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Philosophy 1A

3. Who Are You?

Until now, you have lived your life with various assumptions in mind. Some of these assumptions are more, some less obvious and some may even be false. For example, the person who applied to Brandeis and was accepted is reading Part Three of this Paper Topic now. You assume that that person who is reading this now is the person who applied to Brandeis and was accepted. In this respect you are not so different from the rest of us.

Each of us assumes that we are who we are through various changes over time. In some sense, perhaps, the person who enrolled in Intro to Philosophy is not the same person who goes on to do the work and completes the course. Once you complete the course you are a person who has had Intro to Philosophy and when you enrolled you were someone who had not yet had it. Still you assume that it is you who has gone through these changes.

Put simply, you see yourself as a being who persists. What accounts for this persistence, for your persistence over time and through various changes, is the philosophical problem of personal identity.

The question facing the California Supreme Court in Julia's case was one of having to answer whether it was Julia or Mary who survived the operation performed by Dr. Matthews. Gretchen is reluctant to accept Dr. Matthews' offer to undergo a "brain transplant," because in some fundamental way, centrally important to her, she thinks she will not persist, that the person who wakes up on the operating table will not be her. But now I have a question for you?

As mentioned in Part Two of the Paper Topic, nearly ten years have passed since Dr. Matthews performed the operation on Julia. We are now living in the 21st century. Other techniques have been developed that test our considered judgments about personal identity. There is an especially brilliant doctor -- perhaps you have heard of him -- by the name of Parfit. Dr. Parfit has been working in the area of telekinesis and he has built a device called a Teletransporter.

Since September 11th a company has been formed with a three billion dollar investment of venture capital to manufacture Teletransporters and install them in every major city in the United States, although the company sees a world-wide demand for its product and plans to enter the global market some time in 2004. Teletransporters already exist, as you may know, in ten major cities throughout the United States and have been "in service" for a little more than seventeen months.

At the request of Dr. Parfit, the company has also donated one of its machines to Brandeis University (see The Justice, March 20, 2001) where it has been in use for a little over half a year. The Brandeis Teletransporter is in the basement of Rabb in the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Lab. But if you have friends on campus who have used it or if you have read the story in The Justice, you know all this already.

For those of you who have not heard about this device or taken advantage of its services, here is how it works. The Teletransporter in the basement of Rabb looks at first glance very much like a phone booth or one of those sound proof booths that you sometimes see on game shows on television where a contestant is placed so he or she cannot hear what is happening in the studio. This booth or "cubicle," as Dr Parfit described it in one of his early papers on the subject, has a series of panels that line its inner walls. These panels are extraordinarily sophisticated scanners that record the "exact state" of a user's cells and can then transmit this information over laser optic cable to a Replicator in one of the ten major cities that are currently online, i.e., a part of the teletransportation system. A Replicator is essentially a Teletransporter on the receiving end of the information sent to it and it (the Replicator) then creates out of new matter a brain and body exactly like the original user's.

With recent adjustments to the system it takes no more than three minutes to "travel" by this method from the basement of Rabb to any West Coast city, currently the furthest point in the teletransportation network from Brandeis. At present there are Transporters/Replicators in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, New York, Washington, D. C., Miami, Atlanta and Phoenix. The trip to downtown Boston takes less than twenty seconds as many Brandeis students, especially seniors will attest.

If you have not made use of the device or have not read much about it, a few further facts about its operation are perhaps worthy of mention. To "travel" by this method, you must make sure the door is securely closed after you enter the cubicle. Otherwise the Teletransporter will not operate. A highly trained professional will ascertain, however, that the door is securely fastened once you have entered the chamber.

To activate the Teletransporter you need to push a "green" button which is just to the left of the door on the cubicle wall. After you press the button, you will momentarily lose consciousness and you will be without consiousness for the duration of the time it takes to "travel" to your chosen destination; so twenty seconds if you are travelling to downtown Boston; three minutes if you are traveling to L. A.. The Scanner or Scanning system destroys your brain and your body while recording the "exact state" of all your cells, sending this information and re-creating out of new matter a brain and body exactly like yours. It is with this brain and in this body that you wake up, i.e., regain consciousness, on the "other" end, whether that be downtown Boston or L. A. or any of the other cities on the network.

You can perhaps see now why a company has received such a huge injection of venture capital and why it is rushing to bring Teletransporters to market given the current international climate. Teletransportation performs an "end run" around security checks at airports as well as traffic jams on roadways to and from every major urban center. Several executives who live in Lincoln, and Concord, Massachusetts have made special arrangements with the university to use the Teletransporter in Rabb to travel in and out of Boston in the morning and late afternoon, "just to avoid," as one executive from Gillette put it, "the commute." In exchange for the privilege, these executives have agreed to share their medical information with the research and developement team for Teletransport America.

So, imagine the following, although, of course, if you have travelled by this method, you will have to do less imagining than others. Imagine that you need to go to the West Coast for a weekend. You have been to the West Coast before, but only by the "old method." You drove across country once and have "flown" several times. The drive took three and half days and you did not get much sleep and the plane trips have taken as much as nine hours, when you take into account lay-overs and ground transportation.

If you use the Teletransporter in the basement of Rabb, you can get to San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Seattle in "no time," compared to the "old methods." Imagine, too, that your room-mate or best friend has used the "new" method any number of times since last March when it was first installed up on the Brandeis hill. Imagine that he or she has relatives in Miami and has "teletransported" (the verb form of "teletransportation," recently accepted by American Heritage Dictionary) and he or she seems fine. Your friend "travelled" three times by this method in April and received "A's" on all his or her exams. Indeed you have had many occasions to observe your friend's behavior before and after teletransporting and your friend seems no different now than your friend was, say, last January.

If you still have any doubts about the method, you might wish to engage in the following study. Rumor has it that several members of the New York Yankees as well as several members of the Arizona Diamondbacks plan to use Teletransportation to get back and forth between New York and Phoenix during the World Series. If you watch the Series, look closely at the players on the field and see if you can detect any difference in their style of play or if you can "tell" which ones have been travelling via the "old method," i.e., by air, and which ones have been using the new method., i.e., teletransporting.

You decide to try teletransportation for yourself to visit the West Coast. You go to Rabb, enter the Teletransporter and press the "green" button. As expected, you lose consciousness and then in what appears to be "no time flat" you regain consciousness, but in a different cubicle. You open the door and there is a professional assistant in a white coat but not the same assistant who helped you get into the cubicle at the Brandeis end. "Welcome to the West Coast," she says.

Imagine that you have taken the "trip" to San Francisco, Los Angeles or Seattle several times by this method. Imagine that you are now back in the cubicle in the basement of Rabb set to go off once again to one of these three cities. You're really looking forward to the trip this time because you plan to look at some real estate and perhaps in the not-so-distance future settle down "out there."

You enter the Teletransporter and press the "green" button. But this time you do not lose consciousness. There is a rather odd, grinding sound and then silence. You seem to be still in the Brandeis cubicle. You think to yourself. "The machine must not have worked."

You open the door and say to the assistant, "I don't think it worked." But the assistant says, "No, no, it worked just fine. Dr. Parfit has been working on the device in the last few days and has come up with a new and improved way to 'travel.' You are one of the the first to use this new and improved Teletransporter."

"Well," you say, "I don't know about that, but I wanted to be on the West Coast this weekend. This is an important "trip" for me."

"But you are," says the assistant.

"What do you mean 'I am'?" you say. "I'm right here in the basement of Rabb, stuck once again at Brandeis for the weekend."

The assistant passes you a note in Dr. Parfit's handwriting. It reads: "The New Scanner records your blueprint just as before but without destroying your brain and body. We hope that you will welcome the opportunities which this technical advance affords."

"Wait a minute," you say in some disbelief, "you mean to tell me that I am also now on the West Coast? That's hard for me to believe! I cannot be in two places at the same time!"

At this point your conversation with the assistant is interrupted by a polite cough from the control room next to the Teletransporter. The door to the control room opens and out steps Dr. Parfit.

He gestures to you to step into the control room and says, after closing the door, "I'm afraid that we're having problems with the New Scanner. It records your blueprint just as accurately, as you will see when you talk to yourself on the West Coast. But it seems to be damaging the cardiac systems which it scans. Judging from the results so far, though you will be quite healthy on the West Coast, here at Brandeis you must expect cardiac failure in the next few days."

Dr. Parfit looks at you expectantly. You stare back in his direction and say nothing; you seem to have been rendered speechless.

Hearing nothing from you, Dr. Parfit rises from his chair, opens the door, and asks the assistant to set up a "teleconferencing session" so you can see and speak with yourself on the West Coast.

So you at Brandeis now, like Gretchen, have three days to live. But Dr. Parfit says "not to worry." You will survive on the West Coast and he promises you that when your West Coast business is done, you can return to Brandeis via the old unimproved method of teletransportation.

You do not know whether to scream or thank Dr. Parfit. You ask Dr. Parfit to go over "the situation" with you one more time.

"It is perfectly undertandable," Dr. Parfit says, "that this situation would arouse in you 'strong beliefs.'"

"Strong beliefs!" you exclaim, "that is putting it very mildly."

"And these are beliefs," Dr. Parfit continues as if he did not hear your expression of exasperation, "not about our words, but about ourselves, By considering cases such as the one you now find yourself in, we discover what we believe to be involved in our own continued existence, or what it is that makes us now and ourselves next year the same people. We discover our beliefs about the nature of personal identity over time."

"I do not want to discover my beliefs about the nature of personal identity! I want to live!" I realize that I am beginning to sound petulant.

"Listen," says Dr. Parfit, seeming to try to get me to calm down, "everything has worked as it worked before. Your blueprint was beamed to the West Coast, where another machine has made an organic Replica of you. Your Replica thinks that he, she is you, and remembers living your life up to the moment that you pressed the green button. In every other way, both physically and psychologically, your Replica is just like you. If your Replica returns to Brandeis, everyone will think that he, she is you."

"So," I say. "let me see if I understand. You are saying that my Replica is me. Is that right?"

"Yes," says Dr. Parfit, "that's it exactly. Although you here at Brandeis shall die in three days, you shall survive, you shall persist. Your Replica, who is right now on the West Coast is you and so you shall live. There is no need to worry."

"Hmmmmm!" you say to yourself, not very comforted by the fact that there is right now an organic Replica of you alive and well on the West Coast.

The assistant announces that she has the teleconferencing system, both sound and video, all set up and "ready to go."

"What will I say to my Replica?" you wonder.

You think to yourself "when the Teletransporter worked in the old way and I 'travelled' to the West Coast and back and I did not 'co-exist' with my Replica, it was easier to believe, what Dr. Parfit is saying now, that this was a way of travelling and my Replica was me."

But now you are not so sure. You think: "maybe my Replica is someone else,who has been made to be exactly like me."

"You're on," the assistant calls from the teleconferencing room. You rise slowly from your chair,

"Where am I?" you ask yourself, "and what shall I say? And to whom will I be speaking? To myself or to someone else?"

Make a case for a view of personal identity over time that makes sense of your decision in Julia's case, your advice to Gretchen and the situation you now find yourself in after stepping into the new improved Teletransporter and stepping out again, think of the strongest objections that someone might make against your view, and respond to them.



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Page last edited: October 26, 2001