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Monday, December 17, 2018

Would you want to be replaced by a clone of yourself?

Philosophers will be having a field day with the president of Nigeria

T here's a rumor that Muhammadu Buhari, the president of Nigeria, died and was replaced by a clone of himself. Suppose the new clone has exactly the same memories, so that no one, not even Buhari himself, can ever know for sure whether he is a clone or the real McCoy. Question: if you were dying, would you want this?

Of course, we might discover that death is quite different from what we expect. In that scene in Return of the Jedi where Obi-Wan tries to explain why he lied to Luke about his father, I rather hoped he would have said this:

OBI-WAN: Luke, this is what we in the movie business call a “plot hole.” You see, Luke, you are not a real person, only a character in a movie. So in a way, what I told you was true.

LUKE: Uh-huh . . . And what about that bit where you said you would become more powerful than we could imagine when you're dead? Another little fib?

OBI-WAN: Luke, when I said more powerful, I actually meant more transparent. So you see, in a way . . .

GEORGE LUCAS (RAISING FIST): Ask me these questions. I am your screenwriter.

LUKE: Noooooooo!

LUCAS: Search your copy of the script. You will know this to be true.

Okay, Star Wars may not explain much, but I bet philosophers will have a field day with Buhari.

Everyone has a different reason for not wanting to die. For some, it might be the fact that decades of learning and skills will be lost. For others, it might be the loss of contact with friends and relatives. Even knowing that a clone would be able to continue helping one's friends, and that our wisdom would be retained, most people would still not be happy about the prospect of dying.

If your identical clone has all your memories, is it you experiencing the beauty of nature, or somebody else?

Therefore, the real reason may be the sense of a loss of control. Our fronto­temporal cortex, which makes plans and creates our sense of purpose, is instru­mental in making us want to stay alive, but there seems to be more than that. Even if the clone was identical in every way and guaranteed to finish our plans, we would feel that the clone is somebody else. We want to experience these things ourselves, not just make sure they continue.

If we accept that the clone is another person, then we might feel that an impostor was taking our place, taking all our resources, and benefiting from the connections and friendships we created and nurtured. This other person would be experiencing the beauty of nature while we would be impotent, unconscious, and forgotten. We might be disposed to hate the clone.

What if we could upload our consciousness into a computer? Would that be different?

Suppose you transferred all your memories, all your conditioned responses, and all your intellectual skills to a machine. What this means is you make a copy and destroy the original. To outsiders you're still there, but are you the same person or a copy? If we say you are the same person, then we admit you could be in two places at the same time, which is an impossibility.

Suppose instead you were to share sense inputs and mental activity with your machine copy. Then you would experience an expanded memory and awareness: ideas and sensations that originate in your copy would be accessible to you and vice versa. You would perceive the machine as part of yourself. Then, when the original stopped working, you would think your you-ness had been transferred. Yet the two situations are, for practical purposes, identical.

Philosophers have long asked how we can claim to be the same person when all the molecules in our body are continually being replaced. The critical point, then, seems to be that the brain requires a sense of continuity, which means there must be a time when you are receiving sense data from both your old and new bodies.

But we experience discontinuities every night when we sleep. Are we the same person we were yesterday when we wake up the next day? Or did the person we were yesterday die and a new person took their place? If we possess all the memories and desires of yesterday's person, we would never know the difference. Our younger selves might as well be different people.

Sometimes, there is an even sharper discontinuity. The person may be drunk or have a stroke and wake up with a different personality, perhaps with markedly reduced abilities. In such cases, the person experiences a sense that they are not, in any real sense, the same person.

Our sense of self is generated by the brain, but the brain is only a tool for interpreting the information fed to it. The truth about our being may not be just in the brain, but in the dualistic nature of information.

dec 17 2018, 4:56 am

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