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Reduction to Open Individualism

by Iacopo Vettori - September 2016

Introduction: A roadmap to Open Individualism

The aim of this paper is to summarize the problems of personal identity, examining the current theories and their defects, and comparing their answers with those of a theory whose believers are a minority at this time, although this theory is the only one that can coherently manage all these problems. The theory is called “Open Individualism”, named so by Daniel Kolak in his book I Am You, published by Springer, Synthese Library, in 2004, and can be considered a modern version of Monopsychism, which can be traced back to Siger of Brabant, Averroes, and Aristotle.

The modern version does not require an appeal to God as the ancient theory does, nor does it require us to accept anything weirder than what is already required by the concurrent theories to manage personal identity in some exceptional cases, like teletransport or perfect copying or surgical brain splitting, that we will discuss later. Notwithstanding this, this theory is not very popular because it is contrary to common sense, so to evaluate it as viable it is necessary to be ready to overcome some of our biases and consider many factors together, many of them currently in dispute in the philosophical community. Here I will try to present them in a straightforward way, thereby building a Roadmap to Open Individualism which the reader may follow to gain a quick understanding of the reasons to adopt this Theory. Along with many arguments that have already been discussed by philosophers, I occasionally propose my own personal views and observations. I do not expect to be exhaustive or fully convincing. Take them as suggestions about some issues that I think are useful to consider in the wider discussion.

Because the terminology in this discussion is fundamental, let me introduce the terms I will use in this paper. An individual is a generic term to indicate a single human being but is not limited to human beings; it may refer to any other material entity that you may accept as having a mind. I can also use the term people in the same sense. Every individual has their own first-person point of view on the world. This view is subjective, and this is why I also use the term subject as synonymous with individual, but to be more accurate I should specify it as a physical subject, because subject can be also used with the meaning of minded subject, as we will see in a moment. The term personality indicates the sum of psychological traits and other characteristics that every individual has and that distinguishes one individual from another. These characteristics make different individuals different persona, or different characters in a theatrical sense. Individuals differ in many aspects, but all of them have in common the ability to think; this is not a part of personality. The term person is used to indicate the owner of the mind of an individual, the subject that is thinking, the minded subject, where the term subject here is not intended as a physical subject, but as a mental subject. It is also called the conscious subject, because the experience of having a mind is attained by being conscious. Kolak calls it the subject-in-itself, the subject of the intuition “I am I” and identifies it with consciousness. Sometimes it is also referred to as the self, or the inner self, to indicate a level of you deeper that your ego, which instead represents the level influenced by your personality. The person is generally supposed to have a definite identity, which is called personal identity. Open Individualism asserts that despite the fact that there exist many individuals with many different personalities, their personal identity does not change, so all of them are actually the very same person. This is why Kolak entitled his book I Am You.

To be clear, Open Individualism regards our experience of being conscious and aware as a phenomenon that does not take a different identity every time it exists, despite the fact that it occurs simultaneously in the world in many separate individuals. Me and you and everybody else living in this moment are actually different conscious living beings, but our personal identities are not more different than your identity of today compared with your identity of yesterday. There exist differences between individuals, but they are all formal differences, not substantial. Every other living being is a different version of you, in the way that you might see yourself as many different people in a hall of mirrors, or in the way that you could meet yourself at a different stage of your life. You should see everybody else as though they are different incarnations of your very same inner self.

The best metaphor for this view is to regard the world as a movie where every character is played by the very same actor, each time so deeply involved in playing the character as to forget everything else about any other role. You may figure out how it is possible to do this in a movie, with skillful editing, but it is much more difficult to conceive that this can actually happen to all our lives. There are many reasons indeed for this difficulty, but primarily it is because of our lives taking place in overlapping times. In this metaphor, the terms individual, physical subject and ego refer to a single character; the term personality refers to the psychological traits of a single character; the terms person, mental subject, subject-in-itself and inner self refer to the actor who plays all the roles.

I want immediately to point out that this view differs substantially from the view of many old-age and new-age religions that preach the reaching of a spiritual unity with some “global soul”, or “the soul of God” or whatever. All these views imply that we are separate pieces of that “big soul”, wishing to re-join with it, but in the meantime, each of them has their separate identity. Open Individualism does not claim that we should dissolve our personal identities into a “big soul”, primarily because it denies the existence of any separate identity. To be one with the “soul of God”, knowing all and feeling heavenly, can be appealing, a beautiful dream, but it is not a promise of Open Individualism. Maybe one day, and maybe a day not too far in the future, we will use our technology to join together many brains to act as a single brain, melding many minds into a single mind. This will be very revealing and very useful to promote the Open Individualism View, but this does not mean that once they die, everybody will experience a mind state of global awareness and harmony with the universe. Open Individualism is not a spiritual doctrine, it is a philosophical theory that has to be discussed in a rational way. And actually, I think that it is the ultimate conclusion that any reductionist theory must acknowledge.

Here I will try to examine step by step the problems that the theories of personal identity have to face, and give evidence that there exists a reasonable combination of answers that together form a framework based on Open Individualism, able to solve all these problems. Daniel Kolak in his book I Am You names the currently widely accepted view “Closed Individualism”, where everybody has their own personal identity, meaning that there are closed borders that definitely separate persons. There exists another view promoted by Derek Parfit and others that we will discuss later, which Kolak named “Empty Individualism”. Together with Open Individualism, these views of personal identity allow us to classify every kind of theory. The existence of a complete and coherent solution based on Open Individualism poses a challenge to every concurrent theory: they have to be able to supply a similar framework, or at least they have to find some fundamental failure in the framework of Open Individualism. Otherwise, we have to acknowledge that Open Individualism is more advanced than the others. The consequences for each individual and for the whole of society will be amazing, irreversible and extremely important.


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