Continuation fo Consciousness: A Metaphysical Debate of a Schwartzenegger Flick

So the other night “The Sixth Day” was on TV. In this movie, Arnold plays a helicopter pilot who is surreptitiously cloned by some evil corporate baddies as part of some stupid plot.

In this movie, a great many people are cloned, then get killed (as with all Arnie films, the body count is pretty high), and then they clone them again. To replicate the same person they have some technobabble way of perfectly replicating their memories and jamming them back into the skulls of the newest clones, thereby creating a perfect replica of the person from the moment before they died. It was not clearly explained to my satisfaction how they got current memories out of a dead body, but never mind; it apparently worked absolutely perfectly. Arnie was blowing away the fourth and fifth versions of some of the bad guy’s henchmen. (It never occurred to the bad guy to hire new henchmen rather than cloning the same incompetent ones who had proven themselves unable to kill Arnie the first three times.) If you’re wondering how they made the BODIES in adult form so fast, well, don’t ask. They just sort of grew them like fungus. It was weird.

It would go like this:

HENCHMAN: Ha! I have you now!
ARNIE: Eat dis! (Sprays henchman with machine gun bullets)
HENCHMAN: Aaaaggh! (Dies)
(Scene switches to Bad Guy Laboratory. New henchman body grows like a fungus and the memories are pumped back through their eyeballs.)
HENCHMAN CLONE: (Wakes up with a start) AAAGGHH! NOO! Oh, damn, he killed me! That’s the third time this week!
BAD GUY: Go finish the job!

So I’m watching this astoundingly awful movie, and then I thought; hey, what if that happened to me?

Now, let’s say I was hit by a bus today and they created RickJay 2.0 by growing me a new body and pumping my memories back into my skull:

ME: La la la la laaaa, what a beautiful day… AGGGGGHHH
(Scene switches to lab)
SCIENTIST: We can rebuild him. We have the technology… wait, wrong pop culture reference.
ME VERSION 2.0: Yeeaaaagggh! Oh, geez, I got hit by a bus again!

Now, assuming the brain transfer is perfect - we’ll assume that process absolutely PERFECTLY replicates my brain, which obviously doesn’t account for a lot of things (e.g. the brain cells destroyed when I got beaned in Little League and knocked out as cold as a mackerel in Grade 7) - the RickJay 2.0 would feel as if he was me, with a continuous line of consciousness stretching back as far as he/me could remember. As far as RickJay 2.0 was concerned, it would be me. I’d feel as if I had looked up, saw a bus, screamed, and then woken up the next day in the Cloning Centre. I’d put in for a day of vacation and everything would be fine.

But the CURRENT me would be dead. It seems to me, or seemed to me at first thought, that this process would not actually do ME any good. From MY perspective, I’d look up, see the bus, scream, and… nothing. The world would fade to black and that would be it. I’d be either in heaven singing with the angels, in hell watching endless repeats of “Small Wonder,” or just plain dead. I would not perceive a transfer to the new RickJay 2.0; that would be somebody else. He would perceive “his” past as me, but I would not perceive a future as him. Right?

But, hey, wait a second. What IS consciousness? I’m assuming my self-awareness is a product of my physical continuation through time; that is, as long as my body stays alive, I’m conscious and aware of it. But that might not be true. For instance, what if you pumped someone else’s memories into me? In Arnold’s other artificial-memory movie, “Total Recall,” it was suggested that the old soul/consciousness would cease to be, and a new one would be created. So maybe my consciousness WOULD be transferred to the new RickJay 2.0.

And after all, I do not perceive myself to have ended when I fall asleep, or am knocked unconscious, or when I’m put under a general anasthetic. But… what if I did? After all, how would I know, anyway? What if RickJay’s consciousness died when they put me under to take out my wisdom teeth, and when I woke up a new consciousness started up operation by simply rebooting the existing brain pattern? My, how scary. Maybe that’s silly - but if it’s silly, then maybe it’s silly to assume your perfect clone/brain copy wouldn’t be a continuation of your conscious self?

So whaddya think? Would my “soul,” or stream of consciousness, continue on with a superclone? Or would the continuousness of life be apparent to the clone, but my current self would be as dead as a doornail? Should I take out Cloning And Brain Copying Insurance - or not bother because it won’t do me any good?

I’ll cast a vote for they are all different people, with no continuation.

I believe my consciousness derives from the single, specific piece of offal in my head.

I suggest that these different people are merely identical twins with, somehow, the same memories.

The only continuity is that of the atoms of my brain being replaced by other atoms (which, incidentally, raises the paradox of what happens if you change them all at once?, to which the best answer I can currently find is “a mess”).

They are new people under the utterly convincing illusion that they are the same person, but the second part of that could arguably be said of any of us when we awake in the morning; aside from any metaphysical entities such as souls, there is no appreciable difference; I am an entity that is under the utterly convincing illusion that I was ‘me’ yesterday, but yesterday is no longer here, so the person that was ‘me’ yesterday is as completely gone as they would have been if killed by a bus.

Actually, it is quite easy to show how they are different people with the illusion they are the same; create two clones and pump them both full of the same downloaded brain and both of them will awake saying and thinking much the same thing.

Next up: transporter accidents…

Agreed, Mange, but I think the “continuation-of-the-soul” part is what Rick is specifically getting at. The next morning, the specific meat itself might exist simultaneously with others which are convinced that they are the same meat, but only one of the will actually be continuing from the night before.

I would contend that, even thought there might be no objective way to tell which one it was, only one me would get up simultaneously with some identical twins.

Key problems in this debate:
-We can’t prove the existence of a soul (outside of the imagination of the subject).
-The ability to copy people in this way may never exist. - It may be truly impossible to do - which would neatly solve the problem of us not knowing quite what had occurred when we had achieved it.

Agreed again - “soul” is a poor word since consciousness in its entirety is to some extent an illusion. However, I still believe the debate regarding the nature of the “continuity” can proceed since I am proposing that it, whatever “it” is, is a function of the physical cells themselves rather than a “pattern” which any suitable vessel can be imbued with.

Your second point is, of course, almost certainly true. Quite apart from exactly replicating the googol of connections between neurons, the brain might well be a “hard encryption” device such that one could not, say, correlate a certain pattern of neuron fire with certain memories since only the viewer of the original memory knows what that particular pattern signifies.

All different and it wouldn’t do YOU any good. Your copy would go happily along though. One point, in the movie it was continuation from the last scan. Just like a hard drive back up. There may have been some times where they broke that rule. But they tried to at least make it obvious with the main bad guy.

If you make a perfect digital copy of your favorite CD and then break the original? You preserved the content, but the original is dead. Now is the content all the original ever was?

Mange, your first point is the point of the thread. My perception of my “soul,” such as it is, is essentially my perception that my conscious being has existed continually over time. I am sitting here at work right now, and I perceive that I have been alive and thinking and doing things for some three decades. If that perception is physically transferred to another vessel, will my current “soul” as defined above perceive the transfer? Intuitively I would say no - but how could you really make that distinction, anyway? If the “soul” does not exist apart from the physical manifestation of perception, maybe it IS a continuous line of perception. After all, “Rick’s soul” is, practically speaking, nothing but a certain brain wiring. If you replicate the wiring don’t you replicate the soul? Maybe I COULD make the jump from one body to another.

Sentientmeat’s point, however, seems to be a good one; if the first RickJay didn’t die, and two RickJay existed simultaneously, presumably my current “soul” would transfer into only one body. But, and I’ll ask this of Sentientmeat - how can you say that? There’s no way to distinguish which RickJay would have the continuous stream of consciousness and which would simply be a duplicate that perceived a continuous stream because of it getting a copy of my memories. And if you cannot distinguish between the two new “souls,” then how could you say for sure what happens if the original does die?

As to your second point, well, obviously a Schwartzenegger movie is not exactly a font of accurate scientific knowledge, but let’s play along.

My contention was that no “transfer” occurs. The piece of meat continues to function until it stops. Since it is the same piece of meat, there is no reason to assume that it is behaving any differently.

The other pieces of meat, OTOH, are merely copies of the original. In no case does “transfer” occur. Just because one might not distinguish between them does not negate the fact that one very definitely was the original.

If the structure in the brain is sufficiently duplicated, then yes, it’s the same person.

Are you a single individual, or merely a succession of extremely similar individuals who have the illusion of continuity?

Thought experiment:

You are in front of a duplicating machine which can make an absolute perfect copy of you down to every single memory.
There is a red button which when pressed, activates the machine and makes a copy of you and this copy appears in a glass container which you can observe.
Unfortunately, due to future copyright laws, the machine was designed to destroy the “copy” in an acid bath 1 minute after creation.

Suppose you’re a sick SOB who enjoys watching people suffering. You have spent the last 5 minutes creating and destroying 5 copies of yourself.
Then, when you press the button for the 6th time, Poof, you’re on the other side of the machine. A few seconds later you realiza you’re the copy, and are about to die. Nothing wrong has happened. It’s all logical, and you must accept your fate.


Is it dangerous for you to repeatedly press the button ?
Consider that if at any moment, poof, you experience a “teleport” to the other side, you can’t complain about anything wrong having happened.

Vorlon: Identical twins have separate “illusions”. Were their memories and experiences somehow rendered identical, I contend that they would still have separate illusions (ie. no strange “interference” would begin to occur as the brains were made gradually more alike).

I do not know the answer to your second question (it sounds like a Susan Greenfield quote?) but when you say “it’s the same person” do you mean that you believe I could experientially wake up tomorrow morning “in a different brain”?

Chaos: As I said to Rick, I believe your paradox breaks down by furthering the thought experiment by positing two copies being made upon prsseing the button. Since there is no reason why “you” should appear in one jar but not the other, does that not suggest that no transfer ever takes place?

I contend that you are your meat. Any attempt to escape merely creates another person who think they’re you.

I believe the more interesting paradox is: If one’s atoms continually change such that they are almost completely renewed roughly every seven years…

…who the hell am I?

As far as the technobabble is concerned, what happens (in the movie) is that memories and personalities are somehow downloaded on to a memory media. This is incorporated into a proto-form and everything is copied. Note the word copied. There is no transfer or continuation. Which was the whole point of the movie. One is real, the other is just a copy. There is a standing protocol to destroy copies if the original is still alive to prevent meta-physical discussions such as this one.

so transporter accidents, replicants, runaway clones or simulated memories still have no basis in moving a soul from one body to another. All you end up is a copy of the original being. From the standpoint of memory and personality, it may seem to be a transfer but if you look at it the way data is transferred on to a storage disk, the original is left behind to be erased once the copy is verified correct. They are 2 separate entities that just happen to have the same content.

I don’t think it is much of an impediment.
You are basically quoting Einstein: “I don’t believe that God plays dice”
But I believe quantum physics has showed that God DOES play dice, A LOT. (Either that or many parallel universes are created at each instant, a very popular interpretation, adhered to by Stpehen Hawking)

Identical twins are really identical only superficially. The fine structure of their bodies is usually subtly different. Their brain structure is significantly different, even on an anatomic level.

A ‘true’ copy is as much the original as the original is. As long as its properties fall into the categorical range that defines the person, it is that person.

You wake up every morning in a different brain; you have a different brain from moment to moment. Are you a single entity, or a sequential series of entities that just have the illusion of being one?

RickJay -> I agree with you on the concept that what we call our self/life/soul is, until proof of the contrary, only the physical manifestation of a continuous thread of perception. Any other interpretation seems to add artificial complications and variables to the model.

One may be reluctant of trusting the “eternal life” device in the “6th Day” movie (I would).
But on the other hand, wouldn’t you also be reluctant of trusting the device I decribe in my thought experiment, in my previous post?

Yeah, Chaos. I would. That’s the thing.

Of course, so many other examples raise the same question:

  1. The Star Trek Transporter. In Star Trek, people and things are regularly moved from place to place using a transporter, a device that dissolves matter, converts it into a stream of coded energy, and then reassembles the energy into matter at a distant point. It seems to me that this machine would effectively kill you and create a perfect copy, a la “The Sixth Day” - it just does it cleaner. Since your body is essentially being destroyed, the original you is as dead as if you’d been shot or blown up or hit by a bus. The rematerialized you is a copy. So if I am transported, does my consciousness cease to be?

  2. The “Mechanical Man” example - In a story I once wrote a man in the near future was dying of cancer that had spread throughout his body, rendering any normal medical treatment useless. He surreptitiously had himself exposed to microscopic super-nanobots, each a ten thousandth the size of a cell, that could replace and perfectly simulate every cell in his entire body without anyone being the wiser - even simulating every brain cell in his head. But if his brain cells are all replaced with little machines - even if they can replicate a perfect copy of how his brain operates - does his consciousness continue?

  3. People who die and come back to life. Every now and then you will read about some nitwit who falls into a frozen lake and is cooled to the temperature of a properly served pilsner, only to be reheated and revived by medical personnel, and a big deal is made about the person being dead for ten or fifteen minutes. Does their original consciousness die with it, and a new copy is resumed when the brain “Reboots” using the exisiting brain BIOS, so to speak?

This is the one that frightens me, because it seems to be that logically, my train of consciousness dies if I lose consciousness.

What about deep comas, or general anasthetic, or temporary (it’s happened) brain death, or just the dreamless part of sleep? Would your continuous consciousness stop at that point, with a new one re-emerging when the brain gets booted up again? I mean, holy shit. If I have a really deep sleep tonight, is some other dude gonna wake up tomorrow? But then, how would I know, anyway? If so, then THIS train of consciousness has only existed since about 7 AM this morning, and will pass the torch on to the May 13, 2003 version of RickJay when by brain turns off tonight. This would suggest a continuous lifetime of consciousness is purely an illusion. And why would it NOT be an illusion? Our bodies can live either way. How we define the beginning end end of consciousness won’t affect our viability as a species.

Just think: When you go to sleep tonight, that might be the end of your soul. Poof! And you have no way of knowing otherwise. Bet you’ll keep an eye awake tonight.

I guess I have to ask if our consciousness/soul/whatever is:

  1. A manifestation of the physical structure of our brains, in which case, case studies 1 and 2 clearly “kill” the original consciousness, and you should never ever step on a transporter pad or let nanobots cure your cancer, but it’s not clear what sleep or a coma does, or

  2. An illusion created by a brain’s position in time and space that can in fact be transplanted by perfectly replicating the matter and energy, because of some quantum physics thing I do not understand, or

  3. Simply an illusion created by the combination of a specific number fo memories/brain impulses, or

  4. Something else?

What about when you go to sleep?

I don’t think anyone would argue consciousness continues throughout sleep – so is a new person created every time you wake?

What about seizures, or blackouts?