Let's assume that all of the technology for uploading a mind actually exists. This is the hope held by some that we could one day transfer our brain contents onto digital media - in other words, become a machine of sorts. Now, assuming that all of the technical problems didn't exist, how would we know if the "uploaded" person was indeed still that person?

It seems like data in this way would be a lot like digital data now - that is to say, you copy it from place to place. Would the uploaded person actually just be a "copy" of the original or would it be the person, in a new state of being? I know this question is inherently impossible to answer with surety, but it is interesting to me to hear your thoughts on what should be the case.


Most of these answers are in terms of brain cloning - I could have been more specific on what exactly I was asking. Putting aside the technicalities of course, many think that gradual replacement of the medium (the biological brain) will still let you have "consciousness". One such example would be specialized random access memory. If you replace only part of the brain with the RAM, but leave the rest - your mind will "merge" with the hardware. Eventually, you'd be able to replace the entire brain, but still be fully aware. That is a theory at least.

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    First you must define what it means to 'be the same person'. What makes me the same me from one moment to the next? This is important to know before someone can answer this question to your satisfaction.
    – stoicfury
    Mar 9, 2014 at 23:13
  • The same consciousness - in other words, not a clone of the original, but instead a "replacement" of the original. While you may not be the same individual you were 10 minutes ago - you still have the same identity. I hope you understand what I'm trying to say. Mar 10, 2014 at 0:28
  • See also: 1. How should we understand the teletransportation thought experiment? 2. When and why do we say that two things are the same 3. A discussion of consciousness and existence 4. [Almost Sure Mind Transfer via Parfit's Identity Theory (interesting thought
    – stoicfury
    Mar 10, 2014 at 3:45
  • Exactly, so what defines someones identity? Is it the way they act? Then exact copies (which would act the same) would seem to have the same identity, which wouldn't make sense. Is it their physical cells? Then of course the digital copy (which doesn't have cells) would be seen as a copy. To clarify, please check out these questions already asked.
    – stoicfury
    Mar 10, 2014 at 3:45

6 Answers 6


Those that hold the view that minds could one day be "uploaded" must surely be strong materialists - they would claim that the mind is nothing but a manifestation of its material constituents. In that case, they would probably deny the concept of mind-identity - if you have a copy of a mind, you simply have two minds with the same properties, and no way of determining which is the 'real' one. You may as well ask which of the twins are the 'real' person, and which is the clone.

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    Interesting point. Many do indeed claim that the mind is material, that it is just made of electrical signals which could be replicated. Mar 7, 2014 at 15:46
  • I get the feeling that there should be more to this answer, something along the lines of "On the other hand, those that are not strong materialists and believe the mind is something more than a manifestation of its material constituents ...". Yet, I don't know how to proceed from there. Mar 7, 2014 at 20:42
  • @NigelNquande - yes there are anecdotal stories of twins' intuitive experience that opens the door to identical-mind simultaneity. Mar 7, 2014 at 22:44

The person cannot be the same. The brain/mind is connected to the body. It is affected by hormones that the brain itself produces and or the gut or sexual organs produce. Also tiredness, hunger, sex drive, fun, all these are tied to actual sensor organs.

Unless these sensor organs are identical. The person cannot be the same. Since they won't perceive the world the same.

It's like saying if I I record a church choir in a church and then play it back in my bathroom on a cheap stereo. Would that be the same experience? Even if you had the same choir singing in your bathroom it would not be the same. Since the whole resonance is different. The choir might not even be able to breathe because they had to be squeezed into your bathroom. So no singing will come out of it at all.

Also, the upload would be a discontinuity. So if being the same mandates continuity of self an interruption no matter how short through an upload would speak against that.

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    Identity can be perceived as "the same" even while being radically different, if it has continuity. To [ab]use your example - let's suppose that there is a freak incident where you suffer from a spinal cord injury that disconnects you from most of your sensor organs, and you get injected chemicals that alter your brain function such as LSD. You definitely would not perceive the world the same - however, would you say that you have ceased to be you? Sure, you would be different, but you'd still be the same person.
    – Peteris
    Mar 9, 2014 at 22:20
  • To define identity as mere continuity is problematic as it leaves out the most important question of the nature of which that continues. We have to first define what constitutes human self before talking about its properties. @Peteris No one here has a certain answer to this question. But I am certain about incorporeal substance of human self and based on that provided an answer.
    – infatuated
    Mar 10, 2014 at 10:29

In a computer system, executing programs are called processes. A process is an execution of a given program. So for example Microsoft Word is a program, a set of bits on a hard drive. When you double-click it, the operating system creates a process executing MW. The processes share the same code; but they have different data. Each process has its own private data space. The processes are separate entities accomplishing work.

It's the same with minds. Assuming you could in fact upload a brain to man-made hardware -- a proposition we'll accept for now, but which is highly debatable -- at the moment of creation they'd be two different people executing the same code and having identical data. A moment later they have each had different experiences and now have different data and life experiences from that moment on. But they are definitely two distinct people.

Another computing analogy is the fork() system call in any Unix-like operating system (linux, MacOS, Solaris, etc.) A fork() operation allows a running process to create a brand new process with a copy of the parent process's data. From that moment on, the child process has its own separate existence.

If you happen to run Chrome, each tab runs in a separate process. The parent process, the main browser process, spawns child processes -- windows and tabs -- as needed.

[Note, Not all browsers use a process-per-tab model]

It seems extremely clear to me that human mind-cloning would be the same. For example suppose you had a matter transporter like on Star Trek; but instead of transporting you, it copied you. So one you stays on the ship; and the other beams down to the planet to have adventures with whoever you find down there.

At the moment of cloning, one process becomes two, having the exact same data. Same memories, same states of biological processes. After that moment, the life experiences and biological states diverge. Two separate people.

To answer your specific question: The clone would be a brand new being, coming into existence with the exact same state as the original.

This isn't actually all that different, when you think of it, from the phenomenon of identical twins. An egg is fertilized and starts growing into a human being. The egg splits; and now you have two separate human beings. That's really the essence of it.

The real question is wether you can upload your mind to a computer. Is a mind something that exists independently of the medium in which it executes? Microsoft Word on a PC is pretty much the same program as Microsoft Word on a Mac. But is that true about humans? Is the you running on your wetware the same as you running on a supercomputer in a lab? Personally I do not think so, but that's beyond the scope of this question.


The simple test would be "if it quacks like a duck and walks like duck, then it is a duck" - in short, ask the uploaded mind about its subjective experience.

There can be lots of debating about the exact definitions of consciousness and identity, and about the possibility and if so, the effects of such uploading... but assuming that it has happened, then it's far too late, and all you should do is simply ask. And treat the [new/the same/transformed] entity with respect as a sentient individual with its own agency and capability (and rights) for judging and choice, no matter how it has turned out.

  • This test may not be sufficient. You should look at John Searle's "Chinese Room" argument.
    – virmaior
    May 22, 2014 at 14:11
  • @virmaior actually, this approach is very compatible with John Searle's Chinese Room - if you follow this approach, then there is no paradox in the Chinese Room, as the system (hardware=the executing man + software=the provided rules/instructions) is demonstrably sentient. Such approaches are one of classic replies to the Chinese room argument, i.e. If the "Chinese Room" can exist (which isn't obvious), then its construction would be solid physical evidence that conciousness is purely an emergent effect of simple mechanical instructions, such as those given to that man in the Chinese Room.
    – Peteris
    May 22, 2014 at 19:18
  • That doesn't make the approach compatible with searle's thought experiment. It means the approach denies there's any validity to his experiment and that consciousness is just manifesting certain behaviors under certain conditions. The entire point of his example is that even if you can get the behaviors to appear, it's not clear we would call that consciousness if it's not accompanied by certain internal processes.
    – virmaior
    May 22, 2014 at 23:14

Such questions that equate human mind and brain to a machine is rooted in a common consequential failure in understanding the incorporeal substance of human consciousness and how it is related to the brain.

Fist off mind doesn't equate the brain. Therefore the knowledge that we absorb during our lifetime is imprinted in our incorporeal mind that governs our body. Human mind (soul) exists independent of the brain however it uses the brain to absorb data from the natural world. The data absorbed by mind from the external phenomena is actually granted by the astral (in case of images) and the intellectual (in terms of concepts) agents in the supernatural realm while the sensory contact with the external world only provides a condition for such extra-natural illumination to take place.

Therefore what constitutes human identity is not the data or information as expressed in audible or visible lingually understandable forms (that can be later coded into digital language and stored on an electronic device) but it's the very immaterial essence that governs human body and is indirectly affected by the external world. For this reason the actual cloning of a person's mind is an impossibility because what a machine can copy is only the material (visible, audible etc) expressions of the immaterial content of human mind. A database bearing such information will, as a result, never even have the unified substance of human mind. It will be essentially a composite of individual pieces of magnetic charges on different spots of a hard-drive that can never be compared to a conscious substance!


@FranS I think this is one of the major problems with the philosophy of mind, I might be considered a strong materialist (could you expand exactly what you mean by that) in that I believe my subject experience doesn't belong to a discrete set of things other than the set of things that the universe actually is. In other words if physicists understood everything about the universe(a big ask I know) my subjective experience could be explained within that understanding. Saying that it's for exactly those reasons I don't understand how uploading is even entertained as coherent. I think "uploaders", those who think the "I" is somehow a distinct set of algorithms, throw out so many considerations about the ontological basis of algorithms, information and the importance of the biology of brains so as to make their position seem like an appeal to consequences. I.e. I want to be uploaded so computational theory of subjective experience has to be true.

  • Could someone maybe tell me why I got a -1 for this post?
    – Laoch
    Mar 11, 2014 at 12:30

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