Tag Archives: Locke

How Many Cells Does It Take?

Listening to RadioLab is a regular pastime for me. For those who don’t know, it’s a podcast produced by WNYC and aired by NPR. The informative, somewhat quirky guys on the show mostly discuss topics of science, but laced in is often a comment on philosophy and human experience. It was one of these podcasts, called Famous Tumors, that struck upon our discussions about identity.

There were three segments, but I will be focusing on the last one about Henrietta Lacks. To sum up, scientists had been trying to clone human cells for years for experimentation purposes, but none were successful until they successfully cloned Henrietta’s cells. Continue reading

Fake Memories?

GET TO THE CHOP–Whoops wrong movie

In the movie Total Recall (I’m referring to the original 1990 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, haven’t seen the more recent remake), the main character Douglas Quaid wants to go on a vacation to Mars but he cannot afford to physically transport himself. Instead, he opts to go to a company called Rekall that will allow him to receive a brain implant that makes him believe that he went to Mars.

The rest of this blog will contain unmarked spoilers, so let the reader beware.

During the operation to get the memory transplant, something goes wrong and Doug receives painful shocks. Once he goes home, he sees that what he believed to be his life is all a sham, as his supposed wife is a secret agent working against him. Doug finds a recording from the future that he is a secret agent called Hauser and that he erased his memories in order to protect himself from a conspiracy. Doug goes to Mars to find out more about the conspiracy. Once he arrives, he goes on an adventure that reveals a secret device that can provide breathing air for all the residents, thereby bringing peace among the settlers and the Martian natives. Doug is able to release the device but in the last scene of the movie he asks himself if this was all a dream. Were his efforts to save Mars just a highly sophisticated memory implanted in his brain?

This brings me to the philosophical part of this blog post, where I found a connection between Doug’s memories and Locke’s view of identity. Locke argued that if “consciousness” was maintained by a person, then the identity of the person stays the same. He states the “consciousness can be extended to backwards to any past action or thought”, which means that one is able to recall past memories and actions (335). However, this also exposes one of the holes in Locke’s theory. A famous scenario called the breakfast problem asks that if I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, I was not myself during breakfast time yesterday. In Total Recall, it is not truly known whether Hauser truly existed or if he was a memory implanted into Doug’s brain. If Doug cannot make a distinction between a dream and reality, is he truly himself? I personally believe that Doug’s adventure was a dream and he either woke up or died after the movie ends.

My external source is not related to the movie, but it is a song I have been listening to while writing this blog post. It’s called “Is It Real?” from one of my favorite shows Cowboy Bebop. It ponders on reality and what can be done to prove my existence and whether the world around me is real or just a figment of my imagination.

Why Only Physical?

In Book 2 of “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” by John Locke, Locke talks about how “the variation of great parcels of matter alters not the identity”, and then he goes on to give the example of the oak tree, and how “an oak growing from a plant to a tree… is still the same oak”, and that a “colt grown up to a horse, sometimes fat, sometimes lean, is all the while the same horse”. (Ch. 27, 3) This I completely agree with and understand. However, it appears to me that Locke is being a bit narrow in his argument. Locke is only focusing on the physical aspect identity instead of looking at the spiritual or emotional aspects identity, which I believe, when concerning humans, are the things that play the biggest part in altering one’s identity.

If I applied Locke’s argument about how physical variation does not alter identity to humans, he would be completely correct. Humans go from being an infant to an adult to a person of old age. Throughout this entire physical process, it is true that this person is the same. Their identity is not altered. If they were to take fingerprints when they were eight years old and then when they were eighty-eight years old, the prints would match because they are still the same person. However, from the age of eight to eighty-eight, the person has gone through a lot of spiritual and emotional changes. What they used to do and how they acted and what they believed in as a child changed when they became an adult, and may have even changed some more when they became elderly. And this change is what truly alters a person and causes them to not have the same identity as they did when they were of younger age.

This is the only problem that I have with Locke’s argument. I wish that when he talked about physical traits not altering identity that he would have compared it to spiritual and emotional aspects and how they do alter a person’s identity

Future Identity

In Book II of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke succeeds at confusing me. Which I can only assume is what he was trying to do because I have no idea what his intent was otherwise—I was that confused. From what I gather, our identities are basically a continuum of awareness of ourselves at any instant in time? It is mind boggling to think of myself as being aware of myself in a series of “insensibly succeeding” snapshots of being and it is very bleak to think that now, that instant where I was so hopelessly mind-boggled by Locke is a part of my collective self-awareness and inextricably a part of my identity for as long as I remain aware of that instant. Which brings me to one of many questions: Does reality even have anything to do with our identites? Continue reading

Who did it better?

An Essay concerning Human Understanding, by John Locke is an interesting piece. In chapter 27, he uses an analogy of atoms in order to explain his theory that no two things can exist in the same place.

“let us suppose an atom…if two or more atoms be joined together in the same mass, every one of those atoms will be the same…But if one of these atoms be taken away, or one new one added, it is no longer the same mass, or the same body”(Ch.27;3).

Locke uses scientific concepts in order to reinforce his theory of composition. However, this seems to relate with Plato’s Meno in which Socrates uses mathematics in order to drive his theory.

While different in theory(Socrates trying to prove education, Locke with understanding), they both employ some sort of quantitative medium in which to explain their points.  In regards to who I feel had a stronger analogy, let us analyze the examples. In Meno, Socrates uses a geometric shape with quantitative measurements in the form of numbers. Locke uses atomic theory in its infancy in order to push his point.

I am not saying that Plato’s argument is stronger or better than Locke’s, however in An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke employs concepts that were fairly new at the time of his writing, and therefore was not readily understood by everyone. Geometry and measurement has a longer history, with a much more far-reaching audience, explaining how the Slave knew some of what Socrates’ was explaining.

Consciousness and the Law

In The Philosophical Works and Selected Correspondence of John Locke, Lock discuss how someone perceives one’s self and the idea of “consciousness” and how it relates to one’s existence. One unique aspect of consciousness that Locke discusses is the idea that no matter what some one looks like, or what condition he or she is in, that person is still the same person.  Continue reading

You’re You

Fast forward almost two centuries from Aristotle’s time to that of John Locke’s, we approach Locke’s profoundly titled work “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (or more like, “Four Books Concerning Human Understanding”). Continue reading

Me, Myself, and I

Locke’s argument of identity and diversity made my head spin, simply because he examines it way more thoroughly than most people do. When I think of identity, I mostly define it as something that makes it who or what they are. However, Locke goes farther than that by describing in terms of existence; there is only one version of you, and every place and second that the state changes, that version of you is no more. It exists by itself. Even though you still continue to be “you,” those versions of you are only the diversity of your existence.

Continue reading

Exploring the Foundation of Identity

“For in them the variation of great parcels of matter alters not the identity: An oak growing from a plant to a great tree, and then lopped, is still the same oak; and a colt grown up to a horse, sometimes fat, sometimes lean, is all the while the same horse: Though in both these cases, there may be a manifest change of the parts; so that truly they are not either of them the same masses of matter, though they be truly one of them the same oak, and the other the same horse. The reason whereof is, that in these two cases, a mass of matter, and a living body, identity is not applied to the same thing” (Chapter 27, paragraph 3).

Many authors, especially philosophers, turn to beautiful metaphors to describe their ideas to readers. Here, Locke follows this ancient tradition, furthering his claim that variation does not alter identity through the example of the development of an oak tree and maturation of a horse.

I found these metaphors to be not only eloquent and engaging but also great illustrations of his assertion. In order to further his point that “variation” in “matter alters not the identity,” he describes an oak starting out as a small shoot and then growing into a “great tree,” showing that just because the shape of the tree changes, its element is not transformed: it is still composed of wood and undergoes the process of photosynthesis in order to survive.

Furthermore, he writes of how when a colt matures to a horse, growing either “fat” or “lean,” it is still “the same horse” by nature. Its physical attributes does not change the fact that larger horses and skinnier horses are still the same horse, just with different characteristics, such as either an enlarged or shrunken frame. The horses’ “matter,” or what makes the horses horses never changes.

As “parts” change, the object changes into a different form of that same object; however, its identity does not change in relation to these so-called “great parcels of matter.” According to Locke, its identity remains the same. Here, he writes that, in the sake of using the tree metaphor, as long as the tree has the ability to do its same biological functions through appendages that make it a tree, such as roots, trunk, and branches, in the furthering of its life as an organism, the tree continues to exist as one and the same tree, despite the changes in its constituent matter. He, therefore, concludes that even though living organisms constantly lose and gain portions of their matter through process of growth and aging, we are not inclined to believe that they have changed into different creatures. The identity of organisms is based on their ability to sustain the biological processes that keep them alive. In conclusion, Locke believes that identity is founded upon this principle, and that the only time such identity shifts is when something separates from the original organism and gains a life of its own.