Monday, May 19, 2008

Cloning Metaphors

Following on from my previous blog...

There's a simple and very cool program for the Mac, called CarbonCopyCloner (CCC). It does exactly what the name says—or, if circumstances aren't quite ideal, almost exactly the same thing: produce a carbon copy close of your hard drive on some other connected hard drive.

What that means for my Intel-based MacBook is basically this: I can make the copy of the hard drive to some removable USB drive of similar capacity; hook up the same USB drive to any other Intel Mac—doesn't have to be a MacBook; just an Intel Mac—and start up the Mac from that drive...and, bingo! I couldn't tell, except for external appearances and my knowledge of what I've done, whether it's my MacBook or not. The drive has a different name, Eratrya CCC, but that's all; and if I renamed it, the deception would be complete.

The main reason why this 'works' is the uniformity of the architecture among Macs of certain breeds—think of it as an instance of genetics at work, with the Intel-based breed, being the latest in the Mac's evolution. Doesn't mean that all Intel-based machines have the same hardware or circuit board or anything, but there are critical similarities that make al this possible.

If I made the clone for a disk that can be placed into a quiescent state (if it can be 'unmounted', or placed 'offline' or whatever cyber-yakspeak you want to use to describe the process) for the duration of the clone—the system disk can't be, because it's actually running the cloning operation, plus a gazillion other little things go on all the time—the copy would be complete; with a verification cycle following the copy, just to make sure all is identical.

The ironic bit is that VMVerse is actually a disk containing a 'Virtual Machine'—and I'd like you to remember that for later.

But if the thing copies itself as it changes, even of only a tiny bit, with the kind and essential support of the Mac's hardware, then, by the time you're done cloning, the copy isn't quite the same. Very, very close, but not the same.

This very simple example is one instance why I tend to be scathing about those who think that you can ever really 'clone' a human 'mind'. A smidgen's thought should make that amply clear. I really don't know why intelligent people insist on being so dull-witted as to think that it makes any sense at all. The only way to take a snapshot is to pause the system you're taking the snapshot of. 'Pausing' in human terms will always mean 'killing', because that's the only way to do it. But if you kill a human being then you're changing and actually destroying the brain, so taking a snapshot of that sounds pretty futile. And so on. The whole thing is really too stupid for words.

But that was by-the-by. Lest this blog gets too long—I'll continue in the next one—let me finish with a question for you.

Suppose you're one of these people who like to give their possessions names. You know, like calling your car 'Bob' or 'Wilhelmine' or whatever. Or calling your computer 'Pooh' or 'Lisa'.

Yes, about that computer. So, what exactly is it that you give the name to? I mean, I gave my computer a name as well: Eratrya. (Long story.)

But hold on, that's just the label of the hard-drive! The MacBook itself is 'the computer'. So, when I name 'the computer' what do I name? If I swap 'Eratrya' for another drive, does that mean that 'the computer' becomes...well, someone else? What is I boot another Intel Man from a USB-connected Eratrya clone? Will that make it into Eratrya? Or, if that other computer has a name—say 'Fred'—given to it by its owner, will that owner, at the time it's being booted from Eratrya, still rightly be called 'Fred', or is this a kind of computer 'possession' story? The body and the hardware is the same, but what about what it does and what it 'remembers'—all stuff from Eratrya and nary a thing from whatever else it used to be?

Is Fred still Fred? Or what happened to it? And what's the status of Eratrya on that USB hard drive? Once she's connected to the body of Fred, does she become Fred, or does the body of Fred in effect become Eratrya?

You think these are frivolous questions? They may sound like it. I mean, after all, it's just about damn laptops and hard-drives and operating systems and stuff. But in truth these questions are 'safe' stand-ins for others that touch deeply onto our own identities.

So, back to you. Does your computer have a name? If so, what is it that you've given that name to?

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