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Question: If quantum teleportation could teleport a whole human, would that transported human really be the same person or just an exact copy? (Submitted by Matthew Miossec)

Michio Kaku:  Matthew, you ask one of the most embarrassing and deepest theological questions at the merger, at the area where physics and philosophy collide.  At the present time we can only teleport photons, particles of light and atoms like cesium and rubidium.  That is it for the present time.  However, in the coming years we do expect to be able to teleport molecules, maybe water, carbon dioxide.  After that who knows? Maybe even DNA, maybe organic molecules. 

Now to teleport a human raises all the ethical questions that you mentioned, because the original first of all has to be destroyed in the process of quantum teleportation.  So if get Captain Kirk, zap him across the room, you have now seen Captain Kirk die.  You’ve seen his atoms fall apart, but here is this other Captain Kirk on the other side of the room who has the same bad jokes, who has the same character, all the personality quirks as the original Captain Kirk.  So the imposter says, "No, I’m real. I have the memories, the personality, the quirks. I am Captain Kirk."  Well you just saw the original die and if you believe in a soul that soul went to heaven or maybe the other place, but that person is dead, so who is this imposter over there?  Does the imposter have a soul? 

So it raises the question are we nothing but information?  Is the soul, the essence of who we are, nothing but information?  Well I’m a physicist.  We don’t know the answer to that.  All we’re saying is: it is physically possible to teleport an entire human being across the room or maybe onto Mars.  It is physically possible to do that and it raises a valid question.  What happened to the soul if your original copy died and somebody out there has all your memories?  What does that mean?  And the answer is we don’t know.

Recorded September 29, 2010
Interviewed by Paul Hoffman

More from the Big Idea for Wednesday, January 26 2011


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