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The Ghola Dilemma

  1. Apr 17, 2009 #1
    If any of you are familiar with Frank Herbert's Dune series (if not i highly recommend reading at least the first book), you may be aware of an interesting concept that is raised within the books: the ghola. A ghola is essentially a reanimated corpse of sorts, where the dead individual's body is reformed using the tissue/DNA from their body, either by physically recreating the body in its state before death (not the most realistic of the two ways to create a ghola), or by creating a clone of the dead individual. For the sake of this post i would like to focus on the second option (the clone), as it is much more realistic. In the books, (which, if you haven't figured it out already, are science fiction) the memories, personality, etc., of the deceased person are reawakened, and for the reawakened individual it is as if they were brought back from the dead. While this situation is obviously not at all realistic, it does bring up some interesting questions like:
    1. If such a thing were possible, would the resulting person be "you"?,
    2. What constitutes "you"? Is it your memories? Your personallity? Your flesh and dna? Or some combination of all of them?,
    And 3. In situations where you "die" briefly (certain essential area's of your body shut down and or your brain is no longer fully functional) and are brought back via adrenaline injections, defribulation, etc., why is this different from the "ghola" you?

    Because typing out a long long post that goes into the details of my thought process on this was rather impractical, i had to simplify things a bit, but i hope you get the gist of what I am saying. And please, don't hesitate to take things further than i do in the post or to criticize.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 17, 2009 #2


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    Your memories would be the simple answer. You are a collection of response habits, leaned connections, that stands in some persisting meaningful relationship to the world.

    If you had an exact copy of your neural circuitry, there seems no reason not to expect it to perform the same way.

    An interesting aside. The body does have to cope with the task of continually remaking "you". This is the molecular turnover story. Essential cell structures like microtubules have a half-life of 10 minutes. Some things are longer lived. NMDA receptors have to be turned over every 5 days. Smaller components like the actin filaments in dendrites can need replacing within 40 seconds.

    So the brain is not like a bunch of computer circuits but something much more dynamic. You wouldn't want to have been dead too long before they brought "you" back perhaps.
  4. Apr 18, 2009 #3


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    I would say no. If such a thing were possible then you could make several clones of "you", so which of the clones would get claim to being "you"? Each clone would be their own person, but it may be difficult to convince them of that.
  5. Apr 18, 2009 #4
    This is an old problem, but its mostly a linguistic, or definitional problem, rather than a real philosophical problem.


    In this case, the self has assumed parameters based on real life experience, and you are adding or taking parts away from that definition. The question is simply a matter of, at what point does one decide one needs a new definition, because the old one, no longer addresses enough of the variables.

    For the human self, there are implicit assumptions included in the idea of what 'I am'. This includes living, and eventually a death. It includes a distinct mind and circumstance for that mind's expression. If you change the rules... with cloned minds/bodies, then its no so much that you have a boundary problem(when is it you?) but rather that your original assumptions have changed, so a new definition is needed.
  6. Apr 18, 2009 #5
    We see this question presented in a myriad of ways. Normally it's under the guise of teleportation. The main flaw in these arguments is that the copy is always assumed to be an exact replica of the original. We know that's not possible due to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. While the duplicate might seem on every level to be the same all you're really going to get is a probabilistic representation. Hence a copy.

    We can look at real life examples of this. Identical Twins. Monozygotic twins share the same exact genes. They share fingerprints. They are clones. Yet regardless of how similar they are, pseudo-exact so to speak, they are not exact. They have very unique quantum states and at no point will be the same person.

    Call it a GUID if you will. The quantum states of our atoms will always ensure that there is never an exact duplicate made of us. It preserves the concept of identity and ensures that consciousness will never be shared or split.

    Keep it in mind next time you run into a teleportation device!
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2009
  7. Apr 18, 2009 #6


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    Bringing in QM uncertainty or semantics of definitions is rather missing the point.

    The question is what constitutes "you". This kind of thought experiment should convince that it boils down to your functional organisation in some fashion - your form rather than your substance.

    So then to have a theory of consciousness, it would have to be a theory of functional organisation. Not some theory based on a substance ontology.
  8. Apr 18, 2009 #7
    What "I am" is a complete and entire realization of the sum of my parts. When you change that in order to make a duplicate then the essence of who "I am" is not transferred with it. A fax is not an original no matter how identical they appear to be. This isn't semantics at all. This is reality. It's impossible to capture the state of our brain in any form that would allow us to make an exact duplicate. If the duplicate isn't exact then the conversation of identity crisis ceases to exist.
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2009
  9. Apr 18, 2009 #8


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    You are still arguing something that may be true (as also with Dawg's semantic point) but not central to the question posed.

    An exact copy may be impossible for QM reasons. Even just for good old non-linear dynamic reasons. But a rough copy may be close enough to still pass as "you".

    That is the question you have to consider. At what point would an inexact copy become a distinguishable copy in some meaningful way?

    Hence my mention of microtubule half life and relevant facts like that.
  10. Apr 18, 2009 #9
    That's not what is being asked however. The OP first question was:

    The answer is a resounding no. There is little doubt in my mind that it would believe it was you, and others would believe it was you. That doesn't alter the fact that it isn't you however. If I step into a teleporter and a body comes out the other side that seems to be me, rest assured that it isn't!

    Some would say non-physiological "forces" such as a soul or mind. I stand firm in my belief that identity is comprised of nothing more than what we see. We don't need to invoke such things to give us uniqueness or identity. I've already discussed why that is.

    It's different because of the guid of uniqueness and identity that I'm referring to. We can talk all day long about the refreshing of atoms in our body and how we're always being renewed. That doesn't change the concept that consciousness is based from continuity, while identity is based on what I am right now.
  11. Apr 19, 2009 #10


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    That is an assertion not an argument.

    And from what you said about QM uncertainty, you couldn't even know if the cloned states at a fundamental were same or different.
  12. Apr 20, 2009 #11
    I just had quite a lengthy response typed up but hit shift+backspace or something and lost it.
    Anyways, quantum physics is irrelevant to this issue. Regardless of the quantum state of the particles that compose you, you are yourself.
    here is a situation that helps make what i am trying to ask clearer:
    Say you die. Your brain stops sending signals to your vital organs, and your conscious self ceases to be (for the sake of this post i am ignoring the possibility of any kind of spirit or soul). Moments later a defibrillator sends a charge through your body jump starting your brain and vital functions. You are then again conscious, and have all the memories, personality traits, etc you previously did. Most people would assume that you are still "you".
    Now say you have died of a fatal wound (say, to the heart), suppose that a clone is made, and that it is possible to restore the state of the clones brain to that of the state of the originals before death, imbuing it with all the memories, personality traits, etc of the original. Would you then awake in this new clone body as you did in the previous case? If not, why? I know that, if this were possible, it would also be possible to create multiple copies of you, and that you cannot be multiple people, but I don't think that necessarily completely negates the concept (although it does present a very large problem). I have not completely worked through this, and just wanted to see what others thoughts on it were.
  13. Apr 20, 2009 #12
    I believe this is a misinterpretation of consciousness and identity. They are not one in the same.

    In order for anything to be you it has to have your identity. Your consciousness is irrelevant. The person that is revitalized has your identity. The clone does not. They both might share your memories, thoughts and knowledge but that is not the definition of identity.

    I'd suggest studying http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_card" [Broken] to get a better grasp of this. We mass produce nics. Nics of the same model share identical hardware, identical software, identical manufacturing process. Yet each and every one of them is unique. They have to be otherwise we'd have no way differentiate one from the other and the beauty of the networking would be lost. This is done by creating a guid. Each nic has it's own global unique identifier (MAC address).

    Our thoughts, memories, knowledge and anything else that constitutes consciousness can be duplicated. That's fine. This is not identity however. Identity is defined by our current state(s) of existence and that can never be duplicated. It's not some strand of dna, it's not some special area of the brain. It's the sum of the parts.

    I again point to Identical Twins. This is a perfect example of how clones have separate identities. Twin A is not Twin B. We know this undeniably. How then can any clone or "reconstruction" be that which it originated from? Perhaps a better term for this would be Indistinguishable Twins. This concept of Indistinguishable versus Identiticle sums up the entire argument.

    Let's look at it from a different angle. Person A suffers from complete and total memory loss. Retrograde Amnesia. The person has lost their memories, their thoughts, their knowledge. They've been robbed of any past consciousness. If we define identity strictly on the basis of consciousness then we can say that this is NOT the person they were before the amnesia. This of course is a misnomer. It is the same person, they have the same identity. Identity is not defined by consciousness.

    You say uncertainty principle plays no role here. I disagree. It's the mechanism that preserves our identity. It's the mechanism that states that we'll never be able to be perfectly copied. It's the ultimate guid.

    It's not a matter of if they could be the same or not. It's a matter of probability. We have more atoms in our body then the http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_atoms_are_there_in_the_average_human_body". Each of those atoms has different probability factor associated with the state(s) of it's particles. I'm not a mathematician or statistical analyst but if I had to venture to guess I'd say the probability of coming up with an exact copy would be a little closer to 0 than 1.

    In this case I'd say my assertion does indeed become argument.
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