X-Message-Number: 21079
Date: Thu, 06 Feb 2003 21:49:54 -0500
From: Francois <>
Subject: Identity of copies and continuity of self

My little statement that a copy identical to an original is not just a copy
but also an original sparked an interesting debate indeed. However, there is
no need to invoque quantum effects in this debate. I propose the following
thought experiment to illustrate what I mean by identical, in the context of
cryonics and continuity of self.

So imagine this. You have a vitrified body stored in liquid nitrogen. This
body is made up of a variety of atoms put together in a certain way. A
scanning device of some sort is now put into action. It is capable of
scanning a physical object down to the atomic level. It can identify atoms,
locate them precisely in space and determine what kind of links exist
between these atoms. It can even determine which isotope species a given
atom belongs to and what magnetic momentum or electrical charge, if any, are
present. Yes, I know that atoms are not static, even at temperatures as low
as that of liquid nitrogen, but they will vibrate around an average location
and retain their links with their neighbors, making the procedure possible.
It's the advantage of working with a solidified body instead of a living

So, the scanning device proceeds with its work and sends the data it is
creating to a powerful computer for storage. Once its work is completed, the
scanning device is replaced by a building device. This machine reads the
stored data and starts building an object atom by atom following that data,
linking them precisely according to that same data, even going so far as to
selecting the proper isotopes and orienting the structures so they will have
same magnetic and electric properties. Once its work is completed, you have
a second vitrified body that cannot be distinguished from the first one. It
has the same atoms of the same isotopic variety in the same place, with
identical chemical links and electromagnetic properties as the first one.
The building device can be instructed to build a second copy, then a third,
a fourth, a fifth, etc. All these copies will be impossible to distinguish
from each other, except if someone was present and kept track of which is
which. Mix them up at random without that observer being present and even he
won't be able to tell them apart. By that procedural definition, none are
copies and all are the original.

This sort of identity is, of course, far less complete than the quantum
identity between two electrons. It is however completely sufficient to make
them identical to anyone examining them. The question I really want to ask
now is this: does it matter which one of these vitrified bodies is selected
to undergo the reanimation process? Whichever one you choose, the person who
wakes up will be, to others and to itself, the one that originally died and
was vitrified. It will have complete and true continuity of self with the
person who originally died. It will in fact BE that person. Or are there
arguments that can negate that statement?

No lifespan shorter than eternity is acceptable

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