There is No Captain Kirk: A Theory of Universal Lack of Personal Identity

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There is No Captain Kirk: A Theory of Universal Lack of Personal Identity

There are multiple ways to interpret the second scenario provided to us. In general, the Captain Kirks in scenario two are either identical or they are not. Since we know that anything can only be numerically identical to itself, we also know that the two Kirks are not numerically or perfectly identical to each other. Thus, the question we are left with is: how are the two Kirks identical and how are they not?

In the first scenario, we only witness that there is only one Captain Kirk throughout, therefore we make the assumption that the Kirk on the surface of the planet and the one that stood on the transporter platform are numerically identical to each other and that they are in fact the same Kirk. In the second scenario, the two Kirks that we witness are identical in respects to body, brain, memory, and functionality. However, there are many reasons that these factors do not make the two Kirks the same person.

The two Kirks appear to be identical physically. This is known as bodily identity, which is in short, the theory that you are your body and that wherever your body goes there you are. Daniel C. Dennett refutes this theory in “Where Am I?” using the following argument:

If Tom and Dick switch brains, Tom is the fellow with Dick’s former body – just ask him; he’ll claim to be Tom, and tell you the most intimate details of Tom’s autobiography. (See Endnote 1)

John Perry also discusses this in “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality”:

Weirob: And would you reason conversely also? If there were in this bed Barbara Walter’s body – that is, the body you see every night on the news – would you infer that it was not me, Gretchen Weirob, in the bed?

Miller: Of course I would. How would you have come by Barbara Walter’s body?

Weirob: But then merely extend this principle to heaven, and you will see that your conception of survival is without sense.

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"There is No Captain Kirk: A Theory of Universal Lack of Personal Identity." 23 Jun 2018
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Surely this very body, which will be buried and, as I must so often repeat, rot away, will not be in your hereafter. Different body, different person. Or do you claim that a body can rot away on Earth, and then still wind up somewhere else? (See Endnote 2)

Thus, though they may be identical physically; bodily identity does not make them the same person because the body does not constitute identity by itself.

Due to the reproductive nature of the transporter device, it may be assumed that the two Kirks have exactly the same brain, down to the very neurons, which compose it. Brain identity is the theory that states that identity is attached to the brain. This means that wherever Kirk’s brain goes, there goes Kirk. Daniel C. Dennett refutes this theory as well in “Where Am I?”; during the course of the story, the writer finds himself with two brains. At first, the brains are identical but eventually they become distinct personalities:

…about two weeks ago, our brains two brains drifted just a bit out of sync. I don’t know now whether my brain is Hubert or Yorick, anymore than you do, but in any case, the two brains drifted apart, and of course, once the process started, it snowballed, for I was in a slightly different receptive state for the input we both received, a difference that was soon magnified. In no time at all the illusion the illusion that I was in control of my body, - our body – was completely dissipated.

(See Endnote 1)

Like the author of the above quotation, as soon as the two Kirks began receiving different inputs, their brains became out of sync, thus they no longer have the same brain. The above argument also dispels the possibility of the two Kirks having the same memory identity, because as soon as one of them experiences something that the other does not, they no longer have identical memories.

Functional identity is the idea that though two separate beings may be in no way similar physically they or mentally, they both serve the same function or purpose. Thus, even though the two Kirks are not identical physically or mentally, they both serve the same function; the Kirk on the planet is doing what the Kirk on the ship would have done is his position. Eventually, the two Kirks may become so different mentally because of their different experiences that they will no longer be functionally identical; but in scenario two, they are definitely serving the same function. Perry gives a good proof for why functionally identical things do not have the same identity:

Weirob: Each time you see the Blue (river), it consists of different water. The water that was in it a month ago may be in Tuttle Creek Reservoir, or in the Mississippi, or in the Gulf of Mexico by now. So the similarity of states of water, by which you judge the sameness of the river, does not require identity of the water which is in those states at these various times.

Miller: And?

Weirob: And so just because you judge as to personal identity by reference of similarity of states of mind, it does not follow that the mind, or the soul, is the same in each case. My point is this. For all you know, the immaterial soul which you think is lodged in my body might change from day to day, from hour to hour, from minute to minute, replaced each time by another soul psychologically similar. You cannot see it or touch it so how would you know? (See Endnote 2)

Therefore, in the event that identity is based in the body, the two Kirks are not identical. If identity is based in the soul then they cannot be identical because only one of them can possess Kirk’s soul. Now, if like the river, parts of the Kirks can change and they can still remain functionally Captain Kirk, then they are functionally identical. However, since functionally identical things need not be made up of identical parts (see river example), functionality does not constitute identity.

In light of these considerations, we must re-examine the first scenario. In scenario one, we assumed that because there was still only one functionally and bodily identical Kirk, then he must be the same as the Kirk that stepped on the transporter platform. However, if we consider that the Kirk that stepped on the transported platform was turned into a pattern by the machine, destroyed, and recreated out of material from the planet’s surface, we would have to find that the Kirk on the planet’s surface is in actuality neither bodily, cerebrally (brain identity), nor mentally (memory identity) identical to the original. This is due to the fact that neither his body nor his mind are composed of the same atoms as before. However, he is functionally identical to his former self. This provides fuel to the theory that functionality does constitute personal identity, until we consider one final theory.

From my readings and the material that we have gone over in class, I have found two interesting facts. The first is that none of the theories of personal identity we have covered in this course has been fully without flaw. The second is that all the theories or personal identity that we have discussed in this course hold one assumption in common which has never been substantiated: that regardless of what personal identity is, every human being has the same personal identity each day. This seems like the easy way to an epistemic circle; it uses the assumption that every human being has only one personal identity as evidence for theories about what personal identity is. I believe that the reason that there has never been a wholly successful theory of personal identity is that no one has ever considered changing this one assumption, which is held as fact. My theory is that personal identity is only a theoretical thing. What we call personal identity is in reality only the labels by which we know each other and relate throughout society.

Personal identity as we have been taught to see it is based on two things: the theory that there is a part of us that never changes and the theory that the label by which we are known to ourselves never changes. Thus, I am Christopher to the rest of the world and Christopher is the sum of my own view of myself plus an unchanging constant, which is my essence (note that the conclusive nature of this essence has eluded philosophers thus far). The flaw in this theory is that due to the order in which things occur in the universe (not time, time is an inaccurate system of measurement created by humanity) everything must eventually change. Therefore, their can be no true constant in identity, only a range. Therefore, I present the following theory.

Personal identity in reality is based on three things: the theory that there is a part of us that changes based upon the chronology of the universe (A), that each of us have unvarying labels by which we are known which are an evaluation of our identity (C), and that there is a part of us which does not change but defines the range of the first part (B). Thus, I am Christopher (C) to the rest of the world and Christopher (C) is the sum of my chronological inputs from the universe (A) which may only vary as much as (B) permits. (B) is able to change, but does not because in the event that (B) were to change; (C) would no longer be an accurate representation of my identity and thus the original expression would no longer hold any significance. The factor in human identity, which changes (A), is the very essence of humanity; this changes constantly as the chronology of the universe is altered. Therefore, contrary to the classic view of personal identity with Christopher (C) as an answer based upon a system made of constants, Christopher is in fact the evaluation of an expression, which is ever changing. The concept of being self-identical is only possible if the chronology of the universe is halted; it is impossible to say you are the same person you were a minute ago, because then I might ask you: “which second in that minute?”, Which millisecond in that second?”, etc. If we remember that nothing can remain unaffected by chronology and cease to consider personal identity as a constant, we may finally make some progress in modern philosophy.

Captain Kirk is an ever changing being, whether there are two or one of him. Thus, in scenario one, there is only one evaluation known as Captain Kirk, but that evaluation is not identical to any evaluations from the past or the future. In the second scenario, the two evaluations known as Captain Kirk are both based upon the same expression, but with different inputs. The reality is that the expression has not changed, its non-constant factors have. Personal identity is not a static thing, that is why there is no Captain Kirk, and all that we see around us is merely that which we have labeled.

Works Cited

Dennett D.C., “Where Am I?” Feinberg, Joel, Shafer-Landau, Russ, (eds.), Reason and Responsibility, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Eleventh Edition, 2002, p. 420

Perry, J., “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,” Feinberg, Joel, Shafer-Landau, Russ, (eds.), Reason and Responsibility, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Eleventh Edition, 2002, p. 434


End Notes

1. Dennett D.C., “Where Am I?” Feinberg, Joel, Shafer-Landau, Russ, (eds.), Reason and Responsibility, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Eleventh Edition, 2002, p. 420

2. Perry, J., “A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality,” Feinberg, Joel, Shafer-Landau, Russ, (eds.), Reason and Responsibility, Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Eleventh Edition, 2002, p. 434

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