As a side-note to our discussion on consciousness, I should point out that while Kenny and I and lots of others have strong intuitions about awareness as the seat of identity, there are some others who consistently fail to have the same intuition. I'm thinking especially of the computationalists who dream of uploading the entire contents of one's brain into a computer or robot (or, in the case of Dollhouse, another human brain), as a strategy for immortality.
I always find these schemes to be enormously frustrating, because they smack of such a wrong-headed identification – even if the computationalists are right about the mind being reducible to patterns of information. Let's say you sit down in the mad scientist's chair with the hat full of wires, and he reproduces all of your brain's thoughts, feelings, memories, and other mental capacities and puts them in a robot sitting in the chair next to you. Well, it's more like a cyborg, really – the brain is replaced by a near-indestructible chip, but the rest of the body is real flesh, created with cloning technology to be an exact replica of your body. Let's even skip over the enormous questions of qualia and consciousness, and assume that he can even reproduce those in his cyborg brain.
The question is: what will your experience be when the process is done?
I think that some people imagine that they will wake up in their new immortal robot body, still themselves but now ready for lots more life and love and happiness. Drinks are on me!
But . . . I don't think that's what happens. What happens is that you wake up in the same old body, just like before. Only now, there is a perfect copy of you sitting in the chair next to you. He's just like you – same face, same hair, same smug smile. You feel uncomfortable self-conscious watching him, just like you do when you watch a videotape of yourself. You never realized your hair looked that way from the back. The mad scientist is shaking his hand, telling him that the procedure was a complete success, and wishing him the best of luck. You watch your doppelganger walk out of the lab, ready to take over your life, go to your home, make love to your wife. And then the mad scientist turns to you, pulling a .38 caliber revolver from his pocket, saying, "We won't be needing this old body any more . . ." And you scream, "Wait! No! I'm still here! This is still me! That's not me!"
A perfect copy of yourself is now walking the street, enjoying himself, dreaming new dreams, making plans for his immortal life. So . . . are you immortal? Maybe your thoughts and feelings and ideas and hopes and dreams are alive and kicking . . . but what good is all that, if you don't get to experience them? Someone else is experiencing them – and if someone else is experiencing them, what does it matter that that person is just like you? You might feel proud to have given birth to an immortal, and happy that someone will carry out your lifelong mission of perfecting fusion reactors . . . but are you immortal?
Yes, I know, I'm ripping off dozens of sci-fi stories with this scenario. That's kind of the point. I'm not the only one who has thought this through, and concluded that copying yourself is not the same as being immortal. And yet people keep bringing it up . . . some of them really, really smart people. I used to think that people who thought that way were just not subtle enough to understand the argument . . . but now I'm starting to wonder if some people are just wired differently, that they really don't have the experience of observing experience the same way I do. Maybe there really arephilosophical zombies, who don't care at all about consciousness when planning for their eternal persistence.
By the way, if I ever start a garage band, I'm going to call it the Philosophical Zombies. You heard it here first.
So, if he shoots you before you ever wake up, does that fix the problem? If someone told you right now that you are not in fact the same Georg's body that went to bed last night, but an exact duplicate, and the original is six feet under, would that change anything?
Excellent question. The replicant, if he is indeed self-conscious and aware, will have every reason to believe the operation was a success. He will have the same memories, the same capacities, and everything else that was with the original. It will be a success . . . for *him*. All I'm saying is that he is not the same consciousness that was in the original body. That consciousness went into oblivion (or whereever consciousness goes at death.)
Making such an exact copy of yourself can have all kinds of advantages. You can see your life's work continued. Your family and friends can continue to benefit from your presence. But it is not immortality in the sense that most people want it.
I don't think I agree. When you come right down to it, I don't think the phrase "Georg's consciousness" is particularly meaningful. There is this huge amorphous thing--consciousness--which momentarily takes the form of a Georg, while also simultaneously taking the form of a Kenny.
This way of thinking about it helps me avoid some of the obvious problems of your position. For instance, you're constantly losing and regenerating cells--so are you in fact the same Georg who walked the Earth ten years ago?