The Psychological Criterion of Personal Identity and Fission
Eve is forward psychologically continuous with Lefty and Eve is forward psychologically continuous with Right, but Lefty and Righty are not forward psychologically continuous with each other. Is this a problem for the Psychological Criterion of Personal Identity? What lesson does Parfit think we should draw from these examples? Is he right? Why or why not?
The Psychological Criterion of Personal Identity and Fission
Some people have a delayed response in recalling their left from their right. Do studies of Left/Right Confusion support any claims outlined in this essay? Not really. Metaphorically perhaps. Reducing personal identity to the point of mutilation is absurd, no possible philosophical truth could result from this thought experiment and this essay will offer an alternative, a more pragmatic and statistically rigorous approach. When viewed as a cognitive bug, Left/Right Confusion is overcome rather quickly, the delay is only a minor inconvenience.[¹] If the same affliction were to affect the same person, split into two, this problem quickly becomes complex (from a language standpoint). Complexity is manifest in nature, selected through evolution as adaptations. The thought experiment of multiple Eves is not an adaptation but something more artificial and for me is an argument for ethics. Compassion should be the prognosis for shared participants in the experience of one. For me, and apparently, all of academia, the Psychological Criterion of Personal Identity misses the mark and doesn’t deliver a relevant understanding of the potential issue. We are missing the point. I will highlight one significant shortcoming in the theory from an evolutionary standpoint. I will admit that Parfit is rather elegant in his approach to the problem of and uses the teletransportation thought experiment to shed light on the problem of as it relates to the Psychological Criterion. I will do this with a thought experiment of my own by “reconstituting” what it’s like to be a cavewoman of generations past. I admit, Parfit’s argument is elegant and his response contemplative, it offers the knower of this knowledge a landscape view of possible alternatives. If you were to make the claim that social duality was the homogeneous state of balance or desired state of Being, then arguing to a position of unity would be nihilistic and therefore making Parfit’s comparison a false dichotomy. This the first thing but not the only thing that jumps out at me with the Parfit perspective. I have tasked myself to break out a larger philosophic instrument, identify a new fallacy to circumscribe the fallacy and tie everything together in a conclusion that anchors the quantification of subjective experience into a framework of probability and statistics. This is the discussion, my chance to show you whether or not the Psychological Criterion of Personal Identity, teletransportation, and the problem Fission (like in the Eve/Lefty/Righty case) raise problems for the Psychological Criterion. I equate observations with opportunities. O…
In the opening paragraph, I made the claim that some people have a delayed response in recalling their left and right. This claim was supported by results from a test on Left/Right Confusion published by the faculty at the University of Washington.[¹] I then made the assumption that this was a cognitive bug. Maybe its the beginning of an evolutionary adaptation and therefore not a bug but our future reality? Only time will tell. I use this example to run metaphorically counterfactual to the Parfit perspective of different physical selves. We are what we say we are. Sane? Insane? The legal framework for the insanity defence is how we should be framing the philosophical conversation of personal identity.
Let’s start in Ancient Greece. The ship of Theseus tells us that the individual components do not always make up the whole. Is there something more? Information theories may be the answer. Translated from Latin as, “On the Body”, Thomas Hobbes wrote in De Corpore about this ancient dilemma. Hoarding the planks, carefully cataloged and reassembled, the ship may or may not be more original than the original. Onion skin human identity and the answer is transparent. The cognitive powers answer the Cartesian mind-body problem rather elegantly. However transient and temporal, personal identity would not exist if it weren’t for the human mind and the trillions of connections that these constellations provide each and every one of us.
In a Hegelian reversal, our minds would not exist without the body. Innate to the sensibilities of Darwinian teachings, symbiotic and symbolic change is manifest. Both the mind and the body evolved to its current state of glory and perfected imperfection; an adaptation to the environment and the social structures necessary for flourishing and survival. The mind, as we know it, came “online” approximately 50,000 years ago.[²] This timeline of natural history is described as Prehistory with a bone of a bird used as a sewing needle[³] and found in the Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia. “X woman” refers to the maternal descent of mitochondrial DNA found in this “Bear Cave”. Assuming we had enough DNA to reanimate this woman, would her identity be “resubstantiated”?[⁴] This ancient bone-needle represents a metaphorical anchor point of perspective.
This relationship, this logical symbiosis of the mind with the body is not a problem, it’s a phenomenon of nature and evolution. This contract with DNA is introspective. How so? A blistering litany of logic starts with the within the first rubric of consciousness, life and the beginnings of the Universe.
Epiphenomenal qualia migrate to memories. Over time, any are lost, it’s what’s not forgotten that lives on through the language and lives of our species. Does this make me a dualist reductionist? I do have nihilist tendencies for sure but the optimistic, creative creator within me advocates for agency despite the illusion of perception. We are on all on a theatre of life and this show must go on until it doesn’t. For those whose position is indifferent to survival relevance, I point to the dissemination of information through generations and the speed at which Science builds and improves upon itself. This is our cadence, our rhythm. Our conductor is a fulcrum of truth that we should all aspire to, perspire to. Not transcend. Transcendental formulations ungrounded in function are useless by definition. Useless now but perhaps not tomorrow so some marginal utility may be a potential. This potential information is subjective, it may or may not become instrumental in our descriptions and categorizations of reality.
There is a pragmatic lever within the p.(x) philosophy, that, when pulled, identifies the reduction in a reductio ad absurdum and dismisses the absurd (as it’s already in a state of reduction). A Reductio ad absurdum fallacy becomes an absurdum ad prima facie fallacy (subset). This dismissal is a NULL claim and offers a mechanism for reconciliation. For example, the reductionist claim that bundles of neurons are the only constituents of human consciousness is salient as well as simple and elegant. At this point, the absurdum ad prima facia is the first appearance of the absurd. Does it feel absurd? Well, you can evoke the claim that the presupposition is absurdum ad prima facie. If the argument is sound, declarative statements take precedent over potentials. Under the bell curve the outliers, such as Eve’s lefty/righty argument, are marginalized and dismissed as anti-regressors (from the mean). How do you identify when this approach is useful? Ask the question, “what is the probability of event A happening?” Statistics will pave the pathways to prosperity and quantify the subjective and this is why the adsurdum ad prima facie is, in fact, a quantifiable and falsifiable fallacy. One further safety feature for this fallacy would be to identify the black swans, the outliers and marginalized and either reintegrate them into society or (better yet) give them the creative opportunities to articulate their perspectives. Knowledge and education should be the catalyst to this pathway of information propagation, a welcomed praxis for truth-seekers and thought leaders.
Especially susceptible to the attack from above, physical reductionists should prepare for what Kirkegaard called, “The wounds of negativity”. In this case, the wounds come from within. Symptomatic of implementing the scientific method. Negation nodes are pathways to prosperity, but a healthy dose of optimism necessitates deliberate adaptation and focuses the cornea on a cornucopia of possibilities while at the same time negating the unnecessary. This is the point in human history from which we stand. One direction is full of angst while the other is eudaimonic. Which is Right? It should not be whatever is “Left” but our best attempt at a life worth living for all. Not being able to immediately distinguish our left hand from our right hand isn’t the same but the ethical implications force us to prioritize indifference, especially if the result is identified as deterministic through the probabilistic outcomes of our logic-laden thought experiments.
In summary, I have shown that reducing personal identity to the point of mutilation is absurd, no possible philosophical truth should result from this perspective and I offered a virtue-based gratitude meditation as the definition of the self. Finally, I offered an alternative, a more pragmatic and statistically rigorous approach to resolving the fission of personal identity. Rather indirectly I imply that a lattice of language functions as background radiation to our philosophy and the a priori interpretations of our environment. To complete the summary I want to definitively declare that my use of the “X woman” (instead of Eve) and the description of the planks in the ship of Theseus to show that it’s the sum of the parts validated by the epistemology of the populous that determine the outcomes we call reality.
I am grateful for this opportunity to write this essay and with the edification that comes lives a life worth living.
1. Left/Right Confusion; https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/java/hands1.html
2. 50,000 years ago is a rather arbitrary starting point for humanity’s psychological infancy.
3. “World’s oldest needle found in Siberian cave that stitches together human history”. The Siberian Times. 23 August 2016.
4. The word “resubstantiated” was intentionally used for a literary purpose because of its resemblance to reanimate. Considering the context the original the author feels its use is appropriate.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all the others.”
— Marcus Tullius Cicero
“We are the embers of our elders, burning brightly in the eyes of our begetters”
— Cory Elliot
(Cory Elliot is a fictional character in my upcoming book on A.I.; Will Freeman).