Philosophy Walk is a truly nifty and delightful podcast that discusses a philosophical topic for about the duration of a nice stroll around the block. An episode on issues relating to the persistence of personal identity got me thinking about memories, and specifically the emotions attached to certain memories.
Memories don't naturally come with emotions, those emotions are a result of my reaction to memories. That reaction-result part was my issue. Of course I think about my parents often, and tend to bring up memories with a reaction-result of either regret (recalling every time I was horrible or didn't go to a family event) or sadness (that they died so young and I missed so much.) So I decided to frame this within the philosophical question Plato posed as "if death is the cessation of consciousness, then, is to sleep to die?" Do our bodies wake up with a new consciousness who has access to the brain's memories of past days, past lives, and just goes on living as if those memories and that identity were all their own?
one day I want to wake up and choose to give no regard to any memories I might wake up with. however I decide I feel that morning will dictate who I will be that day. I will maybe take a name, if I so desire. perhaps one that will catch my eye, from a book on a shelf. whatever I wear will be comfortable and colorful and most likely a combination I'd never worn before. I will discover what kind of food I like, what music sounds good. unless this happens on a day of PMS or cramps, I will probably spend most of the day in a curious, entertained, and wide-eyed wonderment. I will want to go outside and discover flowers, I'm sure, and trees and clouds and hopefully cats. but who knows, I might not like them that day (though I highly doubt it.)
I wonder what she (this new person) will think of @ % # symbols, of money, of the strange collection of pressures some people choose to wake up with in the mornings, and decide to keep, to live by. I bet she will think it's absurd. she wouldn't waste time shaving, scheming, or working for someone else. she'd be far more interested in seeing how high she can climb, or how obscure and hidden a dirt path she could find. if she has a question, i bet she'll just ask whoever she finds. after all, she's really got a lot to fit in before she has to sleep.
I don't think she'll have too much trouble catching on. I think she'll have a pretty good day.
It's nice to reexamine the knowledge that our past is only as applicable as we make it, and we make that choice hundreds of times a day. Objectively, it is absurd to allow the past to integrate into your life in a negative way; your personal identity is only as persistent as you determine in this very moment. Truly, anything you determine yourself to be is you, because who else but you would have any authority over your personal identity?
The topic also got my wheels churning on my perception of death. Plato himself is said to have called death 'the long sleep,' and the two states have been conflated many times over in human history. How are we to say sleep and death are anything alike? How are we to say they aren't? We mere humans have no logical choice but to be agnostic on the topic of death. It is beyond our understanding, and nothing we know to exist is within the reach of that understanding. So whatever we know of death as a certainty is ultimately just a story we tell ourselves. Who is anyone to say death is one thing or another? So why would I automatically grieve over the fact my parents had to die? Of course I can grieve the years I won't know them, but I cannot know for certain what happened to them. So there's no real reason I should assume it's sub par to their prior existence. May as well not let that reaction-result be sorrow, when there's no logic for it to be.