Although rare, Capgras is of interest because understanding it could shed light on the normal processes by which people recognize people. To decide that you are in the presence of your wife, not a stranger who bears an uncanny resemblance to your wife, is to make a personal identity judgement. We make them all the time, usually automatically and effortlessly with people we know well, sometimes with effort when we struggle to place a familiar face encountered in an unusual setting. An understanding of how beliefs about personal identity can go so spectacularly wrong in Capgras and related disorders may afford insight into the ordinary intuitions we rely on to recognize other people and ourselves. (more…)
Archive for the ‘Capgras’ Category
I do not expect a theory of personhood to match all our pre-reflective philosophical intuitions, even if deeply considered and strongly felt (especially if strongly felt!) for two reasons: (1) our best intuitions on this subject are demonstrably unreliable, and (2) billions of otherwise sane and competent people hold beliefs about personal identity which are unsupported by empirical evidence, but to which they have strong emotional attachment. These two facts strongly suggest that there is something wrong with what we are naively inclined to believe about our identity. Hence we should not be surprised to find that a satisfactory solution, when it is found, will at first seem counter-intuitive. (more…)
Parfit’s Glass Tunnel
In the Introduction to this project, I said:
It’s the strong – and I believe, irrational – hold that the idea of the self has over us, and particularly its role in motivating action, that led me to characterize it as the ‘phantom self’. Like the Phantom of the Opera, the self has a powerful voice that demands to be obeyed. Like an amputee’s phantom limb, it is a vividly felt presence – but there is nothing really there.
It is time to flesh out that characterization.
No contemporary philosopher – perhaps no philosopher ever, in the West – has done more to break the phantom’s grip than Derek Parfit. In Reasons and Persons, Parfit argues persuasively that, although we are strongly inclined to believe that our continued existence is “a deep further fact, distinct from physical and psychological continuity”, that belief is not true. He goes on to describe the difference this philosophical conclusion made to his own life.
Is the truth depressing? Some may find it so. But I find it liberating, and consoling. When I believed that my existence was such a further fact, I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others. (RP p 281) (more…)