Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why is one chunk of matter me, and all the others not me?


 I want to know, if materialism is true, why one chunk of matter is "me" and all the rest of the chunks of matter are not me. Even if you buy the whole story about something evolving that functions as if it were a me, I can still imagine a possible world physically identical to this one in which I am somebody else. So the explanation for why one chunk of matter is me, and another chunk of matter is, say, Barack Obama, can't be something about the physical world, since in a physically identical world, I'm Obama, and someone else is Reppert.

  • 25 comments:

    Hal said...

    The imagination is a wonderful thing.

    Sam Ludford said...

    Can you really imagine a world physically identical to this one in which you are someone else? I know that this sort of speaking is used as a way of saying that such a world is not obviously impossible, but this is to presuppose your own conclusion. What I mean is, you can only 'imagine' it because you're assuming that mind and matter are indeed distinct, and hence that identity of the latter does not necessarily imply identity of the former.

    B. Prokop said...

    Sam,

    Every single day, your body replaces a certain percentage of its cells with new ones. This process never stops, and after 8-10 years there is not a single atom in your body that was there before that period of time (other than your teeth). So you really are (materially, at least) a "new person" each decade.

    But are you? I know for certain that I am the same person that was walking around and doing/thinking certain things 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

    And if, as you seem to imply, "identity of the latter (mind) implies identity of the former (material)", then you'd better be prepared to open up our prisons and release every inmate who has served more than 9 years of a sentence, or who is in there for a crime committed more than 9 years ago. Because by that reasoning, "some other guy dunnit!"

    Hal said...

    Bob,
    You wouldn't have the memories you have without the body you have.

    Sam,
    As I pointed out, the imagination is a wonderful thing. We can even imagine things that are logically impossible or that make no sense.

    I think you are quite right that this example of Victor's simply illustrates what he already believes to be true. It goes no way toward proving his belief to be true.

    B. Prokop said...

    Hal,

    You appear to have missed the crucial fact that it isn't the same body. If identity were the same as a purely physical construct, how on Earth can I be the same person, if that physical thing called Bob is completely and totally different than the one (also) called Bob 10 years ago?

    Hmmm... You seem to be saying that it's memories that determine identity. That's interesting. Because it's obvious that memories are themselves independent of the physical means of storage (recalling the discussion about The Brothers Karamazov on a previous thread). You're still up against identity being dependent on something totally non-material.

    Crude said...

    We can even imagine things that are logically impossible or that make no sense.

    You can imagine a squared circle? What in the world would that mean?

    Dan Gillson said...

    Dr Reppert

    I don't know why materialism being true would make the very fact of your individual existence more surprising than if dualism were true. You are you and others and other things are not because that's the way things are. Why is that a philosophical problem?

    B. Prokop said...

    Dan,

    So your answer to the question boils down to "because"???

    Hal said...

    Bob,
    "You appear to have missed the crucial fact that it isn't the same body."

    You appear to be oblivious that yours is only one possible theory regarding identity.

    Hal said...

    Crude,
    "You can imagine a squared circle? What in the world would that mean?"

    That's my point. Arguments from imagination are about as bad as they get.

    Crude said...

    Hal,

    That's my point. Arguments from imagination are about as bad as they get.

    No, hold on.

    You said you could imagine the logically impossible, or things that make no sense.

    That seems flat out false. Are you saying you can imagine a squared circle?

    Hal said...

    Crude,
    You can't use sense to refute the imagination.

    People imagine themselves to be other people. Not to be like that person but to actually be that person. Or they imagine themselves to be an animal. How could a human really retain their identity and also be an animal like a mouse? It is absurd. Nonsensical.
    Even though it can be quite entertaining.

    Crude said...

    Hal,

    You can't use sense to refute the imagination.

    I'm saying that no, you cannot imagine a square circle. I question whether we can imagine the logically impossible or 'things that make no sense'. There's a difference between imagining something false, imagining something fantastic, and imagining the logically impossible, etc.

    How could a human really retain their identity and also be an animal like a mouse?

    I agree that identity issues get very, very hazy once we start talking about that. On the other hand, things get hazy if you start asking about how identity is retained from week to week, at least outside of dualisms.

    Either way, no, I really question the claim that we can imagine the logically impossible in any meaningful way. It's like imagining something coming from nothing. What we seem to be doing is not imagining that, but imagining a sensible play where an illogical claim is made.

    B. Prokop said...

    Hal,

    It still appears to me that you regard one's memories as what determines identity. OK, so if I were to download all of my memories onto a computer (which may someday be theoretically possible), would that computer then be me? If I were to commit some horrible crime just prior to such a download and then immediately die, could such a computer then be logically charged with the crime I committed?

    Hal said...

    Bob,
    Here is what you wrote in another thread:
    "For myself, a decisive argument against "mind" being purely a function of physical brain activity is personal identity.

    Just this morning, for some unknown reason, I was recalling to mind an event (falling into a deep hole) that occurred to me in what I'm fairly sure was the year 1956. Now it is an established fact that every last atom in our bodies is replaced after an 8-10 year period (except for those in our teeth). So on a purely materialistic level, I today am not the same person who fell into that hole nearly 60 years ago.

    Yet I demonstrably am the same person. Ergo, there is something other than the purely material that links that individual called "Bob" in 1956 with me in the present year."

    I was just working with your linkage of memory with personal identity.

    Hal said...

    Crude,
    "I'm saying that no, you cannot imagine a square circle. I question whether we can imagine the logically impossible or 'things that make no sense'"

    I don't think we determine what has meaning or what is logically impossible based on what we can or cannot imagine.

    If someone were to ask you to define "logically impossible" do you think "whatever we cannot imagine" would suffice?

    B. Prokop said...

    Hal,

    In that case, I am at a loss as to just what do you consider to be the determinant of identity. If it is our physical body, then we are demonstrably not the same people that we were 10 years ago. If it is our memories, then how do you answer my question about the computer download? If it is neither of those, then what do you propose makes me me?

    I'm not trying to badger you - I am simply not understanding you. Perhaps I've missed a crucial posting?

    B. Prokop said...

    And by the way, I myself do have answer that satisfies me as to what determines our personal identities - our souls. But then, I am most definitely not a materialist.

    And I have zero intention of arguing my case here, as that would be an extreme case of putting the cart before the horse. The above is a conclusion which follows from a whole host of other beliefs which have to be accepted first. We'd have to have debated practically the entire Creed before we got to that point.

    Hal said...

    Bob,
    "And I have zero intention of arguing my case here, as that would be an extreme case of putting the cart before the horse. The above is a conclusion which follows from a whole host of other beliefs which have to be accepted first. "

    Then I see little reason to pursue this topic further.

    If you can't give an argument for what personal identity is then I see no reason why a materialist or a non-supernaturalist should take your claim that personal identity shows their position to be false.

    B. Prokop said...

    No, I am not asking you to argue your position. I'm just trying to understand what it is.

    Just tell me what you think determines identity, and don't worry about defending it.

    B. Prokop said...

    "If you can't give an argument for what personal identity is"

    I can indeed give an argument for my position, but such an argument (as I was, I guess unsuccessfully, trying to say) would have to be predicated on first going through discussions on the reality of the supernatural, the existence of God, the the historicity of the Resurrection, the legitimacy of Apostolic Succession, and the authority of the Church. And I may have missed a few steps there.

    So you can see why I don't see any profit in barging the queue and proceeding to arguing a very dependent conclusion without going through all the rest first. But that shouldn't prevent us from stating what it is that we believe about what determines personal identity. We can worry about defending it later.

    Dan Gillson said...

    Bob

    Yes, "because" is sort of my answer. But don't forget, I also answered Dr Reppert's question with another question: "Why is this a philosophical problem?"

    Ilíon said...

    "I want to know, if materialism is true, why one chunk of matter is "me" and all the rest of the chunks of matter are not me."

    I was going to point out that this question isn't nearly radical enough, but I see that B.Prokop has already mentioned that.

    I call this problem (for materialism (*)) "Theseus' Lamborghini" ... 'cause it goes way beyond a ship.

    (*) and, it's also a problem for the common understanding of "what exists"

    Ilíon said...

    So -- if it's "memories" that create identity -- then if someone were to suffer from total (and irreversible) amnesia, then it must be the case that one person has ceased to exist, and different person has begun to exist. They just happen to non-concurrently exist in the same body (which isn't "the same body" from second to second, in any event).

    At the same time, taking the logic of that supposition further, if a person happens in the normal course of events to forget some event or fact of his life, then it must be the case that one person has ceased to exist, and different person has begun to exist; etc.

    So, if it's the case that "memories" that create identity, then few, if any of us, actually exist.

    Ilíon said...

    ... at the same time, even if there were some individuals who have never forgotten a single thing about their lives, the fact remains that they are constantly acquiring new memories. Thus, even those persons don't exist, if it's "memories" that create identity.