It is not easy trying to understand the relationship between time and identity. I remember a problem formulated by one of my philosophy professors while in school: Suppose that a wooden ship named Victoria, which once sailed around the world, is put into renovation in the center of a market-place. For one reason or another, various planks and pieces of wood are gradually removed from the ship and replaced by new ones-until one day not a single bit of the original wood remains in the old ship.
Questions about personal identity
The questions that arise are: what ship do we see in the market-place? Is still the ship named Victoria there or another ship? The new ships is identical to the old ship Victoria or not?
And suppose that we use the pieces of old ship to rebuild another one in a different town. Is the new ship built there Victoria because is made of Victoria’s wood? Which of the two ships -the one in the market-place or the one in another town – is the ‘original’ ship, the one which sailed around the world?
The example about the ship can be extended to raise a question about our identity. Am I today the same person I was 7 years ago, supposing my old cells were replaced with new ones? What exactly identity consists of?
Some philosophers would say that our identity resides in our memories, experiences. But what happens if some memories are lost due to a degradation of the brain? Or simple we forget about?
And how many memories does anybody need in order to talk about forming his/her personal identity? Does a child have a well-establish personal identity or no
Philosophical positions on personal identity
When confronted with examples and questions such as these, Richard Grandy, a well-known philosopher believes there is some tendency to take refuge in one or another of several familiar philosophical positions, some extreme ones among which are:
“(1) Change is an illusion. Nothing really ever changes.
(2) The world really consists of imperishable substances or substrata, which in the course of change acquire and lose characteristics.
( 3) The world really consists of momentary entities (events?) none of which exists, or, perhaps, even can exist, over a period of time, and change consists in the succession of some of these by others.
(4) The world really consists of space-time ‘worms’ which overlap here and then, share ‘temporal slices’.
(5) There is no concept of identity tout court. Identity is always relativized to a concept. When we think of things as being the same, we must always be going on to specify: the same what.” (Philosophical Grounds of Rationality)
What do you think about this problem?