Personal identity: a primer

Sunday 8 October 2017 5:30PM

Who am I? Or should that be—what am I? If you haven’t worked it out yet, don't worry because you’re in good company. This question has been kicking around for a very long time, and has passed through the ages—from Plato to Descartes and Aristotle to Locke—but the answer is not yet in sight. Master philosopher-raconteur Patrick Stokes presents a millennial recap on the problem of identity, and some paradoxes that refuse resolution.

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Patrick Stokes
Senior lecturer in Philosophy
Deakin University

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Joe Gelonesi
Diane Dean
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Mark Don

Comments (6)

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  • Blessed Lunatic Wiseman :

    07 Oct 2017 10:02:48am

    The dearest philosophers & dear scientists!


    1)There's a TREE OF LIFE according to scientists.

    2)There's an apex for the tree!


    Scientists are the most educated monkeys living on the top of trees . Falling on the earth they suffer from brain injuries!

    Yours/"Blessed Lunatic Wiseman"(the nonsense/serious/humorous)!

  • Jake :

    07 Oct 2017 12:40:28pm

    We are concrescent entities of feeling..... Whitehead

  • A Montheist :

    08 Oct 2017 12:27:58pm

    Hello EveryOne:

    Our philosopher enmeshes three distinct problems with just one string of spaghetti, Personal Identity.
    The problems are:
    1- Personal identity
    2- Subjective-objective notion
    3- Bodily resurrection, or God's power & abilities.
    He considers resolving the personal-identity problem as the key to resolving the bodily resurrection issue.
    He argues that a human body is made of cells which are replaced many times over through the course of a person's life. He also says, what if a person is eaten by an animal, or by a cannibal? & what about altering memories?
    Thus, he implies:
    Personal identity is subjective. Therefore, bodily resurrection can't be possible.
    The problem is that, he uses a wrong string of spaghetti. For, if God exists, & is the Creator, infinitely powerful, knowledgeable, creative, & also eternal, then, as the Qur'an asserts, He shouldn't have any problem replicating replicating what He, himself has created. If He created something once, He can do it twice, or trice. After all, according to science, there is a limited amount of matter & energy in the universe.
    Therefore, to that effect, it's safe to say that our philosopher used a wrong string of spaghetti for enmeshing the three problems.

    The second key problem is the subjective-objective notion. What if subjectivity & objectivity are two aspects of the same reality? If so, a lot of personal identity problem would be resolved effortlessly.
    As I see it, the problem isn't much about personal identity, but about subjective-objective notion. Hence, the solution should be in answering the following questions:
    1- What is subjective?
    2- What is objective?
    Being subjective is, usually, taken as 'not being real', & 'not being real' as non-existing; but, is it right?
    1- Is blue color real?
    2- Does it exist?
    3- Is water real?
    4- Does it exist?

    We become aware of objects via information, received through our senses.
    Now, in a midsummer day, impacted by the the Sun-heat, you look up say:
    Bogger! Is it the Sun?
    Is it for real?
    Well, what you are looking at, had been the Sun eight minutes ago. In fact, you'll never see the actual Sun, nor can you feel its present moment. Meanwhile, subject to the entropy, the Sun is constantly changing.
    Nevertheless, no one doubts that the Sun exists, & is for real. After all, without it, life would not have flourished on the earth.
    Now, based on the information, can you assert:
    1- The Sun exists.
    2- It doesn't exist?
    Here, the objective sun isn't as terribly important as is its reality. Namely, you have become aware of the reality, but not its objectivity.

  • Aqua Fyre :

    08 Oct 2017 6:27:20pm

    Oh my goodness. So much sophistry wrapped up in a philosophers tea-cup. He puts up one straw-man after another in an attempt to create the right setting in which to ponder the question of self & identity. Unfortunately - all he does is obfuscate and cloud the issue.
    Is he offering something knew - or merely regurgitating old concepts in a half digested manner ? i think the latter.

    Perhaps - I can make a suggestion. Perhaps we can start the process of identifying the self - not so much in terms of what it is --- but rather in pairing back what it is not. The process I am thinking of - draws inspiration from Alan Turing and computable numbers. In order to crack the enigma code - he kept hacking away chunks of things that he was certain were NOT within the parameters of the code. This made the work much quicker & it helped to come up with the answer needed. So perhaps the identity of the self could be approached in similar manner - by eliminating the things that the self is NOT. What ever is left - becomes the starting point for a clearer search & identification of what we mean by the 'Self'

  • A Monotheist :

    09 Oct 2017 5:43:22pm

    The Sun may undergo changing, but its function remains the same throughout its life until it converts all its hydrogen into helium.
    Similarly, the personal identity may change throughout a person's life, but at the end, it may either earn you the Heaven, or the Hell.

    The blue color owes its existence to three phenomena: 1- The light wave
    2- The pigments
    3- The neurons.
    Without the light wave, the pigment & neurons will be useless; without the pigments, the light wave & neurons will be useless & without the neurons, the pigments & light wave will be useless in regard to the blue color.
    That implies the color is real. It is the effect of three distinct phenomena, just as water is the effect of H2O; without any of the hydrogen, or the oxygen, there won't be any water; just as the Sun-heat is the effect of nuclear fusion which had taken place in the Sun, eight minutes after the Sun had gone.

    Therefore, the blue color is real. No one can change the blue into red through his imagination.
    At the quantum level, human mind affect behavior of the particles. However, human mind affects them within the parameter of physics. Namely, you can't use your mind to cause a particle to behave like a dancing bear.
    To that effect, it's safe to say subjectivity & objectivity are two aspects of the same reality, or existence.
    God says "Be" & "it is" (Qur'an, 2:117).

    Like the blue color which is the effect of other things, personal identity emerges as a consequence of:
    1- A person's conducts.
    2- The nature, according to which God has created human beings.

    Just as you can't turn the particles into dancing bears through your imagination, you can't behave like the devil and end up becoming an angel.

  • Roedy Green :

    10 Oct 2017 7:51:22pm

    If the database contained the current location of each person (e.g. GPS co-ordinates) you could tell if a given entry were you.

    son (e.g. GPS co-ordinates) you could