Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Me, Myself and I

Who am I? Who are you? What makes us the individuals that we claim to be? Who and/or what is it that perdures through time that gives us this continuity we call "the self"?

A big part, if not the exclusive part, in Schild's Ladder of who we are is that of memories. There are the constant references to the loss of some short-term memories experienced when local death occurs to the individual and they have not backed up their recent experiences, some times just a couple of hours sometimes close to a day or so. But I think that memories may be given to much emphasis in this quest for identity.

It seems to me that there must be a "something else" that which the memories accrue to, that which maintains them, and that which perdures throughout. If who we are or who we become is the sum of our memories then every moment I am a different person. While it may be the case that I am a changing person for at each moment I gain a new experience and thus a new memory and perhaps forget some trivial memory, I do change. But there is an "I" that remains constant an "I" that binds together past, present and future. this "I" is not only and necessarily memories. It seems it must be something more.

Take the case of amnesia, permanent or other wise, I still am though I have lost all memories. Perhaps I no longer remember that I am was a welder, but I am. Perhaps I no longer remember that I used to be able to play chess but I am. Memories are perhaps a important part of how we define our self in a functional way, but I argue that they are not sufficient for defining who we are in an essential way. Before I learned to weld I was, before I learned to play chess I was and after I forget how to weld or play chess I will still be.

Perhaps the I that perdures is some ineffable thing, perhaps it is the ultimate subject that can never become object to itself. But what ever else it may be its essential nature is not tied to memories.

In Schild's Ladder Mr. Egan either ignores this or does not wish to deal with it, or perhaps also he is a pure materialist so who we are is nothing but the brain. But then that too would not make us our memories it would make us our brain whatever its state is.

Simply put I argue that we are more than the sum or lack of our memories. Memories add to us and there loss perhaps dimishes us but memories neither create nor destroy who we are, that "I" remains and is the constant to which memories come and go.


Josh said...

I agree with your comment regarding memory. (if you recall, I made a similar argument you did when we read Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? earlier this semester, even using Memento as an example, as you did in class.) Therefore, I have no objection to this view and in fact openly promote it. I especially appreciated your comment on the material identity that Egan seems to express, since this too was a concern for me throughout the semester (as you know.) It seems to me that identity cannot merely be confined to the physical.

Still, I have a question that I would like to pose, not as opposition but rather as something to consider. You expressed that if our identity was based on memory, then we are constantly changing. I actually agree that we do change as we mature, but I find that this is more of a sign of experience and not memory (and I don't consider this a definition of identity). However, with how it relates to memory (when we experience something that changes us, it is memory that preserves that experience within our mind), how would we change if we lost our memory? I will reword this to provide more clarity: if we have a life changing experience that transforms who we are (in a sense), would forgetting that experience remove the change that was created by it? I cannot answer this, but it is interesting to consider when asking the question of memory loss.

Still, despite this one inquiry (which does not change my view of identity in how it relates to your post), I still appreciate your comment. It definitely opens Egan to questions he never seems to answer. I guess he forgot (Sorry, I had to add one stupid play on words for this topic).

Josh said...

Also, a great movie that explores the issue of memory in a science fiction context is the Charlie Kaufman scripted Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. This film deals with the attempt to erase the memories of past sorrows (primarily in relationships) and the subsequent consequence of such a decision. Kaufman has admitted to trying to avoid endings that provide a moral, so it is generally open to interpretation. However, the results of memory loss, and the lead characters efforts to remember the girl he had intended to erase, suggest the importance of memory. When all of the tapes that include the patients recapping of the memories they tried to erase was returned to them, its effect was evident. Still, what is most interesting is how the movie seems to suggest it is not memory that defined their relationship, but the faults and weaknesses of the characters ultimately destroy the couple. The ending, where the lead couple agrees that they will never change and their flawed nature would always interfere (which slightly opposes my original argument), seems to promote the idea of an "essense" that defines humanity. It also re-enforces that, even when the memory is gone, the experience still draws them together.

(Funny. I just referenced two Jim Carrey movies in a deep discussion about humanity.)