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mitchell_porter2 comments on Timeless Identity - Less Wrong

23 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 03 June 2008 08:16AM

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Comment author: mitchell_porter2 03 June 2008 09:23:53AM 6 points [-]

The argument that "there is no such thing as a particular atom, therefore neither duplicate has a preferred status as the original" looks sophistical, and it may even be possible to show that it is within your preferred quantum framework. Consider a benzene ring. That's a ring of six carbon atoms. If it occurs as part of a larger molecule, there will be covalent bonds between particular atoms in the ring and atoms exterior to it. Now suppose I verify the presence of the benzene ring through some nondestructive procedure, and then create another benzene ring elsewhere, using other atoms. In fact, suppose I have a machine which will create that second benzene ring only if the investigative procedure verifies the existence of the first. I have created a copy, but are you really going to say there's no fact of the matter about which is the original? There's even a hint of how you can distinguish between the two given your ontological framework, when I stipulated that the original ring is bonded to something else; something not true of the duplicate. If you insist on thinking there is no continuity of identity of individual particles, at least you can say that one of the carbon atoms in the first ring is entangled with an outside atom in a way that none of the atoms in the duplicate ring is, and distinguish between them that way. You may be able to individuate atoms within structures by looking at their quantum correlations; you won't be able to say 'this atom has property X, that atom has property Y' but you'll be able to say 'there's an atom with property X, and there's an atom with property Y'.

Assuming that this is on the right track, the deeper reality is going to be field configurations anyway, not particle configurations. Particle number is frame-dependent (see: Unruh effect), and a quantum particle is just a sort of wavefunction over field configurations - a blob of amplitude in field configuration space.