Suppose a scientist could create a machine which is able to create an exact duplicate, or clone, of an
adult human being (assuming the materialist view that humans are 'physically duplicatable' as living,
Now suppose this scientist puts Fred in his machine in his lab, and creates an exact clone of him.
Both Freds have the exact physical form and identical memories (and so the clone cannot tell that he
is not the original, and he is never told or able to find out otherwise).
Now, seconds after the clone and original are both conscious, the scientist kills the original Fred. The
clone is then allowed to go back to Fred's everyday life, believing himself to be the original.
The question is: Is anything lost in this process? And if so, what, exactly, is it? (A 'soul'?)
It appears that, once the clone and Fred are both alive (and conscious), they are separate (sentient)
beings. And so, for the Fred who entered the lab, his life ended there.
My Dad, however, argues that a person's individuality is defined by his memory, and so, since all of
Fred's memories would still be intact in the living clone, Fred would still be alive (and therefore,
nothing would be lost).
Which of these views is most likely to be correct? If the first view could be correct, does this pose a
problem for (strict) materialism?
Why do I get such a strong feeling that Fred's life 'for him' must end in the lab, even though, to every
one else around him, it would appear that Fred is still alive? To illustrate more bluntly: Knowing that
the cloning had a 100% success rate, would YOU volunteer to go through the same treatment as
Fred? If not, why not?
The crucial word in your question is "assuming". You see: there is no legitimate warrant for assuming
that in the real world such things are possible, even in principle. Of course I'm aware, as you are, that
a colossal amount of industry (though mostly entertainment) is devoted to it: but fundamentally the
answer has to be "no". This is because human life (indeed any life form) is not willy-nilly reduplicable;
the notion of living things as "material" entities is only true insofar as that is what they are made from.
But the way these material constituents hang together is a dynamic equilibrium; and part of this
transformation entails that they no longer behave in a normative chemical manner and cannot be
handled as chemical systems qua chemical systems. Ergo: chemistry = dead matter, manipulable;
biochemistry = living matter, cells, self-assembling.
One way of appreciating this fundamental discrepancy is to take note of what "cloning" is, namely, not
(as in your assumption) some kind of mechanical copying, but rather the initiation of the biochemical
process of self-assembly which culminates in the generation of a new life (and, by the way, the same
applies to "genetic engineering", which is nothing like engineering, but again the outcome of a
scientist disturbing in a targeted way a genetic strand and waiting for it to repair and re-assemble
The last point is this: that a body could (in principle) be duplicated if particular conditions prevail. I
hope from the foregoing you know what that "special condition" must be. In a word: death. When a
body is dead, the dynamic equilibrium collapses and the material bits and pieces return to their
normal chemical functionality. Hope this answers something. Not much philosophy in it, but I suspect
that the completely fictitious dilemmas of your question would not arise if philosophy were to play a
more pronounced role in scientific developments.
This issue is addressed by many sci-fi authors. I'm always a bit puzzled, actually, by the controversy
here. How do you know that the next person you pass on the street isn't identical to you, mentally, at
least? That's certainly possible, isn't it, especially if you're a physicalist (which I am)? Given that,
what's the answer to the above? Of course Fred sub1 and Fred sub2 are different individuals: they
have separate consciousnesses, realized in separate brains. Whether they're thinking the same or
different thoughts at any given moment is surely irrelevant. If they have the same memories, again,
so what? Maybe that person you pass on the street has memories close to yours also. Even if you
and they are identical, all that means is that your two consciousnesses are, at that moment, identical
in content. Why on earth would that mean that killing one would not be killing a conscious individual?
If it comes to that, to aliens, human beings would seem virtually identical anyway... think about us vs.
insects, for example. So we could all be killed except one individual, with no effect? No.
What is being lost here, when a Fred is killed, is an individual consciousness. You might argue that
no "information" is being lost, but I don't know what "information" means when you apply it to this kind
of situation. In addition, the fact that the two Freds mustoccupy different locations, etc., implies that
they cannotbe identical. But I do not think the latter argument especially relevant. The point is that
unless their two brains were intimately connected, so that their two bodies had oneconsciousness,
killing either is killing an individual conscious being. If you're Fred sub1, and you're killed, Fred sub2
lives on, a separate consciousness, as he always was.
So if you want to put yourself, say, into a computer, as a conscious program, and so live a long and
varied life, the way you'd have to do it would be to connect your brain quite intimately to the computer,
so that you had oneconsciousness sharingboth the computer and your physical brain,
simultaneously. Thenyou could, I think, kill off your body and claim that you had transferred into a
computer... but you'd have to make sure, beforehand, that the neural configuration, on the one hand,
and the software configuration, on the other, bothresponsible for consciousness, were continuous
across both systems, otherwise killing your body would also kill the consciousness in that body, as
above. To put it another way, if Fred sub1 and Fred sub2 were wired together so completely that only
oneconsciousness (FRED) animated bothbodies, then I think that you could kill one body and claim
that FRED was still alive, although greatly diminished in intelligence and other capacities.
Steven Ravett Brown
I think you and your father are talking about different aspects of personal identity. Your father is
looking at his identity in terms of what makes him the person he is, considering introspectively what it
is to be him, and chooses memories as opposed to his body. I think I would choose my body. And,
really, to choose memories is a bit harsh on amnesiacs. Do they not have a sense of self? You, on
the other hand are looking at the philosophical concept of personal identity, and what is essential to
having a personal identity is subjectivity, as you rightly say, whether this is filled out by private
awareness of mind or body as necessary for being. Pure subjectivity is lacks being or conceptual
content. You are both right.
This is why you feel Fred's life ends "for him". There is nothing more to subjectivity, in its purity, than
being here and now, or non-conceptual awareness of "this", because "here" are "now" seem to
involve conceptual knowledge and I feel this brings in something beyond the pure subjective feeling
of the non-conceptual "I" which you are looking for. "Here" and "now" presupposes possession
language. You do need a language to think "I", but an awareness of self in relation to others can be
ascribed to animals, in my view.
What is "I" or "this"? We cannot say. We cannot even say it is the same for all of us. Maybe it is not —
after all it is subjectivity, the purely private.
To contrast essential subjectivity with personal identity as a set of memories, you have to think that
you are Fred. It will matter to you that YOU will no longer exist. The clone will not be you even if he is
physically identical and has your memories. They will no longer be available to YOU, the subjective
self, positioned as "I".
I don't think there is a problem specific to materialism. One type of materialist holds that to be in the
same physical state is to be in the same mental state and the clone's physical state is never in the
place as you, so the clone cannot be physically identical. You might simply want to claim that identical
brain states make for same mental state, if you subscribe to internalistic materialism. But I find it
difficult to see how the brain would be positioned in relation to the world beyond the senses which
contributes to the privacy of the feeling of subjectivity. Another type of materialism says that if two
people are in the same mental state they are in an identical physical state. Whether two identical
mental states are identical depends on content and possibly internal connections. But there might be
an element of "Being you and not Fred" which differs in relation to content in that the memories
matter to you. Mental states are analysed in terms of content but if a mental state is relational, there
is still this mysterious "I".