One idea in H+ is that a person's consciousness can be digitized to outlive its human body. I think the assumption is that everything that you consciously are is just the emergent configuration of atoms in your brain. The psychological is simultaneously biological. If you can replicate that configuration in digital form, you should be able to exist in a machine.

So based on that assumption - that you're just a configuration of particles - wouldn't it be possible for you to exist in two places at once? If I somehow replicated; very precisely the configuration of particles in your whole body, down to the sub-atomic level, and within the smallest unit of time, wouldn't you then be 'awake' in two places? If not, then obviously SOMETHING got left behind, something that makes you, you.

Can consciousness be measured?


1) The smallest unit of measure for your consciousness is the sub atomic configuration of your brain. 
2) The proposed method is a perfect & complete replication of every atom.
3) The replication completed within the smallest unit of time possible.
4) Both of you are within an empty vacuum and all natural forces are applied to both of you evenly.

Question: What is your subsequent perspective?
  • 1
    Welcome to Phil.SE; I'm a little perplexed by H+ can you expand on this a bit further? Jun 1, 2015 at 13:51
  • @SephVelut: Thanks for the reference to H+, transhumanism. I didn't know about it. Learned something. :) Jun 1, 2015 at 14:34
  • 1
    I think this is possibly what Derek Parfit is addressing in Reasons and Persons; though I can 'to comment further as I haven't read the book. Jun 1, 2015 at 15:40
  • And also Liebniz in his notion of a monad; in which the human soul/mind/ego is an indivisible whole. Jun 1, 2015 at 15:42
  • @MoziburUllah Interesting. I'll have to read those. -Cheersandhth.-Alf No problem :) Just for fun here is a reference imgur.com/a/HjF2P
    – Seph
    Jun 1, 2015 at 15:55

7 Answers 7

  1. a replicated atom does not occupy the same space as the original atom.
  2. Every being has a set of experiences past, present and future.
  3. At the time of replication, we can understand that the two beings share a common past.
  4. Without assuming external agency, we can assume that an individual is individual as there is a degree of separation in space and consciousness as demonstrated by the simple observation that both individuals may simply sleep at different times or have different conversations as they now exist in separate environments.
  5. As experience has now diverged between the two beings, despite their same chemical or cellular makeup, it is apparent that their experience of the present diverges over time becoming increasingly different.
  6. As these experiences and differences accumulate over time, the two once identical beings are no longer identical as their memories now contain different information.
  7. After a time, the two entities become more and more like identical twins, who do share experiences mainly because they exist in similar enough physical configurations but true identical twins are an instance of the natural division of a being into two beings who are not one but two individuals whose experience may track similar tastes and concerns, but whose origins are common.
  8. This indicates and proves to me that two: human and the exact duplicate share more than identical twins as the common experience exists when the brain has fully developed, however the future of the two independent entities encompasses divergence, where their minds (the product of their mental activity and perceptions) would slowly become different.
  9. There could be a perception of shared reality due to harmonic resonances but does that mean that reality is actually common, or is it more like two halves of a grapefruit reflecting each other? It may look like a form of telepathy, when in fact it is a set of tendencies based on mutual experience that slowly cleave one from the other.
  10. Premise 4 sets up a common experience between both entities as they exist in a vacuum: if all natural forces apply to both, I assume means that their experience is in fact fully identical without the intrusion of external perceptive difference the two beings would continue to share consciousness as their would be nothing to make them different: their minds would be identical. Therefore it would be in effect one consciousness controlling two persons with identical experience. That is the same as one person with extended perceptions, four eyes instead of two, etc.
  11. Therefore, in effect consciousness is not in two places as they are in the same place. An extended shared experience with nothing to convince either that they were not the other.
  • 1
    With the 10th salient point, I think you've come closest to satisfying the question. Other people seem stuck at the point of: copies are not completely identical. Which is fallacious to reason with in this discussion as I clearly stated again and again, that the two 'copies' are completely, fundamentally and without exception they are 100% identical down to the smallest unit of observable and non observable measurement. That they also completely occupy a space that applies the exact same influence on them.
    – Seph
    Jun 3, 2015 at 20:20
  • If we are working with the assumption that consciousness is the emergent configuration of atoms in your brain then the complexity of the copy will be the same. The physical composition down to the fundamental supervenient level is the same. The copy and the original are free from divergent influence. Given these premises, the perspective of the replicated consciousness should be in two places at once (four eyes instead of two).
    – Seph
    Jun 3, 2015 at 21:04
  • Another point to consider: if I remove an atom from a person's brain, will the perspective of the person remain intact? How about if I take another and continue taking one atom at a time until there is nothing left. At what point in removing atom after atom, will the person cease to have a consciousness?
    – Seph
    Jun 3, 2015 at 21:14
  • I assume there will be a gradual diminishing of consciousness. At no point will I ever cross the line where I go from consciousness to no consciousness. The assumption suggests that the sense of self and its perspective can't be absolutely defined. But it can be described in terms of sufficient complexity of the combined configuration of atoms of the brain. Recreating the complexity should add to the complexity of the consciousness, and therefor alter the nature of the original. So they can't both be the same because the complexity is increased?
    – Seph
    Jun 3, 2015 at 21:36
  • Thank you for your kind comments - regarding removing atoms from the brain - I think we may bridge from a philosophic question into a sort of quantum biology. i.e. if you remove a single atom, do you change the character of the original or do things at a sub-atomic level conspire to compensate for the missing atom in some way, thus the difference never can be observed? Jun 4, 2015 at 5:33

Your premises contain the answer to the question: yes, if there were two of you, there would be two of you. One of you would experience things in one location, and the other one would experience things in the other. If the surroundings (and stochastic noise) were not identical, the two would begin to diverge; if they were, there would be two yous having two identical experiences. That is, each would experience their own consciousness.

But this is not at all problematic. There are lots of people who have their own experiences. That two of them happen to be identical would be weird, but there's nothing deeply perplexing here. You don't see out of other people's eyes whether or not those people are built exactly the same way as you.

If you drop the premise that you are emergent from the atoms that compose you, then, well, any answer is possible, isn't it? One could suppose that this would be an experimental test of emergent consciousness, except you can't actually do the experiment, so it's kind of a moot point.

  • Well the question isn't "would there be two of me". Its "would I be conscious in two places at once". In other words - given the proposed biological nature of consciousness - would I at any point in time experience consciousness from two perspectives after replication? Unit of time is not the concern here, simply at any point in time. The overarching question is: "can consciousness be measured?"
    – Seph
    Jun 1, 2015 at 23:26
  • @SephVelut - There would be two of you each experiencing its own consciousness from its own location (given the consciousness-is-emergent premise). You don't experience consciousness from my perspective because e.g. the photons that strike my retina cause voltage changes in my retinal ganglion cells etc. and never end up over at you. This is true whether or not I'm composed of identical stuff as you.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jun 2, 2015 at 1:05
  • I've included a set of propositions in my post to sanitize the question. Now, in Physicalism, there is a concept of Supervenience. The idea is that fundamental things make up entirely the things that are made up of them. Sounds like common sense. bit.ly/1K5J3vP Whether or not the consciousness is emergent, it does not change that the fundamental parts of the consciousness are atoms. If I replicate the atoms, the alignment, the magnetic properties, the weight, the spin, everything of those atoms, then I should recreate the emergent state of the brain along with the consciousness
    – Seph
    Jun 2, 2015 at 1:57
  • @SephVelut - Even with supervenience, consciousness isn't a pointer to some mysterious place, a pointer which you can replicate. Rather, you have a consciousness here (made from stuff), and another there, just like always.
    – Rex Kerr
    Jun 2, 2015 at 20:06
  • Ahh supervenience doesn't assert that things point to 'mysterious' places. It proposes the exact opposite. To wit, all stuff is made up of other stuff, except for fundamental stuff. Asserting that consciousness is some kind of property of emergence sounds to me like a 'mysterious place' hypothesis. I'm saying that replicating its fundamental pieces should give you the exact same consciousness. In other words, identical conscious from the perspective of the self, not just identical from the perspective of an observer (which is what your suggesting).
    – Seph
    Jun 3, 2015 at 19:46

Basically, my take on this question is to apply the identity of indiscernibles. The OP sets up the thought experiment such that the "two" copies are idiscernable in every aspect; but having done this, then they must be identical.

Only once you introduce some feature into the thought experiment that differentiates the two copies, does it make sense to ask about whether they have different perspectives. But once you've assumed they're different, then they're different and there is no reason to assume that they'll share the same perspective.


Some believe that consciousness is an emergent property of a brain that reaches sufficient complexity to be able to comprehend its own existence. If you truly existed in two places, your brain's understanding of its own existence would differ to accommodate that fact. Such is the versatility of the brain. Your example though of a body being copied to the sub-atomic level, is something separate. Regardless of how exact the copy, it is still a copy, with its own consciousness and self-awareness that will, from the point it was copied, begin to differ from the original.

  • Saying "its still just a copy' is just playing with the words. Assumption #1 is that the smallest unit of measure for consciousness is the atomic configuration of the brain. So if a perfect replication was achieved, including your brain's understanding of its own existence, and the resulting replica of yourself somehow did not achieve a self awareness in a dual plane of existence then what was missing in the replica? Again, the assumption is: EVERYTHING that is your consciousness, awareness, self, is nothing more than the atoms in your brain matter and their alignment.
    – Seph
    Jun 2, 2015 at 0:31
  • I'm saying that there is a difference between being in two places at once, and being a copy. Literally being in two places at once implies the atoms of the body physically occupying two locations simultaneously. If such a thing were to occur, the brain would understand itself within the context of two consciousnesses. You could look right and left at the same time. You could study math, and study science simultaneously, and all the knowledge would be shared by the single central consciousness. Jun 2, 2015 at 0:38
  • I'm sorry, I really don't understand what you are saying. You're saying that being at two places at once and a being a defined copy have different meanings? That isn't what's being discussed here though. I'm not interested in the linguistic differences or the arguments that can be drawn from appropriating definitions to the words. It stands I have a perfect replica down to the most fundamental part. What then is left to differentiate the two? What is missing from the replica that causes it to not experience the exact same consciousness as the original?
    – Seph
    Jun 2, 2015 at 2:08

I would start by defining that a copy of you, is not you, even if it is an exact copy of you. Given this definition, then you can not exist in two places at once! To make this clear, a machine makes an exact copy of you in a room identical to yours. You are not aware of your copy, and your copy is not aware of you. Although your copy has the same information, history, etc. as you, it is a different brain (person) that just happens to have the same information as you - at that instant.


you don't necessarily have to speculate about mind cloning far in a possibly impossible future; according to the now mainstream many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, you are being split all the time into almost identical copies of your self, and yet you do not see the world through the eyes of your innumerable copies. figure that one out...

here is a tiny mention of that in a SEP article: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qm-manyworlds/#2.2


Old thread but I imagine a perfect copy would not split your sense of self, it would simply create a separate being exactly like you for a time.

I thought of it this way: if the ocean made a wave and then made an identical wave perfectly down to the atom, both waves are still separate entities; however, what if I were theoretically cut in two but both halves were kept perfectly alive and functional even say wireless via some futuristic system; then I as a singular being would indeed be in two places at once.

What if we take it a step further and regenerate the two halfs fully? Then you have two bodies with one conciousness; the only thing that would seemingly limit how many times your "self split" would be the technology or some unforeseen aspect of conciousness we are unaware of. To be clear, this idea differs from cloning as you aren't creating a copy only segmenting an already existing being sort of like an ultra star fish.

Something tells me conciousness has more to to with a zero point field than the atomic structure of our brains, simply because it is seemingly immeasurable, and, according to the above notion, could be split infinitely. Or does the sense of self have some finite pool? If not, that's very indicative what it is not.

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