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Sunday, May 11, 2008
Philosophy ... Society ...

I’m currently reading a book by David Bohm and David Peat (Science, Order and Creativity), which is mostly a collection of interesting thoughts from the 1980’s. One of those interesting thoughts regards the distinction between discussion and dialogue regarding positions on important social issues.

Discussion is mostly what we do here in America today; i.e., we make up our minds and enter into discussions with people having different opinions. Those discussions are meant to either browbeat the other side into giving in and accepting our own ideas, or finding a compromise whereby each side gets something (as much as possible), but also accepts some dissatisfaction. The underlying assumption is that both sides stick by their guns. By contrast, dialogue is to enter into talks with an open mind about why the other side disagrees with you, with a willingness to listen and maybe change your opinion if your opponent has a good point. Unfortunately, that’s not the American way. We have way too much discussion and way too little dialogue here, especially in our politics. But ain’t that America.

Here’s another random thought regarding a philosophic issue stemming from science fiction, i.e. the Star Trek stories. In the various versions of Star Trek, people can be instantly “beamed up” from one point to another using a teletransporter device. This is a few centuries in the future, remember. I was never bothered by this idea, but after reading some philosopher’s comments about it, I now am. Not that it’s a real issue; the actual technology to teletransport people is hardly even imaginable right now. But still, the transporter concept touches on some underlying issues regarding who we are and what our lives and self-identities represent.

The big question about the teletransporter is this: is that really you at the other end after the process is over? Or did you die in the process, with some bogus copy of you being created? And even if the copy was perfect, is that still really you? There are various interpretations about how the teletransporter would work; in one interpretation, all of the sub-atomic particles that make up your body would be transported at near the speed of light to a re-assembly point. So, the re-composed body is made of exactly the same stuff. That sounds comforting. But still, in the scrambling process, you actually stopped living; you were dead for a few instants. But then again, a lot of people have been dead temporarily but revived after some trauma.

It sounds to me as though the human identity would survive the Star Trek transporter process, IF all of your experiences up to the micro-second of transport were captured and conveyed to the reassembled body on the other planet (or where ever); and if your exact stuff went down in the “beam”. Now what if that varied? What if the stuff you were made of prior to teletransport were thrown away, and you were reassembled with identical particles from where you landed? That makes me feel a little more queezy; but OK, so long as the copy on the other side were perfect, no real problem. I mean, we change our atomic composition every day by some percent. No one stays exactly the same in physical makeup.

Next possible problem: what if the transport problem scanned you about a half second or so before you lost consciousness, and then re-assembled you using that scan information? The “you” in the transporter room went on living for another half second or so before you were scrambled out of existence. The copy that was built on the planet Zarcon didn’t catch what you might have thought or felt in that final half-second. So, were you killed? Or was a little bit of you killed? Are you still comfortable that the teletransported copy of you would really be you? And what if the machine had a little stall, and you went on living for a minute or two — would you want to hit a red-button and stop the whole process before being atomically dismembered?

And then of course there are some wacky possibilities that could occur if the machine further malfunctions. What if the machine copies you and reassembles a living copy of you down on Zarcon, but fails to scramble the original you? So now there are two of you, having the same memories, the same identity, the same jobs, the same families, the same wife . . . but who is the real you? Figure that one out.

(And yes, there was a Star Trek TNG episode called “Second Chances” where Riker had been beamed up from a planet years ago but the original on the planet survived. And the planet-refuge was later recovered by the Enterprise, and thus had to deal with the beamed-up version of Riker.)

For now, we have bigger problems to worry about, like $5 a gallon gas and $1.50 a pound rice. But still, for a true geek like me, it’s an interesting little diversion. So beam me up, Scotty. And I’ll see you on the other side.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:55 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim,
    You have hit on a topic that should be shouted from the roof tops. Does anybody LISTEN to anybody any more? I remember the days (they date me and seem so terribly long ago now) when the major problem in discussions among people was that people didn’t listen because they were too busy thinking of what to say after the first person quit talking.

    Now the problem seems to have taken on the habits of the real rudeness among the younger generation. (And I’m perfectly willing to admit maybe it’s just me–but perhaps not.) This “younger generation” problem has a double edge to it:
    1) First, while explaining, say a problem I call to have “fixed”, I seem never to be able to actually finish a sentence. I am ALWAYS (and I mean always) interrupted with the “answer” the person THINKS he/she has. In other words the person presumes to be able to read my mind and answer my question before I have stated the question. I, then, am forced to wait for the answer I don’t want only to explain: “But that answer does not match my question.” As I proceed, again, I’m interrupted…. Need I say more?

    2) In lieu of the above “interruptus” problem, there is the SECOND problem when attempting to speak with individuals. As soon as I start to speak, the other person starts to speak–thus, we are both speaking at the same time. I’ve tried this several times and invariably: As soon as I stop speaking, the other person stops; if I start speaking again, the other person starts again. Somehow or other these people seem to have acquired an ability I do not have–to speak myself and listen to another person. But it’s a crap shoot whether the two topics may match. The only way I’ve managed to solve this problem is to say somewhere while the other individual is speaking: You can overspeak me as much as you want; you still are not going to make me accept what you are saying. I’ve noticed that sometimes that works. Again, it’s a crap shoot.

    I’ve arrived at the conclusion that people are so entirely puffed up with their own opinions that they either are afraid to get a possibly different idea in their heads or have no clue how downright stupid they might be. Yes, I said STUPID–and, while I truly hesitate to use the word, but it’s the only one that seems to fit. Evidence: I actually heard exactly these words on a radio program not long ago. The person calling is actually started by saying: “I don’t know anything about this topic, but I think…..”–and then proceeded to speak for FIVE MINUTES! Amazing! I have always thought that is one knew nothing about a topic, the most one could say was, “I would have no opinion on this topic as I don’t know anything about it.” (Worse yet: When I mentioned this situation to one individual, that person didn’t quite see what my problem was!

    As to your Star Trek situations: I always loved Star Trek. Your questions are EXCELLENT! Let me add some–or perhaps I’m tweaking your version of the questions?

    I ask: What if when one is transported, all the molecules (or quantum particles–whatever) are transported exactly–except one or two? Over time, with numerous teleportations, how would the person change? Would the change be the same as getting old? Or would the accumulated changes gradually make some kind of hybrid person?

    If one were reassembled with identical particles from where one landed, would a person be in two places at once–in the second place (“made” of different particles and then in the original place)? If the original person were “scrambled” while the transported person was made of different particles, then would one have an “original” person? How could the “original” be “original” if it were “scrambled”? What about problems that would arise in “unscrambling” a person?

    Your questions are so much better than mine. I really think they are great!

    I agree: One needs a little diversion like this; listening to tonight’s news was so terrible–hurricanes with people left to die because a small group wants to stay in power, the earthquake in China–yes, a little diversion is not a bad thing.
    MCS

    Comment by MCS — May 14, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

  2. Jim,
    You have hit on a topic that should be shouted from the roof tops. Does anybody LISTEN to anybody any more? I remember the days (they date me and seem so terribly long ago now) when the major problem in discussions among people was that people didn’t listen because they were too busy thinking of what to say after the first person quit talking.

    Now the problem seems to have taken on the habits of the real rudeness among the younger generation. (And I’m perfectly willing to admit maybe it’s just me–but perhaps not.) This “younger generation” problem has a double edge to it:
    1) First, while explaining, say a problem I call to have “fixed”, I seem never to be able to actually finish a sentence. I am ALWAYS (and I mean always) interrupted with the “answer” the person THINKS he/she has. In other words the person presumes to be able to read my mind and answer my question before I have stated the question. I, then, am forced to wait for the answer I don’t want only to explain: “But that answer does not match my question.” As I proceed, again, I’m interrupted…. Need I say more?

    2) In lieu of the above “interruptus” problem, there is the SECOND problem when attempting to speak with individuals. As soon as I start to speak, the other person starts to speak–thus, we are both speaking at the same time. I’ve tried this several times and invariably: As soon as I stop speaking, the other person stops; if I start speaking again, the other person starts again. Somehow or other these people seem to have acquired an ability I do not have–to speak myself and listen to another person. But it’s a crap shoot whether the two topics may match. The only way I’ve managed to solve this problem is to say somewhere while the other individual is speaking: You can overspeak me as much as you want; you still are not going to make me accept what you are saying. I’ve noticed that sometimes that works. Again, it’s a crap shoot.

    I’ve arrived at the conclusion that people are so entirely puffed up with their own opinions that they either are afraid to get a possibly different idea in their heads or have no clue how downright stupid they might be. Yes, I said STUPID–and, while I truly hesitate to use the word, but it’s the only one that seems to fit. Evidence: I actually heard exactly these words on a radio program not long ago. The person calling is actually started by saying: “I don’t know anything about this topic, but I think…..”–and then proceeded to speak for FIVE MINUTES! Amazing! I have always thought that is one knew nothing about a topic, the most one could say was, “I would have no opinion on this topic as I don’t know anything about it.” (Worse yet: When I mentioned this situation to one individual, that person didn’t quite see what my problem was!

    As to your Star Trek situations: I always loved Star Trek. Your questions are EXCELLENT! Let me add some–or perhaps I’m tweaking your version of the questions?

    I ask: What if when one is transported, all the molecules (or quantum particles–whatever) are transported exactly–except one or two? Over time, with numerous teleportations, how would the person change? Would the change be the same as getting old? Or would the accumulated changes gradually make some kind of hybrid person?

    If one were reassembled with identical particles from where one landed, would a person be in two places at once–in the second place (“made” of different particles and then in the original place)? If the original person were “scrambled” while the transported person was made of different particles, then would one have an “original” person? How could the “original” be “original” if it were “scrambled”? What about problems that would arise in “unscrambling” a person?

    Your questions are so much better than mine. I really think they are great!

    I agree: One needs a little diversion like this; listening to tonight’s news was so terrible–hurricanes with people left to die because a small gr

    Comment by MCS — May 14, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

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