One self: The logic of experience

Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 33 (1):39-68 (1990)
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Imagine that you and a duplicate of yourself are lying unconscious, next to each other, about to undergo a complete step-by-step exchange of bits of your bodies. It certainly seems that at no stage in this exchange of bits will you have thereby switched places with your duplicate. Yet it also seems that the end-result, with all the bits exchanged, will be essentially that of the two of you having switched places. Where will you awaken? I claim that one and the same person possesses both bodies, occupies both places and will experience both awakenings, just as a person whose brain has been bisected must at once experience both of the unconnected fields of awareness, even though each of these will falsely appear to him as the entirety of his experience. I also claim that the more usual apparent boundaries of persons are as illusory as those in brain bisection; personal identity remains unchanged through any variation or multiplication of body or mind. In all conscious life there is only one person - I - whose existence depends merely on the presence of a quality that is inherent in all experience - its quality of being mine, the simple immediacy of it for whatever is having experience. One powerful argument for this is statistical: on the ordinary view of personhood it is an incredible coincidence for you (though not for others) that out of 200,000,000 sperm cells the very one required on each occasion for your future existence was first to the egg in each of the begettings of yourself and all your ancestors. The only view that does not make your existence incredible, and that is not therefore (from your perspective) an incredible view, is that any conscious being would necessarily have been you anyway. It is a consequence that self-interest should extend to all conscious organisms.

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Arnold Zuboff
University College London

References found in this work

Personal identity.Derek Parfit - 1971 - Philosophical Review 80 (January):3-27.
Physicalism.Thomas Nagel - 1965 - Philosophical Review 74 (July):339-56.

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