[ExI] Next moment, everything around you will probably change

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Mon Jun 18 00:18:52 UTC 2007

On 6/17/07, Lee Corbin <lcorbin at rawbw.com> wrote:

> "Personal continuity" is a mistaken notion.  Aren't you
> the same person you were before last month?  And so what
> would change if miraculously last month really had never
> happened, your molecules just happened to assume their
> current configuration?  It would not diminish your identity
> an iota.  Continuity is a red-herring.

While Lee makes some good points and is rightfully proud of discarding
belief in an essential self, he does not yet comprehend that
similarity is also a red-herring.

With regard to personal identity, as the physical Lee changes over
days, weeks, months, and years, his identity doesn't degrade or
require constant renewal; he is actually considered **exactly** the
same person for all practical purposes by others, by himself, by our
social and legal systems. Any arbitrary physical/functional
characteristic could vary to an arbitrary extent and we all (Lee
included) would continue to treat the physical instantiation as Lee,
not to the extent that it resembles Lee-the-entity, but to the extent
it **represents** Lee-the-entity, the construct that exists only in
the mind(s) of the observer(s).

As a corollary, a physical instantiation could be extremely similar to
Lee, even more similar than, say, Lee of one year ago, but be
considered by anyone, including Lee, to be for **all* practical
purposes a different person.  As an example, imagine that Lee is by
nature a greedy bastard (this is so patently false, I hope, as to be
inoffensive.) Lee makes a perfect duplicate of himself to go off and
work at programming so Lee (original) can spend his time playing
chess.  At this point they are each Lee by virtue of each being a full
agent of the abstract entity we all know as Lee.  But software
engineering can be a hellish life, and eventually the duplicate, being
a bit unstable and a greedy bastard to boot, realizes that he could
empty the common bank account (belonging to Lee-the entity, rather
than to either Lee-the-agent) and assume a life of leisure.  If Lee
(the original) gives him any trouble, he can simply kill him and take
his place.  Of course Lee (the original) is inclined to similar
thoughts with regard to his duplicate.  We can easily see here that
despite extremely high similarity, for all practical
moral/social/legal purposes, anyone (including the duplicates
themselves) would see these as two separate individuals.

Personal identity is about agency.  Similarity is only a special case.

Those who believe in an essential self will not be able to follow this
argument.  Those like Lee who have let go of the essentialist position
and are loitering around the similarity-based position may wish to
take this further step to a more coherent and extensible understanding
of personal identity.

Apologies to others for my having "taken the bait" once again.

- Jef

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