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Monday, September 13, 2010

Self, persons and electroshocks

The possibility of implanting memories could distruct the idea of the persistence of the person in whose mind the memory has been implanted.
In fact, if in the mind of person A all the memories of person B were implanted, A would no longer be just A. She would be affected by B's experiences, tastes, etc. Hence, memory is not enough to establish a lasting person –at least if one wants it to face such extreme cases.
But, I wonder, why should one not accept that A-after implantation is a different person from A-before it? In fact, they share the same body –but this is no argument, if one does not share a reductionist viewpoint. They also share A's former memories. Is this enough not to admit their being different? An interesting literary (and medical) case would be that of Robert M. Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where the case of a person undergoing an Electroshock is depicted. The author claims to be not the same person his wife and children would recognise as him –notwithstanding his sharing the same body and many memories with him.


michael reidy said...

Oliver Sacks has written about a man whose memory was so deficient that he could forget you in two minutes and have to be reintroduced. Obviously his self-sense was not based on memory. He felt himself to be 'I'. Could it be that Consciousness itself carries that load and not the mental furniture that we normally take to be the mark of identity and continuity?

elisa freschi said...

interesting story. Though, one could still argue that his feeling of himself was dependent on memory insofar as, I suppose, he forgot only recent events, and was instead well aware of something like "himself" having existed in the past, speaking German (or English, or any other language) as his mother-tongue, possibly also of many moments of his past life, etc. etc.
If there ever were a human being who could forget *everything* every, say, second day, it would be very difficult to say that, after a week or so, he is the same person. What do you think?

michael reidy said...

Sacks story was that he forgot all events that were over 2 minutes old but that he confabulated in order to maintain a spurious identity and ask questions that assumed that he had a personal acquaintance with a stranger. So there was a sense of a self as a necessary element in interpersonal communication but without the materials to support that. The advaitin would say that consciousness itself in an unmodulated form was giving a sense of self in this rare limit case. They make the same point about continuity through the state of deep sleep.

elisa freschi said...

Thanks for clarifying the case. Yet, I think that the problem lies on what is our explanandum. I should learn more about this human being, but I would argue for his sense of the self being dependant on some constant elements (such as the use of english, the ability to speak, walk, eat properly, etc. –in a sense, the amount of what he kept on forgetting might be thought of as less significant than at first sight it might appear). I can't see it as a final evidence of the existence of an ātman, since even in this extreme case, there is so much more over and above pure consciousness.

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