Religion in Science Fiction (6): Doctor Who
Revenge in Videogame Stories (ihobo)

How Do You Know Who You Are?

Question_mark_1How do you know who you are?

When you wake up in the morning, when you have come from slumber to consciousness, you start the day with a subliminal awareness that you are the same person that went to sleep the night before. But how do you know you are this person? How do you know you are not someone else who happens to share the memory of the person from the night before?

Consider this problem like this. Suppose we could both clone people and implant memories. How would you tell each morning that you were the same person rather than a clone with identical memories? Presumably, you could not. But does that mean you only know who you are because you know that we cannot implant memories? 

If our memory is the only way we know who we are, what happens when memory becomes suspect?

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what happens when memory becomes suspect?

Civilisation falls apart - at the very least - as it's no longer possible to associate history (and hence accumulated contacts, wealth etc) with bodies. So far, that's only happening in the online world.

I've seen no SF that explores this fully enough; the authors fight shy of the full consequences of separating physical and mental identity.

That's an interesting post there Chris! Still, the answer to the issue of whether the person who wakes up "is the same person that went to sleep the night before" is already - in reality - an assumption isn't it ...? :) Rather than an irrefutable fact.

After all (to use your own example), how do you know that the person that wakes up tomorrow as 'you' isn't in fact a clone of the person who went to sleep tonight ...?

Well, a purist definition of a clone would suggest you wouldn't know, and there'd be no way of telling either. It wouldn't even occur to you either, unless you deliberately chose to contemplate the matter - as you have done here!

In other words, your speculation might already be a fact of Reality, and as such - philosophically speaking - your scenario would be deemed a tautology.

Oh, by the way, Thank Q! for the feedback on OBD, I've added a link to your interesting blog on the dalek blogs here.

OK then,
All The Best!

Chris, I see you're entertaining radical doubts again. :)

How do I know I wasn't created yesterday and my memories are all a fabrication?

I have faith in probability. :)

Whereas I don't have religious faith, because I see the existence of god as about a 50/50 tossup, the probability that we are actually who we think we are and not all being manipulated by some kind of secret alien/supernatural/government body snatcher organization is more like 95%.

But... Am I really just Scott? Maybe I'm really Barack Obama?? Can you prove that I'm not? You decide. :)

I don't know that I'm the same person. But if I found out I wasn't, I don't think I'd be too bothered by it. I've spent my whole life getting used to the idea that an identity is changeable. If it happens overnight, so what?

I believe that the experiences define the person. If nothing happens to a person between when they go to sleep and when they wake (and usually most people count dreams as nothing), then you are the same person. But what about operations, when you 'go to sleep' and then have parts removed or added to your body before you wake. Then you truly are a different person (in my mind at least).

Ahh I think I have made myself a little more afraid of the hospital.

The whole question gets tricky right at the point of 'know'. Yup, personal history on various levels of memory creates identity. Unless the 'ethereal' part can maintain cohesion and memories everything collapses.

Tales of the Abyss, anyone? Although in that game the guy doesn't even get implanted with any memories. Everyone just tells him he got amnesia and who he's supposed to be.

Peter: "Civilisation falls apart...."

Are you sure you're not being over dramatic? :)

The topic has been dealt with in a number of places interestingly, but it is usually on the scale of the individual, and not on the scale of the society as a whole - which keeps the nature of the problem constrained. Walter Jon William's "Voice of the Whirlwind" springs to mind, and there are other similar tales.

one billion daleks: "Still, the answer to the issue of whether the person who wakes up "is the same person that went to sleep the night before" is already - in reality - an assumption isn't it ...?"

Yes, well I made this case because this for me has always been the boundary case, ever since I was young. I have often thought of each day as "the last day of my life so far". :) This also dovetails with Hume's questions about identity at the end of A Treatise of Human Nature/Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, which I'll address in a future serial.

What this has, over the years, shown for me is that identity is more than something in the head of the individual. Part of what reinforces the idea of unitary identity is that *other people* treat us as the same individual. If our friends didn't recognise us from day to day, would we too begin to suspect who we were? :)

just Scott: "I see you're entertaining radical doubts again. :)"

Again? I wasn't aware I had stopped. :) I actually made this post simply because I hadn't had time to do anything more substantial, and I thought it would be interesting to get people's perspective on it - which it has. :)

Mory: "I don't know that I'm the same person. But if I found out I wasn't, I don't think I'd be too bothered by it. I've spent my whole life getting used to the idea that an identity is changeable. If it happens overnight, so what?"

I love this paragraph - this for me sums up the pragmatic solution to this particular philosophical dilemma really neatly. We do change all the time throughout our lives - all I postulate here is change on a faster scale. :) It is being confronted in an instant with what usually takes months or years that is confusing - but the nature of the change in our identities is, in some sense, inevitable!

Katherine: "I believe that the experiences define the person."

I have sympathy for this view, but then: if you produce three identical clones with identical memory implants, can you really say they are the *same* person? That they only become different people as they acquire different experiences? (This idea is dealt with to some degree with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Second Chances", in which Riker discovers he was accidentally copied in a transporter accident).

Jedeman: "The whole question gets tricky right at the point of 'know'."

Yes, in fact having studied epistemology (philosophy of knowledge) for a while now, I would say this should be the motto of that entire philosophical field! :D

Sirc: It blows my mind that "Tales of the Abyss" has the Japanese genre tag "Umareta imi o shiru RPG" - or "RPG to Know the Meaning of Birth". That's completely wild! :)

Thanks for the comments everyone!

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