Me, myself and I

It has been proposed by some maverick scientists that a limited form of immortality will one day be possible in the sense that a person’s brain could before death be “downloaded” onto a computer’s hard drive where his consciousness could continue to exist. Critics say that even if it were possible to make an exact copy of a person’s mind and put it in an exact copy of his body, it would be nothing more than that: an exact copy. Almost like a clone. To illustrate the point, suppose that two copies are made onto two separate hard drives and “switched on”, which one is the original person? One person cannot become two, therefore this immortality argument must be flawed.

This is all well and good, but consider the following: When a person gets a heart transplant, we consider him to be the same person with the same consciousness. Obviously. If this person then develops a brain tumour, consequently loses a small part of his brain, and receives the implant of some non-organic device in his brain to compensate for the loss, we must surely still be dealing with the same consciousness? But when does he cease to be himself? If all the parts of his brain are replaced one by one with electronic devices that perform exactly 100% the same functions and thought processes, at what point are we no longer dealing with the same consciousness? It’s hard to imagine that there is a point where he is no longer himself, but it is even more difficult to imagine that one consciousness can suddenly become two.

I’ve known about the counter (immortality) argument mentioned above for a few years now, but only recently thought of the contradictory “brain transplant” argument. I grappled with this sophomoric absurdity for a while, but gave up thinking it’s surely an old paradox with a nice satisfactory solution that could easily be found on the internet. Turns out it’s not that simple. Wikipedia claims this paradox is as yet unresolved (in the consensus sense) and “
illustrate[s] the lack of knowledge concerning the meaning of consciousness that we as a civilization currently possess”.

I suspect that the well-read and intellectuals out there are rolling their eyes and thinking that I’m wasting my time on irrelevant crap that only nerdy losers, who’s only hope of ever being cool are cybernetic transplants, should ponder . Well then I’m sorry, but it’s still interesting, no?

1 comment:

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