How can you say what you are if you are always changing?
Some experts claim that within a period of seven years we replace all the molecules of our bodies. If that's true, then molecule for molecule, I've replaced my entire body six times since I was born. The man my wife hugs today is not physically the same man she married. On the other hand, since one atom is indistinguishable from another, it would be impossible to detect a difference on this account alone.
This brings up a question with huge philosophical implications. Our body naturally uses its present physical form as a blueprint to slowly replace its cells, one-for-one. What if we could develop a machine to do this? The machine might scan the type and location of each atom in my body, and then using, say, a pile of compost as raw materials, assemble an exact duplicate of me. Suppose we perfected the machine such that it could flawlessly replicate every atom in my present body in less than a second. Now please bear in mind that atoms don't come with identity markers or barcode identifiers of any kind. Thus, these two replicas of me are truly identical and indistinguishable from one another, save their physical location.
But what about your concept of a "soul"? If the "soul" is not made of matter, our scanning machine won't pick it up, and thus not be able to recreate it. Would there be a difference between the original and the replica, or do you think this mystical "soul" would render the original unique from the duplicate? Given the two versions of me standing side-by-side, if you kill the original version of me and keep the duplicate, would you be guilty of murder, or would it be no different than if you had asked me to take one step to the right? Of course, what I'm describing is little more than the transporter from Star-Trek
. My question is; does the transporter routinely commit murder, or is it simply a useful transporation aid?
Actually, every time I take a step to the right I do much the same as the transporter. I force all the atoms in my body to be recreated, one step to the right. In effect, I kill myself in one location and recreate myself in another.
My repeated use of quotation marks around the word "soul" likely gives away the fact that I'm skeptical about the concept. I believe that a sufficiently complex arrangement of atoms is capable of emotion. A neuron is a sophisticated logical component constructed of lowly meat
. A lion could make a nice meal from me, without fear of choking on my "soul." I'm made of meat and bone, but I see no reason why a conscious being couldn't be constructed of silicon, or gallium arsenide, just the same.
One neuron is incapable of producing much in the way of thought, but one hundred billion neurons connected in a complex system of feedback loops does indeed appear to be capable of complex thoughts. Once you accept the fact that we are complicated machines, the idea that "no machine = no life" follows quite naturally. To think that we are incredibly sophisticated machines takes nothing away from the dignity of life. In his book, The Future of Life
, E.O. Wilson wrote:Humanity did not descend as angelic beings into this world. Nor are we aliens who colonized Earth. We evolved here, one among many species, across millions of years, and exist as one organic miracle linked to the others.
The problem with your argument Polemarchus is that you are denying character.
Alex, I don't see where I've belittled the importance of character in my assessment. If anything, I probably belabored that point in my last post, in relating all that is necessary to make me what I am. While my personal history is of critical importance in making me what I am at this moment, it isn't everything. My favorite quote of all time is from Kierkegaard:"The 'self' is only that which I am in the process of becoming."
We live neither in the past or the future. We live in the present moment. While I live, I am in a state of "becoming." My becoming is a product of the physical machinery of life as well as my memories. Equally important to my becoming is an element of randomness in my next thought. A number of recent books refer to a quantum aspect of our consciousness. Here's a quote from one such book, titled, The Physics of Consciousness
, by Evan Harris Walker, pp 259 - 260:"The concept of will is not compatible with the classical conception of physical processes. Classical physics would demand that nature grind out blindly and automatically the consequences of any initial action. Any mind attached to such an automaton would be only a passive observer.
...when the quantum observation happens - when the state vector collapse occurs - one synapse, from all those that could have fired, does fire."
Of all that is possible, each moment of our becoming is the continual birth of "is" from "could have been." The world is partly as we find it, and partly as we make it.
I'm not sure that I'm even convincing myself to be honest.
I enjoyed reading this, Alex. You've spoken like a true philosopher.
Ubi dubium ibi libertas. - Where there is doubt, there is freedom.
I've never written a single paragraph that I've been satisfied with. As soon as I put the last period in place, I start to see cases where what I said might not be correct. Discovery, in the best sense of the word brings new questions rather than certitudes. I remember reading Charles Dawin's warning:
"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge."
No matter how wise you and I become, let's agree to leave room in our hearts for that beautiful mistress known as doubt