The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Total Recall

The problem of personal identity - of what makes you, you - has for a long time been investigated through thought experiments. John Locke asked us to imagine what it would mean to say that your immortal soul had in a past life been that of a warrior who fell at, say, the seige of Troy - given that you have no actual memories of being that warrior, and only the most coincidental resemblances in personality, outlook, knowledge, and beliefs. Leibniz asked us if we'd agree to 'become' the Emperor of China, on the sole condition that we took with us no memories of our present actual life. In this way, they tried to bring into focus our intuition that what matters in personal identity is continuity of memory and personality, and that our belief or lack of it in any immortal spark is strictly irrelevant.

But the self itself may not even be a mortal spark.

At a session chaired by Steven Gale, Julian Baggini spoke yesterday (Monday 22 August) on his book The Ego Trick, in which he explains the 'bundle theory' of personal identity, long familiar in the teachings of Buddhism in the East, and first explicated in the West by Hume.

Read the rest here.

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Have you read John Perry's _Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality_?

No, but I will.

Could I trouble you to duplicate the comment (and address any further comments) over at Genotype?

(Sorry - I should have made this clear in the posts).

Over on the Steve Jackson Games Web site, the forum devoted to their game setting Transhuman Space has seen extensive discussion of this, to the point that there's a permanent thread for it attached to the top of the thread list. It actually is relevant in the game setting, which has one version of brain uploading as a world assumption—and conflicts over the practice as a source of plots.

It seems to be essentially a philosophical issue rather than an empirical one, in that adherents of different positions are not able even to agree on what would count as an empirical test of a position. I've noticed, in particular, that both the extreme identity-is-worldline-continuity people and the extreme identity-is-sufficiently-close-similarity-of-pattern people tend to think that the other group are tacitly assuming a substantial immortal soul, and that without that assumption, the other position is incoherent. It's an interesting conversation but a frustrating one.

"Could I trouble you to duplicate the comment (and address any further comments) over at Genotype?"


For some reason OpenID always renders my name as "7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194."

Thanks, Roderick.

The OpenID is your name in the Gernsbackian Utopia. Learn to prounce it, citizen!

Or even, pronounce it!

were prouncing a form of decoding, once one learned to prounce, then one could pronounce what was prounced.

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