Bob and Joe are friends. Joe decides to move his life to a virtual reality, and invents a device that copies his brain to a [very advanced] computer (killing his biological body and brain in the process). Form Bob's perspective Joe remains exactly the same (well, aside from him not having a body) - he has the same personality, memories, and so on.

But that's not really Joe, it's his exact copy. From Joe's perspective his life simply ended when he pressed enter. What really happened is that another, identical, Joe2 was created, while the original one (Joe1) died.

It seems that this is an inherent problem with any 'brain-transfer/copy' device that I can think of - they cannot transfer the original entity, but merely create a clone. For Joe1, pressing enter is suicide (although he does know that in a way his copy will carry on).

Is there (theoretical, but not magical) alternative that enables Joe1 actually move to a computer/robot/another human body/teleport by destructing and reconstructing his body? Other than putting his brain in a jar, or any other alternatives based on connecting his original brain to somewhere.

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    $\begingroup$ The traditional answers are to mumble "quantum" or find a soul. $\endgroup$ – user25818 Oct 30 '17 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ Hint for your next questions: Split them up into singular questions. You were basically asking 4 different things in 1. (computer, robot, human body and teleportation. Those for things might be somewhat related, but are very different topics overall) $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Oct 30 '17 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @ArtificialSoul - are they though? It’s essentially the same procedure: you ‘read’ a brain, transfer the information, and ‘write’ it on something. It might be hard disc or a different biological brain, but from the concussions perspective it’s the same. $\endgroup$ – Laetus Oct 30 '17 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ After reading the answers I think the question may be unclear. Are you asking about the difference between mv and cp, or are you asking about continuity? $\endgroup$ – user25818 Oct 30 '17 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Laetus Yes, they are fundamentally different. Brain->Computer: Translation needed. Brain->Robot: neurological connection with the brain needed. Brain->other Human: Brain Transplant / micro neurosurgery. Teleportation: Moving mass without "moving" it. These Topics have barely anything in common. $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Oct 30 '17 at 22:44

This is a long standing issue regarding identity: it was first considered in Ancient Greece: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus.

Basically, you have a ship whose parts are replaced when damaged, until they have all been replaced: is it still the same ship?

In here, you have that original problem, and some additional considerations:

  1. What defines Joe's identity? His body or his thoughts?
  2. What determines Joe's thoughts? Just the layout of his brain (the map of neurons and neural connections), or his layout and the electrical impulses travelling through it at a given time?

You have to first decide which are the answers to these questions before being able to tell if any given brain transfer method preserves Joe's identity.


Your question regarding the computer answers itself. Joe1 can not be transferred into a computer. Joe1 is a biological machine and his mind would have to be translated for a computer existence. How do you imagine this transfer with the "real" Joe1 to look like? Like him disintegrating and being sucked into the computer? The body would still die. If you want to transfer him into a new plain of existence his body (and brain) would still be left here. And probably die.

Regarding the teleportation it's more to do with physics than anything. At this current time we know of nothing that could transport matter over long distances without ever making it "move". Current Theories suggest that things like wormholes are impossible and nothing in the universe can just "jump" from one position to the other.

With the Transfer to a different body or a robotic body it's different. Theoretically you could just move a person's brain, hook it up into (biological) machinery, supply it and it can learn to interact with it's new surroundings.

Example: There are robotics projects of (paraplegic) people getting neural implants with wires to a robotic arm which they can then learn to control. So it's not a big stretch of the imagination that you could do this with more than just one arm.

On the other hand, transplanting any organ into a different body might always end with the new body rejecting the organ. So that might go wrong in a brain transplant.


If computers are sufficiently advanced that a person could copy him/herself into it, the transition may not be so abrupt. Existing man machine interface technology makes it possible for the computer to "write" signals to the mind (to help the blind see; I think the most recent work is out of the U.K.). Therefore, you might not have an A/B transition; the digital self may be an extension of the whole person, thought of as a single self, and all writing back to the same brain. That common brain may be backed up so that the digital self can continue after an accident (or deliberate harm). It extends the ship problem because your not looking at a second ship made according to a shared blueprint, but really looking at piece by piece replacement.


Where does your soul live? Do you even have soul, or are you the sum of your experiences combined with the sum of your physical being?

In order to migrate Joe1 into Reality 2.0 (TM White-Wolf), you would have to move the Joeness of Joe.

If Joe has a soul, separate from his physical self, then transferring this soul would accomplish the task.

If Joe is the sum of his experiences and physical self, then replicating all of this into a supercomputer would accomplish the task, but also open up the possibility of multiple Joes.

That concludes my answer to the question, but here follows some further thoughts:

My personal belief-system leans towards the latter theory, I must admit. But in order to move all of Joe into VR2.0, including personality, you would have to replicate his physical chemistry as well. Our memories and personalities are somehow miraculously stored in a fleshy grey blob, through the intricate regulation of chemicals. Our moods are influenced by chemicals secreted in the brain, pancreas and even stomach (and that's not even all of it). These chemical balances or imbalances influence our personalities, decisions and reasoning.

I think it would be possible, in theory, to create an artificial system capable of mimicking every single physical aspect of a human digitally, and thus to then program this system with all the aspects of a particular human. But before you can do that, you would have to know every single thing about what makes people tick, and that is a long, long, looooong way off.

Having this capability would be (imho) fantastic: Being able to move someone into VR2.0 would mean that people like Stephen Hawking could get a new lease on life, and would also theoretically introduce immortality (provided the power doesn't go out, and regular backups are made) without the messy question of possibly (increased) overpopulation.


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