# Can the copy or clone of something be a different, separate and independent entity?

People claim clones and copies are extensions. For instance, they claim that when a cell divides, the "daughter" cells are the "parent" cell; that if something happens to the "parent" cell, the "parent" cell continues on as the "daughter" cells as though nothing happened. But can copies be their own different, separate and independent entities?

Imagine copy-pasting a folder named A. We copy and paste A and name the copy B. Is B A and is A B? How can it be? Something can't be in two places at once, right? If I delete A, it doesn't mean B is A and A still exists as B, right? Can A and B be separate entities having no effect on one another despite the 100% identical status?

What if we copy-paste the A folder and name the copy A? That doesn't mean A is in two places at once, right? That if I delete one of the As, the deleted A still exists?

• A copy is always different to the original. A copy (e.g. xerox or copying a file) is always a different instance, made of different microscopic entities. So, it is necessarily different, even if it has the same macroscopic attributes (e.g. name, visual form, temperature, etc.) as the original. Mar 4, 2022 at 10:53
• Who claims they are not different entities? Mar 4, 2022 at 17:53
• I find your first paragraph quite confusing and I wonder if it contains several typos. Suppose that there is a cell named Alice, and the cell divides into two cells, and those two cells are named Barbara and Cassie. If I understand you right, then Alice is what you call "the parent cells" and Barbara and Cassie are what you call "the daughter cells," right? Mar 4, 2022 at 20:25
• Then you write the phrase "if something happens to the parent cell," apparently asking us to consider the scenario in which something happens to the cell named Alice. But at this point, there is no cell named Alice any more, so your hypothetical doesn't make any sense. Then you seem to be saying that people claim that if something were to happen to the parent cell (if it were destroyed, say), then that very cell (the one that was destroyed) would somehow be able to carry on as though nothing had happened. But that doesn't make any sense either; nobody would ever claim such a thing. Mar 4, 2022 at 20:27
• So, can you help me understand what you're really trying to say here? Mar 4, 2022 at 20:29

At the point you copy something, the copy is an entity in its own right and while it may be identical to the original at that point, their paths will diverge from that point onwards. It is unwise to assume that anything in the physical world correlates to a computer filesystem.

• Computer filesystems are a part of the physical world
– Jojo
Mar 4, 2022 at 19:49
• @joe yes but it would be unwise to assume that operations that are valid in a filesystem are valid anywhere else in the physical world
– Frog
Mar 4, 2022 at 23:20
• I've been trying to come up with a statement that I agree with. Maybe, properties of computer file systems often don't correlate well with properties of non-man made phenomena. Anyway absolutely I agree with the sentiment
– Jojo
Mar 10, 2022 at 19:20

In this answer, the word here has been copy-pasted here (honestly). Both have the same internal configuration and the same origin, but each has a unique external configuration and post-partum path. The main issue is one of identity. As social beings, we tend to personify things; as genetic carriers, we tend to think in lineage; and many tend to believe in souls or similar. But outside of minds, genes, and souls, configuration is what remains. Yet configuration has no intrinsic identity, only arbitrary delineations and practical considerations.

In conclusion, soul and intent create and decide the existence of identity and entity.

But can copies be their own different, separate and independent entities?

Yes. Your example of cell division demonstrates this quite nicely.

## A meditation on filesystems

Imagine copy-pasting a folder named A. We copy and paste A and name the copy B. Is B A and is A B?

It depends what you mean by “copy”. There are at least six different kinds of copy that you can have in a computer filesystem:

• Shallow copy
• Overlay mount
• Deep copy
• Copy-on-Write

A directory looks a bit like this:

• This is a directory.
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`

The hexadecimal codes, like `0x240008`, refer to the actual location on the hard drive that things are stored. The directory itself is just data stored at some location of the drive; in this example, the parent is stored at `0x762920`.

If you made a hard link to `A` called `B`, the parent directory would then look like this:

• This is a directory.
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`
• `B` is stored at `0x240008`

Here, `A` and `B` are essentially two different labels for the same directory. If you deleted `A`, the directory would still be accessible via `B`. Two folder icons would be visible in your file manager. Modifying a file in `B` would modify the same file in `A`; creating a file in `A` would create the same file in `B`.

Consider the directory from before. Making a symbolic (soft) link to `A` called `B` would look like this:

• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`
• `B` can be found at `A`

If you deleted `B`, the directory would still be found at `A` – but if you deleted `A`, `B` would point nowhere. Two folder icons would be visible in your file manager, though `B` might have a little “link” icon on it. Modifying a file in `B` would modify the same file in `A`; creating a file in `A` would create the same file in `B`.

### Shallow copy

In a shallow copy, the parent directory would look like this:

• This is a directory
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`
• `B` is stored at `0xA36092`

but the directory entries stored at `0xA36092` would be the same as the ones stored at `0x240008` – at least initially. In effect, a new directory has been created, and a hard link at `0xA36092` has been created for every file in `A`. Modifying a file in `B` would modify the same file in `A`, but creating a file in `A` would not create the same file in `B`.

### Overlay mount

A new, empty directory `B` would be created:

• This is a directory
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`
• `B` is stored at `0xA36092`

Then the overlay mount `B`-over-`A` would be created. Two folder icons would be visible in your file manager, though `B` might have a little mount icon on it. Modifying a file in `A` would modify the corresponding file in `B`, creating a file in `A` would create the corresponding file in `B`, but creating a file in `B` would not create the corresponding file in `A`.

### Deep copy

In a shallow copy, the parent directory would look like this:

• This is a directory
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`
• `B` is stored at `0xA36092`

However, every file and folder inside `B` would be a deep copy of the corresponding file and folder in `A`, so they would also be stored in a separate location. Modifying or creating files in `A` would not affect what happens in `B`, or vice versa.

### Copy-on-Write

Here, the directory entry looks a little different:

• This is a directory with 1 reference.
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`

When you copy `A` to `B`, it creates a hard link:

• This is a directory with 1 reference.
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0x240008`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`
• `B` is stored at `0x240008`

When it creates this hard link, it also increases the number of references to `A` and `B` (and to everything inside them) by one. When you modify anything with more than one reference, it subtracts one from the reference, creates a copy, and then moves the directory entry in the thing's parent directory to point to that copy. (If the parent directory has more than one reference, then it gets copied, and its directory entry in its parent gets modified to point to the copy.) So if you subsequently created a file in `A`, the parent would then look like:

• This is a directory with 1 reference.
• `.` is stored at `0x762920`
• `..` is stored at `0x762736`
• `A` is stored at `0xA36092`
• `readme.txt` is stored at `0x763424`
• `B` is stored at `0x240008`

However, if a cosmic ray flipped some bits on the hard drive before either `A` or `B` was modified, both of them would change.

## What does this mean for philosophy?

You have an imprecise concept in your head, and are confused that multiple interpretations of that vague idea conflict with each other.

What if we copy-paste the A folder and name the copy A? That doesn't mean A is in two places at once, right? That if I delete one of the As, the deleted A still exists?

It depends. But if you pick a specific meaning of “copy”, the answer is easy to discover.

In the real world, things are a lot easier. When you make an actual copy of something, you end up with a separate object; the original and the copy aren't magically linked to each other, so you can dip one in paint without affecting the other.

• They are the same, until they're not (but due to real-world physics, even a magical duplicate won't stay identical for more than the briefest moment).
• They are separate, because they are not connected.
• They are independent, because the state of one does not depend on the state of the other.

This is not necessarily true for data stored in computer file systems (or for parts of quantum systems, but for different reasons); nonetheless, these three things are true for normal, classical facsimiles.

The modern biology says the bodies of clones will behavour in different ways if the bacterias and viruses in their bodies are different.