A couple of editorials ago I talked about the concept of the past and future selves and asked whether it’s something you yourself think about. It’s one thing to consider and be considerate of the person you once were and the person you will one day be, but what if you were to encounter an entirely separate you that you could talk to and interact with? How about a separate you whose life you can somehow change without the ability to communicate with them? Or maybe even a separate you that doesn’t exist yet? Given a situation in which it’s you or them, which of those selves is more important?
While those questions alone are rather vague, they represent an interesting idea that pops up in storytelling every now and then that takes on many forms but always presents the same conundrum: Is the happiness of the other you worth your own life? It would be a little dreary to harp on about my own opinion for the rest of the article, so instead I’m going to provide an example scenario revolving around memory loss for you to whet your teeth on (I felt it was appropriate considering my last editorial). This is only one of a number of relevant scenarios; if you guys like it enough I’ll write up another one.
Before you read on, however, keep in mind that this scenario isn’t supposed to be fool-proof. I’m already aware of a number of holes in the concept but because this is more about philosophical thinking than hole-poking I’m going to leave them there.
Waking up in an unfamiliar room, you survey the scene around you. You’re not entirely sure how you got there, nor where you even are or what your name is. A man in a white coat enters and suddenly it hits you: this is a hospital. You discover that you’ve taken a blow to your head and have lost your memory. The doctor goes on to explain that your case of amnesia is a special one and that they have a new treatment that will allow you to regain your memory instantly; all you have to do is sign the consent form.
“But wait,” You ask, ‘What will happen to the me that I am now? Will I forget? Will I just disappear?”
The doctor can’t, or perhaps won’t, answer your question.
Do you sign?
Or do you take this life for yourself?
Sensing your distress, the doctor folds up the consent form and places it in your shirt pocket.
“Take some time to think about it,” He says, “In the meantime your…or rather, his family is here to see you.”
As the doctor finishes speaking a young girl enters the room, tears in her eyes as she dashes toward you.
“I was so worried!” She says, her voice hoarse. “I didn’t know what I was gonna do if something really terrible had happened! With Mom and Dad gone…you’re the only one I have left…”
She goes to bury her face in your chest, looking hurt when you jump back in surprise. You’ve never met this girl before, yet you seem to be very important to her.
Does the form in your pocket feel heavy?
Does the fact that whether this girl loses her last remaining family member lies entirely within your hands weigh it down?
It’s been an entire year now since you woke up. Your first birthday, as it were. Somehow you’ve managed to insert yourself into your body’s previous owner’s life. People attribute any differences to the shock of your head injury; it takes a long time to recover from these things, they tell themselves. As you leave your room and head for the shower, careful not to wake his sister in the next room over, the phone rings. It’s the doctor.
“While you might not believe me when I say this, we’ve developed a new treatment which will return your old memories while retaining your new ones. I know you hesitated the first time round, but now we can get you back to normal without any side effects!”
You’ve kept that consent form with you ever since that day as a constant reminder of the life you’re borrowing. Wait…borrowing? Is that really how you feel about it?
How do you feel now? Is that form burning a hole in your pocket or are you just about ready to throw it away? The opportunity has arisen for the creation of a third version of yourself. Is it the best of both worlds, or yet another stranger with a claim to your body? ______________________________________________________________
That’s it for Scenario A. Next week I’ll be posting up another scenario along with everyone’s responses to this one. If you have any suggestions for other scenarios, don’t hesitate to let me know!