“Staying Alive,” Daniel reads. There are three rounds. In each round, you will be presented with a scenario and then offered two choices. The decisions you make determine whether you stay alive or perish. You should always base your decisions on nothing more than the desire to keep yourself in existence. Also, each scenario should be taken at face value. The situation will be as described – there are no “tricks” – and you do not need to worry about other ‘what ifs’. At the end of the game you will discover if you have stayed alive or not, although, being a philosophical game, the verdict won’t be straightforward…”
“Oooooooh, like the Hunger Games?”
“Let’s see…” We click the continue button.
Scenario one: You have been chosen to go on a very important mission to Mars. You have no choice in this matter, you must go. But you can choose your means of transport.
One method is teletransportation. You will step into a scanner here on earth that will destroy your brain and body, while recording the exact state of all your cells. This information will be transmitted to a replicator on Mars – taking three minutes to arrive – which will then create a brain and body exactly like yours using entirely new materials. The person on Mars will look like you, think like you, in fact be indistinguishable from you. He or she will certainly feel as though they have merely fallen asleep on Earth and then woken up on Mars. This method is 100 per cent reliable.
The other method of transport is space travel. This is very risky and there is 50 per cent chance that the spacecraft will not complete the journey and you will die in transit. But if you do successfully take the spacecraft, then your body and brain won’t at any stage have been destroyed.
You must choose the option you think will give your self the biggest chance of surviving.
“I believe…” I tell Daniel. “That this is a trick question.”
“In terms of staying alive…the spacecraft is the better option, as the teleporter is guaranteed to destroy me. Surviving, on the other hand…is a different issue.”
“So, tomayto or tomahto?”
“You must choose the option you think will give yourself the biggest chance of surviving. If I’m to survive…” I click the teleporter option. “Aaaaand we’re on Mars.”
“Was it worth it, Cat Madigan?”
“It’s not the end of the world. Now…Life on Mars turns out not to be a bed of roses. In fact, two strange viruses have evolved on the planet which are causing a lot of problems. The first destroys body parts. Fortunately, medical science is very advanced, which means people can simply be given artificial limbs and organs as required. You’ve been hit pretty hard by this virus and, in fact, almost your entire body is now made up of artificial parts.
“However, there exists a second virus that attacks the brain. It is peculiarly nasty in that it doesn’t destroy the brain, rather it messes up the neural pathways, leading to a loss of memory and also a change in personality traits. One person who had the virus had been a successful author. Now he can’t write a word, but he’s become rather good at exotic dancing.” At this, Daniel cracks up. “It is indeed an odd virus. Do you want to read or not?”
“Very well.” Daniel finally calms down and reads. “Well, congratulations. You’ve been careless enough to get the second virus as well. Medics can get around it by Unfortunately, you have carelessly managed to catch the virus. Medics can get around the virus by replacing pieces of the brain with advanced forms of silicon chip. In your case, they would have to do this to almost all of your brain. But trials show that you can be sure that the result will be the total preservation of your memories, personality, plans, beliefs and so on, and a person as able to carry on living a normal life as is, well, normal.” He clears his throat. “Or you can succumb to the virus and undergo a huge character change and memory loss.”
“Let’s see what happens when you undergo the memory loss and character change.”
“Really? You’d give up all your memories? Lose the essence of who you are as a person?”
“Well, to be honest, before this trip to Mars, I wasn’t really worth anything. Let’s go with a new persona.”
“You’re worth something to me!”
“I know…but I hate myself more than you love me.”
“I beg to differ Cat Madigan.”
“I’ll just see what happens.”
I read on. “Oh dear, the virus did go to work on you. But the good news is it’s now a few years later, and a cure has been found. What’s more, your new personality has had a chance to stabalise, even though it remains irrevocably changed and your old memories are lost forever.”
“Boohoo for you.”
Ignoring Daniel, I went on. “Strange as it may seem, it has been discovered that reincarnation of a sort does actually occur. It seems that there is some immaterial part – call it a soul – in all human beings. On death, it leaves the body and enters the body of a new-born animal or human. It does not take memory with it, of course. It is thought that it may have some effect in determining one’s character, but given the evidence for the strong influence of genes and upbringing, this effect is thought to be relatively small.
“Even stranger than the fact of reincarnation, it seems that our souls die if stored at below freezing point for longer than a week.
“These facts are vital to the last choice you must make. You are very ill, but scientists have almost found a cure for the disease you have. Further, they have also developed a technique to ‘deep freeze’ humans, enabling them to be revived later with their memories and character intact. You have two choices.
“The first choice is to let the disease take its toll. Your body will die, but your soul will live on. The second choice is to be deep frozen, then thawed and cured later. This will destroy your soul and only has a thirty per cent chance of success; that is, there is a 70 per cent chance that the thawing and curing won’t work.
“You must make the choice that you think will give your self the biggest chance of surviving.”
“These questions are cooking my brain.”
“Yeah…” I think for a moment. “I think I’ve destroyed my worthiness of a soul at this point anyway, based on my last few choices.”
“You, my dear,” Daniel tells me, “are too self destructive for your own good.”
“Tell me about it when we’re in hell. We can be bunk buddies.”
“…what do you mean by the word ‘bunk’?”
“Freeze,” I decide. “Now let’s see which circle of hell I’m going to.”
“The freezing, thawing and curing was a success. Well done, Cat Madigan, it is confirmed. You cannot die, not even in a hypothetical situation.”
“Yippee. Wait a minute…” I scan the rest of the page. “You were saying?”
Daniel reads the part I’m reading. “Your problem is that your set of choices ends all three types of continuity. By taking the teletransporter you end bodily continuity, since the body on Mars is a replica of yours, not the self same body. The virus destroys psychological continuity. And freezing destroys the soul. So all three of the things that might be required for personal identity are destroyed. So surely you must be dead.” He looks at me. “So you’ve destroyed everything that makes you you. Congratulations.”
“Cat…” Daniel’s arms wrap around me and squeeze me tight. “You can’t hate yourself that much.”
“Maybe not…not all the time anyway.”
He kisses my neck. “Look at your first choice.”
“Teleportation? What of it?”
“You chose that over the rickety space ship. There was a fifty percent chance you’d die, as opposed to certain survival. And yet, you chose to survive.”
“Well what do you know? There’s hope for me yet.” I close my eyes.