36 thoughts on “Personal Identity”

  1. Your personal identity changes every moment you are alive. Just read a book? The ideas presented are part of your personal identity (even if it’s only “I disagree with X”). Just awakened from a 9 year persistent vegetative state? Those 9 years are part of your personal identity. Nobody remains in stasis. The idea that one is the same person as they were in childhood is ludicrous. You’re not even the same person you were yesterday, if yesterday was September 10, 2001.

      1. The “you” itself changes. You share many qualities with the “you” of your childhood, virtually all of the qualities of “you” of five minutes ago… but not all of them. You’re different. You’ve changed your mind.

        1. But you don’t share any of those qualities with anyone else. That’s why I put “you” in quotes. It’s still different than every other person, and unique to you.

  2. It’s still you, but not eactly the same you. We undergo changes in our brain constantly, asynchronously, and non-uniformly. Every experience, every thought, changes us subtly, but not the entire personality. We see this in the brain injured, where parts of the personality remain and other parts are lost forever. It isn’t that there’s some tiny homunculus that is the “real you” that remains unchanged somewhere inside your head; your entire nervous system contributes to the sensation of self.

    1. The changes being incremental, the continuity is a matter of the identity adjusting itself to the differences with a minimum of effort — after all, the identity is a party to these changes, very much unlike the heirloom axe that has gone through dozens of handles and four or five heads since first handed down.

  3. Whoever you are could be said to be the memories you now contain. Which is a problem since those memories change from moment to moment. The continuity problem is solved if you acknowledge that you are not the person you were before but simply derived from that person.

    This may be why the bible refers to us as being in memorial tombs after our death, which itself is defined as when our thoughts do cease.

    This solves the transporter problem as well. Assume you don’t kill off one copy. Their memories immediately diverge from that point on. They are two people that are simply (?) derived from one.

    Whose memorial tombs memory are we talking about? Not the person themselves, that’s gone. Not the people that knew them for theirs is not a copy. To resurrect a person, as in the six examples in the bible, would require perfect copies of your memories. Guess who has those?

    Can you be held responsible for past events? Why would that be a problem? But it does show how being repentant (changing your direction) can change things.

  4. The whole thesis is contradicted by the existence of Barack Obama. The him that said _____ was never him, it was always somebody else, or he didn’t say those words, and on and on. He is not the person he was 5 minutes ago. Of course, it’s been known for a while that he’s really just an chair, a vacuous object that people anthropomorphize as possessing human traits.

  5. But you don’t share any of those qualities with anyone else.

    Which just means they are not you. But in fact, they do share qualities, just not the same combinations.

    My entire universe is contradicted by the existence of Barack Obama. Only his reelection fit things back together… Americans really have become morons in recent generations.

  6. “I’d notice the difference,” said Arthur.

    “No, you wouldn’t,” said Frankie mouse, “you’d be programmed not to.”

    1. I really don’t understand this.

      The difference between me and a younger me, compared to the difference between me and someone else, is not a difference of degree, but rather a difference of kind. But to read your comments, you and Ed apparently see no distinction.

      1. I see the self as existing only in the present. The self that existed ten seconds ago is not the same self as now. Or now. Or now. Go through enough of those nows, and you’ve got a completely different person. I’m not the scared little kid I was at 8 or the girl-crazy dude I was at 13.

          1. I’m sure I am. The person you were ten minutes ago couldn’t possibly imagine what you’re thinking right now, any more than I can. What you’re viewing as a difference in degree is really a difference in kind. Perhaps if you explained further?

          2. I think (remember) therefore I am. Rand, continuity is that you remember your former self. You do not remember other people’s selves.

            Transporter twins would both have continuity with their former self, but would slowly drift apart. Are they a difference of kind or degree?

            Also, should I be insulted that only Ed might understand ya? Just kidding.

          3. OK, having thought about this further, I think I see where I’m not explaining myself well.

            The continuity in our selves is not perfectly continuous. What continuity exists is in the persistence of synapses over time. These connections are made, broken, strengthen, weaken, activate or recharge continuously. The overall pattern of connections is roughly the same from moment to moment, and I think that’s what you’re referring to as the self.

            What I’m saying is that the self is something that only exists in the present; it is the current state of your pattern of synapses along with the currently active electrical signals, including all the sensorimotor neuron states. The you in the past, even the recent past, is not the current self.

    2. “The only thing I find confusing is peoples confusion over the issue.”

      This is largely due to the discussion being about things which are poorly defined and only vaguely understood, and that at a subjective level.

  7. Why would anyone step into a transporter if they knew it was going to destroy their current body and make a copy? It might happen in an emergency, e.g. somebody sacrificing themselves in order to help others, but it would hardly be a normal mode of transport. The destruction of your body would also destroy your mind. If conscious awareness is a product of physical processes in the brain then disassembling the brain destroys everything that is “you”. If you believe in a soul that exists independently of the body it is highly implausible, and probably sacrilegious, to imagine that a transporter could somehow move it into a new body.

    Either way, you die and the copy of you that pops out at the other end is a new being who happens to possess a complete copy of your memories. If there is such a thing as a soul then it would be a soulless automaton imitating a human being. If not, it’s a real person who would probably develop serious psychological problems as a result of knowing his or her origins. If the copy didn’t know how the transporter worked then that new person would not be able to tell that he or she wasn’t the original. Finding out the truth later on would be extremely traumatic.

    The fundamental problem is that a “transporter” doesn’t actually transport anything from one place to another. It is a copying machine that destroys the item it is copying, and which can then transmit the plans for the item to a printing unit located elsewhere. It’s a manufacturing technology rather than a means of transport.

  8. Still confused.

    What makes “you”?

    -Your genes
    -your memories
    -the knowledge you hold
    -your environment including the people you know
    -your body, how it ages and how the biology affects you, your moods.

    These things all change throughout your life, they’re all unique to you, but not constant, so “you” alter as they alter.

    Maybe like a river changes from it source to it’s mouth? Same river, unique characteristics, but hugely different along its course.

    I can’t help but wonder if there’s some subconscious religious influences affecting the comprehension, I have never seen a need to look for a “soul” and the constants that its existence would imply.

    1. People confuse soul and spirit. You don’t HAVE a soul. You ARE a soul, which can be cut with a sword. Animals are also souls. Spirit OTOH is not unique to a person. It’s like the wind or a force.

    2. Funny you should mention that. I am a religious person, I do believe there is a soul, but I don’t believe that is what we’re talking about when we refer to the self.

      I agree with your river analogy, and take it a step further: what we view as the self is a purely physical phenomenon, as is consciousness. The entire nervous system is involved in the personality, with the greatest contribution in the hyper-connected regions such as the thalamus.

  9. And with a Transporter Beam, (or perhaps identity-splitting time travel), how are you going to maintain the integrity of the vote? Is the photo id going to have any meaning?

  10. If there ever is invented a “transporter” technology, I’d break it so it wouldn’t destroy the original (me), and just use it to make endless copies of myself, to achieve any and all goals I might come up with. Goals each copy would share, and would work in concert to achieve. Creating the ability to quickly replicate fully grown humans with the knowledge they possess would be a singularity event. “The Prestige” had such a limited, phony, view of the potential – better magic tricks, phaw.

    1. Oh, they’d all get to vote. We’d all be independent individuals after all, just with a nearly identical biology and knowledge background. We could put a time-stamp of their copy date/time on their voter ID cards. Voting would quickly become outdated though, once everyone realized that the only possible winner of any and all elections would be a Ryan Olcott, who else would all the Ryans vote for?

      What I’m not quite sure of yet would our naming convention. I hope my clones wouldn’t all want to keep the same name as me, tacking digits onto my name would just be tacky, and I (and therefore I suppose my clones) wouldn’t want to be named “Ryan #178953”. It would be hard to take new unique names though, since we’d all be used to being called “Ryan”. Such a pickle.

  11. I’ve always viewed the “transporter” or teleportation device as the ultimate transportation technology. AC Clarke in his book “Profiles Of The Future” talks about this technological competition between transportation and telecommunication. The ultimate version of this in the telecommunication space is the “brain-in-a-box” wired to allow instantaneous communication anywhere on the planet capable of also operating devices remotely to the point of being unable to distinguish the experience of the remote from that of truly “being there”. In more modern parlance think of the movie trilogy “The Matrix”. To get back to the transporter, I’m not going to go down that dark and hairy philosophical path of what the destruction of the body means to the mind. From a practical perspective, being teleported means simply I instantaneously move from point A to point B with no conscious knowledge of what transpired in between. For jaunts around the Earth there is little significance to this. For a jaunts to Alpha Centari there would be more significance, in the sense that those left behind will be 8 years different upon my return if I decide to immediately return after arrival! More so if not!

  12. There is also of course, the teleporter as the legendary “fountain-of-youth” How so? Image *storing* a copy of yourself at say age 25. The *you* notices nothing and there is no animate copy made so no identity issue either to contend with. You then go on and live your life, until either a catastrophic incident occurs, (injury or illness). You then return to the teleporter and have it rematerialize you with your 25 y/o self but keeping your x year brain the same. Etc. Immortality until the brain gives out or you just revert to the “you” in the original copy. As an aside, does that make erasing a non-animate representation of “you” murder?

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