What am I?

John K Clark (johnkc@well.com)
Tue, 5 Nov 1996 23:42:16 -0800 (PST)


A few months ago I wrote 3 messages to the list about a little adventure I
had. As the question of personal identity and copies has come up again and
there are a lot of new members I thought I'd repeat it.

Date: Fri, 9 Feb 1996

I need some advice and it's not the sort of thing I can write to
Ann Landers. About a year ago I started building a matter
duplicating machine. It could find the position and velocity of
every atom in a human being to the limit imposed by Heisenberg's law.
It then used this information to construct a copy and it does it all
in a fraction of a second and without harming the original in any way.
You may be surprised that I was able to build such a complicated machine,
but you wouldn't be if you knew how good I am with my hands. The birdhouse
I made is simply lovely and I have all the latest tools from Sears.

I was a little nervous but I decided to test the machine by
duplicating myself. The day before yesterday I walked into the
chamber, it filled with smoke (damn those radio shack transformers)
there was a flash of light, and then 3 feet to my left
was a man who looked exactly like me. It was at that
instant that the full realization of the terrible thing I did
hit me. I yelled " This is monstrous, there can only be one of me",
my copy yelled exactly the same thing. I thought he was
trying to mock me, so I reached for my 44 magnum that I always
carry with me (I wonder why people think I'm strange) and
pointed it at my double. I noted with alarm that the double also
had a gun and he was pointed it at me. I shouted "you don't have
the guts to pull the trigger, but I do". Again he mimicked my
words and did so in perfect synchronization, this made me even
more angry and I pulled the trigger, he did too. My gun went off
but his gun jammed. I buried him in my back yard.

Now that my anger has cooled and I can think more clearly I've
had some pangs of conscious about killing a living creature,
but that's not what really torments me. How do I know I'm not
the copy? I feel exactly the same as before, but would a copy
feel different? Actually there is a way to be certain, I have a
video tape of the entire experiment. My memory is that the copy
first appeared 3 feet to my LEFT, if the tape shows the original
walking into the chamber and the copy materializing 3 feet to
his RIGHT, then I would know that I am the copy.

I'm afraid to look at the tape, should I be? If I found out I
was the copy what should I do? I suppose I should morn the
death of John Clark, but how can I, I'm not dead. If I am the
copy would that mean that I have no real past and my life is
meaningless? Is it important, or should I just burn the tape
and forget all about it?


Feb 14 1996

A few days after I posted the above the shit really hit the fan. My PPA
the Acme Protection Agency found out about it, and I'd love to know which
one of you guys squealed to them. Anyway, they were hounding me
constantly, following me around and asking all sorts of
embarrassing questions. I tried to explain to them that nobody
really died because no consciousness was stopped or even
interrupted, but they weren't impressed with my arguments. All
they were interested in was that there was a dead body and it
had John Clark's DNA and John Clark was one of their clients. I
picked Acme originally because they were a honest, tough no nonsense
organization, but now I wished I had picked a PPA that had
a more philosophical bent. The fact that Acme also has capital punishment
didn't seem as appealing as it once did either.

I knew that if I was going to do something I had to do it quickly.
My lawyer told me I should expect to be arrested in the
next few days. He said that my best bet was to plead self defense,
but he didn't seem very optimistic, and even if I eventually
won it would take years and every dime I had in legal bills.
I had a better idea, it would solve things in one day and it would
only cost half my money, but I would have to do something I'd
been dreading first. I looked at the video tape, my worst
fears were confirmed, I am the copy, no doubt about it. This
sort of threw me for a loop at first, but I gradually got used
to the idea, and now realized that I feel just the same so it
can't possibly make any difference.

I set up my video camera so it covered the entrance to the
duplicating chamber but was careful to make sure that this time
it couldn't see into the chamber itself. I turned on my
duplicating machine and walked into the chamber, a few seconds
later I walked out but there was somebody with me, somebody who
looked just like me. I sent the tape to Acme and they dropped
all charges against me. They had no choice, Acme may be tough
but no PPA will prosecute someone if they know there is a 50%
probability they are innocent. They have no way of knowing
which one of us killed the original John Clark, even we don't know.

Well, this solved one problem but it created another one, the copy.
I've tried to be broad minded about it, really I have,
but the man is just obnoxious. Mr. Know-it-all is always
droning on and on about the stupidest things, and he thinks he's
SO smart, personally I think he's a moron. Just as I feared he
says he deserves half of my money, but I'm the one who made it
not him, I remember how I earned every dollar. I don't like the
way he looks at my girlfriend either.

This entire experience has made me a wiser man. I now understand
the value of subtlety, putting a bullet in the brain of the
original John Clark was stupid. I also understand that the world
is a dangerous place and that dreadful accidents happen every day.
How very sad.

I'm looking at the jerk right now and he has an insufferable grin
on his face. I don't know why he's looking so smug but that's OK,
let him grin while he can, it won't last long. I know exactly how to
deal with him, and to think, people used to say that I understood machines
but not people. I'll soon prove them wrong.

It looks like he's also writing a post but I can't quite make
out from here what he's saying, probably just a bunch of
pretentious nonsense, I'll read it when I come back, right now
I've got to drive into town to get some supplies. I'll be
mighty happy when summer comes, I do so hate driving on these icy
mountain roads.

Feb 18 1996

I had decided that the only way to get Acme Protection Agency off my back was
to make a duplicate of myself, that way they couldn't tell which one killed
the original John Clark so they couldn't prosecute either one of us.
I walked into the chamber expecting to see my double materialize next to me,
but nothing happened. Terrified that the machine was malfunctioning I ran to
the control panel, one of these days I've got to figure out a way to build a
matter duplicating machine without using 89 pounds of enriched plutonium.
To my surprise I could not find anything wrong with the machine, then I
noticed I wasn't alone. A large tough looking man was staring at me.

"What the hell! How did you get in here?" I yelled at him.

"Oh, sorry, sorry, didn't mean to offend,ah, are you John Clark" He stammered.

For a tough looking guy he was sure acting like a wimp. I never could
intimidate big gorillas like this guy, but I guess those assertiveness
training tapes I bought on the home shopping network were paying off after

"Yea I'm Clark and who the fuck are you" I said in the tough man voice the
tapes had taught me.

Then I noticed it was dark outside, 5 minutes before when I walked into the
chamber it was about noon.

" What's going on?" I said, not sounding quite so tough.

" Oh I'm sorry, my name is Spade, Sam Spade, I'm a private investigator,
I work for Acme, but don't worry I'm not here to arrest you or anything.
Ten and a half days have passed since you walked into that chamber, and
there is nothing wrong with your machine, it's sort of hard to explain but
the fact is, I used the machine's maintenance logs to reconstruct you
5 minutes ago, just as you were the last time you used the machine,
10 and a half days ago."

For some, finding out they were a copy of a copy would be big news, but for
me it was getting to be old hat. What was amazing was that some gum shoe had
done it, and from the maintenance log. The information on the state of the
machine and thus on every object I ever duplicated is in those computer logs,
but the format of the logs would make it difficult to extract because that's
not what they were made for. I never used them for anything except
troubleshooting the machine.

"My congratulations Mr. Spade" I said " it's not every private eye that has a
good enough working knowledge of Schrodinger's Wave Equation, quantum
coherence and non linear error correcting codes to read those logs correctly".

"Yeah well... I got an A in shop class when I was a kid" He said with a touch
of pride.

"Really! I did too." I said " But what's been going on for the last 10 days?"

Spade said "The copy of John Clark did duplicate himself, but apparently the
two versions didn't get along".

" I've been told I'm a hard man to live with" I said a little sheepishly.

"Both Clarks are dead, and they died at almost exactly the same time,
it could be accidental, but the deaths are a little suspicious, especially
when you consider two almost identical posts made to the to the internet by
them that are somewhat incriminating. One Clark was found in his car at the
bottom of a thousand foot cliff. The roads were icy, but the brake lines
didn't look quite right to me. The other Clark was found crushed under a
Coke machine. The consensus is that he put in his 50 cents and when it
didn't give him his Coke he started beating on it until the machine tipped
over on him and fractured his skull. Well maybe, but that machine was heavy,
I tried, I could tip it over and I'm bigger than he was. I think they killed
each other, they were similar enough to want to kill each other but diverged
enough in 10 days to chose different methods".

" Now you can't blame that on me" I said indignity, " I know nothing about it,
I didn't even exist then, well not exactly..."

"Nobody's blaming you" Spade said soothingly " and you are still one of our
clients, so when I mentioned the maintenance logs in my report my boss said
we were legally bound to make a good faith effort to revive you, so he told
me to give it a try and do my best."

He brought out a document from his coat " I am also authorized to offer you
this deal, Acme agrees not to prosecute you in any manner for this incident
and to seal the case file, there are those who might find it, ah, titillating.
In return, you absolve Acme of any liability in this matter and agree to
resign from The Acme Protection agency within 5 working days. The unused
portion of your premium will of course be refunded."

Now you can't beat that deal with a stick, I signed the paper before they
could change their mind.

I said " I want to thank you Mr. Spade for bringing me back. Can I offer you
a drink?"

He was already heading for his car at a trot "Thanks but no" He said " I've
got this, this important thing I've got to do, It's ah, a thing of importance,
I've got to, ah, wash the lawn, I mean mow the dog, I mean... good-bye".

I'm afraid our Mr.Spade is a bit of an oddball , I seem to run across more
and more people like him lately.

As I stood there amid the smell of burning rubber a disturbing thought
occurred to me, it was a pretty tricky job to get all the information about
me just from the maintenance logs, was I really OK, had Spade gotten
everything right? I've always been good at mental arithmetic so I gave myself
a test, 5 and 5 is 10, 19 minus 6 is 12, 8 times 9 is 73. Right on the money!
That was reassuring.

I must be John Clark, I have all of his memories, I remembered a happy day in
my childhood when I joined the Vladimer Lenin fan club and received an
autographed 8 by 10 glossy of the master that has hung in a place of honor
in my bedroom until it disappeared that very day. Spade must of stolen it.
I remembered my triumphant election as the head of SHIT (Stop Heretical
Independent Thoughts) and how I had always hated the Extropian and Transhuman
philosophy. The memory of the time I played Twister in The Kremlin with
Marilyn Monroe, J Edgar Hoover and The Dalai Lama while the Pope serenaded us
with a lovely rendition of Louie Louie, are as sharp in my mind as the day
it happened.

Clearly there was nothing wrong with my mind, but what about my body?
I looked at myself in a mirror and I don't want to brag or anything but
I looked great! My skin was a nice healthy blue, the scales on the tail were
strong and sharper than ever. I smiled, what women wouldn't fall for that
infectious grin and the handsome green slime that oozed out between my fangs
and fell artistically to the floor.

John K Clark johnkc@well.com

Version: 2.6.i