Friday, June 30, 2017

The Philosophical Problem in Teleporting the Mind

In the movie Star Trek, the characters use a teleportation device to instantly beam themselves from one point in the universe to another. The teleportation system works by breaking up the “physical components” of a man’s body in one chamber and beaming the information to the second chamber.

When a man enters the teleportation chamber, a supercomputer scans his body and records every information down to the last atom. After that the man’s body breaks down into sub-atomic particles and the information is beamed at the speed of light to another chamber, located in a different part of the universe, and the same (or similar) body is instantly reassembled.

Star Trek type of teleporting device gives rise to a number of biological and philosophical problems: Is the man who gets created in the second chamber the same man who entered the first teleportation chamber? Does he have the same body? Obviously he doesn't because his original body is broken up into sub-atomic particles in the first chamber. But the crucial thing is--does he have the same mind?

If the mind is regarded as a non-material attribute or aspect of the human being, then it cannot be scanned and translated into information by the teleportation system. Therefore the information possessed by a non-material mind will certainly be lost and the person who emerges from the second teleportation chamber will be someone else.

But if we consider the mind to be a totally material entity which is either the brain as a whole or exists in a physical form in some part of the brain, then it might be possible for the teleportation system to scan it down to the last atom and collect all the information. Therefore the outcome of a teleportation system is based on the nature of man's mind.

Here are the three possibilities:

1. If the mind is “pure consciousness” and exists like a ghost in the machine (the human brain or body), then it can’t be scanned and teleported. 

2. If the mind is an “attribute” of the human organism then also teleportation will not be successful because this kind of an attribute is non-material and it cannot be scanned.

3. If the mind is an “entity” (either the brain or a material component residing within the brain) then in theory it is possible to scan and teleport it.

This, by the way, is a fun post, but the science fiction idea of teleportation does have some very serious philosophical implications. 

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