My morning readings today presented some tough questions from two different directions: personal and philosophical. Let’s start with the philosophical. I knocked out a few more pages of “30-Second Philosophies” and the one that really stuck with me is the discussion of Parfit’s Persons. I read several others such as Zeno’s Paradoxes, Chalmer’s Zombies, and a brief biography of Descartes but they didn’t really impact me.
The basic question from Parfit’s Persons is “what makes a person the same person over time?” There are some sci-fi ways to think about this. If my brain is swapped into another body, am I a different person? If I step on a transporter and an accident happens that creates two of me, which one is “me”? The latter was actually a plot from Star Trek: The Next Generation, I remember feeling a bit dissatisfied with their resolution (and really all the ethical issues that come with transporters) but it has been a while since I watched TNG.
Would you follow orders given by you, even if you thought that you were wrong?
Mental Note: Start watching TNG again.
As is pointed out in the book, this isn’t entirely a sci-fi issue though. Am I still “me” if I suffer brain damage and have a new personality, ethical foundation, and no memory of my past? Is that really substantially different from a body swap? Do we punish a consciousness that had no ability to prevent or impact a crime that took place? On a somewhat related note, how do you punish conjoined twins if one commits a crime that the other didn’t consent to or prevent? What about dissociative identity disorder where there may be two or more distinct consciousness inside one body, is it just to punish what one did while the other wasn’t in control?
Our bodies completely regenerate entirely every decade or so. There is not a single part of me that is the same as when I was 27, so am I still “me”?
I didn’t know it at the time, but one of my best friends and I actually had a discussion about this when we were in high school. At that time, we were both really into cars and the street racing aesthetic (think “Fast and Furious” but without all the ridiculous lights and million dollar budgets). We were in a auto parts store and I asked him when he thought a car stopped being the model that it started as.
If I swapped out the engine of my MR-2, is it still an MR-2? It would look the same but the internal system would be completely different.
What about leaving the internals the same but removing the body and putting a new one on so that it looked different. Is the cars identity only based on external appearance?
Does it take just one aspect (engine or body) to change the car to something else, or does it take over 50% of the parts? Over 90%?
While we can easily just call a car a hybrid between two or more other models, we can’t really do that with people. Am I a hybrid between child Peter, adolescent Peter, military Peter, college Peter, etc.? If so, how responsible am I for decisions made by someone who I am not fully (or possibly at all) part of?
I’m tens of thousands of dollars in debt because of decisions pre-25 year old Peter made before his brain was fully formed and he couldn’t fully understand the consequences of his actions. How much responsibility do I, a person who shares memories but little else, to pay those debts? How much should I also reap the benefits of those years that someone else lived?
Sidebar: I just realized that our legal system kind of does this already in a way. When my parents die they can’t pass on their debt to me, yes the debtors get a first shot at the estate but if there is additional debt it can’t be passed on to me or my siblings, but if there are additional resources those will be passed on to us. So, I will be made better by my parents good decisions but not made worse by their bad ones.
Of course, there are easy practical answers that seem to help society move more smoothly. My memories and a body that spawned from younger Peter is good enough. There could be chaos if we had a system that treated yesterday Peter different from today Peter. But just because a system is chaotic doesn’t mean it isn’t more just.
So, where do I actually stand on this? Like most things, I have a pragmatic and philosophical stance. Philosophically, I don’t know how much me is a sort of universal and unique “me”. Hell, maybe there really isn’t a “me” at all and the more eastern philosophical traditions are more accurate.
Pragmatically, I think we do need to generally treat future body/mind connections as if they are the same as previous body/mind connections, but with some additional leniency. We already kind of do this with crimes committed by children or teenagers but I think we cut that off at too young of an age. Encouraging marriage, child-rearing, and significant debt for people who can’t fully comprehend the consequences is dangerous and I think there should be systems in place to kind of reset any bad decisions (well, obviously not with children). So maybe find a more nuanced and middle ground to what we have now.
Whew, that was actually longer than I planned. Now on to the personal questions, which came from “The War of Art”.
This book is often a kick-in-the-ass and raises questions that I struggle to answer. Some of them are more rhetorical, but as I approach the end of the book I find myself with a desire to actually articulate my answers. I need to create a concrete response to try and prevent this from (again) becoming a self-help book that I quickly toss in a pile upon completion.
After today’s reading, I feel like a hack. A hack, according to Pressfield and Robert McKee, is someone who asks what the market is looking for instead of being authentic.
Holy tit balls. I was behaving like a hack and didn’t even know it. I often look at what magazines are looking for and then try to write a story that meets that requirement.
Looking for a 2,000 word short story about vampires? I’ll try that.
How about a 10,000 word story with a LGBT sci-fi theme? Worth a shot.
Does your magazine only publish stories of exactly 3,798 words that include a character name Dilman and takes place at Burning Man in the year 2123 while space aliens team up with Bigfoot to take over Atlantis? Cool, let’s see what I can pump out.
While these prompts can be good practice (maybe… or am I just trying to justify things?), using this technique I have produced and submitted exactly one piece of writing. One. Uno. Eins.
They haven’t inspired shit but they have taken away from the stories that are in my head. So, I’m going to do my best and really just tell my stories, do my work, and then submit what I have if/when it seems appropriate. I am going to stop looking for an audience.
Interestingly (or terrifyingly), most “real” jobs actually require you to be a hack. Your audience, whether it is your boss or a customer, determines what you do and create. Your artist is intentionally stifled, it is buried down and muted in order to make others happy. It is no wonder that so many people (myself included) get done with a day of working and don’t have the energy to paint, write, exercise, or parent; who we are and who we can become are put into a “temporary” coma every day and we expect (hope) that it will wake up ready to roll in the evening. I think it is no coincidence that one piece of near universal advice is to create art in the morning before your job. Wake up early and do your Work before you go to work. There is just no way you can get back after 9+ hours of commuting, suppression, and commuting, and then wake the Muse up.
Be who you are first and then be a hack to survive, or else you will never be who you are and will live your whole life a hack.
There are four questions in the pages that I read that I’ve decided to try and answer. I live so much of my life, especially my writing, kind of randomly and spur of the moment, I rarely sit down and try to figure things out in a concrete way. I usually just make a decision after a few moments of reflection, which has some benefits but has also held me back. This is an attempt to bring something more than that instinct to my writing.
- What do I myself want to write? It is funny, I’ve never really asked myself this question when it comes to my fiction writing. I write whatever the fuck I want here on my blog and on Facebook, but for some reason it never occurred to me to examine this question for my fiction. I want to write sci-fi stories that tackle socio-economic-political-religious issues. I want them to be fairly optimistic about the future of technology and society. I also want to write fantasy stories based here on Earth that are rich and have some consistent realism about them. I also want all of my stories to reflect some of my own experiences from the military, a conservative upbringing, bisexuality, nomadic travels, etc.
- What do I think is important? I think it is important to provide an optimistic, if not utopian, view of where the world is going and what we could become. I think it is important to provide a realistic view of what war is and an environment that allows for representation of people who are rarely found within sci-fi and fantasy, especially with regard to sexual orientation, non-monogamy, and gender identity. Representation matters.
- What’s my territory? Pressfield talks about the difference between living hierarchical and territorial, and artists should be the latter. My territory right now is when I’m running, when I’m blogging, and when I’m giving advice or thoughts about sex and relationships. I want to expand my territory to pull all those things into a more united territory that I live professionally.
- If I were the last person on earth, would I still operate in those territories? Running and exercising? Yes, I’d still do that. That isn’t a huge part of my identity right now but it is becoming increasingly important to me. Blogging? Yeah, I’d still do that. Sex and Relationship Advice? Hmm, that might be difficult without an audience but I’d probably still heavily read and research and think about it. Finally, would I still write fiction? Would I keep moving into that territory? Yes. In fact, I think I’d do it more. I’ve been thinking too much about an audience, I need to just write. I need to do my Work, which is a concept I’m still trying to internalize 160 pages into “The War of Art”.
Well, that’s where my brain is at 6am on Wednesday morning. Now it is time to do some of my Work (running) and then come back to do more of my Work (writing) and then go do my job.
Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions: pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”