Jackson Knepp’s questions about the continuity of selfhood

From the Thinking about Free Will thread:

If self is the [physical decision-making] system…and the system is all the component parts that collect sensory input etc…does that mean if I lose component parts of myself that I am no longer myself? If I lose my arms, eyesight, hearing, etc…am I somehow less of a self?

Which parts of the system are self and which parts aren’t? And why?

 

…In a any event, it seems to me that if one holds self is the physical system, then taking away/changing parts of the physical system would necessarily change the self in some way. One might consider an old home that is replaced one board at at time until it is completely new. In what sense is this the same home it always was? Is it the design or conception of the original home that retains the identity. But we know that in these situations the make-up of the home and some say the actual identity of the home changes. Which is why folks that remodel antique homes don’t like to “gut them.” Or one might consider a home where half of it was torn down. Is it the same home? The same questions are true for the physical self notion.

…Maybe these are not good questions… but wouldn’t a corpse have essentially the same physical configuration of atoms at least for a very short time after death? Also – what about two objects that theoretically are identical such as clones or identical twins? And would some one’s self really disappear, and then be revived, in cases where folks are revived (hearts shocked etc) back to life after say cardiac arrest. Or would they continue to exist the whole time?

And, even if a complete replacement of material, left the original design (or I guess I should say form) intact, it starts to seem to me then that the actual identify of self would reside in the form, or as you put it, configuration, rather than the particular material construction? I also am still thinking that the logical extension would also mean that if the physical components are the self then a loss of some parts of that construction necessitates a loss of self in some sense.

…in fact identity, or self, doesn’t reside in a specific form or configuration of atoms as earlier postulated – unless one includes in that conceived form a particular place in space and time.

71 thoughts on “Jackson Knepp’s questions about the continuity of selfhood

  1. Alan,

    This semantic trap can be avoided by using “real” and “imaginary” instead of natural/supernatural.

    We’ve had this discussion before, but I suppose we can have it again. 🙂

    The problem is that the real/imaginary distinction is not the same as the natural/supernatural distinction. It may turn out that all supernatural entities are imaginary, and so far that has been the case, but that’s something to be determined empirically, not by definitional fiat.

  2. Alan,

    Just for fun, taking your example, what do we test? We find enough volunteers, separate them into two groups, ensuring group A repeats the Lord’s Prayer three times a day minimum and group B don’t. Then we observe what? Check their bank accounts?

    Sure. Or their brokerage accounts, or their net worth, or any other wealth indicators you can come up with.

    And how would you prove the increase in bank balance of someone in group A was connected to their reciting the Lord’s Prayer?

    By controlling for other variables. Standard scientific procedure.

  3. Elizabeth,

    Well, if “methodological naturalism” means assuming that there is a class of phenomenona that are perfectly testable, but off limits because they come with the tag “supernatural”, then I am not a methodological naturalist.

    Good. 🙂

    And yes, that’s what it means. I quoted Pennock already, and here’s Barbara Forrest:

    I shall use “methodological naturalism” and “philosophical naturalism” to mean what Paul Kurtz defines them to mean in the first and second senses, respectively:

    First, naturalism is committed to a methodological principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations. On this ground, to invoke an intelligent designer or creator is inadmissible….

    There is a second meaning of naturalism, which is as a generalized description of the universe. According to the naturalists, nature is best accounted for by reference to material principles, i.e., by mass and energy and physical-chemical properties as encountered in diverse contexts of inquiry. This is a non-reductive naturalism, for although nature is physical-chemical at root, we need to deal with natural processes on various levels of observation and complexity: electrons and molecules, cells and organisms, flowers and trees, psychological cognition and perception, social institutions, and culture….

    Methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism are distinguished by the fact that methodological naturalism is an epistemology as well as a procedural protocol, while philosophical naturalism is a metaphysical position. Although there is variation in the views of modern naturalists, Kurtz’s definition captures these two most important aspects of modern naturalism: (1) the reliance on scientific method, grounded in empiricism, as the only reliable method of acquiring knowledge about the natural world, and (2) the inadmissibility of the supernatural or transcendent into its metaphysical scheme.

    What IS off limits, intrinsically, are unfalsifiable hypotheses, and too many supernatural hypotheses are just that.

    As far as science is concerned, the important distinction is between testable and untestable, not between natural and supernatural.

    TBH, I think the underlying point is that the word “supernatural” is incoherent.

    I don’t think it’s incoherent. It’s a category, and like many other categories we use, its boundaries can be a bit fuzzy. Still, there’s general agreement that dandelions are natural and demons, if they exist, are supernatural. Nothing incoherent about that.

  4. Elizabeth,

    What I think lies at the bottom of what people mean when they talk about “guided” evolution is “guided by some agent with a distal goal”.

    Right, and my claim is that science renders this as implausible as the Rain Fairy hypothesis.

  5. keiths: I don’t think it’s incoherent. It’s a category, and like many other categories we use, its boundaries can be a bit fuzzy. Still, there’s general agreement that dandelions are natural and demons, if they exist, are supernatural. Nothing incoherent about that.

    Yes, I think there is. Demons are only “supernatural” in the sense that any demon testing hypothesis that has been tested has failed (e.g. we now know that epilepsy is not caused by demons).

    It is perfectly plausible, at least in theory, that we might find that there really are intelligent beings in the world that invisibly interfere in our affairs. There’s nothing about the methodology of science that prevents them being investigating, nor any reason I can think of to dub them “supernatural”.

    Can you think of one? It seems to be that it’s actually defined by testability, so you don’t need another clause to say that that method has to exclude “the supernatural”>

  6. Elizabeth,

    Demons are only “supernatural” in the sense that any demon testing hypothesis that has been tested has failed (e.g. we now know that epilepsy is not caused by demons).

    If the tests had succeeded, I think we’d still regard demons as supernatural. Indeed, the people who do think demons are real, including the Pope(!), regard them as supernatural beings.

    It is perfectly plausible, at least in theory, that we might find that there really are intelligent beings in the world that invisibly interfere in our affairs. There’s nothing about the methodology of science that prevents them being investigating, nor any reason I can think of to dub them “supernatural”.
    Can you think of one?

    Yes. I think to regard demons, angels, gods, etc. as supernatural is to maintain a useful distinction. Redefining them as natural erases that distinction but provides no benefit that I can see.

    We already have a word — “reality” — for everything that exists. Why force “nature” to mean the same thing, losing a useful distinction in the process?

  7. keiths: We already have a word — “reality” — for everything that exists. Why force “nature” to mean the same thing, losing a useful distinction in the process?

    We have always done that. Humans were once distinct from nature.

    When any phenomenon moves stuff around, it is part of nature, even if at the moment it appears to be transcendent.

  8. petrushka,

    When any phenomenon moves stuff around, it is part of nature, even if at the moment it appears to be transcendent.

    Only if you insist on redefining “nature” that way. But why do that when “natural” and “supernatural” are already established terms?

    You gain nothing, as far as I can see, and you 1) lose a useful distinction, and 2) confuse people who continue to use “natural” and “supernatural” in the usual way.

    What’s the benefit?

  9. keiths,

    “Supernatural” refers to spirits, ghosts, and gods that exist and act without embodiment or by the usual causes that we’ve seen. They may be invisible, or they may have an ethereal “materiality.”

    They may act regularly, or they may not. Even if they did act regularly (from our perspective), ghosts, demons, and spirits would still be considered to be “supernatural” by many people, because they are other than the “natural” beings that we see.

    It’s not a clean distinction, and people will try to pretend that QM fits the “supernatural” category because it’s probabilistic (from our perspective) and particles act in “ghostly” ways, e.g., quantum tunneling. QM is weird, but it seems to be quite “lawful” in its actions, and certainly isn’t “spirit” or any such thing. The “supernatural” would include “spirits,” even including the “spirits” said to be embodied in humans.

    Perhaps, indeed, that is the most telling aspect of the typical meaning of “supernatural,” that the “spirit” supposedly giving humans libertarian “free will” does have its regularities, at least in a probabilistic way, and it is still “supernatural.” We can investigate this “spirit” if we decide to define certain behaviors as due to “spirit,” and see how it has constancy and regularity, but, being something that physics can’t produce, it is still “supernatural” or “spiritual” to those who believe in it. Of course I’m not the least bit persuaded as to the existence of this “spirit,” however, if somehow it could be shown to exist (say, we find someone whose spirit can “supernaturally” enter a sealed box and tell us what’s in it with a great degree of accuracy–fakery being excluded as much as possible, of course), the fact that we could investigate it would by no means make it “natural” in the sense that most use that term, particularly if we could never account for the energetics of its interactions with matter.

    At UD they do believe in a supernatural “spirit” that has at least probabilistic regularity but that does what they think that “nature” could not do. I’m not impressed with their thinking, but I’m pretty sure that they’re right about the usual meaning of “supernatural” and how it would apply to human “spirits.”

    Glen Davidson

  10. Glen,

    They may act regularly, or they may not. Even if they did act regularly (from our perspective), ghosts, demons, and spirits would still be considered to be “supernatural” by many people, because they are other than the “natural” beings that we see.

    Exactly. It would only cause confusion to insist that ghosts, demons, spirits, angels, etc., if they actually existed, would be natural beings.

    I can’t see any benefit to redefining “natural” in this way.

  11. People are already confused by natural vs man-made. I find that to be an unhelpful distinction. If we lived in Harry Potter world I would classify magic as natural. For me, the useful distinction is between things amenable to research and things not.

  12. Elizabeth:
    Well, it’s underpinned by neurons, but not just neurons – the whole system, including the motor system.

    I wouldn’t say that memory *is* the configuration and connection of neurons.I’d say memory *is* the capacity to recall past events, and one’s role in them, and that capacity is a property of the whole organism.

    There is any evidence of change in the configuration and connection of neurons as our memories change?

  13. Elizabeth:
    “(e.g. we now know that epilepsy is not caused by demons).”

    Really no. we know there is a strong correlation between the malfunctioning of group of neurons thatproduce epilepsy but that do not exclude that it canbe caused by demons.

    Elizabeth:
    It is perfectly plausible, at least in theory, that we might find that there really are intelligent beings in the world that invisibly interfere in our affairs.There’s nothing about the methodology of science that prevents them being investigating, nor any reason I can think of to dub them “supernatural”.

    Yes there is,the fact that for scince only physical evidence is vlid.

  14. petrushka,

    We’re talking about natural vs supernatural, not natural vs. artificial.

    I see downsides to redefining “natural” to include things that are currently considered supernatural, but no benefit. A distinction is lost, confusion is created, but what is gained?

  15. Man made is considered supernatural by those who think minds are non physical.

  16. petrushka,

    Man made is considered supernatural by those who think minds are non physical.

    Not quite. TVs and computers are man-made, but I don’t know of anyone who regards them as supernatural.

    I’m still not seeing what we would gain by redefining “natural” in the way you suggest. I can only see downsides.

  17. Man made objects are not supernatural, but the design process takes place in a supernatural mind.

  18. i thought more about it.
    If truth is the objective then no options can be denied before the investigation. Otherwise it means a conclusion has already been made with no investigation.
    Can’t get around that.

    If they say a pure investigation into nature never shows supernatural causes and so in effect they only need allow natural causation in the investigative process then we need a answer.
    I think the answer is that a pure investigation will include any option.
    What man calles spernatural is just natural to God. He doesn’t divide between the two. Just as Newtons stuff was hidden from early thinkers but yr still was there.
    To them it would almost be supernatural. Yet its not.

    Therefore its a flawed investigation that ignores the “supernatural” options in this or that.
    Its been a flaw to say naturalistic methodology is new to mankind. In fact its just a flawed restriction of options. happening once more on earth.

    They can’t reject the supernatural in any action on earth. Its an option,
    The supernatural is not a rejection of natural by the creator. Its within the equation of cause and effect.
    Natural is just a special case as Einstein said about Newtons stuff.

  19. petrushka:
    People are already confused by natural vs man-made. I find that to be an unhelpful distinction. If we lived in Harry Potter world I would classify magic as natural. For me, the useful distinction is between things amenable to research and things not.

    I agree that’s a much more useful distinction.

    And you don’t have to believe that “things amenable to research” are all of reality to do research into those things.

    And there’s no reason why a postulated “intention field” should not be amenable to research.

  20. petrushka: For me, the useful distinction is between things amenable to research and things not.

    Yes, exactly! Or more simply reality (for things amenable to research) and imagination (for Harry Potter etc).

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