Is An Identical Copy Of You, You?

Jan 28, 2015
Originally published on January 28, 2015 2:52 pm

In the video below, Dr. Kenneth Hayworth, president and co-founder of the Brain Preservation Foundation, ponders the following possibility: Imagine that it would be possible to make an identical copy of yourself, including your memories and experiences. Is that copy of you, you? Meaning, if someone pointed a gun to your head, would you be comfortable dying, knowing that the other you, the copy, would still be alive?

Most of us would push the gun away, or hide, as quickly as possible. Hayworth, a senior scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Va., says that this instinctive reaction of preserving ourselves at all costs is what we are evolutionarily programmed to do. But should this make sense, now that a copy of you exists?

If being human means sharing the essential characteristic of having a consciousness, and if this consciousness is reproducible — at least for the sake of argument — we are all interconnected. Hayworth argues that even within this reductionist approach to consciousness — in that it is reproducible from knowing how it springs from our brain's architecture and functionality — there is a place for spirituality. Not out there, but through our interconnectedness and essential unity as a species. We may be far from such scientific achievements, but the ideas are worth debating. Would you let your copy live in your place?

Here is the video:

P.S.: I would not be comfortable dying for my "copy" for the simple reason that I find it impossible to construct an "identical" copy of myself. There are no such things as perfect measurements in science; there are always errors. As such, there won't be a perfect copy of ourselves, given the enormous amount of information required to achieve such a feat. As more information is extracted and stored, errors will pile up, unavoidably. So, a copy of you may be a good approximation of you, but it won't be a perfect you. Perfection is a guiding concept, not something that is achievable in reality.


Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist and cosmologist — and professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the co-founder of 13.7, prolific author of papers and essays, and active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser


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