Re: The copy paradox

Brent Allsop (
Wed, 5 Nov 1997 20:49:12 -0700

Holger Wagner <> asked:

> Where can I find some good information about this (effing etc.)? At
> the moment, this doesn't seem quite realistic to me, but I'm willing
> to learn :-)

That's the problem. This kind of stuff seems so basic to the
philosophy of mind that it is utterly surprising to me that there
isn't more scholarly stuff written about this kind of stuff. I've
been attempting to write some of this kind of stuff myself but, as you
can probably tell, I'm not much of a writter.

I've rewritten my original response bassed on much of the
feedback I've received here. It contains some more information about
what I'm trying to talk about and hopefully it will answer some more
of your questions. Let me know if it is any better.


There are many forms of the copy paradox idea. The most
popular deals with the idea of a "transporter" in the Science Fiction
Stories of Star Trek so I'll give what I feel to be the answer to this
issue based on the transporter idea.

For discussion purposes, I'll use the names Dup and Trans.
Dup1 walked into a non destructive transporter and walked out of this
same machine unchanged, yet scanned. Then an identical Dup2 walked
out of the reproducer part some distance away. Trans1 walked into a
similar scanning machine but was completely taken apart atom by atom
before an identical Trans2 was constructed out of different yet
identical stuff some distance away.

It could be likely that if you are Dup1 you will be extremely
annoyed at the way Dup2 continually says he is the real Dup. And of
course you wouldn't want to be Trans1 because he was destroyed even
though Trans2 claims he is the same. If you were Trans2 you would
have no way of directly consciously knowing or remembering that Trans1
was destroyed and believe that you were the original transported
Trans. Also If you were Dup2 you would believe that you were the
original Dup and Dup1 would possibly equally annoy you by claiming he
was the real Dup.

The primary answer is, if you are the same, you will not be
able to tell the difference between the two, including the particular
feelings and memories being felt by the two now separate copies. If
you were dup1, you would feel exactly the same as dup2.

"Then what is it that is you?" one may ask. I believe, it is
your state or shape. If you organized the proper stuff(*1) into this
proper shape it would be you. Whether it was done a googol years ago,
whether it was done in a googol years from now or whether it was done
in a newly created similar universe different and completely separate
from our own and whether it was done a googol times here today. (Even
though you may have to be like God to be able to do this or at least
to come up with the complete information required to duplicate someone
that was say cremated 1000 years ago.) This state of you is self
existent. This fact about you can't be created by any God nor
destroyed by even the universe ceasing to exist. It is a logically
necessary fact that you can exist. Your existence proves this

The state of Dup1 and Dup2 would immediately start to diverge
since they would now exist in different locations. Hence, they would
become more and more different people as time went on. This would be
similar to the way you are different than the you that existed
yesterday because of your new memories and other changes.

One of the primary reasons we are unsatisfied with such an
answer and uncomfortable about being transported and destroyed and
taken apart atom by atom has a lot to do with continuity. It is
similar to the problem of other minds. You know what it is like to be
you, but if you look at another person, you don't know for sure that
that person is conscious in any way like you. As dup1 looks at dup2,
he doesn't really know if that copy is some mindless mechanical zombie
that is merely mimicking his actions and claims to the same identity.

These problems exists because actual conscious experience is
"ineffable". We say that the taste of salt is "ineffable" because you
can't tell someone what salt tastes like, you can only experience the
taste of salt for yourself. But, since it is ineffable you can't know
for sure if what the other person experiences when he put's salt in
his mouth is the same as your experience.

When salt chemicals stimulate our taste buds, this produces a
salty sensation in our brain. There is a chance that the particular
sensation in one brain is different than the resulting sensation in
another brain. Salt really isn't "salty" there is just a reliably
correspondence to salt on your taste buds and the resulting salty
qualia that ends up being produced by your brain. A salty quale
models the chemical salt and it's nutritional value or meaning to us
in a very information and intelligent way.

Our consciousness is a collection of all these sensing modes.
We know that a salty quale is not like a honey quale. We also know
that a salty qualia is not anything like a color quale like red. Our
brain uses salty to represent sodium chloride and red to represent
700nm electromagnetic radiation. We even know that a memory of red is
similar, but not anything like real red. Our consciousness is able
to experience and contrast these sensations. It knows what they are
each like and knows how they are different. But, we don't know if
someone else uses these same quale to represent these things because
we can't directly experience what they are experiencing.

It is conceivable, however, that this barrier can be crossed.
Just as evolution has added all of our modes of sensing so that our
mind is directly aware of them so that we can compare and contrast
them we will surely some day be able to enhance our brain and add
additional cortexes that experience other sensations. Once we
discover what qualia are, we should be able to construct scanning
devices that watch particular areas of the brain and determining when,
say, a particular salty sensation is occuring. This information could
then be transmitted to a brain augmented with a generic qualia
producing device whereupon it produces the identical qualia in the
consciousness of other brain. I call this "effing". One my say:
"That isn't what salt tastes like to me!"

The key is integrating this additional cortex into the
consciousness just as all our sensing modes are integrated into our
consciousness now. It is even conceivable that multiple brains could
be merged in this way to produce multiple points of view in the same
mind. This, of course, would be mind merging. The single
consciousness would be directly aware of everything going on in both
minds. It would be able to compare and contrast the sensations and
directly know if they are different or the same.

Once we have accomplished such abilities, we will have solved
the problem of other minds, and will have developed a tool to solve
the transporter problem. Dup1 and dup2 could have their consciousness
connected, either by complete merging, or at least by an effing link
where the same multi brain experiences were being produced in both

It's hard for us to imagine this since the conscious space in
our brain is currently primitively very fixed, non expandable, and has
only one point of view. So to make it more intuitive, think of the
seeing part of your consciousness being dup1 and the hearing part of
your consciousness being dup2. Together you can both hear what is
going on in the "to" or copy location and see what is going on in the
"from" or original location but you are, together, one conscious
being. If the dup1 is to be destroyed, it would be like being
temporarily blinded, but you wouldn't be dead. You would of course be
able to reproduce the seeing part of your consciousness within dup2
restoring your sight. Though part of you temporarily died, because of
effing of consciousness all of you would not have died. This would
mostly solve your intuitive objection to the idea through conscious
continuity. Of course destruction of any part of you is always a
problem and avoidance of such is always desirable if possible. But,
if you are consciously spread across multiple platforms, are able to
transfer data and memories between them, you will always know that you
can regenerate the particular part that was destroyed in some other
location or time if necessary or possible.

The important part is understanding what of and how our
conscious worlds are made, and then learning how to connect these
conscious worlds so that we can eff feelings, sensations... and share
minds to preserve consciously continuity. So, once we discover how to
do these things, we will have solved the problem of other minds and
discovered a way to help us feel more comfortable about being
transported. Our mind is built out of phenomenal qualia and somehow
merged into a unified consciousness. Continuity of mind, and direct
experience of what others are experiencing are important for these
kinds of problems and indeed for understanding consciousness itself.
Once we discover what qualia are and how they are merged together to
form consciousness, we will finally know what consciousness is.

(*1) If you insist on something mysterious or ghost like being
included in this "stuff" that you are made of the argument still
applies although at a slightly different level(*2). If one of you
exists it simply proves it is possible for you to exist. I think you
could create another identical universe with the same set of souls no
matter what the soul is. I believe it will be possible to duplicate
whatever it is that is us. Even if you have to be like God to do it.

(*2) Unleas of course you believe in some sort of you that is not
duplicatable. But this is an extremely pessimistic view since if your
not duplicatable then you are probably also not fixable or improvable
and you will forever be stuck with being less than or equal to what
you are today.

Brent Allsop