Give Your Clone a Break

Science Fiction

As we speak, scientists possess the technology to clone you. They can take some of your DNA, and create a new person with it. Because this new person has your exact DNA, they look just like you. If you have any genetic illnesses, the clone has them too. All of your abilities that are based on your DNA, such as strength or mathematical acumen, will be shared by your clone. But in the world of science fiction, there are a lot of odd ideas floating around about the nature of clones and how they should be treated.

Here are few of those conceptions: Because the clone is a copy of you, you somehow have ownership of the clone. That is, you can tell it what to do or even destroy it, if you wish. Another is that clones do not have a soul. They are not real people but some kind of soulless automaton. These kinds of thoughts are silly. If you were born with an identical twin, that person would almost be a clone of you, in the sense that they share a large percentage of your DNA. Think of a clone as an extreme identical twin. True, a clone of you wouldn’t be born when you were born, like an identical twin would be. They would be born at the time they are cloned, so he/she would be a lot younger than you. But the age difference isn’t really relevant to the rights of the clone. If your identical twin had somehow been placed in suspended animation for thirty years and were revived, it wouldn’t mean that the twin was soulless or that you could boss he/she around.

A clone is a separate person, with all the rights entitled to any person. Your identical twin would not be denied any rights simply because they are like you. So nor would your clone.

With an important supposition, one can consider another type of clone. The supposition is that your mind can be perfectly recorded as a very complicated digital data file. If this is true, then your mind, the essence of who you are, could, in theory, be uploaded onto a hard drive and then downloaded into another body. Since digital code can be copied without affecting the original, you would still be around. But there would be another being out there with your mind. Of course, as soon as this other being begins having experiences different from yours, their mind, which consists in part of memories, would begin to diverge from yours. But for a while, anyway, this being would be an exact clone of you.

But, you protest, the body of this other being would be different. Well, our bodies could, in theory, be lab grown from our DNA. Then we could have our minds downloaded into a body just like ours. Really, though, does this even matter? If an exact replica of your mind is downloaded into another body, aren’t they really a clone of you in the most important sense? The real you is, after all, what’s in your mind.

But here is where things get a little weird. What if the mind in your current body got erased exactly when the digital data was downloaded into another brain/body. Would that other being now be you? Or would it just be a clone of you, and you simply perished with the mind wipe? It wouldn’t be too hard to make this even weirder. For example, what if, after the erasure, the mind of the clone was transferred back into your (previously erased) mind/body and, at the same time, the mind of the clone was wiped? Is your body, with your mind (your twice transferred mind) you? Or are you now the clone of yourself?

Let’s leave this particular line of thought before our brains explode. I would like to refer to a specific work of science fiction. The novel “Altered Carbon” by Richard K. Morgan is a work of science fiction I heartily recommend. Morgan’s creative descriptions of settings and general world building are superb. It is very immersive.

In the world of the book, minds can be downloaded into bodies (called “sleeves” in the novel). The main character is about to undergo a dangerous mission, and needs to download his mind into another “sleeve” while keeping the original version of himself in the original sleeve. The two versions of the character (their bodies are different—they have different genders, in fact) then work as a team to complete the mission.

Just before the mission begins, the two versions of the character argue which one of them should be allowed to live after the mission is over. But of course, they are now two different people with equal rights. If one of them were to take their life after the mission was over, it would be suicide. Just like if identical twins undertook a mission together and one takes their life after the mission, it doesn’t change anything that they are identical. It is still plain old suicide.

Will scientists be able to upload our minds into a digital computer one day? It may be possible. Many thinkers believe the brain is just a complex digital computer. But before this happens, everyone had better get clear on the personal rights of a clone. Could you imagine a future rally where clones march in the streets demanding equal rights? Well, if they aren’t given them, they should march. Power to the people … and their exact replicas!

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