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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Random musings on teleportation and the soul....

I recently have taken to musing over teleportation and the soul. It goes something like this:

If, hypothetically we were able to scan a person, body, mind, mind-state, destroy them, and recreate them elsewhere by transmitting the results of the scans, would you go into such a transporter? Lets say, to make it fun, we throw in the threat of imminent death, because, say, a giant enraged elephant is charging at you, intent on spilling your guts. The teleporter is pretty reliable, you've seen lots of demonstrations of them transporting both living and non-living things.

Depending upon how you answered the previous question, what do you think has just happened to your soul? Assuming we all have one of course. I present a couple possibilities below:

A) Your soul is actually just your mind. You and your soul are scanned, decomposed, and reconstructed on the other side. However, this has a disturbing implication that if we can teleport, we are Gods, since we can apparently (re-)construct souls.

B) Your soul is not located within your body. You connect to your body through the godly internetz which connect you via remote control to your physical body. Interesting theory, but I don't think its entirely cannon with the syllogism that our bodies are temples (if you will) for our souls.

C) Your soul is not of this universe. As such, it doesn't care how fast you go/if you teleport, it just "knows" who you are and latches onto wherever your body happens to be, so it can teleport itself basically. Which begs the question of how your soul knows if you are dead or not, if there's some time your soul hangs around while you're being simultaneously destructed/constructed to see if any of them stay around before you "die" for real (whatever that means, what does death mean then?)

D) Your soul is in fact bound to a single body. Once the original body dies, the soul goes on. Any reconstructed person is in fact no longer "human", at least not in the religious sense. This has disturbing implications from the perspective that these bodies do not have perhaps the same rights, beyond those of basic animal rights (I'm not getting into whether or not animals do or do not have souls of their own).

There are a couple other possibilities which we wouldn't entertain because of beleif in souls/reasonable assumption that teleportation is not evil:

E) There is no soul. There are only bodies and minds. Teleportation as a result has no effect upon them.

F) There is a soul. Teleportation is an evil monstrocity which murders individuals and produces empty human shells.

There's also the "I don't know approach":

G) Its more complicated than that. We have a soul, but not in the traditional mystical sense. It is the identity, but whether or not that identity can be transferred "reliably" is another question. If we understood more about how energy works, perhaps we might understand that the soul/identity of a person can in fact be transferred, because it is closer to energy than we realize, or in fact it cannot, because it does exist but it cannot be replicated without damaging it, or duplicating it incorrectly.

H) Teleportation is impossible for this reason. Teleportation itself is possible in the sense that we can transfer information, but if we could willy nilly recreate stuff then we'd run into the above problems (the argument here seems suspect to me, this seems to be closer to the argument that teleportation is evil than that its impossible...)

Why does this matter at all? Well, because teleportation is in fact something that shares close, close ties with another, much more pressing matter: that of artificial human life.

Technically, we can't reproduce the organs of the human body. But, we can produce robots and metal companions with very, very realistic looks, as well as motions, and interactions. While its true we have to combine all such traits into a single, athletic robot, I think this has more to do with the fact that we're only just discovering such things, and that it takes a while for us to come up with the requisite designs to incorporate everything into one design.

Computationally, we are much, much farther behind. But, there are plenty of efforts underway, plenty of past mistakes we're still learning from, and plenty that indicates that such an effort is not vain. Watson, our trivia-winning robot, Deep Blue, our chess-champion...these are robots that are good at single tasks, and not much else. What they prove is that such feats are possible, not that conscious thought can be replicated. They provide us insight to the all feats we have yet to overcome, logistical or otherwise. And, steps in new directions, are underway, such as IBM's announcment of new brain-module chips, chips that more closely resemble the real thing, namely a brain. Again, its a question of research and practical application, not one so much of theory.

So, if we do create Artificial Intelligence, the next question is whether we can merge it with our own. The dubious current research indicates that we'd likely perform a brain-scan (we have resolution down to the neuron, possibly beyond, at the present moment), and then transfer it to a new "body", one presumably made of metal rather than flesh and blood, or depending upon the advances in genetics/artifical flesh and blood life-form creation technology (unlikely but possible), to a new body of flesh and blood, and then destroy the old body. Much like teleportation.

Which, in the end, is why we must confront this question. If one branch of philosophy believes in a robot revolution, it also believes in the distinct identity of our transferred "selves", whether to a new body, or simply across space to a new teleporter terminal (in fact we may perform the transfer with a teleporter device at a very short range). And, we must confront two questions: Are we ready to die to live? And does our "identity/soul" matter? What happens to it? What do we believe? What are we ready and willing to believe?

I very much hope that the answer lies somewhere in answer G). Because I don't see the future stopping for anyone or anything. And I don't very much enjoy the prospect of being dead, so that another, an different "me" can live on. Perhaps I simply have too much attachment to my body?

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