See “To Be”

On who is who when people are copied, see John Weldon’s excellent short film “To Be.”  A while back I saw it on YouTube, but couldn’t find it a few months later; it had violated copyright.  So I actually bought a $15 dvd of it from the National Film Board of Canada.  But as Nathan Cook informs us, it is now on YouTube again, here.  Enjoy it while you can.

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  • Grant

    An excellent video, though I think it highlights the pointlessness of the debate. I think Bryan posted this on EconLog a while back.

    Robin, assuming such devices (transports a copy and destroys the original) were 100% reliable, at what cost would you use them over traditional transportation? A trip to Mars? Across the country? To work and back home?

    • Jess Riedel

      This question would extract what’s really important: given the scientific evidence that consciousness is nothing more than an organization of atoms, how confident (as measured by a Bayesian probability) are you that this claim is correct?

      Surely you’re not 100% confident, and therefore would not try the machine if it offered no benefit (including the benefit of the knowledge that such a machine exists and works).

    • I’d do it to save the 30+ minute commute time to events in DC from my home in the DC suburbs.

      • Psychohistorian

        Change the equation slightly. What if, rather than destroying the original you, it tortured it indefinitely? Is there any benefit the device could offer its created copites (e.g. it makes thousands of copies of you, it makes your copies wealthy, etc.) that would inspire you to use it? If so, why would torture be categorically worse than death?

  • Jason Malloy

    It’s a suicide booth. You are paying to be killed. You don’t actually get to go to Mars, work, or across the country. Your last experience would be your instantaneous death in the machine.

    • Grant

      Imagine a civilization invented such machines and scattered them across the Earth before its collapse. New life then evolves with the machines, which continue to function. This new life would evolve to see them as a form of transportation, not suicide booths, because doing so would improve their fitness. Would they be incorrect?

      But then what does this say about mortality in general? What if the delay between the death of the original and the creation of the copy was 10 minutes? 5 years? Twenty millennia? Would it matter if the original was reconstructed by a machine, or by random evolutionary processes in some distant galaxy or alternate universe?

      I always find it funny no one ever has this reaction to Star Trek transporters 😉

      • Jeffrey Soreff

        If the delay between the death of the original and the creation of the copy is negative (both existing for some period), would the evolutionarily stable attitude toward the device depend on whether the original had an opportunity to breed during this interval?

    • Cyan

      Suppose someone were to force you into such a booth. You die, and another being more similar to you than than you are to (you+eight hours of sleep) is created somewhere else. Even though you assert that the created being is not you, I hope you will still admit that you are the person best able to describe how that being would react. So I ask you, what would he do?

    • Roland

      The same happens every night when you go to sleep. The person who wakes up in the morning is different by some millions of neurons.

  • mikem

    Robin, if you haven’t already seen it, you might want to check out “The Prestige”

    • I have seen it. What fraction of its viewers realized he could have made billions via commercial use of this tech. Did the author realize?

      • Mark Jeffcoat

        I found the Schwarzenegger movie The 6th Day quite frustrating for pretty much the same reason.

      • Cailo

        The scene with Tesla implies that “they” would never permit such a profoundly disruptive development to see the light of day.

        (Of course, the world of the late 19th century had a throng of different “they”s all maneuvering against each other, so it’s hard to see why the Tesla of the film didn’t consider pulling up stakes and peddling such a spectacularly militarily useful technology elsewhere.)

  • Nathan Cook

    Ah, dude, I’m Nathan Cook 🙂

    I must have first seen “To Be” when I was about eight or nine years old, making it possibly my first contact with philosophy of mind.

  • snarles

    There are many consequences of conventional suicide: causing bereavement to loved ones, abandoning your responsibilities, etc. I see no paradox in the fact that when these external consequences of death are removed, that physical annihilation ceases to be a big deal. In fact, the video demonstrates the absurdity of the physical continuity school of thought: contrary to the opinion of the woman’s copy, the copy must clearly must be held responsible for the actions of the old self in such a situation.

  • I’ll watch it when I get a chance. Pre-watching it, I’m skeptical it adds something new to this conversation. My sense is than Prof. Hanson and his cohort are running from the best critiques and seeking out strawmen to engage. As such, I recommend a downgrade of their reputation as thinkers on this topic.

    • Constant

      Pre-watching it, I’m skeptical it adds something new to this conversation.

      It doesn’t resolve anything, it simply dramatizes key issues. It animates a set of philosophical gedankenexperiments. I’d love to see more along this line.

      running from the best critiques and seeking out strawmen to engage

      Would be too personal for me to say you need to get over yourself?

      • Eric Johnson

        Its probably useful to have people here who sharply disagree. If we were trying to accomplish a military goal or something that would obviously not be the case.

      • Constant

        I’m not criticizing Hopeless for sharply disagreeing. I am criticizing him for being a jerk about it, talking about other people “running from” challenges and “downgrading” reputation.

      • The concept of reputational votes is a Hansonian, Constant. Two things I’d like to think about Prof. Hanson as distinguishing him from some rather near peers of his, are
        (1) Not letting politeness/rudeness norms or disputes get in the way of optimizing his local social epistemology, and
        (2) Not encouraging *shudder* cults of personality or cliqueishness centered around agreeing or aligning with his position in various discussions.

    • Jake

      Actually I think it’s rather interesting that Robin posted this since it basically emphasizes the view opposite to what he advocates in the last post. Anyway, it was an amusing video. Although I’m a little curious as to exactly who the intended audience is…

    • Hopeless

      Hopefully, are you aware of the illusions of simultaneity and other timing effects in conscious experience? People have extremely powerful intuitions that one experience or choice is occurring before another, when it can be shown that the reverse is true. Your brain represents its internal processes using the same mechanisms it uses to represent other things in its world-model, and so it seems to you that they MUST be independently existent things. Also, why are you always hyping Koch’s work? Given a fully successful model of the brain that predicts when and why we talk about consciousness, how we process information, etc, you will still be able to say, “but it could be a zombie interactive human nonetheless!” What knowledge is being neglected here that is actually relevant?

      • Hopeless, yes I’m aware of them and I’ve blogged about it. I’m not invoking philosophical zombie strawmen here so let’s not use that terminology. When I defer to that “p-zombie” terminology, people shoe-horn a bunch of strawmen in on the grounds that “these strawmen are part of the commonly agreed on definition of a p-zombie”.

        Why am I always hyping Koch’s work? Because he’s the best writer and thinker on the subjective conscious experience I’ve yet encountered.

        “and so it seems to you that they MUST be independently existent things”

        Mother of all strawmen. I like how you capitalized “MUST”. It’s common sophistry to try to advance an absolutist position by claiming your opponent is absolutist in the opposite direction. I’m not absolutist. I have intuitions and I’m skeptical on certain points. There are rival experts to Prof. Hanson that I think describe the state of our knowledge more accurately, and who are more careful and clear-headed in their thinking on this topic.

        I’m not even claiming non-materialist grounds for the observer subjective conscious experience (and anyways, we just redefine anything we develop solid evidential support for as part of material reality anyways, right? As we should.)

        At this point, my primary intuition is that the observer subjective conscious experience is like the ability to see color, or the ability to see different colors for different pitches –that it’s not universally distributed in otherwise functioning human beings. Perhaps it’s like the ability to feel a deep sense of connection or one-ness with the universe or a “higher being”. I support empirical inquiry into these cognitive areas. That doesn’t mean point a telescope to the sky to look for the gods of traditional religions. That means improving our neuroanatomical knowledge. But, it also doesn’t mean expressing false certitude in one direction while railing against opposite certitude in the other direction, all while ignoring what I think is the best thought on this topic. For example, I could care less that some people get a distinct cognitive experience by praying or feeling one with the universe. I go through the motions mechanically when it’s in my interest, but I’m covering who I really am, Goffman-style. Perhaps there’s something similar going on with people who don’t share the observer subjective conscious experience (although they may be anywhere from a indeterminate minority to a vast majority, I don’t have an intuitive bead on it yet.)

      • Hopeless

        “Why am I always hyping Koch’s work? Because he’s the best writer and thinker on the subjective conscious experience I’ve yet encountered.”
        I was most interested in something specific, something that Hanson, Dennett, et al are missing..

      • Hopeless,
        The specific thing is expression by an expert of what seems to me is the reasonable amount of uncertainty about the natural phenomenon that is “consciousness” and its qualia subcomponents. Not being mystical about it (like the strawmen Hanson and Dennet seem to me to most often engage), and not being cargo-cultish about current neuroanatomical/neuroalgorithmic knowledge.

      • “Hopefully, are you aware of the illusions of simultaneity and other timing effects in conscious experience?”

        Nice to hear that there is someone out there, that agrees, that there is no such thing as intent.

    • Eric Johnson

      Styles irritating but it does add quite a lot. Not new ideas so much as an artistic presentation that expands your ability to intuit in favor of the perspective in question.

      Grant’s post in an excellent counterpoint which also has an artistic flourish that makes it more useful than a bald statement of a position.

  • any mouse

    I think the moral issues become a bit more clear if we replace all instances of the word “copy” with the word “forgery”. I think forgery is a better term since the method of creation for the two objects is very very different.

  • Jef Allbright

    So how about something similar for the [in]famous ethical Trolley Problem?

    Then there would be at least one interesting question: Do the same people tend to be baffled by both?

    • Eric Johnson

      Hmm, define baffled. As rationalists we would all agree on the trolley problem, but Im not sure theres a position on this thing that is clearly more rational.

      (Although if the person is going to be deeply haunted forever by his action, perhaps it is rational for him to irrationally let the trolley go on its way.)

      • Jef Allbright

        Immediately upon posting I realized that “perplexed” would have worked better than “baffled.”

        Common to both problems is an essentialist assumption: that of an essential identity with varying instantiation, and an essential rightness with varying situation.

  • Robert Koslover

    So long as true beingness and consciousness cannot be reproduced without copying down to all the details of quantum states (a big if!), then there is no paradox. The only way to make a true copy would be to destroy the original (per quantum teleportation, which can never produce a copy without destroying the original). Thus, the copy becomes the new original, identical in all macro and micro characteristics, so there is no death in quantum teleportation. Non-quantum teleportation (allowing copying) is indeed death and creation, in my view, not transport. Quantum teleportation is ok. So yes, I would step into a (if reliable) quantum teleporter. I would never step into a non-quantum teleporter. I don’t think my view is original, however, and I’m kind of surprised that it hasn’t already been mentioned in this comment thread. Why not?

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      The average poster here is less coherent…or perhaps less entangled 🙂
      More seriously, our normal intuition of identity treats it as unaffected by 8 hours of sleep (as in cyan’s example) – which is a much bigger perturbation than losing the details of one’s quantum cells.

      • Jeffrey Soreff

        the details of one’s quantum state – sorry

      • State? Sorry no such thing.

    • Aaron Denney

      Quantum teleportation relies on communicating classical information to correct the results of measurement — it really is just as much a “destroy and then (re)create” process as “classical” teleportation would be. (Yes, you can fudge a bit with delayed measurement style effects, and so forth, but it really doesn’t change anything). Why does the possibility (or not) of copying change anything about the analysis?

  • There’s a philosophical story of a boat that gradually has all of its parts replaced until eventually it contains none of the original parts. Simultaneously on the sly, someone has been taking the old parts and eventually reconstructs the “old” boat. Which is the original boat? The answer is ultimately arbitrary, but people typically come up with reasons as to why only one of the two must be the authentic original (clearly we have a situation involving two boats and one soul).

    • Constant

      You can update the story, but let the boat be your body, let the gradual replacement of parts be your normal biological processes discarding old material (e.g. dead skin flaking off) with new, and let the sly reconstructor be a demon that is reassembling your old body molecule by molecule from your discarded material. In the end, there are two yous, and the one that has your original pattern and your original material is the “copy” created by the demon, whereas the “original” is not only very different (much time having gone by) but is made up of entirely new material.

      • Eric Johnson

        Those are both great illustrations

  • Matt

    I think some would find theological meaning in this movie.

    Other than that it was fun and the music was catchy. I think I’ll show this to children to freak them out when they watch Star Trek.

    The argument reminds me of (I think it was) Heraclitus and his story about never being able to step in the same river twice because the water flows away.

  • Fran Barton

    When she convinces the scientist to create the copy and delay the destruction of the original, the film doesn’t make sense when the two scientists then argue over who is the original and who is the copy.

    Although identical at the point of replication, from that point on their histories diverge.

    The original will have a memory of walking out of booth 1, and the copy will have a memory of walking out of booth 2, so they will know which one they are.

    Since both individuals will have a memory of agreeing to the experiment, the original should agree to return to booth 1 and be annihilated.

    • For all his intelligence is coming up with the device, the scientist didn’t seem like very clever for not figuring out what was going to happen when he agreed to delay the destruction. 🙂

      • Napra

        The key moment in the film comes when she asks the scientist to go through the device with the doors open.

        When she sees the look of shock on the originals’ faces in the split-second before the disintegrator fires she realizes that the scientist, while grudgingly willing to admit the device’s true nature to her, has not really admitted it to himself.

        In delaying the destruction she made him (them) confront the reality of what was happening head-on. By getting the original and copy to see themselves as two different people in the agreed five minutes, she made them appreciate that whoever went back into first booth wouldn’t be “going” anywhere afterward.

    • Carmyn Davidson

      No death is supposed to be instant. Since the original was allowed a few more minutes to live, why would he then agree to kill himself? The whole point is that the original doesn’t get enough time to regret the decision.