The Copy Question

Harvey Newstrom (
Wed, 23 Jun 1999 01:19:03 -0400


You are indeed discussing important questions that need to be solved before we can accept uploading. Another question which crops up here from time to time is the question of identity. What is identity, and what are we trying to preserve with uploading? This leads to the copy question.... Forgive me, everyone, for bringing this up again. This often leads to flame wars, but hopefully we can avoid those.

Basically, the question is this: Suppose we clone an exact duplicate of your body including your brain. Now suppose we program the brain with the exact thought pattern you have now, and all your memories. For all intents and purposes, it is a perfect copy and is equally "you", indistinguishable from "you".

Some people say it is now all right to kill the original you, because you're not dead, there is still (another) you that continues living. They say that there is no possible objection to this unless you claim that an invisible soul has failed to transfer from the original to the copy. They say that to object to this killing of the original, is to claim that mystical nonscientific souls exist and/or that perfect copies are not really copies of the original.

Other people claim that their goal is to avoid experiencing death. Even if one copy of "you" survives, it still fails to prevent the death of the original you. They claim that this kind of upload is unacceptable, because the original still grows old and dies. The only answers to this objection involve simultaneously killing the original at the exact moment that the copy is made, or redirecting the copy's sensory input to the original so that the original cannot tell that it has not moved into the copy. (Then you kill the original when its not looking.)

This question and its discussion has revealed to me that different people have different goals for uploading. Some people want their current self to live forever. Others find it acceptable for their current self to die as long as good enough copies live forever. The former measure their own identity internally as to where they feel they are. The latter measure their own identity externally, as to where other people think they are. They claim that if no one can tell the difference, its the same as there being no difference.

This question is very difficult to debate. Some people go so far as to argue that if the copy is a perfect copy, that there still is only one
"you", because the copies are indistinguishable from each other. How can
you prove one is not the other? They refuse to even discuss destroying one copy, because they claim there were never two copies. This degenerates into arguments over how to count from one to two! They also refuse to discuss the original versus the copy, because if they are identical, neither is more original or copy than the other.

I'm sure this will start the discussion again. (SORRY!) But I'm not sure what else there is to add. My final conclusion was that people have different goals for what they call survival. What is acceptable for one is not acceptable to another. The scary thing gets into where some people said they would gladly shoot an original and argue that they hadn't killed anyone or even caused anyone pain because the one and only (surviving) copy was not killed and did not feel pain. There also were examples given where it would be cheaper to clone and kill someone rather than cure their disease or send a rescue party to save them, etc. The differing views of what constitutes survival definitely clashed where they did not agree.

I think I have accurately described the viewpoints. My personal view is that I want my original consciousness to survive. If somebody creates an exact copy of my consciousness, I'm sure it also wants to survive. It's existence does not allow me to die. I still would look for survival techniques even after the copy were made. I would not consider the copy
"me". There would be two me's now, and each one would want to personally
survive. The only acceptable upload I have heard involves replacing my biological neurons one at a time with mechanical ones. Eventually, I would be in the mechanical robot and would feel it was me.

But what happens if they put together a meat brain with my discarded neurons? The meat brain would also feel that it was "me" and would want to survive. All existing copies of me would want to survive. The above scenario is only helpful because there is always only one copy of me at any time. If a second copy is created, each one of them would want to survive.

Harvey Newstrom <mailto://> <>
Author, Consultant, Engineer, Legal Hacker, Researcher, Scientist.