The Man From The Swamp

Each of the thought experiments in this chapter follows the same line of thought. Swamp man asks how you would evaluate the identity of a swamp monster that rises after you are struck dead by lightning. This monster is physically the same as you, down to the molecule. And yet, it doesn’t have your personality, experiences, or quirks. Is it you? It seems to be a clear no; but what if this swamp monster also retains all of your memories and experiences? This possibility becomes much hazier, yet it’s still clear that we consider the identity of living beings to be far more than a simple physical representation.

Finally, Parfit’s Transporter asks how we would feel if we were physically torn apart, and then reassembled every time we used a transporter, as in the fictional sci-fi television show Star Trek. Are you still you, even though the previous version of you is for all intents and purposes torn to shreds? Is this newly reformed being you, simply because it possesses your experiences and memories?

When you chew over these questions long enough, you start to see that the question of identity is one of continuity from the past to the present—of something that persists despite change and movement through this thing we call time. Body parts, soul/spirit/personality, and behavior/personality are all part of the equation. The question here is not which perspective is correct, but rather to give ourselves the chance to explore the consequences of adopting one or the other viewpoint. The way you think about yourself has the most profound of implications—it draws the limits and bounds of how you live.

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