Thought Experiment: Cellular Clone

Say someone invents nano-machines which can mimic the processes of stem cells, being able to completely replicate all tissue. One of the applications of such a device might be to repair damaged tissue in the body, or even reproducing a clone.

Say we did a test on a human. The nano-machines were programmed to completely destroy each cell in the body, simultaneously replacing it with the nano-machine cell. In that process we’ve created a body made up of 100% nano-machines. The persons brain and thought processes are identical. It’s safe to assume that person is still who he/she was before their cells were replaced.

Now say the nano-machines have a process to shutdown and save-state, simulating suspended animation. During this process another set of nano-machines would completely replicate the original in another area, also in a save-state mode.

Once the clone is complete, the cells will resume function, and now there will be two of the same person. However, they are not really the same person. Even if they have all the same thoughts, or memories… if put in identical rooms when they awaken, with identical stimuli, they might behave identically until introduced to types of stimuli that are different from what the other experiences. If that’s true, the only difference difference between the two people are the space in which they exist.

The problem now arises that they are two people who share an identity. Neither knowing which one is the original, and neither willing to change their identity for the other. It is then suggested that the bodies be merged back together.

The most important thing here is the brain. So when the nano-machines are programmed they are programmed to destroy all the cells of subject A and replace them with subject B’s except when it comes to the brain tissue.

Depending on how much time has passed, the brains should still be relatively similar, but it’s clear that not all memories will stay intact. Assuming they have some sort of advanced understanding of the brain, they are able to keep some memories from both, and at the same time remove some memories from one or the other.

The question is: who is this new entity? The original? The clone? Both? Neither?

Part 2

Using the same nanomachines, two different people keep their minds completely in sync. They have the same memories, experience the same stimuli, but control separate bodies.

Are they actually one entity? If one dies… wouldn’t it just be like losing an arm. While it probably has some perceivable consequence to the psyche… it would not affect the person’s overall personality.

Consciousness is a really hard thing to figure out. Looking at some old photos of myself, I realized that the person I use to be was dead, but the process is so gradual I never realized it.
To be honest, the physics of it might be the most complicated thing in existence. Maybe because it’s all subjective.

BTW. Most of this has been stuff I’ve been thinking about since I was 7. When I was 5 I actually believed that when I died I might wake up as someone else and not even realize it. You might say that’s BS and I would agree, but I see that as me stumbling upon the observer concept at the age of 5.

At 10 I told my mom that I was afraid that I had already died because I had forgotten so much about my early childhood and that getting amnesia is similar to dying. That’s when I started seeing a psychologist.

Douglas Hofstadter, in his book “I Am A Strange Loop” related a similar story, which had originally been written by someone else, whose name I don’t remember.

He said to imagine a teleporting device. You lie down on a couch, and your body is destroyed, atom by atom, while the corresponding information is beamed to Mars. On Mars, your body is reconstructed, atom by atom, so you wake up on Mars, feeling exactly as you did when you lay down on Earth. In this scenario, most people wouldn’t have a problem saying that you’re still the same person.

Ah, but now there’s a technological advance! The scanner has improved so that your body on Earth will survive for about an hour after the scan is done. So you wake up, still on Earth, and talk to yourself on Mars. You know that you’re going to die in an hour, while this copy will continue on, living your life, having all of your memories, etc. Most people would now consider this a tragedy for the Earth-self.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

It’s a good point.

After many years I’ve decided on the belief that you are only alive during moments of persistent consciousness. Death arrives every time you lose consciousness.

The observer effect might just be the resultant phenomena of persistent consciousness.

I also believe in potential reincarnation. While you might die. After a nearly infinite amount of time or lack there of, another big bang might start things all over. Possibly even letting you do things slightly different. Although I believe nearly everything would have to be the same up to the point you are conceived… and also raised.

Like I said… I don’t believe I am the same person I was when I was a kid. So if I want to be reincarnated as I am now. I would have to have everything go exactly the same throughout my life up until this point.

Of course the likelihood of that happening probably has an infinite string of 0’s before the 1… I like to think of it as a scientific after life.

Until we know what consciousness is (i.e. what makes a person a unique individual), where it resides, and how it resides there, this is an unanswerable question. We have to know what it is before we can know if it transfers to the other body. Until that question is resolved, I prefer to believe that when the original body is destroyed, that individual is dead. The new body is a new individual (who just happens to have continuity of memory with the original).

Without appealing to metaphysical notions of the soul, or similar, any of the above.

If there is no metaphysical soul, then the ‘me’ at this moment in time is no more (or less) privileged to be able to make the claim that it’s ‘me’, than would be any other entity capable of seamlessly taking over the memories and thought processes of the ‘me’ that was sitting here a moment ago.

It happens to be a fact of nature/biology that the processes that make me ‘me’ are confined to this body, but unless there’s some mysterious additional entity, that’s just happenstance.

If we ever developed the technology to be able to make instant copies of living, thinking humans, it wouldn’t change what we are, it would merely expose the notion of an ‘original me’ to be false.
That said, on a visceral level, I would be most uncomfortable with the idea of being destroyed and instantaneously replicated - regardless of any intellectually sound assurances that it would be exactly the same as waking up in the morning, it doesn’t feel like that’s true, from the inside - which is of course the whole problem with this kind of thought experiment.