• A disturbed person
    I am having a huge problem with finding an argument on personal identity that I find convincing. I really can't find a reason to help my future self outside of altruism or me being everyone, or the possibility of a "soul" existing, which is hard for me to believe. Because of this I made a post a few days ago however I don't think I went into enough detail about why I thought this, so I decided to write a longer and more detailed post. I'm not great at explaining myself so I tried my best but I might be a little unclear at parts, I'm sorry if this is the case.

    Firstly can choose to define a life/person as a thing, and this life is made out of many smaller things called thoughts, most of which are thinking/experiencing different things - they are not all the same. I (as in right now) am a thought, which is part of a life - but I don't think that this alone means that i am this life. You could also define, say an ant colony as a thing, and this ant colony is made out of many smaller things called ants, but each ant isn't the ant colony. You could even say that many people make up a thing called a society, but that doesn't mean each person is the society. You could define all thoughts about, say a particular film as a thing, you could define all parts of each life at 18 years old as a thing - in fact, there are an infinite amount of definitions of "things" that I (right now) am apart of, containing all consciousness in the universe or even everything in the universe. Does this mean that all of this is me? It seems that the only 2 plausible answers to what I am(other than what I am experiencing right now) is: A - nothing else, or B - everything else. I think this because there is no limit to the amount of completely different things you could define that I (right now) am part of.

    To me it seems that most arguments for personal identity say why it makes sense to define a person as a thing, but not why I (a thought) am that person. For example, shared memories sounded like a strong argument at first, but thinking about it more I don't feel it is. The vast majority of memories are only shared by a small amount of thoughts throughout a life. Sure, there are a lot of memories stored in an unconscious part of the brain somewhere, nobody knows exactly how this works but that doesn’t matter, the key point is that it’s Subconscious) - the conscious mind is not interpreting them the vast majority of time. My memory can be defined as a thing that stores information and I could use my memory to access a piece of information right now and in a small amount of time my mind will interpret it, however you could also define, say, the internet as a thing that stores information, which I could also use right now to gain access to information which my mind will interpret after a small amount of time - that doesn't mean I, as in the thought that exists now, actually know this information, until my mind interprets it. Most people would say that your memory is part of your body/brain and therefore your memory is part of you but I do not think that the body is important/significant other than the part/pattern in the brain that is responsible for consciousness (or is a real world representation of consciousness). I feel this because changing my body will not change my mind, sure i would feel pain if I cut my finger, but that's only because a signal is sent to the conscious part of my brain through nerve cells which will then be interpreted by my mind. If I took enough painkillers and looked the other way and someone cut my finger, it would make no difference to the mind weather of not my finger is cut. You could also maybe say that information stored in my brain is more important than information stored elsewhere because I can access it more quickly and easily. There may be some plausibility to this however I don't feel so. There may also be some plausibility in the reason that most of the thoughts throughout a section of a life can choose to access the same piece of information from the memory part of the brain. I don't think this is important either as the same could be said for all thoughts that are on the internet, but you don't see helping some of these thoughts as self interest if you are currently on the internet.

    Maybe the simple fact that I feel like all the other thoughts throughout my life are me, is sufficient enough to say that they really are me. After all, even in this post I use the word "I" to describe my life. The problem I have with this is that my brain is programmed to feel like this due to evolutionary biology (or because of god if that's what you believe, it doesn't matter in this case) , and you could, with very advanced technology, create/program a human brain that feels like it is anything, maybe it feels like it is an attack helicopter, or all conscious thoughts that will ever exist in the country of Serbia - anything you like. However most would say that this brain in fact isn't all conscious minds in Serbia, even if I uses the word "I" to describe them. So why would the fact that I feel like I am my life, despite only experiencing my thoughts at this moment, be a valid reason to suggest that I am my life, but the fact this this brain feels like it is all conscious minds that were ever in Serbia, not be a valid reason to say that it really is all the thoughts that ever existed in Serbia? It isn't very convincing to me.

    An argument that may be plausible is since it is hard to work out when a thought starts and stops, the "I think therefore I am" argument extends until the flow of consciousness stops, either at the end of a life or when a person falls asleep. However, despite there seemingly being a constant flow of consciousness between me this morning and me now, I am not experiencing the part of my life that was this morning right now, which may be an argument against this. Maybe the thought that existed 5 seconds ago, gradually became the thought that exists now and is now different. This does seem to me to be the strongest argument against my theory - you can't pick a time where a thought becomes another thought.

    So why do I find this disturbing? Earlier I expressed the two possibilities A and B about who I was other than what I am experiencing at a moment. Throughout a life, long term happiness usually requires short term sacrifice to achieve. For example, I feel that doing well on my exams that I have in a few months is important for long term happiness throughout my life, however it requires short term unhappy moments - I don't like a lot of the topics I have to study and it's a pain for me to do so. It's much harder for me to do things I don't like if I accept A because I feel the thoughts from my later life that experience the benefits of this are not me. A thought being unhappy, to help the life it is part of, seems to me like a slave being unhappy to help the society that it is part of. Yes I am helping other thoughts which does make it slightly better for me, but it's much harder to do those last few reps at the gym if it's not you who makes gains from it. Option B is also disturbing to me for a few reasons. Firstly, I feel that it is reasonable to suggest that most of nature is in an unhappy/uncomfortable state. I think this is because evolutionary biology favours this state as it makes an animal more likely to want to improve it's situation and therefore survive and reproduce - a rabbit has the uncomfortable feeling of being hungry as an incentive for it to search for food. I am not sure of this however. Another reason I find this disturbing is that it implies I should change my life in a lot of ways. For example, if by getting a place at a university it means somebody also does not get that place, it takes away any reason to try to get into the university as I am the person who will miss the place at the university - I will harm myself as much as I will help myself. To be honest, the main reason I have a problem with B is that I simply like the idea that I am my life and nothing else - however I find it hard a accept this without a convincing reason.

    The obvious question for me to think is "why is it only me that thinks this theory?" I hope I'm wrong, but I feel like it is because the vast majority of people have not thought about this in a logical and unbiased way. People are more likely to believe something if they want it to be true, and the more they want it to be true, the more biased they are when coming up with reasons for it. I think this is the main reason that people are religious. I think this is also the reason that most people who have thought about self identity don't come to the conclusion of option A or B. I not sure of this, which is why I have written this post, but I still can't help but think this is the case.

    If you have read up to hear then thank you and I would love to hear why I'm wrong. I read all of the replies to my other post and I will read all of the replies to this one. I'm sorry I had to make it so long it's just that I think about this theory all of the time and had to write most of it to help get it off my mind.
  • Joshs
    you don't have to think of a thought as a thing. The phenomeologists don't think of it this way. And I don't either. A thought is a change. There are nothing but changes. This would seem to make your problem worse. It's all just pure chaos everywhere all the time. But if this were true, how would you know what a thing is? I mean, the kind of thing you want to protect, to hold onto as YOU. So my point is that if what I'm saying is true, then you know what a thought is, you can feel it as something real and stable, even if only for an instant , something that you wish you could believe was stable for longer, and stayed with you AS a you that carried its identity through time.

    But I believe that because a single thought is a change over what went before it, so a chain of thoughts that comprise your comment above represents a whole series of changes over changes. But these changes are linked together. They form a common theme, like the unfolding of the notes in a piece of music. So we don't feel that an experience ( of music, of ourselves) is chaotic or fragmented just because it consists of an unfolding of changes over changes. We only feel the way that you do, alientated from yourself( or more accurately, fearing that your 'self' is just arbitrary, random, disconnected islands of separate selfs , separate thoughts ), when the flow is interrupted, when the theme breaks up. It wouldnt even occur to you in the first place that your thoughts don't connect if it weren't for the fact that you notice the breaks in the themes or flows of your experience. So, it's not the fact that your thinking changes that makes you feel fragmented, it's when the changes stop flowing. Actually, it's when your thinking doesn't change aggressively, continuously enough, that you feel chopped up into separate things.
    The most truly radically accelerated kind of change in thinking moment to moment is in great music, sport, sex,
    philosophy, dreaming. In all these experiences , the changes are so dense, theres almost no content left in each moment. It's all in the ongoing unfolding. Not 'things' but process. Another way to look at it is that your present subsumes and includes your past within it , so that new change embeds older change Your current self is your former self but more so. Nothing is really lost. You just become more expansive over time.

    By the way , when you recall a memory, you're not really going into a past' , you're reconstructing something for your present purposes. So your past, your memory is really in front of you. It belongs to your current flow or theme and carries it forward.
  • bloodninja
    Perhaps your problem is precisely that you are thinking of yourself (or identity itself) as a thing or a collection of things. In Heidegger's jargon, this is to think of yourself as something present-at-hand (or occurrent). But a present-at-hand thing is something that, strictly speaking (or ontologically speaking), you (we) are not and can never be. So there is an ontological confusion going on in your questioning.

    You, as dasein, are not an objective occurrant thing, whether that be a memory, thought, soul, your evolved biology, or evolved psychology, etc. And neither are you the fragmented occurrent parts of other fragmented occurrent things. You belong to an altogether different ontological mode proper to the uniquely distinct kind of being you are, dasein. Dasein can be translated as existence, or being there, or being the there, etc. Basically you are there in a world (not the present-at-hand world of science but the existential world of shared significance) and find yourself mattering. Mattering is existentially basic. Existentiality is basic. Everything else is derivative. Everything. Literally.

    I would recommend reading Heidegger or a commentary on him. He goes into great detail (gives a phenomenology) about dasein's existential structures and how dasein exists (or can exist) as a whole phenomenon. You will never think of yourself as a thing again. I am therefore I think! Easiest solution to your problem!
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