Thinking out loud

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Problem of Consciousness

Penrose, in his book "The Emperors New Mind", comes up with this nice argument about why teleportation of human beings is problematic. It goes something like this:
Suppose that a person is completely characterised by the "position" of the all the atoms/particles of his body relative to each other. Also, by some argumentation of Quantum Mechanics, its possible to say that its not a particular electron or proton that is part of a body that matters, but the fact that there is an electron at a position; basically that electrons are indistinguishable from each other. Now, suppose (the uncertainty principle notwithstanding), we are able to precisely locate each electron/proton/neutron in a persons body and transmit this information via electromagnetic waves to a distant planet. At that end, with still more sophisticated machinery, we construct a body with an identical configuration (as specified). Now, the original body is destroyed. Have we been able to transfer the person to another place? At first sight, one is tempted to say "well...yes....but what about the uncertainty principle".
Let us forget the Uncertainty Principle for the moment. There are other problems still. Suppose that we fail to destroy the original body. Does that mean that the "same" person is in two places at once? In body perhaps, but what about consciousness? Are the "two" people aware of each others presence? Have we replicated the "consciousness" too? So, essentially, is consciousness only a function of configuration of electrons in the body?
Again suppose, while the data was in transit, there was a lot of congestion on one of our wi-fi links. And the data had to be temporarily stored in a hard-disk. We, meanwhile, destroy the original body...since the data is safe and we are sure we can reconstruct the person as and when we wish. And now suppose the hard-disk lies around for several days. Is the "person" "inside" the hard-disk? Is part of the hard-disk conscious? Essentially, is consciousness a function of the information content in the human body?
What would happen if a person suddenly found himself at another place...with time having elapsed....but with the body having had NO EFFECT of passing time whatsoever. No new memories are formed during the process of transmission. This is different from falling asleep...where aging continues to happen even though memories might not be formed. Wouldn't the mind be in an 'inconsistent' state? Is that a problem?
Defining consciousness is a hard problem...perhaps the "most important problem about the world, the universe and everything" and whose answer is very unlikely to be 42. Is it Godel's incompleteness theorem at work here? Is this the ultimate question that we can never answer in finite time? Are we finite state automata too?

4 Comments:

  • Too technical :( leaves me speechless.

    By Blogger highway star, at 1:24 AM  

  • when r u going to update?
    some details on new jersey are in order...

    By Anonymous ansari, at 10:14 AM  

  • I liked what you wrote on the Problem of Consciousness. I understand I am going to go off topic but I think it will give you some points to ponder over. Your question of consciousness is one of the oldest questions of philosophy. Three great Greek philosophers made contribution to it with each improving the work of other or proving them wrong. They are Socrates, plato and aristotle. The question they tried to answer was: What is consciousness? The scenario they used was: Let us consider a new born child. It was born alone. No one is going to teach anything to it. It has no senses. It cannot see, hear, smell, sense, etc. Now the question is will it have conscience. If so why?
    It is unfortunate that I don’t remember the contributions of each philosopher, because I read this some long time back.

    I hope you will like this: http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0461.html?m%3D4

    By Blogger coder, at 1:48 AM  

  • please update your email address in the blog. I am not able to communicate you. I cannot use messengers from my work, and i stay away from home.

    By Blogger coder, at 2:08 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home