Friday, December 07, 2012

#StarTrek: Did the transporter kill Kirk?

Massimo Pigliucci, over at Rationally Speaking, actually raises this stimulating question, with the introductory device of an iPhone app that lets you play around with philosophy.

The theoretical question raised by the app is (as I understand it; per co-blogger Ian Pollock, see comments):

Put James T. Kirk on a transporter. Only, somehow, two different Kirks are simultaneously spit out on the other end. Is the original Kirk dead, or not? That, of course, would be a philosophical question even with a normally functioning transporter spitting out just one Kirk — is the post-transporter Kirk really the same guy or not? But dual Kirks on the other end intensify all the thought experiment questions.

The app offers several different answers for users to choose:
A) Kirk dies, a Trekkie cries
B) Kirk is Kirk1, or Kirk2, whichever you like
C) Kirk is (Kirk1 and Kirk2) before and after
D) Kirk is (Kirk1 and Kirk2) only after transport
E) Kirk is Kirk1 and Kirk is Kirk2, adios transitivity of identity
F) It’s “indeterminate,” in your favorite flavor
G) It’s “nonsense,” colorless, green and sleeping furiously
H) Insoluble paradox
I) Unsure which way to go
J) Huh? What’s this all about?
K) My favorite response isn’t listed (comments please)

And, so far, a definite plurality is opting for A. That's my answer, too.

But, I'm taking the game further. In a long response, I added further thought experiments. What follows is an edited version of those comments. If anything here isn't clear, go to the original post and read things in context as necessary.

The original Kirk is dead, and each of the two twins is individualized from each other.

Ian then raised the issue of actual vs. replacement Mona Lisa paintings, and in light of a classical philosophy thought experiment used by Dan Dennett and others as an intuition pump, raised the whole cell replacement issue. Assuming we want to concentrate on brain cell replacement, my comments focus on that.

Per Ian, the "replacement factor" of cells is fuzzy (assuming we're concentrating on brain cells, even, for simplicity's sake).

In one sense, the replacement of one brain cell by an outside process and not a natural degeneration of a cell with replacement by one theoretically identical due to natural regenesis is to create a different person, if you'll allow me a Forrest/Greene type eternally branching personhood rather than universes idea. My thinking Thought A rather than Thought B makes me a different person. That's whether it's voluntary (per Susan Blackmore and her excellent Zen meditation questions on consciousness) or a Clockwork Orange involuntarism.

That said, what replacement rate is necessary to say we've killed off the old Gadfly and created a new one? In the brain stem, or even the cerebellum, might be pretty high, eh? But, in the cortex, or a crucial noncortex area like the amygdala, might be pretty low, eh? Even without "replacements," I'm now thinking of Phineas Gage. Did his unfortunate accident kill one person and create another? (See what a thought experiment monster you've created!)

On the other hand, certain types of strokes have shown that (with the destruction of old neurons but without replacement of new ones) even the cortex can be quite plasticene. So maybe, like with the Star Trek transporter, the "replacement factor" involves "rate" by time as well as "rate" by ratio.

With Mona Lisas, though, I'd at least lean toward Ian. There, at least, we have a difference that makes no difference, to quote Spock and get back to Star Trek. Whereas, a transportation mechanism is going to make a different Ian, subtle as the differences may be.

That said, suppose an ambassador at the final end of the transportation has never met Kirk in person before. He has no way of knowing how much or how little the process changed this person, who I'll call Kirk-1.

But, wait, wait.

Spock would know any subtle difference, right?

However, Spock is also getting beamed to different spots, so Spock-1 would, even subtly, have different recollections of Kirk before his latest transportation. (See, you've created a second thought experiment monster.)

So, what if Scotty-Prime has never been transported? But, with Kirk's latest transportation, it was a bit less fail-safe than normal. Let's say Spock's was, too, but not so badly. So, can Scotty-Prime convince Spock-1 that Kirk-1 is ... "problematic"?

And, to throw a bomb in the mix ...

Per a Peter Singer, should we then euthanize Kirk-1?

1 comment:

Simon said...

Too late to expand?