logo Marcy Brook



Published 2020-03-05 22:44:00.743229 UTC

The Teletransportation paradox is a well discussed philosophical issue that provokes existential thought, to a certain degree. It is, after all, a hypothetical quandary. There's something much more grounded in reality that incites the same kind of existential dread for me, and since I haven't found anybody else discussing it, I'm going to explain it here, from the ground up.

To explain this fear, we first need to have an idea of what it means to 'be' yourself; i.e. what is an individual consciousness? Since that's already a massive question I'm going to take the computer scientist approach and abstract the answer a bit. In essence, we can imagine a person as a sophisticated function that uses what it can sense about the world in combination with short and long-term memories to produce actions, such as movement, speech, or expression. It's clear that if I told you that "the lint that collects in the bottom of your pocket is called Gnurr", 'you' as a person wouldn't change. Sure, you now know more than you did, but you will still have the same responses to social interaction, you will still procrastinate your work like you're doing right now, and you will still like all the same foods; so it's safe to say that "you" is the black box in between memory, senses, and output.

Except... that's obviously missing one big part of being alive: emotions. And herein lies the problem. Next, we can classify emotions into two main categories. Firstly, those that are like a state of mind, like happiness, sadness, anger, and so on. These can simply be thought of as a compressed version of your short term memory, since they're just there to tell you how to act in your current situation without having to weigh every recent contributing factor. These emotions are surprisingly logical, and most of the time just focus your immediate goals.

Then, there are more extreme emotions that have the power to make you irrational. Rage, depression, Infatuation, etc. all take exceptional circumstances. What I feel makes these stand out for me are the cases where I've done something or taken an action that didn't benefit me in any way. For example, fighting back when I could just walk away. I've been asked once or twice about my actions following some of these events, and the scariest thing to me was the fact that I couldn't rationalise them. It felt like a political pundit trying to explain away the dumbest actions of their favourite MP; and there's the key — it felt like it wasn't the same 'me' that did those things. In those moments, you couldn't swap out that black box with the 'me' from a regular point in time and expect the same results.

This effect isn't the same as most other hypotheticals. You're still the physical continuation of yourself, you're in full control of your body, and your perceptions are unaltered. It's more subtle than any of those, and yet it brings in to question how you can honestly define who 'you' are. The title of this post - Metapsychothesiophobia - is the word I've coined for this. It's the irrational fear of your mind (you) changing. I call it irrational because most people I know take this in their stride as a fact of life, but I don't know if they've even considered it. All I know is that i'm terrified by this idea of a patchwork stream of consciousness.

The result of this is that I actively strive for the ability to be, and to remain, rational. I'm a teetotaller because I daren't put myself in a situation where I can't trust myself to make decisions or even identify the fact that I'm not myself. It adds salt to the wounds of mental health since, aside from the damage those issues cause, I'm perpetually also frustrated by the heteronomy they engender by their very nature.

Some aspects of this concept aren't surprising, like the idea that a strong sense of identity is part of the hierarchy of human needs, and that mental health is a scary subject; but I feel it is distinct enough to warrant its own discussion. I'll always be especially curious to know if anybody has a perspective that 'solves' it, but the same applies to most of philosophy.