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Thread: when are you no longer you?

  1. #1 when are you no longer you? 
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    with upcoming advances in genetic engineering it will become possible - although perhaps not ethical for a while - to modify the genome of a living person. there will be modifications that are simple, useful, and have little affect on who you are. such as increased muscle strength, bone strength, eyesight, breathing efficiency, resistance to cancer, and other physical adaptations.

    my question however, is about the more out there modifications. people may wish to have augmented mental capabilities, lessened(or perhaps heightened) agression, radically different physical forms, and other modifications.

    at what point is the person still the same person they were when they started? obviously their biology will change from the first modification and keep changing as more are made. however, if my friend got a modification to fix their eyesight or heal wounds faster, they would still be the same person i became friends with. but perhaps if my friend decided to become super intellegent and have greater control over their emotions, would it still be the same person, or would the person who started be gone?


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  3. #2  
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    You ain't ever gonna get a straight answer to this one. Ever since Heraclitus said, 'You could not step twice into the same river', philosophers have disagreed on its resolution.


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  4. #3  
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    Some philosophers have disagreed should we rather say.
    We are constantly changing and the conscience of being one is an illusion simply maintained by the continuity of conscience and the very gradual aspect of changes. If memory was not there, we will lose the sense of unity.

    Now, the problem is a bit more complex. It is not black and white. I am me or not. It is rather a gradual departure from a central 'idealistic' me to a far away 'him'. Memory never completly fade away. And by the way, as long as we share memory, every one shares a bit of everyone.

    Consequently, cybernetic, nanotechnology or genetic modifications of the human will not change our unity if there is a gradual change.
    Did you read "Flowers for Algernon" of Daniel Keyes. This is all the story of that. The raise and the fall of a genetically modified human who sees himself becoming a genius and fall back in mediocrity.
    About modification and sense of unity, I want to give also a personal testimony showing the blessing and the curse of memory. My grand father was a very athletic person and pretty bright as well. In 1985, he had a stroke. But unfortunatly for him, because of its fitness, he recovered. And it took 6 other strokes and a long 8 years decline for him to die. At the beginning, he recovered and was happy to fight again. But after the 5th stroke, he lost his power, he saw himself declining intellectually and physically. He told me once that he would have preferred the blessing of Alzheimer like our neighbour. No more memory...

    So my philosophy of life is always based on reality, not on beautiful intellectual construction. A human who still has his memory is still the same person.
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  5. #4  
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    prometheus, i wasn't looking for a straight answer. more of a discussion.

    makandal, i understand where you're coming from with the gradual change thing. if you undergo the changes slowly enough then you will never be very different from your most recent memories, and will have a sense of still being yourself. however if a person lived for a thousand years and only made a few changes every decade they still might end up a completely different person than they started out as.
    physics: accurate, objective, boring
    chemistry: accurate if physics is accurate, slightly subjective, you can blow stuff up
    biology: accurate if chemistry is accurate, somewhat subjective, fascinating
    religion: accurate if people are always right, highly subjective, bewildering
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  6. #5 Re: when are you no longer you? 
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    Quote Originally Posted by saul
    at what point is the person still the same person they were when they started? obviously their biology will change from the first modification and keep changing as more are made. however, if my friend got a modification to fix their eyesight or heal wounds faster, they would still be the same person i became friends with. but perhaps if my friend decided to become super intellegent and have greater control over their emotions, would it still be the same person, or would the person who started be gone?
    Conclusion in last paragraph...

    Is a person ever the same as he was from the beginning?

    We're constantly growing and responding to our environment. When a person loses his eye, it changes him. Depending on how he lost his eye, he might change in different ways. He will probably still hold parts of him which is reminiscent of who he was though.

    How do you usually separate different people on "who they are"? We have the clown, the talker, the shy one, the crazy one, etc. All of these characteristics can be found in most people, but the variables are different. Biology determines a lot of who we are; if we're thrill-seekers and end up harmed because of it (sky diving accident, etc) we will either abandon this behavior or continue it. How much of our decision is based upon nature, and how much upon nurture? How much do we change based upon nature vs. nurture? The nature vs. nurture debate is a futile debate because it's always a mixture of both in varying degrees.

    We like to think of ourselves as unique; and because there are so many variables, this is usually true. However, you could easily find a person from the other side of the world who behaves exactly as a person you know back home (more or less of course).

    Before I lose track of my point though; yes, if your friend modifies some of his biology, he will change. Maybe not by much depending on what he modifies. When is a person ever always the same anyway?

    Although we change over time, we usually retain a sense of ourselves as we were. This should also be true of radical changes through genetics, although a sense of who you were would probably be less noticeable. I suppose a better question to this whole issue would be "What is an I to begin with anyway?"
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