The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. - Richard Dawkins

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Some thoughts about Teleportation and Consciousness

What if science were to develop a real teleportation device (just like the Star Trek transporter)?  A device that takes a human being standing at point A, breaks it down into it's separate atoms (effectively killing the person), transports all of those same exact atoms across space, and then re-assembles them at point B, in the exact same order.  (Same pumping heart, same blood vessels, same exact DNA and cell structure, exact same brain, a perfect replica of the person at point A.)

Would the resulting person still be the same person?
Would the person who started at Point A still exist at all?
Would their consciousness "resume" in the newly created body, such that they would lose consciousness at point A and then "wake up" at Point B, in the new body?
Or, would the person at Point B be a brand new person, who "wakes up" with all the same memories as the person at Point A, but a completely different person, with a completely separate consciousness, leaving the person at Point A essentially dead (non-existent)?
Would the the person at Point A continue to exist as the same person, in the newly created body, or cease to exist forever the moment their atoms were broken down, only to be replaced by an exact replica with a completely separate (though identical) consciousness all its own?

How could you find out?  Either way, if you quizzed Person B, he would answer every question exactly as if he were Person A, since he has all the exact same memories.  He would remember stepping on the platform.  He would remember sinking into oblivion.  He would remember waking up at Point B.  In his mind, he would BE Person A, in every respect, even if Person A no longer really exists.

This question goes deeper than simply musing about the possibilities of technology.  It strikes at the very heart of what constitutes "consciousness", the continuity of consciousness, to what extent consciousness is tied to the physical body, whether each of us is a "separate" consciousness, or if we are all a single consciousness manifested in multiple personalities.

After I die, is it possible my consciousness might "resume" in some way in a newly born person?  That I might fall asleep in death and then "wake up" as some newly created consciousness, with no memory of my previous life?
Or will what I perceive as my "self", (my unique and separate consciousness), simply cease to exist along with my body, to be replaced by other separate consciousness of which "I" will never be aware?

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