Here is a question that I find thought-provoking and a little troubling.
Imagine that someone invents a teleportation device, sort of like the ones they use on Star Trek. This transporter can “beam” you over long distances, and do it cheaply, so that anyone can put a dollar in a slot, step onto the transporter pad, and in a fraction of a second they’ll materialize at a chosen destination. Lunch in Madrid, dinner in Tokyo, a play and dessert in London.
But here’s the catch: The technology works by totally vaporizing you with lasers, which analyze you down to the molecule and record the information. The data is beamed at the speed of light to the destination, where a machine takes the data and rebuilds you from a storage tank of material, duplicating you exactly, down to the molecule. The process takes a tiny fraction of a second.
In essence, one machine kills you, and another machine builds a duplicate that is in every identical to the one that was vaporized.
Would you use this transportation technology?
People who know me well know that I’m a pretty hard-core materialist. I consider the “self” to be the sum of our material being. Our experiences, thoughts, and emotions arise from our physical bodies. As such, it seems to me that the “self” would be unchanged by being destroyed and then immediately rebuilt. If I am derived from my physical makeup and experiences, then “I” am not really destroyed, I am just swapping old molecules for new ones.
But I can’t get past the fact that the first machine kills you. I don’t know if I could bring myself to use such a machine.
How many of the atoms in my body were there a year ago, or ten years ago? Would the transporter simply speed up the rate of turnover? If there is a soul, would it leap to the new body?