Thursday, July 26, 2012

Can Murder be Immoral in Star Trek II?

So last post I came up with some semi-plausible bullshit to forestall objections of the 'but that couldn't possibly be true' type that for instance my father and all my friends always say straight out the box whenever I am getting all spectral.

So now let us forget about all that and just talk about the transporter from Star Trek, like men.

This wor.. (and if it doesn't in fact work this way then I could not care less and I decree the existence of a series called Space Trek that has played in selected Cartesian Theaters where it does work this way)

This works thus:

A complete scan is made of a man, and in the process his body is disassembled, and the information is transmitted, and then at the other end, the information is used to build the man up again. At which point he starts saying 'phasers to stun' and we are done.

What is it like to live in the Star Trek universe?

Well, for one thing, you know that Cartesian Dualism is wrong, and that souls do not exist.

Why? Because Captain Kirk says 'phasers to stun', instead of 'grr.. aargh.. brainszzz.. foam..', which is what he would say if his soul was missing. If adolescent-oriented speculative fiction has taught us anything it has taught us that if you suddenly rip the soul out of a man's body, that is what he will say.

So that leaves us with two forms of property dualism, and materialism, and they all make exactly the same prediction, which is that Captain Kirk gets out the transporter station at the other end and heroically saves the situation.

Now in Star Trek, nobody thinks anything of this. It is obvious why. Transporters have been used over and over again and everyone is used to them and it would just be too horrible to think that they had been ripping peoples' souls away and leaving them as epiphenomenal zombies.

As Yudkowsky has written: "How sure are we of this terrible fact?" "As sure as we can be in the total absence of evidence".

So in the Star Trek universe, I step into the transporter without the slightest worry, and it rips my soul away and I am dead. But there is a new me, and he goes home to my wife and they are both quite uncomplicatedly pleased with that.

Maybe. That's what happens if Property Dualism is true. Ouch.

The Property Dualists can argue amongst themselves whether the new guy is conscious or a zombie, but no-one but him is ever going to know one way or another, and if he is a zombie there isn't even anyone there to know. Even if my wife is Mary the Colour Scientist she is not going to have a clue about any of this.

And actually I think I do Property Dualists a disfavour here. Some of them (Chalmers e.g.) think that everything will still be ok, because not only is the new guy conscious, he is me.

So let us call them Property Dualists of type C, and let us from now on not bother to distinguish them from the Materialists.

Materialism is the default, obvious, scientific, rational form of philosophy where the mind is made of quarks and neurons and stuff and they all just bang around and stuff like consciousness and free will and stuff are a bit puzzling but words like 'emergent' tend to get banged around and everyone pretends not to notice that they deny the central fact of human existence which is impossible to express but that I personally feel very strongly about even though I totally agree that if it wasn't true I would be writing this anyway.

You may guess from this that my sympathies are not far from the Materialist and Property Dualist of type C positions, even though the first seems wrong and the second seems mad.

But I am going to create a new category unifying the wrong and the mad, who seem to make the same predictions even from a subjective experience point of view, and call it R, for right-thinking people.

So if you are a right-thinking person, like everyone in Star Trek is, you do not think it a moral obscenity that Captain Kirk goes home to his wife after a day being transported around.

But imagine now that there is a terrible transporter accident, which results in Captain Kirk's body being disassembled a minute fraction of a second after it would normally be.

If you find that terrifying, make the minute fraction of a second shorter as need be until it is not terrifying.

If you do not find that terrifying, make the interval a bit longer.........

Captain Kirk goes into the transporter, and the scanning process happens, but Spock is still there on the other side of the room, and raises an eyebrow in surprise, and Kirk, realising what is about to happen, shouts 'Stop it!', but it is too late. There is a click, and the disassembly beam comes on, and Captain Kirk is killed.

Later on, Captain Kirk goes home to his wife.

I think at this point I can say vAA!

Killing is hard to define in the Star Trek universe.

Now you tell me what is so different about it from our own dear universe where we have the Sanctity of Life.


  1. I'm entirely missing your point. Why is being disassembled a fraction later a problem?

  2. OK, make the interval a bit longer. Kirk is on his own, and sets the transporter to automatic, but some incompetent Romulan spy has booby trapped the chamber door and half-sodded up the transporter, so he is locked in, and the transporter beam scans.

    The New Kirk arrives at his destination but the old one is still in the transporter booth. Waiting to die.

    New Kirk heroically saves the situation on the other planet, while Old Kirk is frantically clawing at the walls of the transporter booth looking for a way out.

    New Kirk goes home to their wife at about the same time the the disassembly beam comes on and kills Old Kirk.

    So, you're captain Kirk, and you're a good materialist.

    How do you feel about stepping into that transporter if you know it's been sabotaged but that's the only way to heroically save the Earth?

    When New Kirk and his wife sit down to watch the CCTV footage of Old Kirk's attempts to escape the transporter chamber, what do they feel?

    If you don't find this idea disturbing, then congratulations, you're a proper right-thinking person who has managed to accept the conclusions of materialism.

  3. Ah, that's what you mean. But I thought your scenario doesn't allow that. You said:

    > A complete scan is made of a man, and in the process his body is disassembled...

    I took that to mean that as an intrinsic part of the scan, the body is disassembled; ie the scanning is destructive. So the TX can't occur until the disassembly has been done.

    But of course, if the scan is non-destructive then you do indeed have the problem that you're killing people.

  4. Normally there are two rays, one finds out where everything is, and the other zaps it. But Romulan spies have reprogrammed the transporter or something.