On Identity: The Child is the Father of the Man

By | August 21, 2011

The addition of the vertical risers to the horizontal treads of the step function on the left makes the curve on the right continuous although still abrupt and jerky.

This quote from a William Wordsworth poem succinctly expresses the additional complications to the problem of identity, which obtain when animation is added to existence. Here we find that structural congruence is distorted and consistent function is dismissed altogether, leaving one only with continuous existence. Or perhaps not; because the animate, or more appropriately the sentient being also is possessed of a continuous consciousness.

I would like to comment on the adjective continuous, which I would like to use in its mathematical sense. A brief glance at the two figures above will make the argument clear. If the figure on the left were to somehow describe the mental state of George, our virtual philosophical test dummy we would see that his mental state jumps and is discontinuous at several places, whereas if George’s mental state were described by the figure on the right, although the transitions are every bit as violent as in the former case, they are nonetheless continuous. (Please note that no real test dummies were injured in the production of this blog.)

In some of the following blogs I would like to examine whether the idea of a continuous consciousness perhaps combined with a continuous existence, might not be both necessary and sufficient to describe a singular identity over the passage of time. We will also be able to look at how powerful and disruptive psychoactive medication or violent physical trauma might affect such an identity. Finally I would like to explore how the more gentle psychoactive medications that we use in the treatment of chronic pain or how other physical changes in the organism might affect his sense of personal identity.


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