If I teleport from Mars, does the original me get destroyed?: a Response.


This is a response to an article I enjoyed reading – a slightly different spin on the idea of identity and transport written by Charlie Huenemann who is a professor of philosophy at Utah State University. The article stimulated my mind and now I’m here writing my thoughts.

The problem I see here with the idea(s) in this article is twofold: first, I see a problem with having two copies of ‘yourself’, and secondly, the idea that the ‘destroy’ setting might port you to be some other person who falsely believes he is you.

I will first talk about the latter (does transportation make a ‘you’ at the destination), as I have a better description and vision in my mind of the dilemma. What the problem emphasizes is that you are a person on Mars who is hungry and longs for his family and friends, and also has a teleporter that can transport him back to earth. When the person transports, the old body – the collection of molecules is destroyed at the point of transport initiation, and recreated at the point of transport destination.First, this dilemma supposes a completely materialistic view of the self wherein, your biological and neurological construction determines ‘you’. Your memories are stored in the structure of neurons, its chemistry, and there is no soul. There is nothing to you beyond your molecular composition. So, a person that is constructed as an atom-by-atom recreation should be ‘you’.When you initiate transport, your molecular structure is disintegrated on Mars, and from the time until you are recreated on Earth, you do not exist. There is no arrangement of molecules in the same arrangement to give you your identity and make ‘you’ (for an elaboration on this see my post on identity and change HERE). When the molecules are arranged likewise as they were on Mars, but in another location, there is now a ‘you’.

But what is this ‘you’? It is a thing with the exact same memories, experiences, personality, perspectives, and biology. So there should not be any gap in who ‘you’ are. You will remember initiating the transport on Mars because you have this memory from the arrangement of neurons in your brain. This is the memory created on Mars which you will have when recreated on earth. You will also have all other memories, and feel the same sensory things, and have the same perspectives. So in the grand scheme of things, a biological ‘thing’ was destroyed and recreated, and riding on the back of the materialistic view, there should not be any lapse of memory except the ride – the time from destruction to recreation. You will simply have the sensation of being on Mars, then being on Earth. This is similar to a program which you boot upon your pc at home, save on a USB, bring it to an exact same computer in another location, and put the software on that computer. It will not know any difference (besides any identification codes/ serial numbers etc… which humans don’t have).


The idea here that comes to mind, while this is all science fiction, is the idea of transport in Star Trek series. In Star Trek, a transport shows the body fading away at point on transport initiation, and re-materializing at the destination. The person continues on exactly as they were before, as if they are the same person. This comes to no surprise because (again using a materialistic view) they are the exact same constitution of molecules and neurons. I remember one episode in Star Trek where the transport got lost mid-transfer, and they had to ‘store’ the body pattern in the ‘pattern buffers’ and the neural patterns where stored in the main computers of the system. Here, they would cease to be identified as themselves, and would not be themselves, because there is not materialistic body, only fragments of stored data. Once the machine materializes molecules in the correct pattern, which is stored as the pattern data in the buffers, the person would once again be ‘themself’.


The former problem that was introduced at the beginning of this essay, is what happens if there is a you on Mars, and a you on Earth. This is directly from the article where you have a transport option of not destroying yourself when initiating transport, but still having a recreation of you at the destination. This is a peculiar idea of having two ‘yous’. Which ‘you’ are you? Well, in reality you are both. In keeping with the materialistic view, you are both arranged exactly in the same arrangement, thus having the same identity (more on this HERE), and both being ‘you’. But here the only difference I can manifest through experimenting of thought is that the only difference is that there are two “things” in different places who have the same memories at the moment of transport. Your subjective perspective, beliefs, and thought patterns are the same, so they only difference is the immediate perspectives you take in through sense: one sees the Mars environment, and one sees the environment of Earth.

Things, though, get complicated when time passes, as the two will begin to accumulate new memories and experiences, and thus begin to ‘diverge’, as their neuronal configuration changes as a result. The two will slowly become disjoint, and a ‘you’ and ‘another’ will be formed. This is as far as the limits of my imagination will allow, and the current uninterest in thinking more deeply about this at the moment. But I will say this: the problem here is which is ‘you’ a week from now? A year? I will just say that we are always slowly changing anyway, but we always remain who we believe we are as a construction of molecules and experiences that persist. So there yet may still be two ‘yous’. Just different ‘yous’.

Article this responds to here: https://aeon.co/amp/ideas/if-i-teleport-from-mars-does-the-original-me-get-destroyedutm_content=buffer93922&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer


One comment

  1. Great post. I think that thought experiment raises good questions about what constitutes personal identity over time. One must have a coherent theory regarding identity to be able to answer that. When the person on earth gets destroyed – in what way specifically do we mean they are destroyed? Are they broken up into basic atoms which are then transported and reconfigured on the other side? How different is it from the fact that as organisms we develop and grow by incorporating existing matter into our bodies. All the matter of our bodies was here before we were born – so something else must explain identity over time and I think Aristotle’s form explains this well.


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