Thank you very much to everyone who submitted an entry to Competition AH3, based on Professor Nicholas Jones’s lecture ‘How Do People Persist Through Time?’. Below you can read some of the winning entries, as selected by our team of markers.
Imagine that scientists have created a “Teletransporter” machine. It works by scanning your body, sending the information to a laboratory on Mars and then, at the very same time:
- vaporizing your old body, and;
- creating a new, exact replica of your body at the distant location.
Imagine that you enter the machine. Who do you think emerges in the laboratory on Mars, and why?
Shakila’s winning entry
Though this Teletransporter may have created an exact replica of my body, it will not be me. It would be a completely different consciousness, a completely different entity, because I would have been killed when I was vaporised. Say I was never vaporised and instead an exact replica of my body was made at some similar distant location. Would I be the replica, or both? I would not suddenly be experiencing two consciousnesses at the same time, because as aforementioned, that replica would be a completely different entity, separate to me. Take twins as an example, they can be identical but it’s not as if they both experience the same consciousness at the same time, they are two different beings. Similarly if a replica of my body were made it would not be the same as my consciousness.
Imagine you were in a room and you took a drug to become unconscious and somebody made an exact replica of you in this room, with the exact same memories of before you took the drug and the nothingness you felt while you were unconscious. How would you know which is the replica? If the replica were not told they were a simple copy, it would not know if it had experienced those memories or not, which then begs the question: how important are our previous experiences? Some would argue that the past is not reality, and only the present, what we are feeling at this very moment exists. Our experiences become nothing, just imprints in our brains like neurones firing. A solipsist would propose that in our minds we can only be sure that we alone exist, that anything outside of one’s mind is unsure, therefore this replica of me would not be me, it would be a clone.
Supriya’s winning entry
When you’re a baby, unable to speak, you theoretically could switch ‘person’ many times without anybody noticing. They must assume that you remain You because you’ve occupied the same body throughout that time.
Conversely, when you’re an adult you could have a ‘brain transplant’ and still be generally agreed to be You, because you still have the same mind.
Here, the mind is the important constancy. This mind can be said to be formed of everything you’ve experienced. Interestingly, though, these events didn’t happen to the physical body you now inhabit, nor did the mind you’re now using encounter them. It’s like the answer to a sum without the sum itself: contextless. One might posit that remembering things that didn’t physically happen to you is simply like having watched a film: it has no bearing on your ‘self’.
However, a psychologist might argue that your brain is constantly restructuring itself in response to new stimuli – the structure these memories impart matter more than the physical experience. You, for a split second upon arrival on Mars, carry the brain that they built – that’s You. Then again: it’ll therefore immediately restructure itself again as you encounter new experience s- this applies to any experience the same way as it does the dramatic shift to Mars. It’s evident that the constancy of physical mind is a fallacy – the mind isn’t constant, and changes continually. You diverge from your old self immediately upon arriving on Mars, but that isn’t to say you diverge from You. I don’t reject the self, but rather the quantifiable, constant self. You arrived on Mars, different to the You who left, but still the same person. Being You is not staying the same. Being You is changing, and you’re a timeline of changes, not a fixed essence or experience.