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 IAmAnAtheist » Philosophy is Unnecessary II

Philosophy is Unnecessary II

The below item is part of my "Conversations" series.

Two graduate students in a magic shop

Eddie: This is some quality stuff.

Franklin: You’re right. I thought it was going to be like a cheesy amusement park shop, but these are the real thing.

Eddie: They’ve got a Zig Zag cabinet! I totally wanted one of those when I was a kid. I could have kicked the school talent show’s ass.

Franklin: When the clerk’s done, let’s ask her if she’ll show us something. I saw her doing a coin trick before.

Eddie: Sure! I could hang around here all day. Magic is one of the few things that lets me pretend that there’s still some mystery in the world. I really like that.

Franklin: What do you mean "pretend’ there’s some mystery? There’s tons of stuff we don’t know about the world.

Eddie: That’s true, but we’re going to find out. Science is chipping away at everything as we speak.

Franklin: Then maybe you should study philosophy more. There’s plenty of mystery left for philosophers to discover.

Eddie: I don’t see the point. Any question philosophy can come up with, science will answer. There’s nothing you can’t discover with science, given enough time.

Franklin: That’s just not true. Things can have properties that are completely inaccessible to science. For example, see this coin in the case? What if I said that that coin was once held by Charlie Chaplain?

Eddie: I’d ask you to prove it.

Franklin: Let’s say I couldn’t prove it. What does that tell you about the coin?

Eddie: That it wasn’t held by Chaplain.

Franklin: No, it only proves that I can’t prove it was held by Chaplain. It still may be true that this coin was once in Chaplain’s hand. How could you use science to find out if it had?

Eddie: I could check the coin’s history. Research where it came from.

Franklin: What if you couldn’t? What if we were talking about a penny I found on the street and there was no way that anyone could tell where it came from?

Eddie: Then you couldn’t claim Chaplain owned it.

Franklin: That’s true, but the coin could have the property of once having been owned by Chaplain, whether we knew it or not.

Eddie: Then I’ll wait for science to invent a time machine, go back in time, and follow the coin back to its creation to see who has ever held it. It would be tedious and pointless, but it’s not impossible.

Franklin: You’re assuming that time travel is possible. That sounds more like a statement of faith than a scientific belief.

Eddie: That’s true. I actually don’t even think that time travel is possible. I guess you’re right that there are things science can’t answer, like "What did the first true caveman have for lunch on his fifth birthday?" or "Did this bone belong to something that died happy?" But those are trivial things that might be fun or interesting to think about but don’t have any significant value.

Franklin: Wouldn’t you say it’s valuable to be able to tell if something really belonged to who it was said to have belonged to? Particularly if you are bidding on it on eBay?

Eddie: Yes, but even if science can’t answer the question, philosophy can’t either.

Franklin: There are some things — important things — that philosophy can address but science can’t touch. For example, if there are two women with identical bodies and memories, are they the same person?

Eddie: No. Science proves that an object can’t be in two places at the same time, so they’re different people. Easy.

Franklin: Okay. So if there’s a Star Trek transporter error and two identical women end up arriving at her destination instead of just one, which of the two is the original?

Eddie: Neither. They’re both copies.

Franklin: Then if there hadn’t been an error and only one woman had appeared at the destination, she wouldn’t be the original?

Eddie: No. She’d be a copy. That’s how a transporter would work.

Franklin: Then if a woman used a transporter, her children would instantly be orphans?

Eddie: No, because the copy would have all the rights of the original.

Franklin: Then you’d say that a copy of your mom is just as good as your mom?

Eddie: It sounds weird to say so, but from a scientific standpoint, yes. I don’t need philosophy for any of this.

Franklin: Then let’s go back to the transporter malfunction that makes two women. If a copy has all the rights of the original, then there are effectively two originals, so her kids now have two mothers.

Eddie: Right.

Franklin: That means that the woman’s husband is a bigamist.

Eddie: I guess technically, yes.

Franklin: So you think that a malfunction in a machine can cause a person who is nowhere near it to become guilty of a crime, even if there’s no way he could know that the crime has been committed?

Eddie: Well, no.

Franklin: So how would you use science to resolve the issue?

Eddie: Well, since the copy having all the rights as the original lead to a contradiction, my hypothesis must have been wrong. A copy doesn’t have the rights of the original. It’s a distinct person.

Franklin: Then by entering the transporter, the woman committed suicide?

Eddie: Effectively, yes.

Franklin: To sum up, then, even though the copy that leaves the transporter has the same memories and body structure as the original, it’s a different person because it is entirely different matter than the original, and for that reason it loses any connection to the original’s identity — possessions, spouse, etc.

Eddie: Right. That solves everything, I think, even though it isn’t intuitive. Science isn’t always intuitive.

Franklin: Then since your body isn’t made up of the same matter that it was made up of when you were a child, are you and your childhood self the same person?

Eddie: Not technically, no.

Franklin: Then anything you owned as a child is no longer yours? Your childhood memories are someone else’s? You have no parents?

Eddie: No. I’m the same person because there is a continuum between my younger self and my current self. The transporter woman doesn’t have a continuum because the transporter interrupted it.

Franklin: If I came over to your house every day and swapped a piece of your car for a piece of my car, when your car was entirely made of parts from my car, would it still be your car because there’s a continuum?

Eddie: There’s no way you could swap parts of my Mustang with your van. That’s why the question is meaningless and it doesn’t matter that science can’t really address these things. These are made-up situations that have nothing to do with reality.

Franklin: They do, though. If a person has a brain injury that causes massive amnesia or a huge change in personality, are they still responsible for things they did before the injury? If a person’s complete mind could be transferred to a computer, would it be moral to shut that computer off? If I could perform an operation to stop someone from thinking "bad" thoughts, would that be the right thing to do? The more science advances, the more of this kind of thing there will be, and science can’t answer these questions. That’s why we need philosophy.

Eddie: We also need a watch. I think this place is closing. The lady’s looking at us like we’re weirdos.

Franklin: It’s probably for the best. Before we got talking, I think I was on the verge of buying that Zig Zag cabinet.

Eddie: Yeah, and if you’d cut your wife in half, who knows who she’d be after you put her back together?


If you have a conversation that you’d like me to consider publishing on this blog or in an upcoming book, please see the conversation guidelines.

Posted on September 27, 2013 at 7:44 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Conversations

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