First Contact

Ultrasound of twins at 6 weeks (not mine, fyi!)
Question of the week (for me) -- when do people have first contact with their children? I may have seen mine very early on, when I was only about 6 weeks pregnant. I saw two blobs on an ultrasound image, anyway. But was that them--Becky and Sam? 

One thing seems pretty clear--it's not until 20 weeks gestation (very roughly, and at the very least) that a fetus starts to be conscious, so there are no "selves" on the scene before then.  Whatever I saw on the ultrasound at 6 weeks, it wasn't a self.

Another thing seems clear--it takes some pretty advanced properties (e.g. self-awareness) to be a full-fledged person.  It's doubtful that there's a person on the scene until some point after birth.  So whatever I saw on the ultrasound, it was neither a self, nor a person. 

That doesn't directly answer the question, though.  Granted what I saw via ultrasound wasn't a self or a person, it could still have been one of my kids -- i.e. one of my kids before they became selves or persons.

One line of thinking says that makes perfectly good sense.  Over time, we take on and lose lots of properties.  One and the same individual will be a child over part of his lifespan, but an adult over another part.   You're a non-parent for the first many years of your life, and then perhaps become a parent.  You can start off not being an American citizen, and then become a citizen. At some point you may become a lawyer or a doctor or a novelist. 

The fact that a property is profoundly important, making you in some sense who you are, once you have it, doesn't mean that it's literally an essential property--one that you can't exist without.  Not all of our important attributes are "born again" attributes--ones that make a new entity exist, once they come on the scene. So it's not out of the question that the very same individual existed as a zygote, later becoming a self, and still later becomes a person ... an adult, a parent, a citizen, a lawyer, etc. 

Another line of thinking says that once a locus of consciousness (a "self") comes on the scene, there's a new entity there that didn't exist before. Selfhood is indeed a "born again" property: when it emerges, a whole new entity emerges. Or you might say no to that, but yes to personhood being that sort of property.  You might think that whenever a person comes on the scene--a locus of self-awareness--a new entity exists. The old entity--the fetus, immature infant, whatever--is replaced by a numerically different entity, a second entity. 

On the second view, Sam only existed when his locus of consciousness existed (or his locus of self-awareness), so I didn't have first contact when I saw his heartbeat on the ultra-sound image. That wasn't Sam, and the other blob wasn't Becky.

The first view says the change from being a fetus to being a self or person is like metamorphosis.  When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, one entity isn't replaced by a second entity. This is just change.  Butterflies might be ever so proud of being able to fly (if they could think about it), but they have to live with the fact that once they were caterpillars. Similarly, as profound as it is to be a person or self, selves and person were once upon a time zygotes.

The second views says the change from being a zygote to being a self, or from being an immature infant to being a person, is more like the moment in the fairytale when the frog become the prince.  The prince is (presumably) a whole new entity, not the same entity with new properties.  Only with human development, we have a better scientific understanding of how the dramatic changes takes place. The brain matures to the point that the "lights" are on, and then later the brain supports the power of self-awareness.

The first view is associated with the "animalist" account of personal identity--the view that says humans are essentially organisms.  The second view is associated with the Lockean psychological continuity account of personal identity, the one that most philosophers today accept.  I'm leaning toward ...

No, I won't say!  More on these things later in the week.


faust said...

Nice summation. I look forward to hearing your "conclusions," insofar as one can ever get settled on such a perplexing set of questions.

It seems to me self evident that a "new entity" comes on the scene at least in some sense. What is not clear to me is how to stop the slide from that into a series of successive and disconnected "new entities." At least I don't see how that slide cannot be objectively stopped.

Justin said...

Funny, I always thought that in the fairy tales, the frog and the prince WERE supposed to be the very same entity, just changing in characteristics like skin color and leg length. If they weren't the same entity, it wouldn't make sense for the prince to thank the princess for kissing him, but (at least to me) this does make sense.

The way I read the fairy tales, there was also Lockean psychological continuity between frog and prince too. Perhaps a better example would be God turning clay into Adam? For me, at least, this evokes much stronger two-entity intuitions, perhaps because of the lack of psychological continuity.

Jean Kazez said...

Hmm, I definitely didn't read the story as involving Lockean psychological continuity. Surely the prince can't remember glopping around in the marsh catching flies, can he? That's what I was thinking, anyway. But maybe we are supposed to think of the prince and the frog as the same individual, beneath it all, like in reincarnation, where you come back as a cat and can't remember your past life as a human being. If such things could happen, it would be big trouble for all sorts of views of personal identity ... but OK, maybe that's what's going on in the fairy tale. So yes--that might not have been the best example involving two separate entities. I like the clay becoming Adam as an alternative, though clay is more "stuff" than a single entity.