Can I kill a Copy? (long)

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Wed May 03 2000 - 23:38:58 MDT

One of the List's oldest lies:
I hate to start the copy discussion again, but....

It took a lot of thought, but I finally have an explanation for my position
on the question of killing copies. This is not meant to change anyone's
mind. It is meant only to more clearly articulate my own view. I'm don't
think there is a right "answer" to this question. I think that we each have
different goals for uploading and making copies. Different methods achieve
different goals. Here are my goals for uploading and copying.

The problem:
Imagine that a perfect duplicate of me is made with a Star Trek transporter.
Now there are two copies of me. Some people believe that original can be
destroyed and that I will continue to live in the new body. Other people
believe that there is semantically no "original" if the copies are
identical, but still believe that one copy can be destroyed while I still
live on. These people claim that no murder has taken place, that I am still
alive in a (new) body, and that I should have no objection to the procedure.
I, however, object that the copy does not upload the original "me", that the
original "me" is murdered, and that I object to my death even if I live on
(in another body).

My new explanation of my position:
My goal in uploading or copying is not just to ensure some continuance of
me. Some people argue that my writings, recordings of me, or even the
memories of my loved ones make me "immortal." No, my goal in uploading and
copying is to avoid death. Specifically, my death. I know the copy problem
leads to many semantic questions of "what is death" and "who are you" or
"which are you", or even the more radical "you(1) aren't dead if you(2) are
still alive."

What is death? To me, what I am avoiding is loss of control. I know that
nobody has perfect control over their life or their future, but a permanent
loss of consciousness or functionality is disturbing to me. Ignoring the
question of whether some part of me goes on, I still object to the death or
loss of some part of me.

Some people will argue that the future me is so evolved and changed from the
current me, that I might as well be dead. I don't mind that. I had a
gradual change and some control over my growth into my future self.
Hopefully, I had a lot of control in remaking myself in the future. This is
the opposite of what I fear in death. Having lots of control to make
radical changes in myself is Life. Loss of control or the ability to grow
or change is Death.

How does this affect the copy killing question? When I get copied, I see
another image of me. I'm not 100% sure that it is me or a copy of me, just
that I see what appears to be another me. However, I am sure (meaning I
believe or perceive, possibly inaccurately) that I still live in my original
body. It is this current body that I don't want to die. My new copy will
also probably believe that he is the original, and he also won't want to
die. The death of either one would destroy its function or its ability to
choose and grow. Either one would avoid that. It is this death that I seek
to avoid now, and will continue to seek to avoid after I am copied. Having
a copy does not change my agenda for avoiding death.

What about the argument that there was one "me" before, we copy and kill
one, and there is still one "me" afterwards. This is a specious argument.
I could claim that unborn babies previously didn't exist, and therefore by
killing anyone, I am not terminating any life, because the status quo
returns. In reality, the copy process has increased my life by a factor of
two! There are two humans called "me" at that point. Killing one stops a
heart, causes a loss of one consciousness, or reduces my(x2) ability to
grown and choose. Some would argue that they were the same person, so
nothing is lost. That's like replacing a lost arm with a duplicate clone of
the other, and then claiming that you can chop it off again and I shouldn't
care because they are the "same" arm. No way, two arms are better than one.
Two bodies are better than one. If I grow to have two bodies at some point,
and you want to destroy one so I am limited to half my bodies again, you are
definitely killing tissue, and destroying my options.

So, ignoring the questions of "life", "death", "one" or "two" persons for a
moment: Does this view make sense? Simply put, if I have multiple bodies,
there is some damage or loss if you destroy one of them and reduce my total
body count. Doesn't this seem like a reasonable belief?

Now, I can see that destroying the brains of two bodies is similar to
destroying a single hemisphere in one body. The question are the same: Did
someone die, did half a person die, did anybody die? In any case, there is
a loss of brain function, personality growth potential and physical
functionality. I think that in the future, most copies will not want to be
killed any more than someone will want to cut out parts of their brain.
Maybe, it could be done for specific reasons in specific cases, but
generally most brain copies would want to keep their functionality. Just as
today, most people don't want to lose brain tissue. Even if I added brain
tissue and expanded my brain, I wouldn't agree to have it chopped back to
its original size. Once I've gained conscious brain tissue, I don't want to
lose it. Likewise, it would be like erasing parts of my life memory.
Unless something were horribly wrong, I don't want to lose any parts of my
life. A copy would be like another part of my life.

There also is the consideration that I still experience life from this body.
Even if consciousness is copies or uploaded, I still seem to be where I
started from. Now a new copy of me may suddenly realize that he's been
uploaded into a robot, but that doesn't help the poor sap still stuck in the
meat brain. The copy is almost like a child. Maybe I desire to see my
thoughts live on in others, just as some people seem to want to see their
DNA live on through their children. But that doesn't make me suicidal. I
still will protect my current vehicle of life so that I can continue to
experience life. The knowledge that someone else is having a good life has
little direct influence on me. Even if that someone else is an exact copy
or even "me". If I only hear about that life via second-hand reports, it
doesn't matter if it is "me", as long as "I" am still experiencing something

The only true transfer I can see, is if the two brains are connected and a
single consciousness is maintained. If, instead of copying and having two
people, the brains are integrated so that they communicate and function as
one, and that one consciousness can equally experience either body, and can
withdraw slowly from one body before it loses function, then I will believe
that my consciousness has been transferred rather than duplicated.

How is this different than a copy-and-kill? Because no second person is
created, even temporarily. Having a second person created and then killed
would be similar to cloning me or having a twin and then killing that person
for spare parts. If the second body is grown without a brain or without a
consciousness, then it would not be murder. I think the same rules
governing twins and clones naturally govern copies. Once an independent
body has independent thought and consciousness, it should not be destroyed.
If the new body can be created without creating a new consciousness, and if
there is only one consciousness that resides in one body, then both or
neither and then one body, that meets my definition of a transfer rather
than a copy-and-kill.

The summary? I don't care how many branches of my consciousness continue
on. I am avoiding amputations or dead-ends of consciousness streams.
That's my goal. Other people can cut off their limbs, heads, brains,
bodies, or whatever consciousness streams they want to, but I want to avoid
that. They have a different goal out of life. I seek the continued life
of every person/copy who wants it. Some people seek the continued life of a
single representative as being sufficient some previous group (or gestalt).

Sorry for rambling, but this is my new explanation. I tried to ignore
semantic arguments over "what is me" or "what is death." I have defined my
requirements for a successful upload for my purposes. I have defined my
reasons for objecting to having conscious bodies of mine killed. Whether
these meet some definition of certain words, I don't care. This is a
description of what I want to accomplish and what I want to avoid. Perhaps
some people find that I am saving unnecessary parts of myself, but that's my

Comments? Wise-cracks? Death threats to one copy only?

Harvey Newstrom <>
Certified Consultant,  Legal Hacker, Engineer, Research Scientist, Author.

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