For Stelios, the teletransporter is the only way to travel. Previously it took months to get from Earth to Mars, confined to a cramped spacecraft with a far from perfect safety record. Stelios's TeletransportExpress changed all that. Now the trip takes just minutes, and so far it has been 100 percent safe.
However, now he is facing a lawsuit from a disgruntled customer who is claiming the company actually killed him. His argument is simple: the teletransporter works by scanning your brain and body cell by cell, destroying them, beaming the information to Mars and reconstructing you there. Although the person on Mars looks, feels, and thinks just like the person who has been sent to sleep and zapped across space, the claimant argues that what actually happens is that you are murdered and replaced by a clone.
To Stelios, this sounds absurd. After all, he has taken the teletransporter trip dozens of times, and he doesn't feel dead. Indeed, how can the claimant seriously believe that he has been killed by the process when he is clearly able to take the case to court?
Still, as Stelios entered the teletransporter booth once again and prepared to press the button that would begin to dismantle him, he did, for a second, wonder whether he was about to commit suicide...
Baggini, J., The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, 2005, p. 4.
Star Trek has already explored many, many transporter issues that might arise from the use of this imagined technology: mental or physical trauma, unintended combinations with foreign objects, using it to fix abnormalities, getting "lost" or purposefully suspended in the data transfer, shielding people from unwanted transports, storing copies of previously transported persons for emergency reconstructions, fetal transportations extracting babies from the wombs of mothers, splitting one person into two (one good, one bad), accidentally making a complete copy of one person, inadvertently combining two people into one, transporting persons through time, and even transporting to alternate universes. It's quite a rich source of material for discussion!
When considering any of these issues though, it's important philosophically to start by pointing out that the question of a soul or some other immaterial part of a person is entirely discounted. The transporters simply scan all the material in our bodies and reconstruct that. I firmly believe this is the correct view of the self though as there is no evidence to the contrary, so I'm happy to skip over that concern.
Fine, we're material beings. But I still like this transporter issue because it raises interesting questions about our attachment to *this* material. In the imagined scenario, *this* me will die, but another person just like me will go on walking through the world, reacting to it, and being observed by others exactly the way that I would. *I* would cease to exist once the transporter process began, but the new *I* would wake up in Mars remembering everything about me, including the moments up to and immediately after the transporter process. Is this enough for the present me? Weirdly, it probably is. Even though we seem to be entirely material in nature, we're strangely unattached to the precise material. Don't believe me? Well the fact that most of our cells are entirely replaced on a regular basis shows we already deal fairly well with this issue. Our brain cells do typically last a lifetime though, so I would understand philosophical objections to being teleported based on that scientific fact.
Those objections appear to me to be selfish though. Given the possibility, would the world be better off with individuals remaining materially intact but spatially restricted, or with individuals with much richer spatial experiences whose material was regularly replaced? Would I want my same wife to stay on Earth with me, or would I prefer a materially replaced wife who was exactly the same only she had been to Mars and back and could tell me about it? I think I could handle preferring the latter, using a metaphor for identity to explain the situation.
In my essay on John Locke, I noted that "Locke's theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self. He was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. Locke defines the self as "that conscious thinking thing, (whatever substance, made up of whether spiritual, or material, simple, or compounded, it matters not) which is sensible, or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends.” He does not, however, ignore "substance," writing that "the body too goes to the making of the man.” The Lockean self is therefore a self-aware and self-reflective consciousness that is fixed in a body. Destruction of the body in the form of Alzheimer’s, amnesia, or stroke, leads one to lose that continuity of consciousness by the self. That doesn’t change the identity of the individual. Identity is therefore independent from consciousness. Identity lies at the Mind x Body intersection. One helpful analogy is to say identity is like a river. Not the water that flows through it, but the channel that actually forms the river. When storms occur and water is high, the river is deepened. When drought occurs, the river slows and silts up. When earthquakes or glaciers reshape the landscape, the riverbed may hold no water at all. If we know the events that carved the river, we can recognize its identity no matter what state it is in. Likewise, we can recognize identity when we know the events that shaped it. If you know the river and are told the volume of water that will flow its way, you know what the river will look like. If you know a person and are told the events that will occur to them, you will recognize how they handle it. This is how we know people after long absences, and this is how changes during brief separations can surprise us."
So even though my transported wife would be made from different atoms of material, I would still recognise her and love her because I would understand the changes that she has gone through—just like every other change she has gone through already. I'd probably even love her more for all the cool stories she could tell me about Mars. How could I decide that was wrong for her? Or that it would be wrong for me to deny others of that kind of extra experience from "me"? Sure, technically, one "me" is dying for the benefit of an "other". It just so happens the "other" is also "me".
I would dismiss the case against Stelios if I was the judge. I would set the precedent that this was a morally beneficial change to the physical processes that humans can go through. No one should be forced through a transporter if they object to it, but once through, they have no justification for claiming a harm had been done to them. What about you though? How would you judge this hypothetical situation?