九龍華仁書院安省舊生會

Wah Yan College Kowloon Alumni Association of Ontario

Welcome to WYKAAO

Contact Us

An Application Essay Accepted by University of Chicago, 2005__ Jason Leung

An Application Essay Accepted by University of Chicago, 2005, by Jason Leung

Essay title:

In a book entitled The Mind’s I, by Douglas Hofstadter, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett posed the following problem: Suppose you are an astronaut stranded on Mars whose spaceship has broken down beyond repair. In your disabled craft there is a Teleclone Mark IV teleporter that can swiftly and painlessly dismantle your body, producing a molecule-by-molecule blueprint to be beamed to Earth. There, a Teleclone receiver stocked with the requisite atoms will produce, from the beamed instructions, you—complete with all your memories, thoughts, feelings, and opinions. If you activate the Teleclone Mark IV, which astronaut are you—the one dismantled on Mars or the one produced from a blueprint on Earth? Suppose further that an improved Teleclone Mark V is developed that can obtain its blueprint without destroying the original. Are you then two astronauts at once? If not, which one are you?

The essay:

This question raises many fundamental issues about identity. What is the definition of ‘I’? If ‘I’ is the sense of self I feel when I am conscious, maintained by my neural system or something else, then this certainly ceases when my body is disassembled by the Mark IV teleporter. Arguably, a new ‘me’ is created when a new copy of my body is constructed by the teleporter on Earth. The only reason this new consciousness can be identified as the old ‘me’ is because it has a perfect copy of my memories and personality before I took to the teleporter on Mars. Thus in this sense only a distinct but identical copy of my body steps out of the teleporter on earth, the original destroyed by the teleporter on Mars. 

However, I believe this does not matter. Every time I wake up I don’t worry that I am in fact some entirely different being with the memories of another person. My memories tell me that I was the same person I was when I fell asleep last night. Assuming the process of disassembling and assembling my body is too swift to notice and I merely spend 10 or so minutes unconscious as the blueprint signal is transmitted from Mars to Earth at the speed of light. As I ‘awake’ on Earth my body feels the same. How is this different from sleeping and waking up in the same shape? If I cease to be conscious and some person wakes up with my personality, instincts and memories then he is by all intents and purposes, me. 

If ‘I’ am to be defined as the current state of my body and whatever that sustains my consciousness, the going through the teleporter will still transport ‘me’ from Mars to Earth. Even without being disassembled and reassembled by teleporter the body is in a constant state of change. Cells split to replace dead ones. The food we eat becomes part of our bodies and our excretions were from parts of our bodies. Our experiences and mind-states change constantly as well. Scientists have actually theorized that time does not exist and the universe exists as snapshots from instant to instant, like in a film projector. If this is true, then there never will be a constant ‘me’ in the first place. Therefore my identity cannot be defined through the exact state of my physical body, which is constantly changing through every-day living. The teleporter only does this faster, so even a complete rebuilding of my body would not change what ‘I’ am. 

If the teleporter produces an exact copy of me on Earth, then both people will become me. The copy on Earth has all my memories and thinks it is ‘me’. The original on Mars, having not been disassembled, will also think so. If ‘I’ on Mars knew of the existence of the copy on Earth, ‘I’ will think of it as a copy of me and vice versa. Even if the ‘me’ from Earth knows he is made from the blueprints of ‘me’ on Mars, he will still consider himself a distinct individual. At least I know ‘I’ would, and Earth-me is ‘my’ exact replica. Who is ‘I’ between two identical individuals depends on the perspective used. 

In terms of establishing identity through the exact physiological state of the individual, the experiences of both astronauts will begin to diverge almost immediately after the clone is produced on Earth. Therefore there are two individuals, but in my point of view there is always only one ‘me’.

You are here: Home Features An Application Essay Accepted by University of Chicago, 2005__ Jason Leung