We want to believe that a thing is somehow more than the sum of its parts. That if we removed an electron’s charge, its mass, its spin, there would be something leftover, a bald electron, a haecceity, as the philosophers say, a primitive thisness. We want to believe that there is something that it means to be this electron rather than that, even if no observation, experiment, or statistic could ever reveal it. We want to believe in a primitive thisness because we want to believe in a primitive ourness—that should we one day meet our double, a perfect clone down to every detail, every dream, utterly indistinguishable to even the most discerning observer, that still there would be, here on the inside, something that it feels like to be us and not our double, a difference invisible and ineffable but true. That had there been no difference at all between the two Martin Guerres, one would still smile to himself in the secret knowledge that he was the real one.
We want to believe it, but quantum mechanics doesn’t let us. “We are fooled into thinking that our distinguishability inheres in our material substance, but that’s just a big misunderstanding on our part,” says Pesic. What becomes of the electron’s haecceity when it interferes with another’s, its primitive thisness muddled with thatness? Epistemology dictates ontology. And so it seems ever more likely that haecceity is a kind of philosopher’s rendition of the soul, a comfort, an illusion. In mythology, in religion, we seek oneness. Just not so much of it that we disappear.
So if the elementary particles of which we are made don’t really exist as objects, how do we exist?
One suggestion offered is
Our identity is a state, but if it’s not a state of matter—not a state of individual physical objects, like quarks and electrons—then a state of what?
A state, perhaps, of information. More.
Somehow we doubt the theorists will be very happy with the implications of it all coming down to information, once they think that one out.
See, for example, Information in everyday life
See also: What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness
It’s hardly significant that quantum particles don’t have identity—if identity is something that happens to things that are more complex than quantum particles.
What if one person’s shadow is hard to distinguish from another’s? Does that mean that the person is not an individual?
Also, how is it that whatever rolls down the pike supposedly puts human identity on trial?
Have we ever thought of reversing the onus? That is, if a theory cannot account for human identity, then it is no good.
A friend used to cite a Jewish proverb: If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?
See also: Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away
File under: Friday afternoon.
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