Philosophy: Personality

Here is a note that I wrote during my Philosophy of Mind class with J. Christopher Maloney at the University of Arizona. We were discussing different philosophical theories of ‘personality’.

Personality

Personality = what differentiates one person from another, without considering the physical body, i.e., memories, likes, dislikes, morals, beliefs, personal taste, mannerisms, etc. Many people identify their self with their personality, and cannot consider one without the other. When asked to describe one’s identity, they will often use words like “kind” and “religious” and “loyal”—all words that can be used to describe a personality. Personality is the metaphysical aspect of the physical body, both of which make up who we are and how we identify ourselves. If I lost my hands I might feel a part of me was lost that was not just physical. I would no longer be able to enjoy all of the same things that I enjoyed with both hands, like the feel of tapping on these keys as I write these words, or roughing around with my dog. It seems the loss of my hands might make me feel like my personality changed, though not much, and thus how I identify myself. If I was to wake up and find that my tattoos had disappeared, I would be irate at first and then sad because part of how I identify myself physically has been lost. Granted, certain physical changes have a larger effect on our personality than others, just as certain mental experiences will have a larger impact on our personality. This seems to suggest a type of interconnectedness, between our personality (the “nonphysical” things that we identify ourselves with like beliefs, memories, desires, manner of speech, etc. ) and our physical body. Questions of survivability are creeping up in my mind, but that’s a separate issue, though one that is closely connected. It is important to note, simply for the rest of this paper, that a change in personality does not necessarily entail the death of a person. In fact, I believe that a necessity of a personality is that it evolves, if for no other reason than that it is part of a being that is in a constant state of change—sudden change and subtle change. It is necessary, but not sufficient. An unnatural change to our personality, often as a result of severe physical/psychological trauma, is necessary for the person to be considered as “not the same person,” or, experience “personal death.”

When a person loses a limb, or an eye, or looses his/her hair, we still feel and believe that the person is generally the same person as they were before; the person hasn’t gone any unnatural personality changes. In extreme cases of physical change we might consider the person changed (i.e., if an athlete can no longer perform as he/she once performed, he/she might enter into a state of depression. We might be inclined to say that the athlete is not the same person as before, but that is because the activity that had once brought the athlete joy is no longer available. We might say that the athlete changed (is not the same as before the accident) but that she is still the same person that they identify with whenever they reference the person before the accident. I believe the athlete would also consider herself the same person as before the accident, though changed in such a way that she might say, “I am not the same person as before”. In this instance, the athlete underwent a drastic sudden change but did not experience personal death. This seems to suggest that even drastic changes can be considered natural changes. When a person’s personality completely changes, however, we are inclined to say that the person is not the same person as before; meaning, when they think of the person before the change it is not the person that is standing before them. The degree to which the person has changed correlates to the amount of change we feel the person has undergone. We might feel tempted to ask, “How much of a change must a person undergo before it shifts from drastic sudden change to unnatural change/personal death?” I address this question in two other papers to argue that the question is invalid, and should be considered akin to a good mental exercise used to help an untrained mind to be more analytic.

Let’s take a robot. It is not a person, has no soul, has no function other than to do what has been programmed into it. For the purposes of this paper, the robot is devoid of programing—like a blank thumb drive, or tabula rasa. Now let’s say we were able to imprint our personality upon the blank robot, everything that makes me who I feel that I am that I am not physically connected to (memories, experiences, idioms used in immediate verbal responses, etc.). If we imagine that such a thing is possible, and a robot was imprinted with every aspect of my personality, my “soul” as the dualist would say, it wouldn’t take long for the robot, with my memories and personality, to convince my family and friends that I (the person they identify as me from before the transfer) resided in the robot. In fact, ceratis parabis, the transferred personality would be me without the body. Granted, it might take a while for my friends and family to become accustomed to my “new” body, and they may not every view me as the absolute same person. It seems that this would constitute one of the most drastic of sudden changes, though we could easily make it more drastic by limiting the exactness of the personality to the point where it’s not clear whether the robot houses my personality or not. For our purposes here, we will assume that the personality was transferred completely.

Now let’s imagine a similar scenario, where a generic personality was inserted into my body, with different memories. Despite occupying my physical body, it would be near impossible for my friends and family to be convinced that the person was me. But maybe we can’t really imagine a generic personality, or maybe a generic personality is too inhuman. So let’s put Christopher Walkekn’s personality in my body, with his memories, mannerism, etc. I can easily imagine my friends and family going on a search for Walken’s body to see if our “souls” had been switched. They would think that Christopher Walken inhabited my body and that I was somewhere else, presumably in Christopher Walken’s body. What if we kept Christopher Walken’s personality in my body, but we replaced his memories with mine. Basically, we would have my body with my memories, and the personality of Christopher Walken (his beliefs, preferences, immediate verbal responses, etc.) Let’s call this version JWJ (Jim’s body, Walken’s personality, Jim’s memory). Whenever JWJ would speak about the past, he would speak of my past; he would know how much I love mint chip ice cream, and Fat Tire beer, though not together. But JWJ would like whatever flavor ice cream Christopher Walken likes, and whatever beer he prefers. It seems that even in this scenario it would be almost impossible for JWJ to convince my friends and family that he was nothing more than Christopher Walken with my memories, not me. This seems to suggest that personality bears the weight of personal identity, though to say that memory isn’t necessary for personal identity would put too much weight on personality. I posit that, while we can run a mental exercise in which we separate our personality from our memory it is a practical impossibility to consider personal identity without considering both memory and personality together as a single mechanism. Our personality affects how we remember things (happy memory, what we paid attention to at the time, etc.), but also it seems that our memory has a direct effect on our personality (the memory of burning our fingers makes us more cautious, especially when approaching something hot).

Now let’s assume that my personality is placed in two separate bodies, neither of which is mine so we have two separate people with my personality and memories. They would both be able to convince my friends and family that they were me. From the point of “in-soul-ination” the two people would be different (their personalities from that point would adapt according to their environment), but before the point of insoulination, they would have the same personality—mine. Each person (Jim-1 and Jim-2) would be able to convince my mother that they were me. In fact, she would not be able to differentiate between the two if they looked exactly alike, no matter how drastic their lives changed after the insoulination. Since their memories of “Jim” would coincide with my mother’s memories of Jim, she would not be able to tell the difference—she would not be able to say one of the Jims was “her” Jim. Also, each Jim (1 & 2) would both “know” they were Jim—there would be no disconnect between B-slices like there would be in a coma, each personality would have no reason to not believe they were the original Jim. A comparable analogy is the process of cell division. A cell is divided into two complete cells, not two halves of a whole cell. Each cell is complete and unique from the point of division. Both cells are the original cell, yet neither can be said to be solely the original cell yet both seem to be able to claim to be the original cell. How is it that both cells seem to be able to claim to be the original call, yet at the same time neither seem to be able to claim to be the original cell. This seems to be comparable to the comparison of the division of a personality—we should view the division of personality the same as we view the division of cells. The difference between the cell division and personality division (at least for the technology in 2014) is the unviability of personality division compared to cell division. We can answer the question of personality by answering the question of cell division—which cell, if any, is the original? Are both cells the original? If so, how are both cells also different?

I posit that both cells/personalities are “historically” the same cell; however, the instant of division birthed two unique cells with the same DNA as the original. The immediate differences in environment (even something as simple as a nanometer can have an effect) will affect the development of the individual cells, but historically (connected by B-slices) the cells/personalities are the same. If this concept does not appeal to any pre-established concept of personality, then I posit that a new concept of personality should be established. I base this on the idea that the metaphysical and the physical should mesh into one unit, much as the circle of life is only a complete unit if both life and death are considered.

These are my initial thoughts, during class 😛

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