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 explanation yet.

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 you?

And here's a follow up thought:
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 useful concepts.
Discredited Concepts:

Pinker says the anxiety about human nature can be boiled down to four fears:

  1. If people are innately different, oppression and discrimination would be justified.
  2. If people are innately immoral, hopes to improve the human condition would be futile.
  3. If people are products of biology, free will would be a myth and we could no longer hold people responsible for their actions.
  4. If people are products of biology, life would have no higher meaning and purpose.
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 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.

—David Deley
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