Does the personal identity of a human persist through change?
It seems that we each exist only in the eternal present.
The science is clear, that we are extremely complex entities that have some components that are material that trace their origins back some 14 billion years, other components that are evolved genetic that go back some 4 billion years, other components that are cultural that go back some hundreds of thousands of years, and they all come together in the junction of egg and sperm and the individual that begins in that instant and is a constantly evolving instance of humanity.
We then each have our individual life experiences, that leave their imprints on our neural and hormonal and cellular systems.
Every second of existence alters the input functions in subtle and not so subtle ways.
We are only ever what we are when we are it – all else is story and illusion in a very deep sense.
Personal Identity seems to be a time variant function in one perspective – and it is experientially us in another, in the eternal now of being.
I’m going to throw a spanner in the “always present”.
It seems clear to me that “always present” is an illusion.
Usually we don’t notice the gaps when we are not present, and sometimes we do.
The last major operation I had, I was there in the prep room, counting, and an instant later it was 7 hours later, and I was in the recovery room, and all there was was pain.
It seems clear to me that our illusion of being always present is just a function of how our memory works, which is in part a function of how neural networks work.
It seems we are present when we are (and by definition absent otherwise). This is entirely consistent with our existence being a software entity running on the hardware of brain – an emergent property of the extremely complex systems that are a human brain.
It seems that the brain is genetically evolved to create a model of reality.
It seems that our cultures are so evolved that the language forms they deliver cause the languaging child to bootstrap a new level of software (self awareness) into existence (which matures into the egoic self awareness).
Thus it seems that right now, we are discussing a model of a model – each of us with our own personal brain created models of reality that don’t occur to us as models, but occur to us as reality itself, and from which we get to experience the qualia of our personal existence.
It seems that we can only experience the software model that our brains create. It seems that there are many different modes in which the model of reality we each have can disconnect from the reality in which it is embedded and normally kept entrained by sensory inputs, and “go off” in directions variously influenced by conscious or subconscious or chemical or physical factors.
So it seems that we are present when we are, and not when not.
It seems that our sense of being continually present comes from the fact that our memories are sequential, even if there are gaps – we don’t have a perspective that sees the gaps, we simply get to experience the sequence. When we have instruments that make the gaps clear it is easy to see. When we have experience like major surgery, when one instant it is morning and the next instant it is evening, it is easy to see the gap.
It seems that the chemistry of our evolved genetic systems cause us to sleep, and in sleep most often the long term memory creation and sensory aspects of brain are turned off, so the model of reality is freed from the constraints of reality, and can go where-ever the various influences of the subconscious and whatever levels of consciousness are present take it. Usually we have no long term memory of these things as the long term memory aspect of brain is chemically disconnected, and in some people that disconnect doesn’t work well ever, and in most people it fails occasionally – so most of us get to remember some dreams occasionally and some of us remember most dreams.
So the sense of personal identity seems to be real in this restricted sense, and that reality seems to derive from the ability of brain to create memories at various levels (experiences, habits, abstractions, paradigms, etc). For so long as our brains are able to create some aspect of that matrix of personal history, the software experience of us having existence gets to be in reality (even if our experience of reality isn’t reality itself, but a model or even at times a model of a model, which is more or less related to reality itself).