Let us assume that transportation of human beings (and other objects) is possible (maybe in the future), and we have the technology to do so. (Please don't debate the scientific plausibility of this.)

Every atom can be copied (one-at-a-time) in its exist chemical state and relative position, from one point in space to another. Meaning that the copied human has the exact chemical composition right to the sub-atomic level. The entire process is too fast for a significant change in structure to occur during the process.

Here are 3 ways of doing this:

  1. Physical displacement - Every atom is physically displaced via some kind of passage.

  2. Wormholes - Every atom passes through a wormhole, and is instantly repositioned at the location.

  3. Creation of matter - Every particle is scanned and destroyed to form energy. This energy is taken to the site and converted back into matter, in the exact same state as earlier.

Will this being have the same 'sense of self' as us? Will we now continue to inhabit this body, or will we be destroyed, and the clone will have its own sense of self? Note that every memory and thought in the brain will be transferred in the same chemical state.

  • It seems like the mechanism by which this happens would matter, which would mean we would need to say something about how exactly it happened. In any case, a recent episode of History of Philosophy addresses some aspects of this question. – James Kingsbery Apr 21 '15 at 18:28
  • I think the one part of this question is deeply flawed, viz., that you ask your respondents not to "debate the scientific plausibility of this" and then provide a picture of what you imagine the science to be in order to tell us that "every memory and though in the brain will be transferred in the same chemical state." You need to either join us in skipping the science or accept that the question hinges at least in part on the story we tell about how these things work scientifically. – virmaior Apr 22 '15 at 0:52
  • Suggested revision: "Assuming a physicalist picture where thought and memory are perfectly identical to brain chemistry, if we transport that brain chemistry to another location via some means, should we consider the transported entity to have the same self?" In which case, I think the answer is yes. – virmaior Apr 22 '15 at 0:53

This is basically a teleportation thought experiment, used to explore personal identity. Derek Parfitt in particular, has used this (among other experiments), and I highly recommend reading his work.

Whether this transports one's sense of self depends on the relationship between consciousness & matter and on the nature of the self. Is consciousness a function of matter? If so, just what kind of function of matter is it? For that matter, how do you know that you even have a stable sense of self? Maybe you die regularly and are replaced by a clone who has your memories? If so, you are one of those clones and your personal continuity is just an "inherited" memory. If this is so, then teleporter dilemma isn't one, as it would simply do what nature is doing to you all the time.


First of all, if copying is really involved, why assume the original is destroyed? Instead, assume both survive. It should not change the logic at all.

Now, if we are linked to our bodies in such a way that we would share the duplicate's consciousness, then we could transport the duplicate far enough away that the speed of light made a significant lag between our experience and the duplicate's.

But if we really share experience due to some underlying identity transcending the body, we should receive that experience immediately. This allows various contradictions to arise in relativity. So I would say, given current science, that this is no longer a reasonable outcome to presume.

We have to deduce that every physical copy has its own sense of self, and that one cannot really transport the original by destroying and reconstructing it.


I doubt it; the closest possibility we have in our world are genetic twins; and it's clear on reflection that they are distinct persons with distinct consciousness's.

  • So you mean to say we have killed our selves and replaced it with a clone? – ghosts_in_the_code Apr 21 '15 at 17:18
  • 1
    No, not really; rather than going along with the story you've outlined - I chose an alternative which we know happens - ie genetic twins are actually born. – Mozibur Ullah Apr 21 '15 at 18:31

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