When we ask ourselves Who am I? the answer is usually simple. I am your name here. That encompasses most of it, if not all. Then we can ask what is it that makes you you. All your experiences, your memories and feelings. Then, what about your physical being? Does it dictate who you are to the same extent? It’s a good question, a question that we will have to ask more often in future where bionics will be more present.
With a similar bionic, the brains slowly rejected the implant and ultimately stopped working
With bionic eyes and hands, we will come to a point where we can replace complete body parts for functioning bionics. It’s the traditional sci-fi cliché, where a guy gets his arm replaced with a robotic one. There really isn’t anything to detract of who he is, we all can agree with that. This guy is just a guy with a robot arm.
Then what if we have a full body prosthesis? Imagine this; your body is 90% replaced with artificial components. The only things that has left untouched is your brains, and part of digestive system is left in to keep the brains running. When you look at the mirror after waking up, you do not see yourself any more, but your new physical self with robotic face, if even that. Would you regard yourself to be you? You still have your memories, your experiences and all that what made you mentally. Your body isn’t what it was. To an extent, it’s not your body, not the one you grew in. Is it still you, or is it just you in another body? The schema of self is most likely fixated to our physical bodies to a large extent, and with a full body prosthesis this schema is rattled to an extreme.
As your brains have not been altered, it has to adjust being inside a completely different kind of body. The question is if the brains rejects the body, will the mind so as well? We could presume that the brains have input similar to what a human body would give through neural pathways. How would you see and feel at first, and how off they would fee before adjusting them to feel more natural and pleasing? There are more questions than answers, as we can’t truly predict how human psyche and biological parts will act with full body prosthesis. We can make educated guesses, and it has to be enough for now.
Some people feel that they have been born into a wrong body and fix their bodies more to their liking. Perhaps this kind of feeling is what will linger after a full body prosthetic. Let’s assume that you get used to your new body rather fast, and at some point it’s functions become completely natural. Isn’t this somewhat the same way how babies learn to control their bodies as they grow? As you’ve grown with the new body, you have new experiences and memories. It can’t be said that the body becomes part of you as much as you learn to control it.
I assume that legally this person has all the same rights as he was before full body prosthesis, as the only that has changed is the physical body you have. This actually happens now as we are, but in more ‘natural’ way if you will. We grow new cells to replace out old ones all the time, so in X amounts of years vast majority of our body has been replaced with a new one. Full body prosthesis can be seen as accelerated change of the body. Naturally, what the society at large would think of this kind of body change is an open question, and how would this respond affect the mind within this body. An example of full body prosthetic in sci-fi, is Robocop. I’d recommend you to watch the two first movies again and keep on eye on these matters, as the movies touch on the subject quite a lot.
Let’s leave prosthetics out for a while, and ask how would you need to be treated if you were reconstruction of yourself.
Quantum teleportation is true at some level. Much like in Star Trek, quantum teleportation basically breaks down the object, reads the data and reassembles it at the other end. To put it bluntly, your body is practically killed and all the information it had is put together the way they were. Is the person coming out you, or your clone? This is an age old question that the Trek fandom has discussed over and over again.
How would the legal department consider this person the same as the one who was transported? Biologically and mentally it is the same person, so I believe there would be no conflicts. The continuity of self has no stops. However, what if the person begins to feel that he is a copy of himself rather than real him? There might be underlying psychological problems with quantum transportation that we have yet to see.
In the end, what we are is just information within a body. Whether or not it matters if this information exists inside an artificial body or in a reconstructed one is a personal question to us all at the moment. After all, some part of our physical self always will be there with bionics.
But what if everything physical was replaced with machinery? There is at least one story that dwells a little bit into this kind of scenario; Muv-Luv Alternative.
Kagami Sumika in Muv-Luv Alternative does not have a body any more. Her body was violated and then ripped apart, and only her brains was left alone floating inside a glass tube. To give her a body, the last bit of her physical self, the brains, had to die. Her soul, or to loan a word from Ghost in the Shell, her Ghost was implanted into a physical mechanical body. This body is not a perfect replication of human body, but almost as close as possible.
The question is whether or not she is the same Sumika she was. Her body in and out is completely different, only her mind stays. In this case we have no difficulties with brains rejecting the body, but what about the mind? How does the mind understand what the machine understands and all of its underlying complications? For example, the machine brains most likely offers higher levels of memory recollection. How will her psyche handle this new body it resides in? Does it start from the baby steps and on some level become growing into it, and adjusting itself accordingly? If we’re to believe the story itself, Sumika’s body is a replication, and her mind “grows” as it becomes more and more accustomed to the body. Perhaps it could be said the she becomes herself again.
Let me ask again; what makes you you?
If we are mostly a sum of our experiences and memories, then the body should not have much meaning to who we are, to the self. Fiction usually has one common theme when it comes to body replacements; accepting it. In Robocop Murphey had to accept the facts that had come to, and only then was able to continue on. Similarly Sumika needed to accept everything that had happened to her, and what she was in order to become ‘human’ again.
The time will come when we have to start testing the limits that our physical limitations allow us to reconsider what is an individual and human.