Philosophy 101-Who Am I?

This is a perfectly good broom-its only had three new heads and two new handles.
Mr Arkwright on Open All Hours

True Story-I was playing Triominos a few years ago, this is a kind of Dominoes with three sides, and we had finished the game and I was just fiddling around the pieces. I was trying to see how many full circles I could make with the little triangles and have the numbers match up. I was doing pretty good, right up until the last little pie which needed one piece to be complete. There were only a few pieces left to play, and I couldn’t see the correct piece, if there was a correct piece. After staring at the pieces for several minutes my left hand reached out, picked up a piece, turned it around and put it into the place to solve my little puzzle. The part of me that usually runs the show had not reached out for the last piece, ‘I’ didn’t finish the puzzle. To the best of my knowledge this was the only time that my right brain took it upon itself to do something my poor dim left brain was oblivious incapable of doing itself. This was an odd and kind of creepy experience.

But really, as a writer, I often go into the state known as flow, where I loose track of time and cease to be aware of my surroundings-my wife doesn’t like me to do this as she thinks I spend too much time ignoring her already, but any writer will tell you that flow is part of the fun of writing. Someone is running the show when I am in flow, but it is not my normal waking self. So who is it?

There is a famous thought experiment where a warrior’s boat goes on tour, but as it is damaged and old, parts are replaced from time to time. After enough time, the shipyard doing the repairing decides to build a second ship from the parts they have removed. There are now two ships, which one is the ‘real’ ship?

Star Trek tackled this problem several times. Once Captain Kirk was duplicated by the Transporter-one half was a real he-man with no emotions, the other half was a simpering wimp who couldn’t make a discussion. Was either one really Captain Kirk? Clearly our hero was more than the sum of his parts and the only ending for the episode was to put Humpty Dumpty together again. But what if they couldn’t be rejoined? Would both be Captain Kirk, or would neither be Captain Kirk?

In a later episode, Captain Kirk has his mind switched and his consciousness placed in the body of a woman. The crew, in pretty short order, realized that ‘Captain Kirk’ was not acting as he normally would and stopped obeying his orders. The crux of the matter in this 1960s episode was that a woman could not be the Captain of a Starship and if Captain Kirk was to be trapped in the body of a woman he would have to give up his command. Clearly Captain Kirk was no longer Captain Kirk when his mind was in another body, or was he still Captain Kirk, but with different software running his machine?

In Star Trek:The Next Generation they take the problem one step further and duplicate William Riker. His doppleganger is stranded on a planet where he has to survive as best as he can until he is rescued-only no one knows he is there, so there is no rescue forthcoming. Somehow he is found, and he shares all of ‘our’ William Riker’s memories up until the point of the duplication. The question is then, which one of these identical Will Rikers is the real Will Riker? Unlike the split personality Captain Kirk, these two are not halves of a whole, but whole in themselves. The doppleganger Riker sees his opposite as a man who could have had everything he ever wanted, but has wasted his life instead. Our Will Riker pities and hates his duplicate for not understanding that he is living the life he wants to be living. Is either Riker right? Or are both right? The show ends with the two Rikers going their separate ways.

Homer Simpson and Michael Keaton used their duplicates to do all the work they didn’t want to do themselves, but that never seems to work out for the best.

Stanislaw Lem’s Peace on Earth is a very interesting book about what would happen if the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, was broken. In this very funny and odd book there is a small war in the body as each half of the brain vies for control. It is funny, but also frightening, as there is a kind of this could happen to you feeling about this kind of damage.

I used to watch This Old House every week, until one season they opened up with remodeling an old barn. After they had sorted out the good wood from the bad wood, they were left with six beams from the original structure. I stopped watching the show after that, as they were not remodeling, they were rebuilding and that should be a whole different show. But if someone took the rotten wood and made another barn out of it, that might be worth watching. After all, the barn made out of the old wood is the real barn, isn’t it?

Jon Herrera

Jon Herrera

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.
Jon Herrera

Latest posts by Jon Herrera (see all)

Writer, Photographer, Blogger.

Posted in better thinking, philosophy, thought experiments

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