Philosophy of Teleportation
by Prof. Kiqhle Sostoui
As soon as the concept of teleportation arises with a technologically-minded society, individuals strive to figure out how such an action might be achieved, and it seems to be a universal cultural invariant that one idea is quickly invented and then leads to incessant philosophical debate: disintegration and replication, or destructive teleportation. While teleportation in the real world is usually a form of whole-body hyperspace transit, it is still worth considering the implications of teleportation of the destructive variety. Here, I shall discuss and analyse the common metaphysical viewpoints that are commonly brought up within debates on this topic.
First, let us consider the process. A destructive teleporter would work by taking the information about how matter is arranged within a conscious being and destroying the body. Then, the information may be stored for some time, or transmitted to an appropriate receiver, and used to assemble raw materials into a replica of the original being, including memories, personality, and so on. Leaving aside the practicalities of this process (inefficiency, transfer rate, uncertainty principle, etc.), the related philosophical issues can be summarised by "does the new body have the same consciousness as the original?", where "consciousness" should often, but not always, be understood to mean "possession of qualia". If the answer is negative, then this raises ethical considerations, particularly whether teleportation is murder.
To many people in the modern world, it might seem strange that the existence of Essence does not immediately refute the doctrine of physicalism, which states that only physical properties - those relating to the interactions between objects - exist, and thus qualia do not. While the discovery of Essence did refute a related ontology, materialism, Essence is still something that has physical effects. Modern physicalists maintain that consciousness is not an object, but merely an activity performed by a physical system, and that Essence is perfectly capable of playing the role of said system.
Regardless of whether physicalism is correct or not, it does provide an answer for an argument that is commonly applied to support the duplicated consciousness being distinct from the original, namely that if the new body is created before the original is destroyed, then there will be two distinct minds, and after the destruction of the latter, the new body will not gain the post-replication memories of the original. The explanation of this is simple: there is no further transfer of information between the two minds after replication. Being an activity rather than object, the consciousness is split between two minds, not maintained in the first and merely duplicated in the other, and the post-replication history of the original mind ceases to continue when said mind is destroyed, while the pre-replication history continues to exist in the replicated body. Despite appearances, it is physically a very different situation to if the original mind is destroyed and all of its history becomes part of a replicated body.
With physicalism, the outcome of destructive teleportation clearly does result in the new body possessing the consciousness of the original, since consciousness is just an activity performed by a physical system, and if the intial state of a system - whether it is made of atoms or of Essence - is the same as the final state of another system then, as far as physics is concerned, it is completely identical to if the original system had been allowed to continue to run uninterrupted. If one wishes to maintain that the consciousness of the new body is not the same as that of the original, one must believe that there is more to consciousness than the physical process.
- Continuity of identity
It is still widely assumed, even by people who claim to be physicalists, that destructive teleportation would result in the destruction of the original consciousness. This is due to an unquestioned intuition of continuity. Physically, continuity is a description of the fact that it is impossible for certain quantities (e.g. energy, momentum, charge) to move between two places without traversing the intervening space. If the amount of one of these quantities decreases within a volume of space, it must have flowed out through the boundary of that volume. This is how matter is generally observed to work, and therefore sapient species evolve an intuition for it. Thus, with destructive teleportation, the naïve assumption is that since there was consciousness within the region of space containing a person, but it did not flow out of that region when the person was disintegrated, the consciousness must have been destroyed. Whether this is also held to be the case for other forms of unconsciousness, such as deep sleep or anaesthesia, seems to be a matter of personal taste; people have both used sleep to argue that consciousness is preserved by teleportation, and used teleportation to argue that consciousness is not preserved by sleep.
Arguments based on this line of thinking might also provide analogies that are similarly based on the assumption that certain properties must be continuous: "if object X is destroyed and then recreated as a second object X, the second object is not the same as the original". Sometimes there are further qualifiers which also have no support in physics; e.g. "if the atoms of the second object are different to those of the first", which ignores how quantum "particles" are actually mere field excitations and thus not truly different items between which such a distinction can be made. The whole paradigm clearly involves a metaphysical concept of identity rather than a physical one, as the reasons presented in the previous section alone make clear, and as such cannot be completely refuted.
However, it is easily doubted. Continuity in physics is a consequence of conservation laws, the observations that the total amount of certain quantities (e.g. energy, momentum, charge) always remains constant, and special relativity, which (amongst other things) tells us that one moment in time can only be objectively said to occur immediately before another if the two moments are occurring at the same point in space. Conservation laws, in turn, come solely from the laws of physics being invariant under certain physical transformations, so there is no reason for anything like "conservation of consciousness" or "conservation of metaphysical identity" to exist.
And if continuity of consciousness need not hold, we no longer find that the only logical options in destructive teleportation are a) the consciousness was destroyed and b) the consciousness flowed out of the region of space. We also have c) the consciousness moved from one point in space and time to another without traversing the intervening spacetime distance. This would be what happens in destructive teleportation: the first point is the disintegration, and the second point is the replication. One could still assume that the consciousness is destroyed anyway but, like the assumption of continuity of consciousness, it has no justification besides naïve intuition.
- Afterlife attraction
Since it is known that consciousness also exists within Essence, continuity of identity is no longer the most frequent objection to destructive teleportation. Instead, it is more commonly held that consciousness would not be destroyed alongside its material body, but would exit the body in an Essence-based soul. Only if the soul is somehow inhibited from migrating to the new body must a new one be created. This would work nicely were it not for what happens in the afterlife.
Depending on the species and the religion, once a soul has left a body, it is believed that its future is fixed: maybe it is drawn into a cycle of reincarnation, or it is sent to one of many Planes of Existence, or some other fate awaits it. Some religions make moral arguments as to why this would happen even in the case of teleportation, primarily claiming that destruction of the body is wrong regardless of motivation, and thus their deity punishes a would-be teleporter for their mortal sin. Some supernatural entities may well take this point of view and deal with their followers' souls in such a way.
Another argument is that of time: how long should a spirit wait until it re-enters a body? Perhaps a person could perennially avoid the afterlife by keeping their information stored within a teleporter; even if they do not intend to be replicated, their soul would avoid divine judgement indefinitely despite the non-existence of their body. And what does the spirit do for that time? Presumably no memories of being incorporeal will be included into the replicated mind. These miss an important point: Essence is not subject to the arrow of time that plagues matter. The soul could travel immediately to the future point in which the body is replicated, and if the body will never be replicated, that will already be known, and the soul must then be treated like that of any deceased individual. No waiting is required.
In summary, except for in cases where an individual has dedicated their soul to a deity with an anti-teleportation morality, there is no good reason to assume that destructive teleportation is harmful. This cannot be guaranteed, as metaphysical concepts of identity which suggest otherwise are inherently untestable. Were destructive teleporters to be available within a society, the metaphysical risk might induce a lawmaking body to choose either to make them illegal, or to ensure only people who understood the reasoning for and against the risk are allowed to use such devices. I would not recommend allowing a person to destructively teleport without such awareness, despite my scepticism as to the very existence of any such risk.
More practical threats come from the teleporter malfunctioning. Either the individual may not be destroyed before they are recreated, resulting in the existence of duplicate persons, or the teleporter may fail to recreate the individual at their destination, resulting in a less disputable death. Since the technology to duplicate conscious beings, and to merge their minds and memories at a later time, already exists in most advanced civilisations, the former occurance would be treated under the same protocols. The latter, however, is a less soluble problem. It is a definite addition to the risk of teleportation that may tip the balance to the "ban teleporters" standpoint, but since it is a technical issue it is one that can be quantified for any given teleporter.
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