observable evidence that one was just copied from the other. The arguments that can then be had regarding this really do result in people dissapearing up their own behinds.

    You can also make the argument that if it was possible to encode everything about an atom by some sort of destructive scanning and recode it at a destination point (the way it’s done in Star Trek) that you’re simple going matter->energy->matter which is a perfectly valid state change (like going water->ice->water). Arguably it’s still ‘you’. Being able to go matter->information->multiple copies of matter means you’re not going through the state change but you’re ‘faxing’ yourself and just destroying the origonal. In this case you’re killing you and recreating a new you.

  12. Wouldn’t it depend on the form of death? If it were by sudden, violent means (high impact with a speeding object such as a car, bullet, rampaging herd of African elephants) then surely only the one ‘copy’ would be erm, dead. If I replicate this document via the photocopier and set fire to one, only one bursts in to flames. If, however, I leave them both out in the rain, they’re both toast (figuratively speaking). Therefore a terminal genetic defect in one copy should be common to both, no?

  13. Jason

    I think both of me can do things for good all of the time.

  14. Purplephreak

    Ooh that’s a tough one! I think it’d have to be a fight to the death :s

    Simon Pegg is going to be Scotty!

  15. snarlz

    u sed those questions didnt have an answer. HOW AM I MENT TO ANSWER A QUESTION THAT DOESNT HAVE AN ANSWER?!

  16. Dom, let’s assume that killing-you-making-a-new-you argument. Are you saying that both yous are not you or that both your are you?

    Brennig, would it? Wouldn’t both copies have the same defect but operate independently once created? Injuring one would not cause injury to the other.

    Jason, all the time or frequently?

    Purple, given two yous you’d fight to the death to ensure that only one remained? D&D used to have this as a rule of the Clone spell. No consciousness could exist in two places at once and the resultant mental strain caused both clone and original to fight until only one remained. Very nerdy. Yah Simon Pegg.

    Snarly, hon, lots and lots of questions in life don’t have answers or at least don’t have right answers. Often it’s how you answer the question that determines the value of your answer.

  17. Yes, that’s the point I’m making too with the “Therefore a terminal genetic defect in one copy should be common to both, no?” If the genetic defect was common then (let’s suggest cancer although it’s not a perfect example) then they’d both face the same condition as cellular break-down occurs. And I also concur that physical/accidental injury to one would not reflect on the other (unless, of course, they were in the same car that got hit by a falling 747…). 🙂

  18. Argh, my head exploded as I considered my answer.

  19. Yes, Frog, you’ve read me right. Both begin as yous but quickly become different entities to both the original you and to eachother.

    By way of explanation, ‘you’ is a label given to a being which, although constantly changing over time can still be regarded as ‘you’ because the identity remains with the one individual and retains its label, despite the changes which continue to happen over your entire life. As soon as the you gets copied and duplicated, ‘you’ as a label ceases to be meaningful, since the identity does not remain linked to a single being, and the two yous become different to one another, so they become different. Both copies are no longer ‘you’ in the original sense.

    Clear? As Mud.

  20. Duplicating atoms – would that also duplicate memory? If you were to replicate/duplicate a computer would you also reproduce the stored memory or would that have to be downloaded?

    Perhaps memory of life’s experiences make up a large part of what we call the soul. How can the transporter break down the ‘soul’, to be reassembled later? One of the many flaws of Star Trek, along with that swooshing sound the Enterprise makes when it flies by. 😉

  21. Christina, in computing if you copy a hard drive you get a duplicate of all the information. It is just a collection of states (1s and 0s). In that regard duplicating a computer would also duplicate all the information, the stored memory. If you think of a human and a machine like a computer (although more sophisticated) then the data would also be copied.

    I do have an issue with “soul” as I’ve yet to hear a definition of it that does not assume something supernatural first. A kind of assumption of a priori knowledge.

  22. Christina? I must try to write more ‘manly’. 🙂

    If you replicate a computer in a Star Trek style transporter – would it duplicate all the electronically store data? If it did then I think there would be a transference of the computer’s soul. Which, being a computer, is a very two dimensional.

    I think the concept of a soul can be considered outside the realm of theology. We can talk of spiritual people even if they are atheists. I think the soul is that summation of knowledge, life experiences and personal peculiarities which we sometimes call ‘character’. The idea that ‘something’ is going on within a person that is greater than the sum of its organic parts. You can see this in the eyes of a person – it is what makes them a person and not just an entity. Heck, sometimes I can see it in the eyes of a cat or dog. 🙂

  23. My typing is so poor I’m surprised I haven’t called you something worse. 🙂 Maybe I should play it safe and just use a symbol to represent you. You could be the artist formerly known and Christian. No? Fair enough.

    Given the idea that a soul is simply data or a state then it could be duplicated. I’m surprised though as I thought that believers in souls thought of them as something unique to the individual and supernatural.

    I’ve never had a decent explanation as to what a soul or a spirit is. Without a definition I’m unable to relate to it. Your definition of a soul is really a way of summing up a lot of different characteristics that define a person. There are other words though and I’ve certainly been told by theists that the soul is a distinct and separate thing that experiences or character traits.

  24. Well, I personally believe that my attempt at a definition was inadequate, as well as incomplete. As far as to what other dimensions may be applied – who can know? The Christian picture of a soul is not so easily found within scriptures but has been extrapolated over the years. That being said, ‘something’ is there that contains that spark of individuality and I do believe that it transcends the corporeal.

  25. C, it’s an interesting idea and I can see why people would want to believe that part of themselves transcends death but that doesn’t make it so. As with all things that require faith I’d have to ask: where is the evidence for a soul?

  26. Themselves and others – plenty of motivation there. There is no conclusive evidence for a transcendent ‘soul’. What’s worse, if you happen to believe in the immortality of man – there is no evidence, conclusive or otherwise, as to what that immortality may consist of. Cold sweats in the middle of the night.

    But, thankfully, I personally will find inexplicable comfort when I turn my thoughts to Christ. For some crazy reason I have been convinced that his nature is also that of the inexpressible ultimate cause. Weird.

  27. Weird indeed, but if it harms no-one and brings you happiness then I can’t see anything wrong with it. It’s only when the idea of a soul and eternal reward allow people to do unspeakable acts that I get worried. You know, like blowing themselves up so they can spend eternity in heaven with 72 white raisins.

  28. How true. An overemphasis on what happens ‘later’ has unfortunately caused an indifference, or even contempt, for what happens ‘now’. Raisins?

  29. Raisins. It’s a translation issue. You’ve heard of the Muslim reward for a martyr being 72 virgins? Apparently the word for virgins also applies to white raisins. Not something you’d want to get wrong, I imagine.

  30. Absolutely. And doesn’t the legend of the genie in the bottle hail from that part of the world? No wonder you get three wishes.

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