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Response to Beam Me Up...

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By KurnDerak
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The problems that arise from the scenario described in “Beam Me Up...” that I wish to deal with first are not the intended problems of the scenario.  I find the scenario as described to simply be too implausible to take it serious enough to not address the problems with it right away. When I feel that these problems have been adequately addressed I will then move on to what the author intended to be the primary point of discussion rather than what I found it to be.

The legality of such a technology would have to be dealt with well before it would ever be unleashed on the public. The author sets up a scenario in which our understanding of murder at present time is still the legal standing, but they put us into an era where this is no longer functional in society.  At present death is determined when brain activity ceases and for our current era of technology that is entirely accurate.  When the brain stops functioning all that we understand of what makes a person uniquely that person ceases to be.  This includes memories, personality, knowledge, beliefs, and so forth. Without those aspects in some form that person essentially ceases to exist.  Even if we were to accept that a soul does exist these aspects of the person leave the body with the soul upon death and they essentially cease to exist here, instead existing in some after life.  Whichever way you look at it appears to be easily agreed upon that brain death is the point that a person has died and cannot return to life.

What this scenario proposes is for us to consider a situation in which this does not always equate with death of the person.  With teleportation the person’s body is reduced to individual molecules that would presumably be reused later on.  In our current technological age this would always equate in murder if you did this to somebody.  However, with the ability to copy their mind, each aspect that makes this person uniquely them we are able to move beyond treating brain death as the only form of death.  

A business whose function was to offer teleportation services to the public would have a legal team at hand because something would go wrong.  The first thing they would be expected to do would be for them to figure out how to keep the business from being as legally liable as possible.  Many businesses in new fields often want to be as unregulated as possible to allow for them to cut costs, keep fees low, and in general avoid doing things they don’t want to.  However, they also want to be as free from litigation as possible and pushing to redefine how laws on murder work would be one of their top priorities.  Otherwise if nothing was done with our current laws on murder up into an era where public teleportation was implemented it seems beyond reasonable to expect us to accept that it took more than a single day for this sort of lawsuit to appear.  This aspect of the scenario described becomes such a problem for me that I have serious problems moving on from it.

Not only would this cause serious problems in murder accusations if what we considered to be death did not change, what about the ramifications of those who actually did teleport?  If having your body disintegrated during the process of teleportation was enough to constitute accusations of murder it would be certainly enough for whoever was teleported to be declared legally dead.  The scenario doesn’t address this at all, and it is a serious gaping flaw in how they set up the problem.  How can a person who would have to be seen as legally dead then move forward with a lawsuit against the company they accused of murdering them?  If they aren’t seen as legally dead there can be no claims of murder.  There can’t be a murder if there was no death.  However, if they are seen as legally dead than they are not afforded the rights of a living person and thus not be capable of filing a lawsuit against the business.  That is unless we afforded all dead or even just recently deceased people with the right to file lawsuits and interact with the legal system.

The issue of what we legally define as death and murder would most likely be dealt with as this sort of technology was being developed.  The businesses interested in this technology would be are the forefront of this change in our legal system as they want to protect themselves and their investments.  We can see this sort of behavior now without trying too hard.  No business wants to be sued if they can avoid it as lawsuits are expensive, they can become very damaging to their public relations, and can even have long lasting impact due to the outcome of the legal battle. I cannot stress how implausible I find a scenario in which a company would willingly and knowingly allow such an opening for lawsuit to go on.  The possibility that they’d do this unknowingly only comes up long enough for me to flat out dismiss it as beyond absurd.

This isn’t even the full extent as to which the business would reduce liability and avoid potential lawsuits.  There would be agreements and/or waivers that the consumer base would have to sign before using this technology.  It would include such things as a reminder of what the legal definition of death is, as well as the odds of something going wrong and what happens in those situations.  In a sort of worst possible scenario a person could die even by their futuristic standards if a piece of debris in space blocked the teleportation signal and a system failure made sure that no sort of second attempt could be made.  The person’s mind would then be completely lost.  This is about the worst scenario that could happen as not only would their body be destroyed but in the process everything that was their mind would be, too.  Even in this situation the business would make sure that they were not liable as they would fully disclose, either by choice or by legal requirement, that this could happen and that the use accepts all risks and consequences.  With these problems addressed I feel that I can move on to the philosophical question at hand.

As I stated before it is readily agreed upon that when a person’s brain ceases to function that person is dead.  The reason for this is that nearly every other physical part of the human body can either be replaced in some way or does not cause death were it to fail.  We can transplant hearts, we have machines that function as kidneys, and continue to improve our ability to repair and replace failing parts of the human body.  If our eyes cease to function we can go on living, same if we lose an arm or our hair falls out.  But if our brain ceases to function we cannot recover, we cannot replace it or, to the best of my knowledge, repair it.  Our definition of death, then, is not one based on some absolute but of our circumstances.  However, we don’t seem to realize this which makes the questions this scenario raises difficult for some.  If the mind, that which makes us uniquely us, could survive beyond our physical body by being transferred to another source I see no reason to consider any part of the body ceasing to function, in and of itself, to be a criteria of death.  

The other problem that this tries to raise is that of what we describe as unique individuals.  I’ve seen this sort of problem raised elsewhere in asking how we punish someone for a crime if they were to murder someone and then use a teleporter.  The person that comes out the other end of the teleporter would be mentally identical but physically be a clone.  They would have none of the same physical matter that made up the person who entered the teleporter as that matter would still be where they had teleported from.  The way around this problem, as with the problem of what constitutes death in an age of teleportation, would be to separate the body from how we determine unique individuals.  Just as we would stop determining death solely on the death of the body we would stop determining unique personhood based primarily on their physical body.  Again this is also an instance of it not being defined as an absolute but based on our current circumstances.  There is, in our current era, no realistic way for a person to exist on earth without their body and still be seen as a legal, living citizen of some country.  Each person’s mind inhabits that person’s body and that is it.  At no point do we as a society separate mind and body when identifying people, they are a singular thing essentially.  If we reach a point when we are capable of separating them we will, and whatever holds the characteristics that more accurately defines who that person is as a unique individual will be used to determine personhood.  Based on this scenario it would be the mind and so we can conclude reasonably that whoever exits a teleporter is the same person, legally and otherwise, the same person who entered.  They have the same memories, the same knowledge, the same personality, are completely indistinguishable from the person who entered the teleporter.
My response to the second thought experiment in The Pig That wants to be Eaten.  This one I had a much bigger problem dealing with how the scenario was set up than with the thought problem itself.
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