Teleportation is murder, (or: How I Learned to stop worrying and be da bomb!)

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Submitted by brad on Thu, 09/30/2010 - 00:35
I was thinking about teleporting the other day, and it led me down a bit of a rabbit hole that's been tying up my brain for awhile, hence the lack of a blog. I'm going to start with what I was thinking, then pull out my patented switcheroo again.   I think I've talked about teleportation before. I know I've thought it before. How you couldn't really have it without basically having immortality and a cure for all disease. If you can break a body down to the cellular level and either recreate or rebuild it, you've gotta be able to regrow an arm, repair a degenerated pathway in the brain, etc. That's a whole separate can of worms. What I was thinking about the other day is - I don't think there's any way you could prove teleportation didn't kill the person. I know this has been fodder for many movies and Outer Limits style shows. I'm also sure there are many resources explaining how it works on Star Trek, but I'm not going to read those either. 

Basically, I think it comes down to two choices.  Let's say it scans you to make a blueprint, sends that across, then recreates you. Right there, I think you're dead. But who's going to know?  The person on the other side will be you. The brain will be an exact replica, it will even remember stepping in to the transporter a moment before it appeared here. To everyone else it's you, but I would think it can't possibly be you.  The other option is that you're broken down, sent across, and reassembled.  But again, if you're broken down to the cellular (or lower?) level, I'd say you're dead. Doesn't matter if it's seconds in between or years, you died. In that case, perhaps we get into out of body experiences, arguments over what you saw while dissassembled, if those were hallucinations, etc. In the end, the person on the other side appears to be you to everyone who knows you, maybe you have a crazy story about dying and leaving your body, but people have those stories now.  It could still very well be that you died, you ended, and this new person started.  Then the thought occurred to me that it didn't necessarily have to be one of those two choices.  Perhaps telportation will be achieved by created somesort of wormhole-like tunnel between two distant points, and you simply step through. No decomposition, no recomposition, just you taking a walk.

I kept getting stuck on it, though. Something seemed 'off'. I couldn't understand why I was having trouble resolving it, and then I realized my problem. My whole issue had to do with my assumption of a soul. I'm not a particularly religious person. I hesitate to say atheist, but I couldn't confidently say I believe in God. I believe nothing is impossible. If we're truly the result of some amazingly random luck, maybe the same amazingly random luck created a being existing on a plane we can't even begin to understand. Just don't ask me to profess my unwavering believe in it.  Yet, despite that, that's exactly that baggage that was tripping me up.  The concept of a soul. I'm assuming that I am greater than the sum of my parts.  I'm assuming a necessary continuity. That somehow we, as a people, have an undefinable quantity that starts when we're born and ends when we die. I say when we die that's it, we're done, but I'm basing my analysis on the concept of a 'soul', that exists and defines me.  If I eliminate that as a preconception, I'm left with the realization that we're just machines.  Badly formed machines, but machines. We're the ultimate AI, in the creakiest hardware around.  Ignoring decomposition and all the nasty things that happen when we die, you could shut me off like a toaster, put me in a drawer for 50 years, pull me out and turn me on, and I'd be none the wiser. I won't know that I've been turned off. There is no 'me' external to this, No ethereal being providing continuity.  So really, if I teleportation involved breaking me down to a string of chemicals, then reassembling me, I wouldn't know. It wouldn't matter. I'm simply a biomechanical machine, powered down, taken apart, put back together, and turned back on. Big whup. I do that with my remote control all the time. The terms 'killing' or 'death' no longer have context.

And yet...I don't know. For awhile I found that calming. Like a formula I'd been puzzling over for some time, and suddenly I'd found the answer.  But the concept, that there is no 'I', that 'I' am just an illusion, a construct created by a certain combination of chemicals, one that could be replicated ad naseum, is a tough one to get my head around.  I'm suprised I'm so hung up on what is essentially a spiritual concept. I don't want to be a machine.I want to be special.  Does that necessitate me suddenly professing a belief in a higher power? I don't know that I can do that. And almost paradoxically, the fact that it could be entirely random makes it seem even more miraculous. Some all-powerful entity creating people? Sure, why not? What else would it do with it's time? But a big bang, followed by millenia of the odd chemical here, asteroid crash there, the application of some laws of thermodynamics, and suddenly here I am? What are the odds of that?

Anyway. Whether this sticks, or I move on to a new topic in a week or two, I will say this. Either way - If I am a 'unique' soul with a shelf life, or a machine that can only be powered down, it sounds like I'm done when I'm dead. So logically, I should try to delay that as long as I can. I've been freaked out by death for so long, why would I hurry it along for the sake of having two bigmacs, a slurpee, and 5 lbs of wings in one sitting? I don't enjoy them that much. So I'm feeling motivated to cut back on the excess. At least, that is, until they do figure out how to repair the machine.  When that happens, cigarettes and radioactive asbestos burgers are on me.