Re: Many Pasts? Not according to QM...

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Thu, 16 Jun 2005 14:28:00 +1000

Tom Caylor wrote:

>Stathis wrote:
> > If you wander into the middle of one of our discussions, it might seem
>that we've all forsaken common sense. As a general rule, bizarre-sounding
>physical scenarios are proposed as "thought experiments", to explain,
>explore or clarify a theory by applying it to a concrete example.
> > What the post you have quoted deals with is basically the philosophical
>problem of personal identity....
>Yes, I'm aware of the recycling of our bodies. This fact reduces to the
>deeper fact that our identity changes over time, just like (almost)
>everything else. In fact, this is the very fact that I'm appealing to.
>The "theory", or hypothesis, in this case is that "living for the moment"
>makes sense. But in fact it is the very denial of continuous
>consciousness. This a contradiction. Of course if we say that we are
>allowed to divide by zero, then dividing by zero makes sense in the sense
>that we just said we are allowed to do it. But it doesn't really make

We do experience continuity of consciousness, despite the fact that we may
be completely different physically. If you got into a Star Trek type
teleporter, the idea is that your body is destructively analysed, the
information sent to a distant place, and there your body is rebuilt from
local raw materials. As far as you are concerned, you walk into the machine
in one place, then suddenly find yourself in a different place. There is no
test you could do to show that the teleported person isn't "really you",
assuming the machine works properly. But what if the machine malfunctions,
and you are *not* destructively analysed? There are now two of you, one
local and one distant. The local version will argue that he is the
"original", and that he now realises that the machine's designers are
actually murderers, who kill people and create imposters able to fool
everyone (including themselves) that no crime has taken place. The distant
version will argue that as he is an exact copy, both versions have an equal
right to claim they are the "real" you. If the two versions meet, they are
likely to become bitter enemies, especially when it comes to deciding who
gets the house, the wife etc.

Before you had this problem with the two versions existing simultaneously,
you were quite happy to use the teleporter, and quite happy to let the guy
who came out at the destination carry on as if he were "you". Now, you see
him as a rival and a fake. You can think of other examples like this. You
are saving money for your future; but if your future self comes back in a
time machine and withdraws all the money and spends it, arguing that this is
what it was for all along, you will be annoyed. Another: if all the atoms in
your body that are excreted and lost were actually saved and assembled into
another body, that person could claim to be the "original", and you just the

The point of all this is that you basically are just a series of copies (not
even exact copies), and the only reason this is not obvious is that the
copies never meet. If they did meet, they certainly wouldn't have the same
concern for each other as they do for themselves; they would have the view
that the other guy is just someone who looks like me and thinks he's me, but
obviously isn't me, because *I'm* the only one who is me!

Having made this point, I certainly wouldn't advocate "living for the
moment" as the right thing to do. How we live our lives has nothing to do
with these sorts of philosophical issues, and everything to do with how our
brains have evolved. If you point out to a patient that phantom limb pain is
"irrational" because their limb has actually been amputated, it doesn't make
the pain go away.

--Stathis Papaioannou

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Received on Thu Jun 16 2005 - 00:28:48 PDT

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