Friday, August 13, 2010

Kripke, Me and the Queen of England

I'm reading Naming and Necessity by Saul Kripke. He has now come to a section where he is trying to discuss essentials if any there be, or some such. He uses the example of the Queen of England which at the time of his lectures in the early Seventies was also Elizabeth II. He wonders whether if the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, had different parents would she still be Elizabeth II. His answer is no. This comes from his notion of names as "rigid designators" such that when we talk about counterfactual situations involving the object named we are still talking about that object. Thus we can say that in some possible outcome of history, Elizabeth II would not have been Queen of England, but we cannot say that this person Elizabeth II would have in some possible world been the son of American parents. Such a person is simply not the same person as Elizabeth the II. It is like this desk, if it were made of some completely different substance, would it still be this desk, or to speak of possible worlds, could I say that in some possible world this very desk I sit at would have been made of ice? The answer is no. It would not then be this very desk. This very desk might in some world never have been made or wound up elsewhere than in this space. It might also be the case that in some possible world I would not me sitting at this desk but another. But then that desk would not be this desk, it would be the desk I sit at to write this. In any event if I am talking about what would happen to this desk in other scenarios, it is still this desk, but if I describe an object of completely different origins and materials, then I am not talking about this desk. And so with Queens of England.

Here's my problem, and it is a problem I realize that I have been contemplating since early childhood in one form or another. What if I had been not been born of my parents? If I take Kripke's view I believe all that I can say is that in some possible world, or alternative states of affairs, I would not have existed, but to talk about myself as having different parents is a contradiction. It is not me I am talking about but someone completely different.

(I haven't finished the book yet, so I don't know if Kripke deals with this, but since it brought back memories of trying to solve this particular problem while sitting in a tree in my parent's backyard I thought I'd blog it quickly-- maybe after half a century I will get close to the answer or just actually elucidate the problem)

Now it is easy, though in Kripke's view it may be wrong, to think of me being born elsewhere, in other times and places, or another nationality or different parents etc. but the harder reflection is this: if I was not this particular system that I am, would I be conscious of being someone else. If the molecules that make me, never made me, still there are molecules that make someone else, some other system of molecules is conscious of having an individual identity over time, who exactly feels that consciousness? Someone. Would I be feeling that? In other words would the consciousness that would arise from this collection of molecules, which may never have existed arise somewhere else? Somewhere somehow there arises a conscious being, if it is not this conscious being that is writing now, do I feel like I am that person (not this person, me, in that person's body, but that person as that person and no one else). Some set of molecules is in this view feeling this unique consciousness, but if I am not around maybe that molecular experience goes somewhere else. How to explain this vague intuition I had as a child? Back then I assumed if I wasn't born to my parents I would have been born someone else, but it still would have been me, even though I was someone else. But I also wondered if I hadn't been born me, would I have been everybody? Enough, I must sleep.

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