Personal Identity

I’ve been thinking, lately, about what characterizes one’s existence, about what constitutes personal identity. I guess it’s pretty clear that who I am now is not, in a variety of ways, who I must have been newly born in terms of cellular make-up or cognitive capabilities, which makes me wonder when, exactly, did I happen. And, even within memory my experiences have changed me in many ways physically and psychologically. If I’m not now who I was, who, I wonder, will I become? Think about those folks aboard the Starship Enterprise who enter the transporter room as Captain Picard or whoever and have their molecular structures disassembled. Can they really be who they were after reassembly?

I’ve been reading an intriguing sci-fi series by Richard K. Morgan who introduces the concept of ‘cortical stack’, which is a structure atop the spinal column, at the base of the brain containing one’s entire being: memory, personality, essentially whole identity. The idea is that if the body is damaged or destroyed the cortical stack can be transferred into an awaiting body or ‘sleeve’ so that an individual can resume existence in a new and viable physical skin, and as long as the cortical stack isn’t destroyed one can live forever. The idea, I suppose, is not dissimilar to the age old concept of immortal soul that will live on after physical extinction.

I guess I have to accept right now what I appear to myself to be, but I do relish the idea of becoming, which is certainly what will happen, whether or not an existence beyond the physical/psychological is in the offing.


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