Re: Sincere Questions on Identity

From: Jacques Du Pasquier (
Date: Fri Dec 14 2001 - 04:31:38 MST

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote (13.12.2001/10:24) :
> > > You're the one looking at the other guy. The other guy is looking at you.
> > > Can't be that hard, can it?
> >
> > I agree. Just because the world can't detect the difference doesn't mean
> > there isn't one.
> I beg to differ: what cannot be measured /doesn't exist/. If it is,
> in principle, impossible for anyone to determine which of two lumps
> of matter is made from the same atoms as some earlier lump of matter
> and which wasn't, then the difference cannot matter to anyone, and
> anyone who cares which is which is being irrational.

I think the people defending this point of view mix two different
things (they may hold it coherently, but they happen to defend it by
mixing these two things).

The first is objectivity. You were educated, and further educated
yourself, to dismiss alleged differences that were actually not
measurable. We have no disagreement on that, or at least we can
suppose we agree on this for this debate, for this is not actually the
point. (and each time this gets raised, one gets farther from solving
the puzzle)

The second is distinction between distinct objects, possibly similar
(and in fact possibly, at least in theory, identical), which is
somewhere in the very basic layers of common sense --- and routinely
used in science, too, of course.

Suppose you imagine (in a classroom) two missiles, and plot their
course ; you do not need to assert differences between them to
distinguish them, do you ? When you say "let a and b be two missiles",
you have distinguished them. In fact, if the two missiles are of the
same model-build-etc., you have no clue about differences between
them, and in fact you consider them as identical (you happen to know
that actual missiles would have some difference or other, but you
wouldn't know nor care about them). But will you conflate them into
one single missile ? Will you, once "shuffled", deny that one is the
one we had named missile A, and the other the one we had called
missile B, whether you can now tell or not ?

It is not a matter of your consciousness being something ineffably
different or I don't know what. Proper names like "Lee Daniel Crocker"
designate a singular entity, not a class, not a design. It is not a
common name, it is not an abstraction. You may redefine it as a common
name ; then say so and it will be clear. You will use "Lee Daniel
Crocker" like the word "apple", and you will write on your home page :
"I am *A* Lee Daniel Crocker". But as long as you take it as a proper
name, it will refer to one single instance of any abstractable design
you may care to conceive from what you actual reality, the one single
instance that you actually are.

To be more objective and avoid the "you" problem : THAT lump of
matter, being a male human individual, is fictionnaly taken to be a
"person" (an unclear concept linked to pre-scientific "soul"-based
ideas, or just to the necessities of common psychological
interpretation), and so it is said that that person IS that lump of
matter (it should be said, at least). If you want to stay objective,
you just say that this is lump of matter A, and this (the copy) is
lump of matter B. If you introduce the "you/me" pronoun, and the fictional
unity that this imply, then you must say that YOU ARE THAT LUMP OF

You may rejoice at the idea that your cherished mind be embodied in
many brains of many sorts coordinating many bodies of many
composition. That would not be very surprising, as many people, after
all, seem to rejoice that some of their traits be embodied by the
people they procreate.

But what you are now is just THAT lump of matter, and if it gets back
to dust, you get back to dust, because you are nothing else than that.


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