[Working my way slowly up the list of many excellent posts from the past few 
days, excuse me if someone else has already answered this...]

Lee Corbin writes (quoting SP):

> > If [a] species believed that 2+2=5, or that their kidneys were the organs 
> > of respiration,
> > they would be wrong. But if they believe that they wake up a different 
> > person every day,
> > and live their lives based on this belief, they would *not* be wrong; they 
> > could hold
> > this belief quite consistently even if they knew all there was to know 
> > about their biology.
> 
> I claim that there is an important sense in which they *would* be wrong,
> that is, nature endowed us with a strong prejudice that we are the same
> creature from moment to moment for a reason. A creature exhibits a great
> deal of fear if a threat arises not to "it" itself in the sense of the
> creature this moment, but "it" in the extended sense. It acts consistently
> to ensure that itself of a few moments hence does not come to harm, and we,
> of course, understand quite well why nature did this.
> 
> Creatures who do not identify with themselves a few moments hence are
> "punished". They undergo pain or discomfort that is linked by their
> intelligence to what the other creature (i.e. its self of a few moments
> ago) actually did.  Again, in this way they become fearful of future
> pain, and, on the other hand, eager to ravish future gain.

There is an important difference between normative statements and descriptive 
or empirical statements. Quoting from Wikipedia:

"Descriptive (or constative) statements are falsifiable statements that attempt 
to describe reality. Normative statements, on the other hand, affirm how things 
should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, which 
actions are right or wrong."

Suppose some powerful being sets up an experiment whereby organisms who believe 
they are the same individual day after day are selectively culled, while those 
who believe that they are born anew each morning and die when they fall asleep 
each night, but still make provision for their successors just as we make 
provision for our children, are left alone or rewarded. After several 
generations, everyone would believe that they only lived for a day, and their 
culture, language and so on would reflect this belief. Philosophers would point 
out that the day-person belief, though universally accepted and understood, is 
nevertheless contingent on the particular environment in which the species 
evolved. That is, it is not a fact "out there in the world", independent of 
culture and psychology, like the belief that "2+2=4" or that "the most common 
isotope of the element with six protons found in our planet's crust has six 
neutrons". Everyone capable of understanding the language would agree that 
these two statements are true, or at least that they have a definite true or 
false answer. The question of the truth or otherwise of the day-person  belief 
is not straightforward in the same way. In order to make, "a person lives for a 
day, then dies, and another person is born the next day inheriting most of his 
memories" a true-or-false statement, one would have to add, "according to the 
concept of personhood and death that we have evolved to believe". If this 
latter clause is understood as implicit, then your treatment of the idea of 
continuity of identity over time is valid. You would then have to grant the 
day-people that their belief is just as good as ours, the difference between us 
just being an accident of evolution. What's more, to be consistent you would 
have to grant that a duplicate is not a self, on the grounds that the great 
majority of people do not believe this and our very language is designed to 
deny that such a thing is possible (only the British monarch uses "we" to mean 
what commoners refer to as "I"). 

> Suppose on the other hand that this is incorrect. Suppose that identity
> does not extend in time past one Planck constant (whatever that is).
> Then no object or person "survives". But then the term "survival" is
> also lost.

Survival and continuity of identity consist solely in the fact that we 
*believe* we survive from moment to moment. There is no "objective fact" beyond 
this that can be invoked to decide whether we do or do not survive in ambiguous 
cases. Superficially it may seem that that this last statement is false, 
because we can, for example, do a DNA test, or specify that there must be 
physical and/or mental continuity between two instantiations of the same 
person. However, we can always come up with a counterexample that would fool 
any such test.
 
> (Words don't have absolute meanings; only meanings that convey relative
> utility and which correspond to actual structure in the world. An object
> and even a person *does* persist in time as is revealed by a close
> examination of structure. It simply isn't very different from moment
> to moment, and if it is, then the entity has not survived. For example,
> a rock that is crushed into dust no longer exists as a rock.)

You could have an argument there: someone could say that the rock still does 
exist, but in powdered form. The definition of "rock" becomes the issue, and 
this is not in itself a scientific question. That there is a uniform lump of 
several minerals at time t1, then a collection of the same mass of the same 
minerals in finely divided form at time t2, is something we could both agree on 
yet still disagree about whether the rock exists at t2. We could say, "given 
that an object is said no longer to exist as such if it loses its structural 
integrity..." or something like that, and then the question of whether the rock 
exists at t2 does become an empirically verifiable statement once again. In a 
similar fashion, if we say as above "given the notion of personhood and death 
that we have evolved to believe..." we could perhaps reach agreement on some 
questions of personal identity. But then, what do we say when the rock is 
half-crushed, the evolved beliefs very different from our own, or the situation 
never previously encountered in evolution, as in the case of duplication 
experiments?  

> Each person reading this would act in the following way if he suddenly
> heard a loud animal roar behind him. If he then looked around a saw a
> large tiger, all thoughts about the futility of survival past one
> Planck constant would vanish. If the person takes a flying leap, and
> just manages to get on the other side of a door, and is able to slam
> it shut in the tiger's face, the person will rightfully be relieved.
> Why shouldn't we say that the person has survived, at least for the
> nonce until the tiger figures out that it may be able to burst through
> the closed door?

You're right, of course. The belief that we are the same person from moment to 
moment has a certain utility, otherwise it would never have evolved. But do you 
think there is more to the idea than evolutionary expediency? Also, if a 
particular belief or behaviour has evolved, does that necessarily makes it true 
and/or good?

Stathis Papaioannou
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