Friday, April 01, 2005

Here is a famous thought experiment. Imagine a teleport machine that reads the precise make-up of your body and then beams the information to another machine on Mars which reassembles a perfect copy of you. Unfortunately, the original you is destroyed by the reading process although you don't feel this happen. Would you be happy to step into the teleporter? Neurologist Paul Broks says almost all his colleagues would have no problem. They are materialists and as we are only an arrangement of matter, we remain the same person even if the matter is arranged somewhere else. Certainly, they say, the new you on Mars would not realise anything had happened beyond their appearing in a different place.

But this means something else. Materialists can also have no logical problem with an afterlife. We Christians believe we will be resurrected after death in new bodies. This is done by God who, we presume, will have no problem remembering how to fit the bits together (the advantage of omniscience). He can even make the necessary adjustments to maintain our personalities while also curing them of Alzheimer's or any other mental illness. While the new me will not have any direct link to the old me, the new me will feel they are the same person. So as far as Brok and his colleagues are concerned, a purely material mind can be resurrected without problem. If God exists, all the discoveries of neuroscience interpreted in a materialistic way, have no impact on the doctrine of the afterlife.

For us Christians there is something slightly dodgy about this. We do think there is some sort of continuity between our earthly selves and the resurrected self after death. But then, we are not the ones saying that science makes life after death absurd. Clearly, it does not.

Of course, my thoughts and attention are directed towards Rome this morning. I find myself praying that the Pope is comfortable and without fear. He, at least, has no reason to be afraid.


Anonymous said...

That's very interesting!

But would 'you' die? Would the Earth Bede's consciousness end, even though another Bede on Mars started walking around and thinking?


Anonymous said...

I thought the actual thought experiment had you step into the teleport, and it seemed as though nothing happened.

You came out, and was told that all had worked as normal, that you could see yourself walking on Mars, and the delay was only at this end, and that your body at this end will disappear in 30 seconds.

But not to worry, you can spend the next 30 seconds watching yourself on Mars, while you wait for your body to be destroyed here on Earth.

jack perry said...

Good argument. :-)

What I'm curious about is how the concept of a soul works in all of this, for Christians of course. Suppose that someone could perform the teleport that you described, and suppose (as we believe) that souls are real. What happens to the soul? It seems to me that the new body would have to have a new soul. Would it?

Thinking about your argument on life after death: if our consciousness and our memories are all caused by the arrangement of matter, and if we have souls... would the soul have any memory without the body? or would it be in some sort of consciousness-free state? (Unsettling thought, that.)

Anonymous said...

"would the soul have any memory without the body?"

I believe one of the things Bede mentioned is that God has the ability to reconstruct our bodies. It would certainly be within His power to keep your memories intact within your new body.

Anonymous said...

If God can manipulate our memories like that, how can we be sure that our memories are ours?

Matt Freestone said...

You might be interested to see this discussion from Chris Lightfoot's site.