X-Message-Number: 14215
Date: Mon, 31 Jul 2000 09:17:11 -0400
From: Thomas Donaldson <>
Subject: some comments on identity

Hi everyone!

I note that everyone talking about self and identity on Cryonet seems
to believe that it is purely a matter for philosophy --- or put in
more blunt terms, that nobody thinking about it need do more than
sit in a corner and think.

Neuroscience has come up with lots of interesting cases which bear
on how our identity works. People who have several personalities
each unaware of the other. People who lack one or another trait 
in their thinking that we'd ordinarily consider essential--- such
as a desire to survive. People who believe that they are someone 
else, and even that the person claiming to be that someone else
is a fraud and they are the real one. This is in addition to all
the various faults of memory and recognition that we can find ---
such as people who cannot recognize faces but go about recognizing
people by how they dress and the sound of their voice.

Whether I am agreed with or not, I have a doubt that any serious 
discussion of identity can work if we don't look carefully at how
our brains give us our identity. Our sense of "I"-ness, after all,
comes from activities of our brain. Brains do not work like computers:
they often use vague criteria that cannot be put down into rules
or definitions. (In fact, rules and definitions must NECESSARILY
depend on recognition events which are independent of them and 
cannot be effectively encoded without going into an infinite
regress). This means that looking for a DEFINITION of identity is
almost certain to fail. Definitions have their place, but out of
that place they're useless. 

In terms of evolution, it's useful for us to recognize ourselves
as distinct from other things and creatures, and try to preserve
ourselves, together with preserving that distinctness. It's not
that we're looking at a fact in the world, we're also looking at
a DESIRE. What satisfies that desire may change, but its presence
continues. As human beings, our abilities to understand the world
and work with it exceed that of any other known creature; that is
one way in which our identity desire can go much further than 
(say) that of a rat. Not only can our desire for self change with
time, but it may sometimes even change suddenly (we realize that
we've been doing something harmful to our Selves, even though
we did not see that at the time). As for just how we DEFINE
our Selves, that changes along with all the other things. 

And so I would suggest that we look on identity not as a fact but
as one of our major desires. Yes, that does not answer the problem
entirely, but I am not claiming it does. We will eventually find
out just how our brain produces awareness, and how it produces
our sense of self. That will be useful information which we do
not now have. 

		Best and long long life to all,

			Thomas Donaldson

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