Thursday, 22 June 2017

Do we die when we teleport?

Consider a teleporter. Let's say you go into the departure teleportation booth. Your body is scanned. Your body is then disintegrated and simultaneously, from the information that was scanned, a replica is created in the destination teleportation booth. As part of your ongoing experiences, you will have seemed to "jump" from the departure booth to the destination booth. A splendid way of travelling!

What implications are there though if the machine malfunctions and there's a 10 minute delay before your body is disintegrated? Apart from this, the teleporter works, and the replica is still created at the time it should be. So, for 10 minutes there will be 2 versions of you. As part of your ongoing experiences, you might still seem to "jump" to the destination booth. However! Equally possible is that you seem to remain exactly where you are. If the latter pertains, then how would you feel about your impending disintegration 10 minutes hence?

Well, of course, one would be horrified. One would typically presumably think this shows the copy is not actually you -- it is merely a copy.

But wait!

The replica is physically identical. Hence (assuming materialism), the replica's memory and personality are also absolutely identical. And the replica looks absolutely identical too.

To insist, nevertheless, that the replica is not a legitimate continuation of the original person is, therefore, to deny that one's physicality wholly determines one's self. That there must be something over and above one's total physicality -- a soul or whatever. But this then is a straightforward denial of materialism.

So materialists cannot deny that a physical replica would be you, it is simply incompatible with all forms of materialism to maintain this.

But do we have a paradox here? In the case of the malfunctioning teleporter, what if you do not appear to "jump" to the destination booth but remain exactly where you are? How can the replica, therefore, be you?? Is this then a paradox? No, not for the materialist.

Imagine the following scenario. Imagine that every infinitesimal fraction of a second you are getting teleported from place to place. Obviously, if you keep your eyes open, you'll just see a confusing blur. But you could close your eyes, and everything would seem to be normal. You could be thinking of a problem, daydreaming, or whatever. Nothing would seem different as compared to when you have your eyes closed normally, except in the teleportation scenario you are continuously being killed and spontaneously coming into being every infinitesimal fraction of a second!

Now, if we suppose that precisely this is happening in our second by second everyday existence then there is no paradox for the materialist, at least not in this regard. We do not actually exist from one second to the next -- a persisting self, and indeed a self, is an illusion. It merely seems we have a continuous existence.


To see why I believe such a momentarily existing self is incoherent, see my following blog entry:

Does the self as opposed to a mere "sense of self" exist?

Also, see an entry from my other blog where it seems that Buddhism shares a similar belief:
Buddhism and a persisting self

Finally, the following webcomic featuring a teleportation machine might be of interest.

Ian Wardell

Update 2/8/17: Just posted an essay on the same topic written by a certain Charlie Huenemann who is professor of philosophy at Utah State University. He comes to the same conclusion as me. It might be useful to read if people didn't find me sufficiently clear.
If I teleport from Mars, does the original me get destroyed?

Monday, 12 June 2017

How could we see, hear, taste, touch and smell during an "out of body experience" (OBE)?

Someone in a Facebook group who has had a near-death experience was stumped when a nurse asked him how he could see, hear, taste, touch and smell without their five sense organs during their OBE.

Clearly the nurse, and indeed many others, think that from the fact that damage to one's eyes or visual part of the brain leads to a reduction in vision or even blindness, that both one's eyes and one's brain are crucial to being able to see. The same argument applies to the other four senses.

It seems to me though that this argument is without merit. Here is an analogy. If one is in a house, the transparency of the glass within the windows is an essential condition for being able to see the sky. However, this only applies whilst we are in the house. If we were to venture outside, the windows are an irrelevance. We would have an unrestricted view of the sky.

I suggest exactly the same could be the case during an OBE. Let's suppose the ability to see and hear and smell are intrinsic aspects of a non-physical self or soul. In that case, during an OBE we should have unrestricted vision; maybe even vastly enhanced vision and the ability to see in all directions at once. But, whilst the non-physical self or soul is "housed" within one's body, we can only see, hear and smell by virtue of a functioning brain and unimpaired senses. Here, though, the brain and senses are only playing a similar role as the windows do within our house in the analogy outlined above.

For many of those who believe in an afterlife, the hypothesis is that the brain suppresses or filters conscious experiences rather than creates them. A properly functioning brain will allow us to see, hear, taste, touch and smell. And indeed, come to that, a properly functioning brain can allow us to be able to perceive, think, feel, and deliberate too. Contrariwise, a dysfunctional brain might reduce or completely suppress our senses and mental capacities just as dirty windows or drawing the curtains can impede or completely obscure our view of the sky.

None of this of course entails that the brain does play such a role. But the fact our five senses and mental capacities can be impaired, if not eliminated, due to a dysfunctional brain does not in itself entail that all these abilities could not be had by non-physical selves or souls. And indeed, should the above reasoning be correct, one might expect that a disembodied self or soul might well have enhanced senses and an enhanced mental capacity. This can be compared to having a greater view of the sky once we have exited from a house.

Often it's extremely hard to decide what is the rational thing to believe.

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