boat cruise compared to real exploration. I think we’ll do it for amusement, but it won’t have a serious impact on the future.
David: Another thought-provoking idea that you discuss in Mind Children is the possibility of completely scanning every aspect of someone’s brain and body, and nanotechnologically composing an identical copy of that person. How do you think the original person and the copy would interact?
Hans: I don’t think there’s any problem there. Exactly what would happen is what you think would happen. There would be two of you that would both think they’re you. There’s no problem there. That’s just the way that it would be, and you can imagine the same kind of scenario with other similar technologies, like the Star Trek transporter. What if you had two receivers? I see no reason why that’s not possible, and you’d have a very identical twin initially.
David: But we know from identical twins studies that the twins usually have very different personality types.
Hans: Well, the thing is that they were possibly identical when the ovum first split, but after that they had different histories. This copy that we’re talking about would have the same history up until the point that the duplication process happened, and only then would they begin to diverge. So initially they’d be extremely similar, extremely identical, and it requires you to rethink or readjust your intuitions about what identity means. But that’s all. I think the problems with your intuition is not with the scenario in any way.
David: What do you think happens to human consciousness after the death?
Hans: In chapter 7 of Robot I develop some of what seem to be further consequences of my way of looking at consciousness. Basically I assume that a good simulation can be conscious just like we are. In fact, in some ways I look at ourselves as just a kind of simulation. We’re a conscious being simulated on a bunch of neural hardware, and the conscious being is only found in an interpretation of things that go on in the neural hardware. It’s not the actual chemical signals that are squirting around, it’s a certain high level interpretation of an aggregate of those signals, the only thing that makes consciousness different from other interpretations, like the value of a dollar bill.
It’s not intrinsic in the dollar bill. It’s an interpretation, an attribution that you make on to that. And that works because a lot of people make it so you’re able to exchange the dollar bill as if it actually had any value. But there’s nothing intrinsic in the twenty dollar bill that makes it worth twenty times as much as the one dollar bill. In some other society it could just be the other way around. They might treat the that pattern that’s on the one dollar bill as being worth twenty times as much as the pattern that’s on the twenty dollar bill. It’s an external attribution. And beauty, to give you another example, is in the eye of the beholder. The aliens from Regal 4 might not find the Venus De Milo quite as beautiful as you do. (laughter) They requisite sixteen tentacles.
David: Oh, so think of how repulsive she is with those missing arms? (laughter)
Hans: Right. Actually, what could be more horrible than that? (laughter) So I think consciousness is the same kind of thing. It’s an attribution that we make on to–not so much the mechanism itself, because we didn’t even know about those neurons until very recently–the behavior that we interact with. The only thing that’s tricky though, that somewhat makes consciousness different, is that it includes within that interpretation the ability to make interpretations. So the conscious being is able to interpret itself as conscious. It doesn’t need people outside saying you’re conscious. It can say to itself, I’m conscious. Of course, that’s only meaningful under the right interpretation. (laughter)
If you look at that person saying I’m conscious, but you look at them in a strictly mechanical way, they’re just making meaningless noises–a mechanism that’s built to make noises like that. So you have this rather abstract property, and it really is an abstract property of consciousness. It’s not the physical thing itself where the consciousness resides. It’s in the abstract interpretation, which, in the case of consciousness, is self-closing. It is being made up by itself, as well as, presumably, by other beings.