electronic implants and death

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electronic implants and death

Post by WATCH-MAN » 2019-03-14 03:50pm

Imagine, in a future not far away, mankind has the technology to replace brain cells with nanites.

Those nanintes are able to take over all the functions of the brain cell they replace.

For all the surrounding cells, all the cells that interacted with the replaced cell, there is no difference.

The person does not notice any differences. It does not feel anything.

And nobody else can observe any differences in the person.
I'm sure that we can agree that the person is not dead only because a few brain cells are replaced by nanites.

But is there a limit?

How many brain cells have to be replaced by nanites that one can say that the original person does not exist any more - especially when the brain cells are replaced gradually over a long time?
Does it change anything if these nanites "improve" the brain of a person - e.g. enable the person to do complex calculations without a calculator, remember anything ...?

I'm sure that we can agree that a person with a memory chip in his head is not dead.

But again: Where is the limit?

How much has to change that one can say that the original person does not exist any more - especially when the brain cells are replaced gradually over a long time and the "improvements" are coming gradually too?
What is the qualitative difference to the changes in a brain that occur naturally in a lifespan?

The brain of an adult has many differences from the brain the adult had when it was still a baby.

The adult has gained many abilities the baby had not.

Nevertheless we assume that the baby and the adult are one person - although after many years of metabolism in the adult person is probably no matter any more that was once in the baby.
To be honest: I have no answers to these questions.

It has something to do with the continuity of a person.

Is an adult the same person as the baby it once was?

Is a 90 year old person the same person as it was when it was 19?

Can you punish a 90 year old person for something it has done when it was 19?

How much has to change that one can say that a person is not the person it was once?

And do make artificial changes a difference?

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Re: electronic implants and death

Post by Jub » 2019-03-14 04:31pm

This is the standard ship of Theseus stuff.

The first thing is that as long as there isn't a disruption of function you can replace things as fast or as slow as you like and the person never died. They might be different depending on how emulation works on a fully inorganic brain, but they aren't dead. I'd imagine some people getting their head meat replaced might want to opt for a capacity upgrade while they're at it if such is possible but even then it's still them.

Upgrades of a larger degree, adding new capability aren't any different than giving a profoundly deaf person an implant the restores some level of function. It changes how they experience the world, it upgrades their capacity, but we don't even question if they're the same person. The same goes for those who enhance their capacity via medication we don't say that somebody with ADHD taking some attention drugs is a new person even if they get a big productivity jump from the meds.

None of your scenarios here change who the person is any more than upgrading their body to a machine would change them. Hell, the more we look into our own heads the more we find that personality is just a post hoc explanation for a complicated bundle of instincts and that intelligence is just an emergent property of these behaviors and the capacity such. We may just research ourselves out of even caring about this question in the next hundred or so year.

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Re: electronic implants and death

Post by Formless » 2019-03-14 05:57pm

FYI, we've known for a little while now that brain cells do actually replace themselves over time, just like any other cell in the human body. They just get replaced slower than most other cells, such that it was hard to prove and that lead to a long time misconception that they don't get replaced at all. But now, we even know where the reservoir of brain stem cells is in the body, and we're pretty sure that the brain cells you are born with are different cells than the ones you die with. And yet, despite the Ship of Theseus paradox, we assume that we are the same person we are at death that we are at birth, more or less. Yet not one cell in our body is the same-- hell, probably not even one molecule is the same. A person appears to be less of an object sitting in space and more of a pattern of information moving-- and evolving!-- through time.

If its hard to visualize the concept, look up Sid Conway's Game of Life some time. Its just a cellular automata, with dots on a board turning from white to black with every turn, and yet because of the rules patterns can appear that are easily distinguished and identified. Its even turning complete, so if you wanted to you could make a computer within the ruleset.

Applying this to the thought experiment, I think most people informed on the subject would agree that the person in thought experiment never actually dies, at least until the moment that their consciousness stops functioning, which could happen in either the biological or non-biological substrate. Thermodynamics and all that. Even most religious people would agree on this point, since most (though not all) believe in some form of dualism where the body and soul are separate entities.
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Re: electronic implants and death

Post by Ziggy Stardust » 2019-03-14 11:20pm

Great answers by the previous two posts. But yeah, I think it's impossible to ask a question like this without the context becoming completely irrelevant because it ends up just being a question of how exactly we define "consciousness" and the notion of "identity". Not that those aren't interesting topics to discuss, but it very quickly has nothing to do with the original scenario.

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