Tuesday, 28 January 2014

A Logical Conclusion II

Well, Poul Anderson's short story, "A Logical Conclusion", IN Anderson, Fantasy (New York, 1981), which I definitely have not read before, does have a logical conclusion which I suppose I ought to leave for others to find for themselves if they have not already done so.

However, there is a related point that can be mentioned here. In some works of fantasy or science fiction, we are asked to imagine a two-way mind transference in which each of the characters finds that his own individual memories, personality and sense of identity are able to remain entirely intact and unchanged even though they have somehow been transferred into the other character's body, which therefore is merely an otherwise unconscious vehicle for whichever of the personalities happens to occupy it at any given time.

Instead, Anderson's character, Greenough, makes the point that:

"'...the mind...ego...whatever you call it...isn't separate from the nerves and flesh. It's a function of them.'" (p. 57)

So what is transferred?

"'What the Goddess replaced was something very subtle. Each of us had full command of the other's language, reflexes, habits, skills. Actual memories of the other's past were blurred and incomplete, but as time went on they improved. Even initially, we could pass muster, claiming a blow on the head had addled our wits a trifle.'" (p. 57)

Yet Greenough in Kendrith's body retains memories of military technologies that he can adapt to Kendrith's world and also memories of the wife and career that await him in New York when he has won the Goddess' war, assuming that he survives it. It is amusing to see Greenough, described as "...a little man..." (p. 55) when he is in his own body, fearlessly and competently leading an attack, killing his enemies and capturing the citadel.

The first person narrator of the opening and closing bar conversations says that he is "'...not interested in half-baked philosophy...'" (p. 82) but I think that Greenough's observations are closer to fully baked:

"'It makes me wonder what the self is...What's the basic thing we call 'I'? Not a bundle of personality traits. You're nothing like the person you were twenty years ago; yet both have been you. Isn't your ego, your inmost identity, isn't it precisely the continuity of experience? The evolution itself from phase to phase of life?'" (ibid.)

Well, we are something like the person we were twenty years ago and some personality traits last a long time. But we also begin, change and cease. The Buddha taught anatta, "no soul," meaning that consciousness is a succession of transient, causally related psycho-physical states, not a permanent, enduring, immaterial, immortal entity. This question is not abstract but practical, faced in meditation. Greenough's "'...continuity of experience...'" is a good description.

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