A thought experiment

Here’s an experiment that we can’t actually do and might well never have the technology for. Fortunately, that’s not important for the thought experiment, though.

The experiment is closely related to the immediately prior post. In there I wrote “…assemble the right proportions of a basic mix of atoms in the right way and you get something alive. Whether something basic like a bacterium or something far more complex like a human…” So, that’s the thought experiment.

Let’s just suppose we had a machine that could do that: create an atom-by-atom map of your body, then using a supply of the right atoms, build an exact, atomic-scale accurate replica of you. When the machine is done, is what has been created:

  • alive?
  • human (possessing consciousness and full capabilities)?
  • you (memories and personality)?
  • if you believe you possess a soul, then does this copy have one?

The answers to all of those depend heavily on your own beliefs about the relationship of the physical, material world to what we call life, what we each experience inside of us as consciousness and what makes us individuals. If we’re nothing more than an assembly of atoms, then we’d expect to get a fully functional copy of ‘you’.  Any other result is very revealing because it says that at some level, we’re more than just the physical atoms.

Frankly, I like that last thought. It just feels right to believe that I’m more than a bunch of atoms. Some would dismiss the whole premise as impossible and throw the questions out as well. Sometimes I’d like to do that, too, but I can’t. I really wish I knew the answers here because I think this is the essence of the mind-body problem and alive vs. not alive questions that intrigue me (and many others) so much.

Want to share your thoughts on the outcome of this thought experiment?


About Dick Knisely

Science-guy, engineer, father, grandfather, husband -- yeah, I'm all of those things. I author this blog to share things I care about and you might care about, too. I hope you do and that you'll join in to share things you care about.
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