A person asked @peez (David) about whether if Hitler got into the Star Trek transporter and an identical copy of him was copied, would the copy be “morally responsible”? @peez posted this question to @paulbloomatyale. The discussion was interesting and I think highlights something about how people decide what personhood is all about. You can find the discussion around this Tweet here: https://twitter.com/ToKTeacher/status/919001168629481472
Paul said the copy of Hitler “…didn’t do anything. This person is just a minutes-old baby who looks just like Hitler.” He further said “Sorry to disagree with some of your other respondents -- but you don't punish a guy for having the delusion that he's Hitler”
Now I think this is wrong. I said “If he's a *fungible* copy, he is identical in all respects. Including memories & motivations. He literally is Hitler and thus responsible.”
David said “…If you create an identical copy of me, it is not me. That is what I’m saying.”
Paul said in response to this “Right. True for other things too. If you copy my favorite chair, maybe we can't tell them apart. But it's not my chair.”
I asked “Say the transporter room is sealed/opaque to the world. A perfect copy is created along with the original. When they exit the room…Neither "copy" or original nor any person or *any physical process* can distinguish them. Would you try neither Hitler for war crimes, both?”
Paul said “Neither, since you can't tell which one = original. (Similar to arresting identical twins, knowing one did the crime but not which one)”
Here is where I wanted to pause. Notice that I am trying to maintain the structure of the “thought experiment”. The Star Trek transporter creates absolutely identical in all respects down to the very atoms - copies of people. In other words *fungible* (or absolutely perfect) copies. This matters. I'm using the word in a sense close to that which appears in David Deutsch's book "The Beginning of Infinity" (page 265 in particular).
So perfectly identical (fungible) copies is substantively different to chairs that *look* identical (but whose atoms might be quite different) and it’s especially different to “identical twins” (which are never identical, even in their DNA, it turns out). I wouldn’t punish an innocent identical twin for the crimes of his brother. They really are different people with different histories and - most important - different minds.
But now: a fungible copy of Hitler *is* Hitler. But why is this?
Consider "the original" (not the copy) - it was atoms in his vocal chords that gave the orders. It was the atoms of his hand (and not his copy) that gave all those salutes. It was his body that was there in Berlin and not the body or the atoms in the body of his copy that did all those bad things. And it’s for this reason, I guess, that Paul and others argue that the copy is not culpable.
My position here is: the atoms are not what we’re actually concerned with. The hardware (the body) is irrelevant.
What matters, instead, and crucially, is the mind.
The mind is the software that runs on the hardware of the brain. And that software, if we really did make a perfect copy of Hitler is identical in all respects. The mind - the software - is just a pattern. It’s the arrangement of the atoms in the brain (constituting the the neural connections or what not, it doesn’t matter) - it is something that in principle could be - at some future time (when we’ve Star Trek transporters, say) could be instantiated in a silicon computer. Or written down on paper. It is a code of some sort that we don't yet understand - the software - the mind of Hitler that is responsible for Hitler’s actions and not his body. That mind contains the memories and all the motivations to keep on killing that the original Hitler has because - and this is key - it is the original Hitler. The original Hitler isn’t about which atoms were there at the time of the invasion of Poland. It was about which mind was there. And the mind that was there was Hitler’s mind. And just because there are now two identical, indistinguishable versions in two bodies (one body with a history and one without) does not mean only one is culpable because in both cases each *mind* has the same history.
And that is why the copy is equally culpable.
Postscript: This is not merely a thought experiment. According to quantum theory, there really do exist “fungible copies” of you because of what we know about how particles (and therefore everything made of matter) behaves. The laws of quantum theory compel us towards a vision of reality bigger than what we are familiar with. This forces upon us the idea that not only are electrons and other sub atomic particles in two places simultaneously (because they occupy different universes) but so does everything including: you. What does it feel like for multitudes of "you" to exist right now. Exactly as you feel right now. And each instant universes "differentiate". For the facts about this read “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. - in particular the chapter on "The Multiverse".
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