While chatting on chatterbox..a question arose. If there is an exact copy made of something, which is the real one? Is the other a counterfeit?

This brought to mind the issue of Teleportation. Teleportation (as seen on Star Trek) could completely change the world. (as discussed in "The Fly".) No more cars, no more planes, no more roads, no more urban sprawl, etc. However, there comes the issue of how teleporation would be possible.

For those of you who have seen or read "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory", you've heard of the theory of breaking yourself up into tiny molecules/atoms and sending them to another location. (also Star Trek) However, I believe there is a more probably way that we may see in the near future.

I must admit the idea came from a short story I read. (I don't remember the name or author) It describes a future when teleporation is achieved by scanning the person, sending the DNA code to another location, cloning the human, and then destroying the previous body. So, essentially...for those who got lost, clone in another place, kill the original. Now, it was an interesting story because the original human was not killed due to a glich..and someone had to track him down and kill him.

Anyways, this brings up my question of..."who is the real person"...the clone or the original. Does that person still have the same "soul". Is it a different person altogether? Do memories transfer into the clone? Will their personality change? And what happens if there are two of a person...who are exact? Is this morally possible in the world?

These are some of the issues that intrigue me. Perhaps you could give us a little insight into these questions.

I always hate thinking about possibilities involving duplication of consciousness. The story above would be similar to someone doing an upload of their consciousness, waking up still in their body, and hearing a voice from the computer go "It worked! Now, destroy the original."

If a consciousness were to fork, then you have to treat each one equally. Otherwise it's murder, and it's unfair to the consciousness that must be killed.

The toughest part is thinking about being forked myself. I close my eyes, then something happens, then when I awake, I'll only be in one of the two places afterwards. To an outside observer, there are two copies of me. But subjectively, I can't be both. Each one can be me, but I'll only experience life from one. It doesn't matter if the other one is still technically me, from my own view it's not me, since I'm not inhabiting that form.

It's such a messy area, it hurts my head when I think about it.

See: pattern identity theory for one idea.

The self interested version of this paradox asks : what about us? Those who consider conciousness to be a quantum process would argue that the mind might be altered, or left behind, by teleportation. OTOH the only teleportation really done so far is quantum - using the spooky action at a distance. So maybe the mind could be transported as a quantum entangled state.

See: The Emperor's New Mind by Rodger Penrose (although ignore the stuff about microtubules, that's just speculative).

Well, since a clone is really just a delayed twin, I don't see how destroying clones could be considered anything but murder. If one can ever reduce the totality of a human to data, which can be replicated, morality as we know it will become null and void. (That being said, the expressions of the new morality may not be very different.) Basically, this would do more for popular philosophy than Deep Thought in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

This is one of those questions it is fun to argue, particularly if representatives from various religions can get in on the fun.

If we are the sum of our experiences, then the "duplicate" and the "original" would instantly be different people, since their experiences would differ the instant after the duplication.

So really, neither is the counterfeit, because neither is the original.

Most of the problems with teleportation are to do with identity. If you rip apart a person, atom by atom, and hurl them across the infinite reaches of space, and then piece them together again atom by atom, does that mean that if you are able to produce another person atom by atom who has exactly the same structure that they are the same person?

Or more simply, is structure identity?

Also if you duplicate a fully functioning human being, then surely that new person is a person in their own right? Their life, like the life of any other twin differs as soon as they begin to experience it in their own individual way. So two originally identical people can become very different over time.

I think identity is more or less a human concept that we apply to things we experience, including ourselves, not something that inherently exists in anything, except perhaps religion, and our relationship with God.

With that in mind, the only moral and operational problem, is what happens to the person when you tear him apart atom from atom. Are you killing him, and then creating a living duplicate elsewhere, or are you just moving him? If you are moving him, then surely you should move everything at the same time, in the same pattern... after all if you disturb the pattern of someone's body, it is usually seen as an attack, perhaps disturbing it enough, it can lead to death.

In this sense the transporter may not work for the good of mankind, but just end up being a tool to vapourise selectively anyone within range. This obviously is a rather evil application of something that is supposed to be benign, but then again look at nuclear power, and nuclear weapons. If we had known about the destructive force of nuclear fission, would be have gone ahead and revealed it's discovery to the politicians? As unperson pointed out to me recently, Einstein himself suggested to FDR that they build a nuclear bomb. Perhaps our situation is different (he may have foreseen it's role in ending the war.) Will the same dilemma reach into the minds and hearts of the first successful transporter engineers? Who knows. I am concerned as to the ultimate-weapon mode of ending wars. Farscape and wormhole weapons aside, (fictional) people are very devious about finding new ways of tearing each other to pieces...

Consequently transporter technology won't be the pervue of engineering and scientist souls amidst us but rather the accountants...

What if someone invented a teleportation machine, a machine that would take an object, destroy it, and recreate it somewhere else, possibly miles or light years away? If that person demonstrated that this machine would work on all manner of inanimate objects (suppose they even used it on a corpse successfully) would you be willing to try it? When you came out the other side, would you still be you? What if instead of making one copy on the other side it made two, would they both be you? Which set of eyes would you be seeing out of?

These are representative of the issues of self that arise when you start thinking about the idea of teleportation. Many of these issues revolve around what philosophers call the mind/body problem, which is the question of how our subjective experience of having a mind, the place where we hear our own thoughts, relates to or physical bodies. When Descartes considered the question in the seventeenth century, the connection between the brain and mental abilities was little understood. These days, many people are strict materialists, who believe that the mind is accounted for entirely by the physical processes that go on inside the brain. People who believe this would be inclined to think that after going through the teleportation machine you would still be just as much you. Moreover, they would probably have to concede that if a second, physically identical copy were made it would be just as much you, having all the same thoughts and memories, but the minds of the two copies of would begin to diverge the second they began having different experiences. There are others who believe that the body is only a container or conduit for a soul, which is truly where the mind resides, and then the question becomes whether the soul will enter the new copy of the body or be separated from it. From this vantage, the question of making two identical copies becomes more perplexing; one might believe that only one would retain a soul, neither would have one, or that they might share one soul and one mind. It is these differences that make the question of teleportation and self interesting, because it provides a way for each of us to probe his beliefs about the mind and the self. While you might be willing to offer some guesses as to the answers to these questions, would you be willing to step into the teleporter and put your ideas to the test?

In addition to questions relating to the nature of the mind, there are further metaphysical questions about whether we can meaningfully say that after being transported we have the same object (as opposed to a facsimile). Clearly, we could take a mass produced Ford Escort, blow it up, and produce a new one in a factory miles away. We would hardly consider this teleportation, even if the car were produced to the same specifications. In this case, though, the new car and the original would have measurable differences, as long as one made detailed enough measurements. How similar then, must the new version be? The fictional teleporter in Star Trek is supposed to disassemble objects and convert them into energy that is then beamed to another starship and converted back into the original object. Must the new object be made of the same "stuff" as the original, as in Star Trek? Why should it matter, as long as the new one is identical? The considerations in answering these questions can then relate back to the mind/body problem and questions, for example, about the existence of a soul. If all we require is that the new version of the object be physically indistinguishable from the original, then it would seem reasonable to think that any teleportation device could also make many copies of an object, or person; however, if we require the copies to really be completely indistinguishable, down to the quantum level, then it turns out this is not the case.

Interestingly, a sort of actual teleportation has been achieved, quantum teleportation. This process teleports the quantum state of a system between two places by sending only a classical signal, which contains less information than the quantum state itself, but allows the state to be reconstructed on the other side using entangled pairs. This technique has been used to teleport the polarization of a beam of light so far, but it could in principle transport any quantum state, even that of a person. Of course, to be able to teleport an object in this fashion we already must be able to construct an object of that sort and manipulate its state at the quantum level, so it's very difficult to imagine that we could ever use this technique on any macroscopic object, especially a human being. However, we may still consider the philosophical implications.

The strange thing about quantum teleportation is that in order to create the state on the receiving end you have to destroy the state of the original on the sender's end by measuring it. What's more, there's a general result called the no cloning theorem that says you can't have a device that can make exact copies of arbitrary quantum states while retaining the original. So, it seems that nature has sidestepped at least part of the quandary. If we believe that the self is just encoded in the quantum state of a person's body, then it seems that our device can't produce any ambiguity about which is the real you. It should be noted, however, that quantum mechanics does not disallow two systems from being identical; indeed, identical particles abound in nature leading to results like the Pauli Exclusion Principle. The no cloning theorem just says it's impossible to build a device that makes completely identical copies of anything you put in.

Sometimes in discussions of the mind and self, the topic of cloning comes up. Cloning (in the biological sense) is a process that ideally produces a second organism with the same genetic code as the original. A person and her clone will have essentially the same genetic relationship as identical twins, except that they may not be the same age. Experience both with identical twins and more recently will cloned animals shows that they have different physical characteristics (presumably due to environmental factors), and clones certainly do not gain the memories of the original. As a result, clones are probably not a very useful tool in thinking about issues of self, because they would be both physically and mentally different from the original subject.

A response to Conflict's WU below:

Quantum mechanics is indeed unintuitive, but it does not follow that anything can happen. Subject to constraints like causality and results like the no cloning theorem, I know of nothing in modern physics that precludes the possibility of teleportation in principle, but it looks like in practice it would require such precise measurements, exquisite control, and staggering computing power that it's hard to see how it would ever be manageable, even for a more advanced civilization. As I've written, quantum teleportation has already been achieved experimentally in a number of simple systems, though this isn't necessarily exactly that sort of thing people think of when they talk about teleporting objects.

Where they are correct, many of the statements Conflict makes about physics have to do with the fact that single particles are not localized to a point and cannot be accurately thought of as following a single trajectory from one point to another. There is some question as to how then you know it's the same particle you're looking at, and, indeed, when you put multiple, identical particles together in quantum mechanics new behavior results from the fact that there is no way you can keep track of which is which. However, Conflict makes a number of incorrect statements: First of all, information is not passed instantaneously between different places.[1] Likewise, tunneling is not instantaneous. A wave packet will spread through a barrier at the group velocity[2], which is finite. Additionally, whenever quantum tunneling occurs there is a non-zero probability of finding the system in the classically forbidden area, so it's not really fair to say that the particle goes from one place to the other without being in between. Optical tunneling, while mathematically similar, is just based upon the existence of evanescent waves and can be understood completely classically without reference to quantum tunneling or teleportation. Neither radioactive decay nor energy level transitions in atoms are instantaneous. The system gradually shifts into a superposition of the two states[3], and it is only a fast measurement that gives the appearance of an instantaneous transition. In the end, I think few of these phenomena have much baring on the issue of teleportation.


  1. "Thus we conclude that no measurement in the Klein-Gordon theory can affect another measurement outside the light-cone." p. 29, An Introduction to Quantum Field Theory, Peskin and Schroeder.
  2. p. 48, Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, J. D. Griffiths.
  3. See, for example, Griffiths.

I understand the moral implications of self and teleportation, but I do not understand how anyone can say "teleportation doesn't exist or can never happen". Teleportation happens everyday all around us. 'Information' is passed instantaneously from one point in space to another without actually 'traversing space'.

Nature defies common sense, and this really happens: an electron or other particle can disappear in one location and simultaneously reappear at another location if the wave associated with the particle extends to the other location. After you buy that, we can make sense out of the rest of it. Here are some examples of the disappearing-reappearing magic:

* Tunneling. An electron does not have enough energy to penetrate through a barrier, but if the wave of the electron exists on the other side, there is a probability that it will disappear on one side and reappear on the other side. Measurements show that the distance divided by time is greater than the speed of light, so it is not a case of traveling through- it really disappears and reappears simultaneously. The tunnel diode and the scanning tunneling microscope make use of this effect.

* Optical tunneling. For example light that enters the prism as shown is totally reflected at the diagonal. But if the other glass (the rectangle) is placed close enough, much closer than in the picture, some light enters it. The laws of electricity and magnetism do not permit the existence of light in the gap, since 45 degree is greater than the critical angle of glass, but photons can disappear in the prism and reappear in the rectangular solid.

* Radioactive decay. An alpha particle does not have enough energy to escape the nucleus, but under the right conditions it can tunnel out, much like in the above cases.

* Electron transitions in atoms. If an electron absorbs a photon it gets kicked up to a higher energy level, or it can give off a photon and drop to a lower level if one is available. These transitions are instantaneous- another disappear- reappear case.

* This property of nature is so pervasive that even in totally empty space, particles pop in and out of existence. This is known as the vacuum polarization, so called because they appear as equal and opposite charges, a dipole.

This all leads one to think that if this happens in nature already, perhaps someday we will figure out how to duplicate this disappearing/reappearing act on ourselves. Blinking out of existance in one point of space/time and popping into existance in another simultaneously and fully intact. Thus the debate of cloning and all that jazz is null and void. 'Where does consciousness exist?' is a whole different ball of wax. Carl Jung believes there is a 'collective unconscious'. So do I. Therefore your conscious is something you are always 'tapping into' anywhere, anytime. Therefore teleporting shouldn't really affect your conscious because "you" are nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Fun.

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