This is what happens when I don’t sleep for 4 consecutive days. I question my own existence.
Imagine you’re in the year 1800 and want to build a ship out of wood since you’re bored. So you build a ship and call it Ship. Obviously, you’re not the most creative person in the world. Anyway, you forget about Ship for a couple of years but hire a man (you call him Man) to take care of it while you’re off naming other things like Table and Chair for tables and chairs.
Every year, parts of Ship begin to rot so Man takes them off, puts them in a pile (interestingly enough, he decides to call it Pile) and puts new parts on Ship instead. Eventually, (10 years after you built Ship), every single part of Ship has been replaced with a brand new part.
So here’s the problem. Is this 1810 Ship the same ship as the one you built 10 years ago? What if Man used all the rotten pieces to build a completely identical ship which he also named Ship (you two are probably related). Of the two Ships, which is the real Ship?
Now, let’s make it a bit more confusing. Apparently, some scientists claim the cells in our bodies are replaced by new ones every 10 years or so. I realise that not all cells are replaced. But it poses the same question: are you still you, or are you a completely new person? Has the old you just been slowly replaced, cell by cell?
Stemming from this comes the problem of Human Cloning. I’m sure you’ve all seen THE PRESTIGE. Kudos to Nolan; another excellent mind-blowing film. If you’ve not seen it, stop what you’re doing and go watch it now – unless you’re already watching it at this very moment. Which you’re probably doing in a parallel reality, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One problem at a time…
Anyway, Hugh Jackman does a magic trick (*gasp* massive spoiler, I know) called “The Transporting Man” (unlike you, this is a man who knows how to name things. Otherwise, if he were anything like you, he’d name his magic trick “Magic Trick”).
His magic trick is simple: He creates a copy of himself and makes it look like he’s teleported. However, he has to kill the “clone” otherwise there’d be two of him. He kills the “clones” by drowning them in a massive box full of water. At the end of the film, we see a massive warehouse full of all the clones he’s killed and he’s sitting there spending his last minutes explaining to the guy who shot him that he was never sure if he was the one who’d come out as the Prestige or if he was the one who’d drown. Essentially, he was killing himself and being born again very single time he did the trick. So who is the real Hugh Jackman? The guy who’s just been shot or one of the drowning victims?
Scratching your heads yet? Let’s add in another factor. Teleportation. Scientists have confirmed using photons that teleportation is possible. You probably don’t want to read a massive essay on the details of teleportation so I’ll just give a very brief summary. It’s like a fax machine:
1) You’re at Location A.
2) Details of your molecular structure are sent to Location B.
3) A “replica” of you is created at Location B.
4) The “original you” in Location A is destroyed.
Are you still you? Do you retain all your thoughts and memories, even though you’re technically a copy?
And this brings me to my final topic. The existence of the mind/soul. The Ship of Theseus (the Ship example) proves that it exists. To all you Philosophy people who’ve read Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, you know what essence and existence is. To all you non-philosophy people (read: lucky people), existence is basically saying that something exists (what a great explanation). Essence is basically what makes something a something (an even better explanation). What makes a table, a table? What makes a cat, a cat? What makes an apple, an apple?
So what makes you, YOU? Is a clone the same thing as the original? If I can take your physical form, break it down and rebuild it again, without altering your thoughts/memories/emotions /personality at all, are you still the same person? If you have two twins and they physically trade brains with one another, which is which? What is a person? Was there ever an “original you”? Are you just another replacement? Are you just a mind? Do you need a body? Does your body even exist?
Who are you? And, more importantly, who am I?