I really liked Dark City and Memento, and especially Memento. Let me explain why. I’ll try not to give too much away, but yeah, maybe you should watch it first. Actually, this entry won’t give anything away.

Uh, this entry’s kind of going to be philosophical. Meaning, dealing with stuff I learned in philosophy. Nothing difficult, I think, but it might be boring – I’m warning you ahead of time. I’m predicting that 0 people will read this all the way through without skipping.

A lot of times when I watch movies and I love them people don’t understand why I love them so much. And I don’t always do a good job in explaining that. But you know, that’s the cool thing about movies. It impacts everyone in such different, personal ways. I like that. It’s so dependent on your past experiences and influences and what you’re going through even then and that’s kind of cool to me.

I guess only xacto will ever understand why I like Pleasantville so much. Why I identify with the loser hero so much. And why I feel it’s so important that Christians not respond to things by trying to make them not exist, why I feel this is perhaps the biggest problem Christians have in dealing with the world and why I’m so vehement about it. But yeah, it’s just wrapped up in all these other experiences and thoughts I’ve had.

Anyway, I loved these movies because they both dealt with issues of memory and personal identity. Let me explain a bit.

So, the best grade I received on a paper at Stanford was a paper I did for a Philosophy class, and the subject was personal identity. I did well on this paper because it interested me a lot. I was very proud of it and showed it to my parents. Their reaction was, they could tell it was very good but they had absolutely no clue what I was saying.

Anyway, personal identity is a really interesting subject to me. The problem of personal identity is this. What is it that makes a person the same person through time? It’s a deeper problem than you might think. You say, Rod Stewart now is the same person as Rod Stewart 20 years ago. But why? It’s not that he’s the same physically. The makeup of our bodies is changing constantly, and there’s some statistic saying like there’s a complete turnover of cells every 7 years or something like that. So, the physical stuff, the cells and lower, that make up Rod Stewart today is totally different from the physical stuff that made him up 20 years ago. But we still say he’s the same person.

We could say it’s a physical continuity. Meaning, he’s not exactly the same physically now and then, but there’s line of physical continuity between him now and then. That’s why he’s the same person.

But this has problems also. What if someone gets a leg amputated? That leg has physical continuity with that person in the past, but we don’t rightly say that leg is the same person. I’m being absurd, but not completely – you can extend this as far as you want until you say it’s not really the body at all, but just the brain. So maybe it’s physical continuity of the brain that says whether it’s the same person. But then you still get into problems like frontal lobotomies. Is it just most of the brain that needs to have continuity? Where do you draw the line?

If you think about it, it’s really not the physical thing that matters but the stuff the brain makes up, the mind, whatever that is. This matches more what people think by “person.” So if somehow two people were able to switch minds (like in Freaky Friday), so that say Brad Pitt and Steve Buscemi switched minds, we’d say that the mind inhabiting Steve Buscemi’s body after is the same person that inhabited Brad Pitt before. So physical stuff doesn’t matter.

But then this has problems also. If the mind is more than a physical thing, how do you determine if it’s the same? Physical continuity isn’t enough, given the hypothetical mind switch. So what is it?

I won’t go into detail but what John Locke said, and what most ideas of personal identity are based on (as far as I know) is that the critical thing is memory. It’s memory that makes you the same person now as before. If you remember an experience in the past, then you’re the same person as when that experience happened. Memory’s the thing.

But this can’t be the sole determinant. Because our memories fade. So are we to say that we’re the same person as we were a year ago because we can remember that but not the same person as we were say 20 years ago? That doesn’t make sense. So what Locke concluded is that it’s a continuity of memories. Meaning, I can remember stuff that happened to me 5 minutes ago. And 5 minutes ago, I could remember stuff that happened to me 5 minutes previous. And so on. There’s a continuity of my memories that goes back pretty much indefinitely, and it’s that continuity that makes me the same person.

There are tons of issues with this, of course, which is what I find fascinating. Like, what about if you get drunk and have no recollection of what happened while you were drunk. Locke said some interesting stuff, like, you can’t punish him for when he was drunk because that wasn’t the same “person.” No continuity of memory. But you can punish him for getting drunk, since there’s continuity there. Very interesting.

Other issues also, including false memories and especially amnesia, which is of course the most fascinating phenomenon in regards to memory. If continuity of memory is the thing, then is an amnesiac a different person before/after the event? In a certain way, yes, this makes sense. But then you have problems of memories that return. But anyway, there are tons of issues with no clear answers, which is why it’s called the problem of personal identity. All of us have an idea of what it means to be the same person from one time to another. But if you think about it, it’s not at all clear what we’re basing that on and it’s a really confusing issue.

Even more interesting to me are the implications this has on us as Christians, but I’ll discuss this later.

So yeah, that in a nutshell is the problem of personal identity. Namely, we don’t really know what the criterion for personal identity is, how we can say that person A 5 years ago is the same “person” now. And the best criteria we can develop is fraught with problems.

I was also fortunate to have taken Cognitive Psych in college and this was also a super interesting class. One of my absolute favorites. But what we learned is, memory is a fragile thing. It’s easily manipulated, very often faulty, and changes through time. There’s almost no such thing as an accurate memory – everything is filtered and shaped. Just think of any experience you have ever had. Some activity you did. The only way it can be 100% accurate is if that memory is in first-person, because that’s the only experience you had. But we don’t remember things in first person. A lot of the time, it’s not even clear in what person our memory is. Point is, all our memories are synthesized, not just recorded, and that’s prone to much error.

Anyway, the movies both dealt with memory, and that’s fascinating to me because philosophers have found that memory is intimately linked to personal identity. So when you start talking about memory, you start talking about who a person is, and that’s a very interesting issue.

Why I liked Dark City can essentially come down to a single point I think the movie made, an interesting idea about memory. That idea is, there’s more to us than just our memories. Even if you were to take our memories away, the core of who we are remains. And not just personality. It’s not that we’d act the same, personality wise. It’s more fundamental than that. It’s that we’d be the same person, even without memories or with false ones. It’s that who we fundamentally are is bigger than just our memories.

But what could that possibly mean? I don’t know how you answer that question as a non-Christian. But to me that has interesting implications as a Christian.

I think I have some weird views, maybe not weird, but non-typical, views on Christianity and personal identity. Especially in regards to salvation. Like, the problems of personal identity are even bigger for the Christian, I think, because eternity hangs in the balance.

Like, what happens if a Christian gets irrevocable amnesia, after which they don’t believe in Christianity? Or the old person who becomes senile and doesn’t seem to coherently believe in Christianity? When I was taking that Philosophy class I’d pepper my dad with questions like these because it seems problematic. Are they saved? How is that possible? And if they are saved, which personality goes to heaven? The before/after amnesiac/senile person? Or is it both? How? All these questions. I don’t know, maybe you can think about it.

I’ve got my own ideas now. The problem with what most people just take for granted is that there’s just one split, the mind and the body. Christian and non-Christian alike (although some non-Christians deny that there’s any useful distinction of a “mind” apart from the body). So for the Christian, what persists eternally, if it’s not the body, must be the mind, since that’s all that’s left.

And that’s why we have these problems. Because the mind changes, sometimes suddenly (e.g. with amnesia), sometimes gradually (senility). But it does change. And, especially if you’re more on the free-will side, this is a problem. Salvation depends on our minds “choosing” God, but if our minds can change, does that make our salvation tenuous? And again, we have the problem of which version of the person goes to heaven (or not). We all like to think that in heaven we’ll see the young, active, intellectually capable version of a person, not the old, senile, broken down version. We just assume that. But why should we? How is the former more the “person” that the latter?

In my mind, and I don’t know if I’m being either heretical or unique, maybe everyone thinks this already, but to me I think there’s more than one split. I think it’s something like the body (physical), the mind (personality, thinking, etc.) and something else, the soul. I have no idea what the soul is like. But I think it’s more fundamental than just your personality, stuff like that. This is the idea Dark City I think hints at that I extend further. It’s the thing that’s fundamentally us, beyond body or even memory/personality.

So then, those problems aren’t as much of problems. I first recognize the primacy of grace I think more than hard core free-willers. But yeah, it’s not the mind or personality that persists. It’s something more fundamental than that, it’s the soul. So, our bodies/minds/personalities change while on earth. But that’s not what’s saved. It’s our souls. And it’s our souls that are fundamentally us.

Anyway, I think it’s OK to believe this, partly because I think I’ve heard this before, but more importantly, because I think there’s some support for it in the Bible. Like Matthew 22:37 “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” That’s a bad example maybe because elsewhere there are 4 distinctions with this phrase.

Some verses are more direct. “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Notice the 3-part distinction of the self.

Also, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12. Separating the soul and spirit? What does this mean? Maybe I’m reading this wrong. But, it sounds like there is a distinction there.

Anyway, yeah, I’m not saying I’m positive this is true, I’m open to being wrong if the Bible says that, but I lean towards believing that there’s 3 parts to the person, body, mind and soul. And that this separate soul is what’s most fundamentally us. To me, this solves a lot of problems that just don’t make sense if we equate the mind and personality as being what’s us. Like, the amnesiac problem or the senile problem. Not a problem if you make the 3 part distinction; difficult otherwise. And, that’s an idea Dark City hints at that I find absolutely fascinating.

Whoa, I wrote a bunch. Uh, I’ll have to write about Memento next time.

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