The Star Trek Transporter Paradox
("Thought Experiment" might be a better phrase, since it's really not a "paradox".)
Someone must have already thought this through all the
way, since Star Trek is an old show, I just haven't found the
I was contemplating how this "beam me up" thing works. A scanner scans
every molecule in your body, disassembles you, "beams" all that
information to the space craft transporter room, where it reassembles
you perfectly, exactly as you were.
Now consider this very slightly modified alternative. A scanner scans
every molecule in your body, transmits all that information to the
space craft transporter room where it reassembles you perfectly, but
the transporter doesn't disassemble the original you! Now, which one is
And here's a follow up
I thought of a follow up. We'll place you in the middle of
a pure white round room, so there is no orientation, doesn't matter
which way you turn. Then we use the transporter to create a perfect
clone of you, facing you. Since she's a perfect identical clone, with
exactly the same brain as your own, her reaction to seeing you will be
exactly your reaction to seeing her. She will do exactly the same
thing you do. Kind of like looking in a mirror (except if you decide to
raise your right arm, she will also have decided to raise her right
arm, whereas when you look in a mirror and raise your right arm the
image of you appears to raise her left arm.)
This will continue until something or someone external intervenes and
treats the two people differently, so the two people will then have
diverging experiences and start becoming different individuals rather
than identical clones.
This in turn reminds me of
this book by Steven Pinker, The
Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature
(in which he argues against the idea of a blank slate). The
following concepts have been around in past philosophy, but these
concepts break down upon further examination and fail. They cease to be
- The Blank Slate: There's no such thing as an innate
talent or ability. Environment and teaching is everything.
- The Noble Savage: Tarzan must inherently be a nice guy.
- The Ghost in the Machine: We are ghostly entities which
possess a body (the machine). Our bodies are inhabited by a self or a
soul that chooses the behavior to be executed by the body.
Pinker says the anxiety
about human nature can be boiled down to
He examines these fears,
tries to put them to rest, though I think he
didn't quite fully succeed. We still need to further study philosophy,
in the light of modern science, to come up with a new
philosophy that better matches what we've learned about the brain in
the past 30 years of Cognitive Science research. This is the New Enlightenment
of the 21st-century.
- If people are innately different, oppression and discrimination
would be justified.
- If people are innately immoral, hopes to improve the human
condition would be futile.
- If people are products of biology, free will would be a myth
and we could no longer hold people responsible for their actions.
- If people are products of biology, life would have no higher
meaning and purpose.
If you think about life rationally, it is devoid of meaning. But if you
think about life emotionally, suddenly it's full of
meaning. We are emotional beings. We can not escape that. Hence life
can have meaning.
Related to these concepts of
Soul, Spirit, "Ghost in the machine", is Consciousness. Part of being
human is being conscious of ourselves. We have the ability to refer to
our "self". Our "self" as perceiver can contemplate objects, the
perceived, and one of those objects is our self. The perceiver is
itself is part of the set of objects we can perceive. "Objects we can
perceive" includes itself as a member of the set. We have a set which
includes itself as a member. This is exactly the paradox that led Gödel
to discover his famous incompleteness theorem. If you are technically
inclined and enjoy mathematics and abstract thought, an excellent book
is the classic by Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel,
Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.
Not a great title, since the book is really
about consciousness, yet that word doesn't appear anywhere in the
title. It's about how consciousness is an entity that can refer to
itself—a strange loop which somehow loops back upon itself. There's a
parallel with Gödel's famous incompleteness theorem, which he proved by cleverly
inventing an equation that refers to itself—loops back to itself in a
strange way. There's also a parallel with numerous Escher drawings,
such as the one of the hands
drawing themselves. And there's a parallel in some of
Bach's music. By showing parallels to simpler things, such as Escher
drawings and Bach music, we slowly manage to get a grasp on more
abstract ideas, such as Gödel's theorem and consciousness. It's a very
fun book if you enjoy that kind of stuff.
Another extremely good and crucially important book is the recent one
by Professor of Cognitive Science George Lakoff: The
Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics
with an 18th-Century Brain. Although this book is more about "Things
that people can not think of or recognize because the concept doesn't
exist in their brain." So it can be happening all around you, yet you
fail to notice it.
This can be a serious problem. If people don't have a concept in their head, then they
simply don't recognize what is happening around them, and don't
even know they are failing to comprehend something important that is
happening right in front of them.
This is very relevant to what's happening right now in the USA. We understand
the concept of government being dictators, presidents, kings and
queens, but we don't understand the concept of government being
powerful private corporations. They govern us, but without
accountability. Their mission is not to protect and empower the public,
but to maximize profits. We don't have a concept of this being a form
of government. Therefore we don't recognize it, even though
it's already happening all around us.
I used to think Philosophy was just
people endlessly wondering if reality really existed, or if things
continue to exist when you're not looking at them. But now I realize
Philosophy is extremely important because philosophy determines what
sort of government people will adopt.
Science of Comprehension Index
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