Friday, 6 November 2009

Identity Kit

What is Identity? If an axe had had several new handles, and one or two new heads, but there was always continuity, is it still the same axe?

Consider the painting, the Mona Lisa. Is a photograph of it the same as the thing itself? How about an exact and indistinguishable copy in the pigments of the time, brushstroke for brushstroke? Since the thing itself is not at Absolute Zero in a bose-einstein condensate, the arrangement of the individual atoms and molecules of the Mona Lisa now and the Mona Lisa now would differ over the time interval between your reading of the two now's. Does that make them different entities?


RadarGrrl said...

If you take this far enough, nothing can ever be constant or static. We're all just blocks of Lego. We don't even know if the blocks of Lego are static or constant as of yet...or the blocks of Lego that make up the blocks of Lego.

Doesn't that just make everything seem to bloody pointless?

LL said...

And if you send Mona through a Trek transporter, is what arrives at the other side the original? If you save the file and generate multiples arrivals, how many, if any, of them are "the original Mona Lisa"?
If "you" is based on your mind, who are you when you are asleep, in a coma, drunk, profoundly amnesiac?
BRB, I have the Wombat of Destiny knocking on my airlock door.

Eric said...

When you consider that our bodies are constantly replacing atoms with those in our food and the rate of cellular death for red blood cells and skin cells, not to mention that bone cells are constantly being broken down and rebuilt, we really are more than a sum of our parts. The actual pieces are less important than how the pieces interact.

Yay emergence!

Anonymous said...

Wooden sailing ships suffer from this conundrum too after all the wood that makes up the ship has to be replaced due to rot. The deciding factor is the keel. If the keel is original then it's the same ship, at least so I'm told.
Denise / wild_fortune

John McVey said...

Ahhh, another variant of the Ship of Theseus story.

If you are really interested in this topic, and want an actual ANSWER rather than high-falutin never-ending, pretentious blather intended to make one appear to be an intellectual, then the best bet is to wrap your head around Ayn Rand's "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology." It covers general concepts (eg "cat," "dog," "vehicle," "man-made object," etc), but with well-thought-out adjustment the principles are also applicable to individual entities.

The identity of anything is the integration of all its components. Metaphysically, every component is equally important as a part of what makes an entity that entity. Change one and the entity becomes a different entity . As far as the universe is concerned, there are only the fundamental irreducible constituents (elementary particles, energy, whatever) plus the laws of nature. Anything larger than that is mere application.

That covers the essence of identity, but, to deal with the fact that bits of things constantly leave and join things, the key is to understand the meaning of the concept of essence. The essence of an entity is that characteristic of the whole entity that most disginguishes it from all other similar entities, and which tends to be that feature which causally explains most or all other characteristics that also distinguish that entity from its similar entities.

I'll let you do your own homework from this point on. If you can't figure out how to put all this together then you'll degenerate into Heracletian nonsense. Nevertheless, I'm sure a bona-fide pro-reality rocket scientist is more than capable of finding the proper rational solution on her own. Best premises, babe.


Christine said...

Which is exactly what made me want to be a vegetarian (that and digestive problems).

Sara said...

And I thought people became vegetarians because they hate plants...

Christine said...

yes, that too.. darn plants... always.. growing like plants and stuff, cluttering up my garden with their cheerful green-ness.

Imogen said...

Oh noes, a Randroid! Evacuate!

But seriously -- the house is the pattern, and the blocks are what's used to make the pattern. The pattern remains in your memory and can be used to rebuild the house. Assuming the same blocks were used the same way, it would be the same house.

If it were possible to precisely duplicate someone (which it's not, see Heisenberg) down to the particle level (copying state vectors precisely), the copy would literally be the original. Or so I remember from QM classes of long ago.