Author John Mitchell answers some tough questions about Christianity in ‘Fire Song’. For all you Star Trek fans you’ll love the analogy given to prove the existence of the soul. Read it. Then “Live long, and prosper.”
The Star Trek Transporter Points to the Soul!
According to my friend, the theory behind the Star Trek transporter is simple. First, a computer maps every cell in the body of the traveler who is to be beamed up or down. Next, the transporter mechanism disassembles the body of the traveler by breaking it into billions of tiny pieces of matter. Finally, these particles are reassembled in the new location, according to the detailed map of the traveler’s body that was stored in the computer’s memory. The new body is reconstructed using matter from the original body, in addition to matter it mixes with in the process.
After this explanation, I asked my friend where the traveler goes during his or her “transport.” “It seems clear to me,” I said, “that a person would cease to exist (die) when his or her body was broken into billions of pieces.”
“Ah, but an exact replica of that person is assembled in the new location,” he insisted, “complete with an identical body and brain, containing the identical memories of the person who had been disassembled by the transporter.”
“But an exact replica of something isn’t the same as the thing replicated,” I said. “The clone of a thing isn’t the thing itself. The person who ceases to exist at the beginning of ‘transport’ is not the same person who is assembled from a map of that person’s body stored in a computer.”
“I can prove this to you,” I said. ”What if the transporter took the information about the person’s body and brain and, instead of assembling only one replica of the original person, it produced three identical replicas of the traveler from surrounding matter. Suppose each of these replicas was constructed simultaneously, from precisely the same amount of matter from the original body, mixed in with additional matter from the surrounding area. Finally, assume each replica of the traveler was assembled and experienced consciousness simultaneously in the new location. Who would count as the original traveler who was transported, and how would you know?”
My friend looked puzzled. I knew he couldn’t answer this question decisively because his criterion for identifying the traveler was the traveler’s body/brain map saved in the computer. But this, obviously, is not enough to identify the traveler, because this map could have multiple, identical people embodying it.
Our thought experiment with the transporter reveals at least two things. First, the only way for a person to actually travel through space and time is for that person to endure the journey as a single entity, with a single, uninterrupted stream of mental, emotional and volitional capacity (personhood) through every stage of the journey. Because the traveler’s personhood would be destroyed when his body and brain were obliterated by the machine, he would cease to exist at the beginning of the journey. The one who replaced him would not be him—just one who perfectly resembled him. This means the original traveler would not, in any sense, be transported to another place by the machine.
Second, to say a person maintains his or her absolute identity through physical change assumes that he or she is more than just physical parts. For if a person is identical to the set of physical parts that make up his or her body and brain, then no actual person would endure through body/brain change, only “person-stages” that sequentially replace one another.
Think about it. Our bodies and brains change radically over time, gaining and losing billions of cells or other components almost daily. But if I am identical to a certain set of body and brain parts, when that set of parts is replaced by a different set (i.e., when my body and brain change), then “I,” by definition, would cease to exist in that moment, and a similar “person-stage” would replace “me.” No literal self would make the journey through these physical changes, unless the self is more than physical parts.
This matches my intuitions perfectly. I know that I am a single entity who’s gone through radical changes while remaining identical to myself. What about you? My guess is you know without a doubt that you are literally the same person who enrolled in kindergarten and made an imprint of your hand in plaster. You are the same, single entity, who has grown and changed through time.
Your body and brain have gained and lost billions of cells throughout your lifetime. And yet, you, an enduring entity with a single stream of uninterrupted mental, emotional and volitional capacity have remained the same person throughout these changes. But for this to be true, you must be more than your physical parts. You must be a non-physical soul that exists in and through a physical body. Your “soulishness” is what makes you a person.