Few things will chap my ass faster than a philosophical discussion. Why? Most people do it poorly, and I count myself in this group. It isn’t easy, and the solution to this is to not do it poorly. Or at least, not to do it poorly so god damned publically.
I review books on another blog. Its something fun to do, but every now and again I read something that annoys me, and I decide to complain about it, with spoilers, to my heart’s content. I’ll do it hear because it has little to do with the actual book review, both in content and tone. So without further ado, allow me to bellyache further about Richard K Morgan’s Altered Carbon.
There is a part towards the end of the book where a character makes a proclamation that identity is linked to memory. Like that, definitely, you are what you remember.
I mean, maybe. Definitely maybe.
This isn’t something you just throw out there willy nilly with no reflection.
So to give you more context, a super rich man beat a prostitute to death, found himself feeling guilty, and blew his brains out. In this world, because neither the memory of the beating nor the feelings of guilt were not on the last upload of his memory, when his consciousness was uploaded to a new body after his suicide it was like, subjectively, the whole thing had never happened.
I mean, maybe. Definitely maybe. Certainly from a subjective point of few this can be the case. Or can it?
So problem number one is that there i something of a singular use of identity. It’s the Mark Zuckerberg problem all over again, wherein an idiot decided that identity is one singular thing, and that is what it must say at the top of your facebook profile. I am not convinced. And neither are a whole slew of people. Identity can be a whole lot of things, and many people have already spoken and written reams about how you are often a different person to a different audience.
But one aspect of identity is that it places you in a place at a time. Your ability to recall said fact is not an exoneration. Can you imagine the implication were it such?
JUDGE: Hey did you hit those pedestrians with your car when you were blackout drunk?
PERSON: Fake News! I don’t remember that shit.
JUDGE: Exonerated! Go free good sir.
Pretty obvious that the “I don’t remember that shit” criminal defense is not judicially rigorous.
Lets extend the metaphor. Let’s imagine two rich immortal people living by the rules of Morgan’s novel, and both kill someone in a pretty horrific way. However, one chooses to live with their guilt while the other decides to eat his reset button come bullet.
I don’t think there is a singular route we can follow for the person who chooses to live with his guilt. Perhaps his guilt drives him to the kind of insanity that brings him back to murder over and over again. He becomes consumed by it, murdering over and over again, till the pain of the initial murder is little more than a drop in a bucket. That’s not a pleasant thought, but do you think he would at that point have much in common with his former self? Even if he remembered that initial murder vividly, his identity in terms of personality has changed. Hundreds of years have passed and cops have come to confront him only about the initial murder, which he now no longer recalls. He tells the cops that he is innocent, which from a subjective point of view is true, though objectively it is false.
Another route the person who accepts his guilt could follow is that where one turns their life around. Realizes that if he is to survive the boredom of immortality, he is going to need some serious philanthropic hobbies. So he changes his life and begins doing good to the best of his ability. This continues forever, and eventually his limited brain runs out of room for memory (the person in question is immortal, and the brain is limited), and he genuinely forgets that he ever commited the crime. A cop comes to confront him about it and the man says that he is innocent. He wouldn’t be correct in saying that, but in a respect he would being honest. After all, as far as his memory is concerned, he didn’t do it, and after years of doing nothing but good deeds, it is not really in his personality either.
No let’s consider the one that gunpoint erases his memory. He wakes up the next day with no memory of what happened, but cops confront him immediately about the crime. He claims he is innocent, which is certainly true subjectively and false objectively. When he answers the cops, it should at least pass through his mind that it is certainly within his personality to commit such a crime.
Of the three mentioned above, which has come closest to actual redemption? Which person is least like their initial condition? Most importantly, which one is most like their initial condition?
Deleting your memory is a great way to alleviate guilt. So are drugs and alcohol for that matter.
Again, as I said earlier in this post, maybe. Definitely maybe. If tomorrow morning I wake up and with no recollection of the time in between find that it is the year 2028 and I am married and have children, considering that as of this writing I am single celibate pathetic and child hating, it could be argued that the person I am and the person I should be are not congruent. Even if the family calls me by my name and knows things about me and my past and have genuine links to me, something is still not there. I certainly would not love them, because identities are to some extent the collection of our experiences up until that point.
BUt on the other hand, if I had the same social security number, birthday, past history as the person I woke up as in 2028, in some respects we would have the same identity.
Sort of. In other words, shit is complicated.