Early morning means that in the next few hours, the sun will rise. It would be uncommon to find me at the other end of the early morning, when the sun has not long since risen, because, then, I am almost always in bed. My sleeping habits in the last few days have become odd; more late than usual. I suppose it is because I have that damn thesis to revise, and I pretend that staying up late means that I am working harder. However, it only means that I get up later, and find other ways to waste the day (that is, when sleeping hasn’t already accomplished it).
Pam and I have been quite busy in the past few days. On Tuesday, we went to a lunch-time talk in the psych department of the U of A. Unfortunately, lunch wasn’t included. Mike Miller spoke on his work with false memories, and his desire to change the definition of a false memory. He says that if an article which is remembered as part of a scene follows the theme of the scene, then that memory is true, whether or not it really existed in the original scene. This is the case because our memories work in approximations and reconstructions. What one remembers from an episode is generally a reconstruction from a theme, so, old or new, remembered items are just as true if they fit the theme. They are only false if they don’t fit the theme, and were not present in the original scene.
Isn’t it interesting how the idea of approximation turns up everywhere? Our own body and brain are not precise machines as we once thought (Descartes?), instead they rely on heuristics and estimates. It was the allowance of approximation which allowed philosophers to agree that such a thing as personal identity exists. (That sentence is not entirely accurate, but I could not figure out how to word it properly. So, let’s get on.) Who are you? You have a personal identity, correct? You are who you are, and that doesn’t change, or does it? Where does the phrase “personal identity” come from?
Identity. Identical, the same, never changing. Philosophers once thought that the self, the being-factor, the soul, if you will, did not change over the lifetime. How else would one be stopped from changing from Fred into Joe? They thought that from birth until death, a person held the same soul, and that that soul held the same ideas (they were just better communicated at some points than others). In that way, a person could be held responsible for a deed they committed in the past.
However, where was the seat of this mind, this soul? It was unchanging, but the philosophers recognized that the whole body was changing. Identity was required. Was there some “immaterial” substance which could hold the soul and leave it available to the body? Thankfully, they finally decided no (well, some have). It must be that the self continues to be held by the body even though the body is constantly changing. And here is where approximation makes its contribution. It was finally decided that personal “identity” was too strict a definition of the self. The self changes, as the body and brain change. We are never the same people twice, but we are approximately the same.
Well, I hope that explanation is clear, because I am tired of trying to follow it. It is now 4 AM, and I am ready for sleep. I didn’t get a chance to describe more of our adventures after the memory talk, so maybe I’ll do that later.