Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States. Please give as you are able, and help support our work for a brighter future.

Search the IEET
Subscribe and Contribute to:

Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Overview of technopolitics

whats new at ieet

Despotism (1946)

The Logical Space of Algocracy (Redux)

Humans, Machines, and the Future of Work Conference

How music led to the invention of modern computers

12 Notes From A Political Autopsy

Cyborg Dad Fights to Regain Custody of Children - You Can Help

ieet books

TECHNOPROG, le transhumanisme au service du progrès social
Marc Roux and Didier Coeurnelle


Enframing the Flesh: Heidegger, Transhumanism, and the Body as “Standing Reserve”

Moral Enhancement and Political Realism

Intelligent Technologies and Lost Life

IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > Personhood > Vision > Virtuality > Martine Rothblatt > Enablement

Print Email permalink (10) Comments (8831) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg

What Are Mindclones?

Martine Rothblatt
By Martine Rothblatt
Mindfiles, Mindware and Mindclones

Posted: May 4, 2009

A mindclone is a software version of your mind.  He or she is all of your thoughts, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values, and is experiencing reality from the standpoint of whatever machine their mindware is running on.  Mindclones are mindfiles being used and updated by mindware that has been set to be a functionally equivalent replica of one’s mind.  A mindclone is your software-based alter ego, doppelganger, or mental twin.  If your body died, but you had a mindclone, you would not feel that you personally died, although the body would be missed more sorely than amputees miss their limbs.

We have absolutely no experience with mindclones.  Never in history has there been anything like them.  Hence, it is natural to find it difficult to understand the concept.  From time immemorial we have thought of our identity as being limited to one instantiation, namely that contained within our body.  To grasp mindcloning it is necessary to envision identity as being a unique pattern of thinking that can occur in two or more substrates or forms.  If you can accept that a mind can be duplicated, with appropriate mindware and a rich enough mindfile, then you have accepted that a single identity can occur at least twice.

Now, it is certainly true that an easy distinction can be drawn between an original identity and that of its mindclone.  Simply by virtue of being a copy, the mindclone is not the original, and hence it can be said that the mindclone does not have the same identity as the original.  Yet, this is a distinction without significance.  It is analogous to claiming that identity changes over time because people grow and acquire new experiences.  While there is no doubt that our personality evolves, and our thoughts change, we are still the same person – the same identity.

So, why is it that we feel an uploaded version of our mind knows that it is an upload, and is thus not really us, whereas an aging version of our mind knows it is different from its youth, but is still definitely us?  The reason is our deep-felt bias, based upon our entire human experience, that identity is substrate-specific.  Some people take this so far as to believe that transplant recipients, especially of hearts, assume some of the identity of the organ donor.

With mindcloning we will have our first experience with the technological possibility of substrate-independent identity.  It will take some time for society to adapt.  Ultimately, though, most people will understand that just as a person’s voice can be in two places simultaneously via telephone, their identity can be in two places simultaneously via mindcloning.

When I have presented mindcloning in conferences there are usually one or two people who rush to the microphone after my talk.  They are insistent that a mindclone cannot be the same person as the original because it is not the same person.  The fault in this kind of reasoning is that it is a tautology, a circular form of argument that just restates itself.  The “same person” is different from the “same body”, or substrate.  While it is true that a mindclone is not the same body as the original person, it is the same mind.  Hence, my questioners have difficulty because they think that a person is their body and I insist that a person is their mind.

Sometimes the questioners challenge me as follows:  “If you created a mindclone, surely you would not agree to be killed in favor of your mindclone!”  My reply is that I like my body quite a bit, and if my mindclone could be given one like mine or better (such as through some future medical technology), then I would not be any worse off, save for the trauma of the killing.  The questioners are rarely satisfied; they simply do not accept that identity can remain constant across two or more substrates.  Logically, however, they are in error.  Assuming a mind can be replicated, such as with mindfiles and mindware, its identity would thereafter have in fact been altered to become a two-substrate version of the original one-substrate identity.

Another question that arises is for how long would a singular identity span two substrates?  Each mind – the biological original and the mindclone – will surely have its own thoughts just as each of us has different thoughts from minute to minute.  Indeed, this is sometimes used as an argument why mindclones do not share the identity of their original.

I believe a singular identity will always span the mindclone and its original.  This is easier to appreciate when you consider that normally each of them will continuously synchronize their common mindfile, using high-speed links.  Both parts of the single identity will take note of what the other has done.  Perhaps fear of losing control over one’s life to a mindclone will dampen enthusiasm for creating them.  As mindware gets ever better at making mindclones that are absolutely faithful psychological replicas this fear will dissipate.  In any event, most people do not fail to get married out of fear that another person will have access to a joint bank account.  And we will know our mindclones far better than we know our fiancées.

There will be instances in which the mindclone and the original do not update each other.  Instead, the single identity decides, in conversation with itself (we biological originals do talk to ourselves, weighing pros and cons in our heads), to experience life separately.  Like being dealt two 8s in a blackjack game, and deciding to split, some people and their mindclones will go separate ways.  Even in such cases I believe we are speaking of a single identity.  We must remember that both the biological original and the mindclone share a unique psychological profile based upon a mountain of mindfile data.  They are the same person.  The fact that they subsequently have many unique, perhaps life-changing experiences does not change either of their individual identities, and hence cannot have changed their common identity.

While the original and the mindclone will be very different after years of unique experiences, they will still be the same person.  It will be as if you visited a close friend after first living ten years in Ethiopia, and then again after living ten years in China.  On the first visit your friend would remark on how the Ethiopian experiences changed you, but would still recognize you as his friend.  On the second visit your friend would see yet another version of you, this time changed by life in China.  Once again, though, your friend would surely recognize you as the same person who first left for Ethiopia twenty years earlier. This is the power of an established set of mannerisms, personality, recollections, feelings, beliefs, attitudes and values.  Whatever changes will not be able to entirely mask the starting set of conditions.  It is all but impossible to completely crawl out of an established mind.

Perhaps deciding to have a mindclone is analogous to having a child.  Once the child is born, you will always be a parent.  Similarly, once a mindclone is created, you will always be a dual-substrate identity.  Many parents have little or nothing to do with their offspring, but neither the parent nor the offspring can get the parental relationship out of their mind.  Their identity has permanently been altered to include the fact that they are part of a (good or bad) parent-offspring relationship.  Analogously, even if a mindclone parts ways with their original, neither will ever be able to forget the fact that someone else with their same mind exists.  The creation of a cognitive doppelganger is an identity-altering experience.

In summary, a mindclone is a fully functional, software-based copy of your mind, residing on computer substrate.  You and your mindclone will think the same thoughts, and feel the same feelings, as well as having unique ones.  In most instances the two of you will be wirelessly linked to a common mindfile so there will be a constant synchronization of cognition and experiences.  When mindclones arise in the next few years, as a consequence of our burgeoning mindfiles and rapidly developing mindware, we will get used to the idea that identity is replicable.  A person will be able to be in two places at the same time.

How will we really know that our mindclone is conscious, actually feeling the same fears, and dreaming the same dreams, as are we?  It is easy to imagine a mindclone just doing an amazing job of mimicking our consciousness, like some chatbots today mimic human conversational behavior. Is the mindclone my real life, or a compelling, tear-jerking “movie” of my real life?  These questions of consciousness, and of cyberconsciousness, are answered next.

Martine Rothblatt is an IEET Fellow and is author of several books on satellite communications technology, gender freedom, genomics, and xenotransplantation.
Print Email permalink (10) Comments (8832) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


I have nothing against creating body- or mind-clones, a well-visited domain in speculative fiction precisely because of the questions it raises on identity.  However, we are not substrate-independent, unless you believe in a soul or élan vital that can hover disembodied.  The original will feel the pain and/or fear of death even if s/he has clones of any type, and a clone will become a de facto distinct person/ality the moment a few neurons get wired differently.  Using such a construct as a backup once it has developed on its own will be ethically shady; furthermore, it is quite likely that a mindclone confined to a computer will go mad, unless a complete VR reconstruction is created around it—a tall order, to put it mildly.

I completely disagree. A person, by definition, cannot be anyone but themselves. If I was someone else, then I wouldn’t be me. I cannot be two people at the same time. I do not care how identical another being is to me, we are obviously two separate entities since we each have our own individual, subjective perception of our own existence, and external environments. When my own subjective experience is terminated, as far as I’m concerned, I’m dead. If I die, my doppelganger could survive, proving we are two separate entities, regardless of how identical we are. It wouldn’t matter to me that no one else would be able to tell that my doppelganger wasn’t me. My subjective sense of my existence would have ended, as I cannot share that sense of existence with my doppelganger. I am dead from my point of view, which is all I care about. I would take no consolation that a mindclone of me was still living, since I am dead. While a song can be downloaded an unlimited number of times and still remain a single song, it lacks any sense consciousness. Though the mind is a complex pattern of information, it can only exist in one substrate at a time since it is conscious of itself. If two individual substrates are running identical programs, their existence is completely independent of each other. One mind can die while the other lives, proving that they are two separate entities. No matter how identical your mindclone may seem to you, s/he is a separate being from you. When you die you will not live on in her/him in a literal sense, though maybe in the same sense as you will live on in your children since the mindclone did come from you, but is still not you. I am also confused by your timelines. A few years? Even the most optimistic projection of AI development places a Human level AI in 2029, a projection made by the techno-evangelist Kurzweil. More moderate projections place a Human AI in 2050, and others still think it may take centuries, if it happens at tall. Even after we have a Human level AI, it could still take years, decades or even longer before we’ll figure out how to precisely copy an individual Human mind into a computer, if it’s possible at all. Since there is currently no scientific theory explaining consciousness, any discussions about mindclones or mind transfers are purely hypothetical. For all we know they may never happen.

It’s notable that you employ the present tense in this article, even though this technology is deeply hypothetical at present. Not saying it is not possible, but is almost certainly decades away from realization. This sounds very similar to “mind uploading” - please indicate if you consider mindcloning substantively different, and if so, in what ways.

It is often suggested that technologies of this kind are a form of immortality. You seem to imply this when you say, “If your body died, but you had a mindclone, you would not feel that you personally died”. Although there are other reasons for this technology, such as preserving an individuals knowledge, things like that, it seems pretty clear that the main attraction for most is the prospect for immortality that it seems to offer. Let’s explore that idea.

Let’s use the thought experiment about if you hand to choose between killing yourself or killing your mindclone, but an adjustment. Instead of a disembodied mindclone, assume that this mindclone can be housed in an extremely realistic droid replica of yourself, so realistic that it is indistinguishable both to yourself, and to even your most intimate friends, and with sensory capabilities equal to or exceeding your own. In fact, make any adjustments you like on top of this, such as this droid replica could have an indefinite lifespan.

In this case, it could be suggested, your reason for not killing yourself that “I like my body” falls away, does it not?

Let’s rerun this thought experiment again, with this adjustment in place. If you and your replica were in a room, and there was a third person with a gun, and that gunman gave you - the original, “real” you - the choice of who to kill, you or your droid replica, which would you choose?

I suggest, you would still choose your droid replica. Why?

Because that mindclone is a distinct entity. It is not you. It may be an exact copy of you, but it is not you. If two identical products roll off an assembly line, identical in every way, they are still two different things. That mindclone might think it’s you, and all your surviving friends and family might think it’s you, but it would not be you. In other words, if you die, your distinctly self-aware consciousness dies with you.

There are other ways to support this contention, that you and an exact copy are distinct identities. There is a paradox here. If you and your mindclone in a droid replica of yourself were standing side by side, would you “see” through four eyes? Would you “hear” with four ears? Etc. I would suggest, no you would not, because those two minds are not linked or networked - they are distinct entities, with distinct senses. And this distinctness does not gradually arise as you and your mindclone go about your lives and have your separate experiences - this distinctness happens the instant the mindclone is created.

Why is this important? It is of infinite importance if the reason someone is having a mindclone made is under the mistaken notion that it is making them “immortal”. Say you are near death, and go have this mindclone procedure done, that mindclone is dropped into a very realistic replica of yourself, then the original you dies. If my analysis of this is correct, that droid may go home and pick up your life where you left off, including things like “enjoying” your spouse, etc. To me at least, this is not a bright vision of immortality, it is darkly disturbing.

The only way it might be considered immortality is if you could actually “feel” your consciousness being “transferred” to this mindclone. Not saying that is impossible, but I can think of no way offhand how this might achieved.

Which leaves as the main rationale for mindcloning being the preservation of your knowledge. I might suggest, unless you are in a rare pantheon of luminaries, it would be great to have a mindclone of Einstein, for instance, in most cases the perceived value of this proposition redounds mostly to oneself, far less to others. However, if someone is mortally ill and has many dependents or is in a critical position of authority, etc, this procedure might be worthwhile; it depends.

But immortality, I suggest, it is not - and that, far and away, seems to be the main draw of the vast majority of individuals to this technology.

as soon as it was discovered that each and every neuron in the human brain is entirely replaced every couple of months- and that each and every atom in the human brain is continuously swapped out for new material- the argument that a ‘copy is not the original’ became moot for all time

the human body purges the brain’s used up material and very imprecisely copies and updates it- this is why you are nothing like you were when you were 12- different memories- different values- but you still consider yourself YOU even with all the changes- those that cling to the fallacy of identity in the body must also agree that they are a bad copy clone themselves- and that the person they hijacked was shat out months ago [and that person hijacked the person before them] it’s just a horrendously erroneous view based on the most primitive and childish of beliefs about the nature of the body and the self-

of course we can upload ourselves- and those copies ARE US- we are patterns/processes of information- we have seen in nature that the material substrate we inhabit does not define our identity

To /:set\AI:

I have no idea where you got the totally incorrect information that “each and every neuron in the human brain is replaced every couple of months”.  As a matter of well-known fact, the neurons in our brains are never replaced.  Once they are in place, they neither multiply nor divide.  The connections between them (and the strength of those connections) vary depending on context.  That is what gives us the sense of continuous identity, and what goes wrong in such catastrophic events as dementia or strokes.  So the entirety of your post is based on completely wrong assumptions, which in turns completely invalidates your conclusions.

to Athena:

the idea that the brain’s neurons persist through life was discovered to be a MYTH about 5 years ago- the best article that explains the newer discoveries of neural replacement is “How Do You Persist When Your Molecules Don’t?” Science and Consciousness
Review 1.1 (June 2004) an on-line version can be found here:


Star EN, Kwiatkowski DJ and Murthy VN. Rapid turnover of actin in dendritic
spines and its regulation by activity, Nature Neuroscience 5:239-246 (2002)

Ehlers MD. Activity-dependent regulation of postsynaptic composition and signaling by the ubiquitin-proteasome system. Nature Neuroscience 6:231-242 (2003)

Shimizu E, Tang YP, Rampon C and Tsien JZ. NMDA receptor dependent synaptic reinforcement as a crucial process for memory consolidation. Science 290:1170:1174 (2000)

Lisman JE and Fallon JR. What maintains memories? Science 283:339-340 (1999)

Wittenberg GM, Sullivan MR and Tsien JZ. Synaptic Reentry Reinforcement Based Network Model for Long-Term Memory Consolidation Hippocampus 12:637:647 (2002)

the fact that our brains matter is continluosly repalced at the atomic level has been known for decades- see this excerpt from one of Richard Feynmann’s lectures for instance:

“Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.
Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read music. For instance, the scientific article may say, ‘The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one- half in a period of two weeks.’ Now what does that mean?
It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat:and also in mine, and yours:is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.
So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week’s potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago:a mind which has long ago been replaced. To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out:there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.”

~Richard Feynman

I hope this new information enlightens you about the nature of identity

I am a working molecular neurobiologist, and I’m as informed as anyone can be about these issues.

You have to remain aware at what scale these changes take place, and what that means to continuity of identity.  Just as at several scales space (whether atoms or crystal lattices) is almost empty, but at the macroscopic level we still don’t go through our chairs.

Equally so, at the atomic and molecular scale, the replacement of atoms or the turnover of scaffolding molecules (microtubules, actin) don’t alter synaptic identity until/unless there is a novel stimulus present that changes the scaffolding or receptor activity, etc.  The fact that there is a miniscule amount of novel neurogenesis in the hippocampus (and the nasal cavity) in no way invalidates the larger picture that neurons are one relative constant in a sea of change.

Even if every atom in every neuron in our brain were replaced every day, every hour, or every second, is completely irrelevant.

This process does not “copy” the brain into a separate, distinct conscious identity - this process resupplies the existing consciousness within the same “framework”, as it were.

And, for the record, we have really almost no idea of the actual level of replenishment of the brain, at an atomic, molecular, or even neuron level, so this approach is more passion than science.

To /:setAI.

You seemed to have confused your brain with your mind. Though obviously inter-related, they are two different things. Your brain is a book, while your mind is a story. Your brain is hardware, and your mind is software. Your mind is like a fire and the brain is the fuel. The fuel may be burned up and replaced, but the flame itself burns without fail. I’ll remind you of the last line of your quote from Richard Feynman. “there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.”  Your mind is an insanely complex pattern in your brain, but it is not your brain. I take it you agree with Feynman when he says the mind is ‘just a pattern’ and think that in order to be ‘real’ something must be a collection of physical particles, not ‘merely’ a pattern. I disagree with this. Take for instance your favourite book. If you were given another book of the exact same mass, page count, etc, but the pages were printed with completely random letters, would you like that book as much? Of course not, because the pattern of the letters, the story, is infinitely more valuable than the physical book. Just as your constantly burning mind is infinitely more valuable than your ever changing brain. True, my atoms come and go, but I care not. They have fed my consciousness without fail, and that is why I am the same person I was yesterday and why I will be the same person tomorrow.

Myths are narrative stories that provide us with existential, metaphysical and moral truth, not factual errors. Please be aware of that in the future.

Athena—I agree the original will feel pain that the copy won’t, but that is not different from the me of last year feeling pain that the me of today doesn’t.  My point is that our identities can transcend embodiment just as they can transcend time.  We are differently “wired” as we pass through the years of life, but are still cognizable as the same person, due to our continuity.  Ditto for the mindclone.  Being confined to VR will be as good or bad as the VR is; people are confined to worse situations without going mad.  As to the ethics, if you accept my position that the mindclone is merely part of yourself, then there are no ethical issues as you are simply following the rock adage, “free your mind.”

Hi Armand—It is really not necessary to define a person as a single instantiation in a single substrate.  If your mindclone has all (or even most) of your thought patterns and memories, your worldview and your feelings, then it IS you, albeit in a separate instantiation.  Just because we have no experience with multiple instantiations does not mean they cannot occur.  Of course your mindclone will feel horrible with the original suffers a bodily death.  You will feel you are losing part of yourself—and you will be!  But that sorrow does not extinguish your consciousness, which continues to be vested in your mindclone.  As to timeframes, I’m optimistic because I believe creating minds is a helluva lot easier than, say, getting off the planet, especially when we have the computing power available (which is circa 2020s) and when the economic motivations are immense (100 Microsofts per Bill Gates).  I still pinch myself everyday I get in my car and turn on Sirius XM, know that 20 million others are doing the same thing, and remember vividly that just 15 years ago everyone told me it was impossible.

Thanks, Prediction Boy, for your hypothetical and interesting comments.  So, starting with your “who would you shoot, yourself or your mindclone” hypothetical, my answer differs from yours.  You suggest I would shoot the mindclone, but I maintain that I would be completely indifferent to which one was shot (I’d first try to avoid shooting either!  I’m a peaceful soul.)  Nevertheless, to play by your rules, I’d be totally indifferent.  The reason I’d be indifferent is because my consciousness resides as much in the mindclone as it does in the original.  I do not believe every slant of view angle and minor detail of what is heard is really relevant to our consciousness.  Indeed, we forget the vast majority of what we experience daily.

I do agree that mindcloning could be viewed as mind uploading.  The reason for the new term is that it uniquely expresses the idea that the mindclone is functionally equivalent to the original in terms of what consciousness is, i.e., our idiosyncratic pattern of conceptualizing and interacting with reality.

YOUR COMMENT (IEET's comment policy)

Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: When Numbers and Words Collide

Previous entry: Forever Young


RSSIEET Blog | email list | newsletter |
The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
Email: director @