The Pit and the Duplicate
by Lee Corbin

A very advanced Intelligence was slowly spreading Itself through space, and over the course of millions of years it came to the Milky Way galaxy. Eventually, a small part of Itself encountered the planet Earth where, much to its amusement, it found some exceedingly primitive creatures not unlike its own remote ancestors. Having also slowly evolved from rudimentary life forms, these Earth creatures had pulled themselves out of the oceans, then down from the trees, and were now asking profound questions about the universe.

Itself decided to have a little fun. It chose a human male, (one Yevgeny Osipov, it happened), and placed him in the bottom of a large pit in a desolate Siberian forest. Above the pit, the arctic winds howled, but in the pit it was actually a little too warm.

So smooth were the walls that he could not climb out of the pit. But Itself informed the man that there was a button that the man could press which would create an exact molecular duplicate of himself on the rim of the pit, from whence the man could make his way back to civilization and safety.

Yevgeny happened to be an intelligent materialist who instantly understood his situation and the nature of duplicates---that there would be no distinguishing himself from his duplicates in any important way.

Itself said to the man: "To escape this pit, you need only press the button. An atom-for-atom duplicate of you will be created, which really will be you. Once you find yourself on the rim, you can cross the snows to a city. But you should put on this heavy coat first, else the 'you' on the rim will suffer greatly and die from the cold. Or, to put it another way, you will regret it if you do not put on the coat first."

The man considered this carefully, and recalling arguments he had read in the Americanski cryonics journals, believed that he might really BE his duplicates, and so put on the heavy coat. He then pressed the button.

Behold, he looked down upon himself from the rim of the pit and exclaimed, "It worked! Hey, you, down there! I mean, me, down there! Have faith! Press the button again, and you'll escape too!"

(Simultaneouly) Behold, he looked up at himself standing out of the pit beaming down upon him and offering consoling advice. His duplicate on the rim was saying something about how he should try the button once more, that it had worked, and so on. But, of course, to the man still in the pit, while it had worked to the extent of creating a duplicate, it had not relieved him of his own predicament.

The man in the pit pressed it again, and then again and again and again. Each time a triumphant duplicate appeared at the rim of the pit and exclaimed that finally, finally it had worked! And indeed, each "him" at the edge of the pit clearly recalled pressing the button many times, but without result until the final successful press.

Streams of warmly dressed duplicates were now making their way slowly back toward civilization, but the original in the pit became more and more discouraged. "I'll never get out of here", he moaned. "It's always as if someone else gets free of this awful pit, and I remain here in this hot coat desperately pushing this button."

Just then, he gave another push, and... Behold, HE was on the rim of the pit looking down upon himself! Amazing! Just when he had been about to give up, too. "HEY! HEY! HEY!", he boomed. "DON'T GIVE UP DOWN THERE! Keep trying! We had to try thousands of times before I got out just this instant. You and I really ARE the same person! It DOES work!" And he gleefully ran off to join the earlier duplicates.

(Simultaneously) Behold, yet once again, HE looked up at yet another duplicate yelling insolent, maddening encouragement. And, in his anguish, the man in the pit began to lose faith and fall into erroneous, non-materialist thought: "By definition," he lamented, "'I' am the one who will ALWAYS be here. It was a mistake to define myself as a pattern, a pattern of atoms. No, it is Fate that I shall always be here (sniff)." He took off his coat, and then, on impulse, pressed the button once more.

On the rim, a thinly-clad duplicate looked down upon him in utter horror. "YOU FOOL!", he screamed, "Why did I have to take off the coat JUST THEN? And with that, the new duplicate bounded down into the pit, wrested the coat away from the original, and began furiously making duplicates of himself, each of whom shouted encouragement and then ran off through the woods.

And the second one is STILL furiously pressing the button at this very moment, even as we speak. For he knows in his gut that he can succeed because he himself has memories of standing on the rim. And he feels that somehow his number will come up again and that "he" will get away--- this despite his intellectual knowledge that he "gets away" each and every time he pushes the button.

Moral: Imagine yourself in the pit. Both of the following statements are true: (1) you will never get out of the pit (2) you will get out of the pit every time you press the button.

Now how could both statements (1) and (2) be true? They sound exactly contradictory. They can both be true only if we correctly discern ourselves as abstractions, as patterns, and each in-the-flesh duplicate as just an instance of the more general thing. Just as the number 42 can be both in the pit and out of the pit, so is it possible for you or me to be in two places at once.

You may be tempted to think that the "original one" (now coatless) is the only real Yevgeny---that all the others are just "mere copies". This is easily shown to be false. Suppose that every atom of your body were being replaced quickly, say hundreds of times each second, instead of slowly over years. You'd never know the difference.

Moreover, if our technology does advance to the point that many people use teleportation to travel, you'd soon be the only "old fogey" who'd be afraid to try it. And when you did eventually try it, 'you' would get used to it. The person that existed after a thousand subsequent teleportations would view the process as perfectly harmless, and would adapt his philosophy accordingly. (So let's adapt our philosophy now!)

So there is no escape in thinking that the duplicates are inferior in some sense. Whether or not the original is disintegrated or allowed to remain cannot matter. The only solution is to recognize the truth of the perspective from science: we are physical processes without souls, and what is ultimately of value to us can only be what physically HAPPENS in some region of space. And only if you phrase everything of value to you (including your own immortality, for example) in these objective terms, do the linguistic and semantic problems become tractable.

Also by the same author:

The Purloined Duplicate     The Duplicates in the Rue Morgue
The Tell-Tale Duplicate     Twenty Thousand Duplicates Under the Sea
Les Duplicates               The Fall of the House of Duplicates
The Cask of Duplicates     The Pit and the Duplicate
The Premature Duplicate     A Tale of Two Duplicates
The Duplicate that Roared   The Duplicate on the Moon
Duplicates for Dummies (in press)