Does the self persist through time?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Doreen, Dec 4, 2009.

  1. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    And then I change those other pieces, just as all the atoms in our cells are replaced, so you have a chair that looks somewhat like the first one - some of the writing is the same on it, but there is much more and what is the same has been recopied on the new wood - but is larger, slightly differently shaped, shares a statistically insignificant % of atoms with the original, is less flexible but can now seat two people.

    This is the same chair?

    Do you realize I could have reassembled all the pieces of the orignal chair in another room, without telling you? So now we have two chairs you say are the same?

    OK, I responded, but from now on, another thread. I'll be good.
     
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  3. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    I said
    Thinking said....
    Because I could make two copies. Are they both the first CD? We are talking about identity through time. The first CD and its copy can both exist at the same time. Or I can smash the first CD. It seems to me the copy is not the first CD. It is, in fact, a copy.

    Which is what empiricism would indicate we are, after a time.

    I notice also that you are being very selective in what you respond to on this issue and remaining silent on most of it. I put in some effort on the issue, but will stop very soon.
     
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  5. quantum_wave Contemplating the "as yet" unknown Valued Senior Member

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    Does the self persist through time?

    Yes, in an entirely different way than the chair persists through time when the parts are exchanged. I have the hatchet that George Washington used to chop down the Cherry tree. It has had four new handles and two new heads. Must be worth a fortune. That is the same type of history as the chair in your example.

    But the human, though cell replacement is continuous, the brain cells that contain and maintain the self-identity and memories that makes the human persist through time are replaced in a way that allows for an orderly transfer of the retained information. The brain cells have numerous connections to each other that develop over time. New brain cells form over time and link in with the existing network.

    Memory cells can be "recycled" though some information is lost over time.

    They say that sleep repairs and reorganizes the brain, losing some information and detail but preserving much of the data. As for new brain cell development research has shown that learning stimulates new brain cells. New cells keep forming as often as long as the mind is actively engaged.

    Quite different from George Washington's ax.
     
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  7. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    1) not nearly as orderly as copying a CD. 2) significant information is lost, tremendous amounts are added. Are you 100% the same person? 70% Less.

    Yes, new connections develop over time, really radical changes if you compare an early age with a later one. Further if it is information that is the key, information can be copied, and well, but we do not usually think of this as identity.

    And what is kept changes also. And each memory is a record of a change.
    Yes, I could replace the head of the ax with an incredibly similar alloy in nearly the exact shape, whereas your brain now has all your post 16 sex life and work life added on.....to a copy. A copy that has folds in different shapes, nerve connections in different patterns, different percentages of hormones moving through the blood, different rations of fat to muscle and bone, likely whole other sets of skills, habits, vocabulary, tone of voice - compared to pre-adolescent 'you' at the very least, a different social life, more body hair, that probably sleeps less and dream differently and so on and on. And whatever is the same, has been copied, much of it not wholly accurately - take a look at photos even of a younger adult self and you will see the changes. Sort of like photocopying an image over and over.

    Note: I began the CD example in the other thread My Problems with Empiricism which this thread is an offshoot of.
     
    Last edited: Dec 6, 2009
  8. quantum_wave Contemplating the "as yet" unknown Valued Senior Member

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    Yes, significant detail is lost. Nothing close to the efficiency of copying a CD, for sure. But still, the way the self persists is amazing.
    OK, I didn't read the other thread yet.
     
  9. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    I think you miss the point. I can make two copies of a CD. A copy is not the thing, it is a copy. I see no reason to assume that the copy is the same self that was there before. Empirical/scientific viewpoints would see us as copies.
     
  10. quantum_wave Contemplating the "as yet" unknown Valued Senior Member

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    For sure, I misunderstood. I thought you were making a distinction between the copy of the chair and the copy of the self. Now I see that you are saying that science would see us as copies just like they would see the chairs as copies. I don't agree though.

    Science can make a distinction between the copy of the chair and the copy of the self. Science recognizes the distinction between the living and the inanimate.
     
  11. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    Well, actually, I do not see unity on this. I see quite a few scientists as seeing us as very complicated machines with a self qualia that is a mere epiphenomen and any control or selfhood is illusory, in fact.

    But you raised the issue of information. That the brain copies the information. One you base identity on information you can even make several copies. I see no reason to think, given this, that you are the same experiencer you were twenty years ago. You are a copy with some of the same information.

    The animate, inanimate issue is irrevelent.

    If I copy a plant using the nucleus of one of its cells, the copy is not the original plant, despite the fact that both are animate. An animate copy is still a copy. Your cells are copying themselves, over time, using new matter.

    New copy, new matter, some information in commone with earlier copies.
     
  12. quantum_wave Contemplating the "as yet" unknown Valued Senior Member

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    No problem in my mind with the human twenty years ago being composed of entirely different material. And no problem with the information transfer along the way, even with its inefficiencies.

    But the animate and in animate is relevent. Your reminder that science also distinguishes between the plant and the animal does add another level of distinction. I would amend my earlier statement to say the science makes the distinction between the living and the inanimate where the living includes plants and animals withing which the slow process of replacement occurs naturally, and the inanimate chair where there is no such natural process.
     
  13. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    yes, but saying no problem does not explain what this 'self' is that gets carried along. It sounds a lot like a soul.

    Please don't make me work more than I need to. I am sure you know we have cloned animals.


    Slow, fast, what's the difference? And notice you used the word 'replacement'. That pretty much sums it up.
     
  14. quantum_wave Contemplating the "as yet" unknown Valued Senior Member

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    You are ignoring the process by which replacement takes place. Natural vs. furniture repair.

    And the clone, what does that have to do with it. The clone is living, the replacement is the same natural process.
     
  15. jmpet Valued Senior Member

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    A chair stops being a chair the moment it no longer services its function as a chair.
     
  16. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

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    I read a story called Pandora's Star. A great book, by the way. Anyway, people in that book had the ability to "back themselves up". Once a week or so they'd back up their brain to a computer. Also, dna samples were taken from each citizen. So, if anyone were killed, a clone would be created and their most recent memories uploaded to the clone.

    So, is the clone the same person? He has the same DNA. The same memories (except for whatever happened after the last brain back up). But is it really the same person?
     
  17. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    Is the clone the same person?
    No.
    It will think it is.
    Everyone else will think it is.
    The only person who won't think it is would be the original.
    If the original isn't alive then, to all intent and purpose, it is the same person.

    That is, unless it can be shown that this perfect clone and the original share the same consciousness - are the same person in two places at the same time. Then it will be the same person even in the presence of the original.

    The thing is, when you go to sleep, and "lose consciousness" (assuming you don't dream), then how can the "I" that wakes up be sure that it is the same "I" that went to sleep?
    The "I" that wakes up observes its surroundings, relates it to its memory and concludes it is the same "I".
    But is it?
    How do you know that the "I" that went to sleep didn't "die" and that you are in fact a perfect clone (hypothetically speaking - i.e. ignoring the whole requirement to take one body out of your room, one into etc).

    The only thing that keeps you from thinking you are conscious for the first time is your memory. People who have lost their long-term memory and are unable to store new long-term memories indeed think that each morning they wake up is the first time they are conscious.

    And the thing about being dead is that you won't know you are - the way you also won't be aware of being unconscious (e.g. under general anaesthetic).
    The only difference is with the latter some "I" wakes up in the body with the same memories etc - and it believes it is the same "I" - and everyone else also will.


    So - in response to the thread title:
    Define "self". Is it more than just your memories - and if the memories persist then a consciousness that has those memories will think it is that same "self"?
    Or is "self" more than that?

    And bear in mind that if the memories don't match the environment you're in (e.g. if you wake up and notice you only have one leg but have no memory of losing it) then you'll be genuinely confused and your sense of "self" will be compromised until the confusion can be resolved.
     
  18. quantum_wave Contemplating the "as yet" unknown Valued Senior Member

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    The clone is not the same person. however, whether original or clone, they experience the same ongoing life processes that result in slow replacement of cells as we have been discussing.

    There is a difference in the life process of the clone vs the original, i.e. the clone experienced an additional process of being cloned while the original cannot claim that distinction.

    The two individuals are essentially the same physically but the ongoing slow process within each of them is separately orchestrated by their differing circumstances after cloning. They don't get replaced in exactly the same pattern or sequence cell by cell though the slow replacement takes place within both.

    But I know I am missing the bigger point or question about the persistence of the individual. The original and the clone persist as a result of the same process but once the clone began life it persists as a different individual, not the same individual as the original. I'm missing the point aren't I?
     
  19. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

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    The book dealt with these issues (among many others) in the context of a virtual utopia under attack by aliens. While most "modern" citizens regarded the clones as the same person, one of the main characters was also one of the oldest as he was born in the early 21st century. As he was facing death in the war, he tried to console himself with the idea that he would re-awaken as a clone. But he knew in his heart that that wasn't true. That clone would be a different person walking around with all this memories true, but diferrent.

    There was another character who was a despicable human being. A real scumbag. He ended up getting captured and killed by the aliens who then uploaded his brain into an alien body. As a human in an alien body, he became a heroic "person" fighting to save humanity with a bravery and level of character he never displayed as a human. Meanwhile, his clone back on earth continued to be a weasle. The point was that the interaction of mind and body help make us what we are.

    There was also a sentient AI that had been given its own planet after, I think, a brief war. Some humans, facing death, decided to upload their consciousness to the AI rather than a clone. They then became part of the AI collective consciousness but still retained some individuality. The AI/collective consciousness still took interest in human affairs and even assisted us in the war with the aliens; but they were really a whole different level of consciousness.

    Would the uploaded minds be the same people they had been? If they were, clearly their intimate mental interaction with the AI and other uploaded personalities would affect them greatly and alter them in ways that are hard to predict. But the same is true of the life experiences we all undergo each day. Take a man, send him to war. Is the man that returns the same man that was sent? They say you can't go home again. That is true not only because the home you remember no longer exists; but because you are not the person you were.
     
  20. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    I am not missing anything. You are naturally replaced, slowly, over time, by copies. They share some of the same information. They are not you. Mostly we cannot face this, so we assume that something, soul or whatever, is the same.

    The chair example was to make what is happening slowly and subtly in the body more easy to understand. But a slow, subtle replacement of you by subsequent copies is still replacement.
     
  21. Doreen Valued Senior Member

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    4,101
    I am not missing anything. You are naturally replaced, slowly, over time, by copies. They share some of the same information. They are not you. Mostly we cannot face this, so we assume that something, soul or whatever, is the same.

    The chair example was to make what is happening slowly and subtly in the body more easy to understand. But a slow, subtle replacement of you by subsequent copies is still replacement.

    Your points about the clone were correct, though they were taken out of context of my original intent.

    Before you said that the replacement was slow. I pointed out that this makes no difference. I think you can see this is the case. The slowness does not matter. There is no other example where we would say slowly changing ALL the parts of something means it is not a full replacement. But you did not acknowledge this point.

    Now your argument hangs on the word 'natural'. But replacements by natural processes are replacement. There is not reason to make natural replacement a special case.

    We know that incredibly comples information can be copied via computer. we know that copies are not the originals. Because the process happens slowly in us, we tend not to view it that way. And the idea is so disturbing we sorely want it not to be the case.

    One must choose between empiricism or the peristant self. There is nothing in empiricism to support the idea that the 3 yeard 'you' is the same consciousness and the current 'you'.

    Personally, I think empiricism is limited, especially at any given moment in history, which is always the case. But empiricists must face this issue, it seems to me, and say 'there is no evidence it is the same consciousness.'
     
  22. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

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    But this only holds if you assume that "you" is the physical material rather than the unique "pattern" of that material.
    In the latter it makes no difference that the material is replaced over time - as the unique pattern persists and is continuous.

    But define the "chair" as the pattern of wood / material in the certain way - with each chair being similar but very subtly unique... then replacement is irrelevant as long as the pattern of the material is there.


    Whether stopping the pattern briefly and then resuming it (e.g. disassembly and then reassembly) "kills" the original person and then creates a new person is something that can never be known - as the first person, if dies, can not say so, and the second person will be as utterly convinced they are the same person as you are that you are you.
     
  23. Dub_ Strange loop Registered Senior Member

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    This is what I was going to point out. In my opinion, all this talk of chairs and axes has gotten us off on entirely the wrong foot from the very start. Considering chair-continuity is no more instructive to the question of self-continuity than it is to the questions of continuity of love, justice, deception, or any other abstraction which isn't necessarily defined in physical terms.

    Now the question is, ought we to define "the self" as your physical body, or ought we to define it as something else? I contend that one's "self" ought to be defined as their conscious, phenomenal experience; their qualia, if you will. Anything that doesn't share my conscious, phenomenal experience is not part of my self. This is necessarily an arbitrary distinction, but it has both logical and intuitive appeal.

    Logically, it doesn't lead to any contradictions that come readily to my mind. The only candidate, I think, would be the "problem" of temporary lapses in consciousness. But I would answer that the events we generally refer to as lapses in consciousness (e.g., sleep) are not really cessations from conscious experience per se, but rather only losses of memory. Importantly, consciousness is not synonymous with memory -- this is why we can say that the forgetful drunk is indeed conscious. Conversely, there is little justifiable reason to suppose that we somehow "switch off" consciousness while we sleep, only to switch it back on later. Brain imaging technology (and basic medical knowledge) tells us that the brain is doing some things while we sleep. It's more reasonable to suppose that our phenomenal experience of sleeping simply doesn't get stored into long term memory (excepting dreams), just like the drunk's phenomenal experience. It's not clear that this is an empirically falsifiable statement in any way, but its no less falsifiable or verifiable than the alternative (i.e., no phenomenology while sleeping), and I think I've outlined good reasons for accepting the former rather than the latter.

    For an interesting case that highlights the intuitive appeal, see alien hand syndrome, where something that is part of one's own physical body is nevertheless regarded as not part of one's self. It isn't connected to the patient's conscious intentionality, and the patient therefore considers it to be foreign.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2009

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