I’ve just started reading “The Emperor’s New Mind – Concerning Computers, Minds, and the Laws of Physics” by Roger Penrose. I don’t know a whole lot about the book — Penrose is a physicist, I think. (He also might be dead. The book was written in 1989.) — but my general sense is that it is an argument that there’s something about human consciousness that cannot be explained in purely materialistic terms. For example, you could not re-create a conscious human brain simply by using some magical device to wire up neurons you happen to have lying around so that they perfectly replicate an existing brain. I believe he’s going to argue that somehow the magical and confounding properties of quantum physics come in to play and are essential to create this mystical thing we call consciousness.
However, in the section of the book I’m reading, he’s contemplating the classic idea of Star Trek teleportation. The basic premise is that a person is scanned and the location of and relationship between all the subatomic particles (electrons, protons etc.) in his or her body are mapped out. This information is then sent to some other planet, where it is used to assemble a version of the person there. A purely materialistic view — the kind I believe Penrose is ultimately criticizing — would say that the consciousness of the person being reassembled on another planet should “arrive” undisturbed.
But there’s a kind of side issue here. By that process, you’re not so much teleporting someone as you are cloning them. After all, you’re scanning the person in the original location, but you’re not destroying them. This process would seem to lead to a potentially endless amount of duplicates of oneself. Penrose contemplates the procedure. (Page 28.)
Try to imagine your response to being told the following: “Oh dear, so the drug we gave you before placing you in the teleporter has worn off prematurely has it? That is a little unfortunate, but no matter. Anyway, you will be pleased to hear that the other you —er, I mean the actual you, that is — has now arrived safely on Venus, so we can, er, dispose of you here — er, I mean the redundant copy here. It will, of course, be quite painless.”
That Penrose… he’s a real card.