Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Don't beam me up, Scotty: the teleportation experiment.

Do you know the teleportation experiment? It is a thought experiment based on the science-fiction series Star Trek (of course you know that one) and it involves teleportation technology. To be more precise: it is a thought experiment simply because it is not possible yet. Nevertheless, some day it may become technically feasible. I frequently think about it. Read on if you want to know why.

For the purpose of our imaginary experiment, a person - say, me - is transferred from Brussels to London in the following way:

  • In Brussels, a complete scan is performed on me. This scan yields the information necessary to construct an exact replica of me.

  • This information is then sent to London, where an exact replica is actually constructed.

  • My body in Brussels is 'destroyed' (yes I know this sounds rude, and I think it actually is rude too).

If teleportation will one day work then this is how science nowadays thinks it could be done. Nevertheless, a very interesting philosphical issue keeps fascinating me: is the resulting person in London really going to be 'me'? To be able to answer that, it is necessary to understand what 'me' really means, so this brings us to the core of the question on personal identity and consciousness.

What do you think? Would you make the trip? To make it more interesting: if you think that the person in London is not me simply because he has a different (but replicated) brain, consider the fact that most of our brain cells are renewed every X years or so. This means that my brain is no longer the same as it was 20 years ago. And still, it has always been me:-)


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