Jeffrey Olen

Personal Identity and Life After Death


1.       Question: What would have to survive death if we are truly to survive?


2.       Editor’s summary

          a.       Functionalist view of personality

          b.       Human brain analogous to a computer

          c.       Just as different computers can run the same program, so too different brains (or other media) can run the same mind

          d.       So we can survive the death of our own body by changing bodies, as long as our personality and memories are preserved


3.       Badger and Everglade wake up in each other’s beds

          a.       Badger who lives in Wisconsin wakes up in Everglade’s bed in Florida and vice versa

          b.       Case of switching bodies or memories?

                    i.        Did they wake up in the other person’s body?

                    ii.       Or did they wake up (in their own bed) with the other person’s memories?


4.       Problem of personal identity:

          a.       What makes a person the same person as the day before?

          b.       Sometimes person at 20 very different person than person at 13

          c.       Fair now to be judged for things you did 20 years ago if you are a very different person now?

          d.       Is a person with Alzheimer's disease who has lost all her memories the same person as before?

          e.       Could there be two persons inside one body (as with multiple, rather than, split personalities)?


5.       Distinction person and human being

          a.       Human being a biological notion

          b.       Person is not

                    i.        It’s a psychological notion

          c.       Person who is not a human? (E.T., some animals?)

          d.       Human who is not a person? (Fetus? Dead human? Human born w/o a brain? An infant?)


6.       Person is:

          a.       Intelligent rational creature

          b.       Capable of not just consciousness, but self-consciousness

          c.       Beliefs and desires and beliefs/desires about beliefs/desires (2nd order beliefs/desires)

          d.       Has moral responsibility

          e.       Treated as member of moral community with legal and moral rights

          f.       Capable of reciprocity

          g.       Can communicate by means of language (not just barks and howls, etc.)


7.       Two common criteria for personal identity

          a.       Bodily criterion

                    i.        If it looks like Mary we assume it is Mary.

                    ii.       What if Mary has an identical twin (Jane)?

                              (1)     If we can trace a continuous line from one place and time where we knew it was Mary’s body to the body I see now, know it is Mary

          b.       Memory criterion

                    i.        If can’t use above criterion (see either Mary or Jane on the street), I can use memory criterion

                    ii.       I ask her who she is, ask her questions about events that only Mary would know about, and ask does she remember them happening to her


8.       In Badger and Everglade case, the body and memory criteria conflict

          a.       Body criterion: each person awoke in own bed but with the other person’s memories

          b.       Memory criterion: each person awoke in the other’s bed with the body of the other person.


9.       Moral responsibility argument suggests body not enough for personal identity

          a.       If Badger had been a professional thief, would be wrong to punish the person who awoke in Badger’s bed (with Badger’s body), and let go free the person who awoke in Everglade’s bed and who remembered all of Badger’s crimes as his own


10.     Continuity of consciousness criterion of personal identity

          a.       Proposed by John Locke

          b.       Having a continuous set of experiences; A continuity of stream of consciousness

          c.       Each momentary consciousness is linked to the one before and after by similarities and recollection

11.     Olen equates continuity of consciousness with having same memories and personality traits

          a.       Might think the three are somewhat distinct

                    i.        Continuity of consciousness

                    ii.       Memories

                    iii.      Personality traits

12.     Locke: Same person=continuity of consciousness=same memory

          a.       My memories of these things happening to me is what makes me the person I am


13.     Problems with memory criterion

          a.       Memory blanks: If I don’t remember anything that happened to me during a certain period does that mean that whoever existed in my body then was not me? (No, says Olen)

          b.       Inaccurate memories: one might sincerely believes one remembers things that never happened.

                    i.        These apparent memories not genuine memories

14.     Memory can’t constitute personal identity because

          a.       Believing one remembers a set of experiences does not make them yours

                    i.        For they could be mistaken memories,

                    ii.       Even if they are genuine memories, it is not the memories that make those experiences yours, but the experiences being yours is what made the memories

                    iii.      And personal identity is constituted by having a certain set of experiences (not by having memories of them)?


15.     Mind criterion of personal identity

          a.       A possible criterion for sameness of consciousness (person) is sameness of mind

          b.       Mind is conceived of as a continuous, non-physical substance

          c.       The thing that has these experiences

          d.       This continuous mind is the self and makes us who we are

16.     Problems with mind criterion

          a.       Assumes mind-body dualism and many think this is not plausible

          b.       Hume’s problem: we do not experience this self, this subject of our experiences

                    i.        Look inside ourselves (examine our consciousness) and find no self/mind; only find experiences, thoughts, memories, images, but no continuing self

                    ii.       All we find are experiences, no experiencer

                    iii.      No reason to believe anything persisting through time that underlies and unifies these experiences


17.     Body criterion:

          a.       What makes me the same person today as yesterday is no different in kind from what makes my typewriter the same as yesterday

                    i.        Both a physical object existing through time

                    ii.       Same physical object existing through time (allowing for change in typewriter ribbon, keys, or cells in body), same being

18.     Points in favor of body criterion

          a.       Answers Hume’s worry:

                    i.        Self that persists through time and has the experiences I call mine is my physical body

          b.       Way we can distinguish a genuine memory from an apparent memory (Was an experience I claim to be mine really mine?) is to see if one’s body was in the right place at the right time.

                    i.        Memory criterion rests on body criterion (???)

          c.       Compatible with materialism (the view that only physical things exist)

19.     Bodily criterion of personhood should be understood as brain criterion of personhood

          a.       Same brain, same person

          b.       For if you moved someone’s brain to a different body(and all personality traits and memories went with it), we would think the person had switched bodies.


20.     Olen accepts a functionalist theory of mind/person and this allows the same mind/person (memories, personality, stream of consciousness) to be embodied in different physical states

          a.       It is conceivable (logically possible) for you (your memories, personality and stream of consciousness) to be instantiated in a different brain


21.     Identity theory: Mind is the brain; a mental state is identical to a brain state

          a.       E.g., Pain in humans involves c-neurons firing, anything w/o c-neurons firing is not in pain

22.     Functional theory: A mental state is constituted by its function, that is, how it relates to other mental states and behavior

          a.       E.g., A Martian or animal might be in pain, even if it does not have c-neurons firing

                    i.        As long as it has something that plays the same role/function as pain does in us, it has pain

                    ii.       Perhaps it has a functionally equivalent state that is caused by silicon, or r-neurons firing

                    iii.      This state tends to be caused by bodily injury, to produce the belief that something is wrong with the body, produce the desire to be out of that state, produce anxiety, and, in the absence of any stronger, conflicting desires, to cause wincing or moaning.

                    iv.      Then the Martian or animal is in pain, even if that mental state is realized by totally different physical state

          b.       E.g., We can play chess using anything as chess pieces, so can a psychology be embodied by almost anything, assuming that it is complex enough


23.     Identity theory can’t allow for life after death

          a.       On the identity view, since the mind/self is the brain, when the brain dies so does the mind/self/person


24.     Olen’s functional account of mind/person/self, makes life after death possible, even for a materialist

          a.       For death of the body need not be death of the person if God instantiates a person’s personality in some other substance than the dead human body

                    i.        And if this substance is material/physical, materialism is preserved

25.     So a materialist can believe in life after death

26.     Fits with John Hick’s idea that God recreates or reconstitutes a person’s body in heaven


27.     Olen’s problems with the popular conception of life after death

          a.       At death of the body, the soul leaves it and travels to a realm called heaven

          b.       Metaphor only, for

          c.       If soul literally leaves the body, how does it get out? By mouth, ears?

          d.       How get to heaven? Turn left at Mars?

          e.       If soul remains disembodied, how can it perceive anything if it has no sense organs to perceive

          f.       How are the souls to recognized each other if disembodied? What is there to recognize

                    i.        Memories, personality and so on.


28.     People’s belief that there is continuity of personhood between heaven and earth is important

          a.       We remember our lives on earth, we recognize friends and relatives, our personalities are like ones on earth and we are judged by God for our actions on earth

29.     Life after death, or reincarnation, without same personality (thoughts, memories, character traits) seems of little value (and is nonsensical)

          a.       What do we want to survive our death?

          b.       Our memories, consciousness of self, personalities, our relations with others

          c.       If something else survives (say a nonphysical substance), if it has no memories of prior life, does not recognize the soul of others who were important in earlier life, what comfort could such a continuing existence bring?

                    i.        How could it be the survival of the person?

          d.       It is not sameness of stuff that constitutes personal identity, but sameness of consciousness


30.     Conclusions

          a.       If basis of personal identity was sameness of body then life after death impossible

          b.       Our concept of a person is a concept of something that does not seem tied to a particular body

          c.       Rather concept of person tied to a particular stream of consciousness

          d.       Continuing stream of consciousness over time, continuing person

          e.       We can give a coherent account of continuing consciousness from one body to another

          f.       If is possible to program another brain to have the same psychology as the brain I now have, then it is possible for me to change bodies

          g.       This makes it possible for me to survive the death of my body.



31.     Multiple personalities

          a.       One woman (Sybil) having radically distinct personalities

          b.       Each personality has own memories, values, behavior patterns, name

          c.       Sybil only assumes one personality at a time

          d.       What ever happened during the time she was one personality would remembered as happening only to that personality

          e.       When Sybil assumed another personality, she would claim not to know of these experiences or claim they had happened to someone else

          f.       Other personalities spoken of in third person.

32.     Describe multiple personalities in two ways

          a.       The woman embodied several persons (multiple personality)

                    i.        Memory criterion suggests this

          b.       The woman embodied only one person, but it was split into different personalities (split personality)

                    i.        Body criterion suggests this

          c.       Explanation that supports body criterion

                    i.        What happened was that an aspect of Sybil’s personality was so painful and aroused such guilt, that she repressed it

                    ii.       Refused to recognize it as her own

                    iii.      Result in split personality

                    iv.      One person who si managing the various aspects of his o r her personality

                    v.       Multiple personalities a strategy unconsciously adopted by one person to resolve inner conflict

                    vi.      A badly fractured person rather than several persons in one body

33.     Olen thinks of mind and soul as the same

          a.       Soul is conceived of as crucial element of a person

          b.       It involves one’s character traits, personality, thoughts, likes and dislikes, memories, continuity of experiences that make us persons we are

          c.       Mind is also thought of this way