Friday, July 15, 2011

My take on the non-identity problem

As posted previously here:

The non-identity problem forsakes the essence of sentient organisms, because no sentient organism truly has a discrete identity to begin with. You, for example, are probably much more "me" than the seven-year-old kid whom my memory bank has essentially tricked me, for evolutionary reasons, into thinking is me. I likely contain very little, if any, of the original chemical content of that seven-year-old kid -- and my reactions, propensities, ideals, and general disposition are all drastically different as well.

So, then, if there are no "selves" to begin with, what we're actually dealing with are sensations. If we could push a button that removed all the meat and bones which encapsulate the nerves that do the feeling, we'd realize much more quickly that there are no more hard boundaries between one bundle of nerves and another than there are between one asteroid and another. Even the Earth used to be two "separate" planets billions of years ago -- before they collided with one another and formed what we call "Earth" today.

If you spill two drinks onto the floor at the same time, you clean them up as one mess; you don't view them as separate problems. Sensation is no different. In fact, with every child that gets "spilled" onto the carpet of the world, it should become even more prudent for us to initiate a cleanup. If we can quantify our progress, it should be in electrical signals eliminated -- not persons.

Another way of addressing the non-identity problem is by alerting whoever is wielding it to the fact that proactive maintenance is often considered preferable in business environments over retroactive or reactive maintenance. To prevent a server crash, you implement a backup policy on your network; you don't overload your computers or up the heat in the server room intentionally "just for fun" and then correct any errors after the fact. Why should it be any different for living things merely because they possess the illusions of free will and individuality?


  1. You've made that argument on your blog before and I can't say I really agree with it. However I do have an entry coming on the NIP also.

  2. I don't understand. Are you professing your allegiance to the ideal of the individual at the expense of the ideal of the collective? What makes anyone's suffering any more real or important than anyone else's?

    My argument is merely that the non-identity "problem" isn't even a problem to begin with, as it proposes that it's possible for there to be "potential persons." On the contrary, any potential person has already existed a billion times over; preventing this person from emerging yet again is certainly a good thing, but it's also no more good than doing something about its current existence.

  3. Oh no! Those poor atomic assemblages undergoing negative electronic stimulation! If you cut them, do they not bleed?