On Mind Uploading and Personal Identity

(Assuming that computational theory of the mind is true.)

The idea of transferring my mind to a computer, and living there in a simulation, always stroke me as an interesting ideia. This would let me live much more time than I would expect otherwise. And I like life, so this is a good thing.

But then someday it popped in my mind: it’s the conscience living the computer really “me”? To explore this ideia let’s introduce Alice. She wants to have her brain scanned and transferred to a computer. Imagine that it’s possible to scan human brains in a non-invasive way. So, we scan Alice’s brain and copy all this software to a computer and run it. Now there is Original-Alice and Computer-Alice. Is Computer-Alice the same entity as Original-Alice? Well they have the same source, the Alice in the moment of the scan, but they are now difference entities. You can have conversations with both, and although they will be really similar entities, the conversations will be different because the entities diverged as the result of exposure to different environments. They will look like different entities.

Now let’s look at a different but similar scenario. Instead of scanning Alice’s brain and copying it to a computer, let’s imagine that the scanning is an invasive technique which involves destroying Alice’s brain. We scan Alice’s brain, destroying it in the process and transfer the software obtained to a machine. Now, same question, is Computer-Alice the same entity as the now non-existent Original-Alice? For an external observer it will look like they are. Computer-Alice behaves the same way and has the same memories as Original-Alice. But from Original-Alice’s perspective they will not be. It’s my position that Original-Alice is dead. All the brain processes that maintained Original-Alice as a continuing entity were gone in the moment we destroyed her brain.

Computer-Alice is an equivalent but not the same entity. But she will feels as if she is. Computer-Alice remembers lying down on the doctor’s table before the scan. She remembers starting to lose conscience after the administration of anesthesia. And she also remembers waking up in a virtual world. If you tell Computer-Alice that she never lived all those memories she has, she will think you’re being silly. It happened in a different body, yes, but of course she has lived those memories.

Now, imagine that you have the option to go through this same procedure. Let’s say that you’re in an age in which your brain is in the best state to be scanned. Assume that if you wait more time you risk getting affected by diseases like Alzheimer or Parkinson, which make the scan less feasible. From a egoistic point of view, should you go through the procedure? It’s my position that from my point of view, going through the procedure it’s suicidal. Yes, some entity equivalent to me would be created in a computer, but it wouldn’t be me, so why should I care? Rather having some more good years in the real world than dying.

This realization makes me kinda sad. Before, I was hopeful that maybe one day during my lifetime I could be transferred to a machine and live a way longer life. I don’t believe this anymore.

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