Parallel Selves – Is The Happiness Of Another You Worth Your Own Sacrifice? [Part 1]

Miku Hatsune Parallel Selves

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.

Angel Kanade Tachibana Beats anime


Scenario A

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?   ______________________________________________________________

Psyduck Pokemon

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!

Part 2


About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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13 Responses to Parallel Selves – Is The Happiness Of Another You Worth Your Own Sacrifice? [Part 1]

  1. lifesongsoa says:

    Oh, you are asking me to be a real nerd here. Okay, I’ll bite.

    I’ve given this some thought, but it’s something of a conundrum. I don’t know what a me without memories would do. I can only tell you what a me with my memories would do.

    If signing that paper meant simply having a second set of memories and I had the option to be both that person and myself? I would need my current memories to have any faith that I would chose to take both, but if I did(which completely breaks your scenario I know) have that much information I can’t see myself saying no, unless it’s risky. I probably wouldn’t sign that paper at all without more information, it smells like a trap.

    I also can’t say with any confidence that a me without memories wouldn’t say yes without asking for more information. I can’t help feeling like that wouldn’t really be me at all in the first place which makes the question hard to answer. Would I feel guilty? Maybe, but it probably wouldn’t effect my choice, would he feel guilty? I’ve no idea.

    If it wasn’t a risky process and I wouldn’t lose anything I can’t imagine saying no. If I had no other way to gain information… I would still probably say no unless I was given a good reason. I’ve never been one to trust anything I haven’t experienced for myself. It’s impossible for me to know what I would do if I couldn’t access that experience.

    I think anyone who spends as much time as I do on fiction wonders what it would be like to be someone else, that’s part of the appeal that fiction has after all. However, if I can’t still be myself? Well I guess it would take something tragic like losing all my memories to agree to it. Say I knew that I would keep my current memories and get my old ones back… If the me without memories is like I am then I imagine he would say yes.

    Lets imagine that for whatever reason this paper was given to me before whatever caused my memory loss. I’m breaking your scenario again, but I can say with confidence that I would say yes to that. Who I am now doesn’t really care about the me who wasn’t me for a year. On the flip side… If the me that was someone else for a year knew that, I would expect them to say no, equal opportunity backstabbing and all that, or to say yes under pressure.

    Sorry I didn’t really answer your question at all. In the end, I’ve no idea what a me without my memories would do, interesting question though.

    • Silvachief says:

      One of the issues with this scenario is that it’s interpreted differently by most people. Without your memories do you have enough of a “self” to possess self-interest? Just how much of you remains? What remains constant is that we can only speculate about what such a version of ourselves would be like and what they would do, which is really all i’m looking for.

      The idea that I had in mind was that the you involved in the scenario might be thought of as a separate entity and that the doctor didn’t want to say anything more because he didn’t want to encourage this separate entity to take the body of another person. So in a sense I guess you’re right in saying the the consent form is indeed a trap.

      What’s interested me about a lot of the responses is that nobody seems to care about the little sister. I’ll wait until next week to post my response but the lone family member is a big deal for me.

      Breaking the scenario is fine as long as it allows you to explore other lines of thought. The issue i’ve had is that some people have responded with “according to my thinking your scenario doesn’t work so i’m not answering”.

      • lifesongsoa says:

        It’s not that I don’t care about the little sister.(I have have several younger sisters in real life…) I just know my judgement wouldn’t be changed on something so central to who I am.

        Hearing your take on the question though I can say that yes I would sign. I would do it out of a more selfish desire though. I would do it because I want to know what this other person was. I wouldn’t need a better motivation than that. I don’t think that is necessarily the right answer for everyone and I certainly don’t mind fictional characters who pick differently, it’s mine.

        To put it anther way, if you could give me the memories of someone else right now and add them to mine I would probably take you up on that just to satisfy my curiosity. Maybe that someone else has a younger sister and she misses her brother, but there is no way for him to recover. With that in mind, lets say I’m the only one who could take on those memories because of (insert fictional medical reason here.) Would I knowingly take on the burden of experience that belongs to someone else knowing that their baggage would come with it? I’ll have you know that I do pause before answering… I think I would say yes.(in before this is the plot of an incest light novel… actually, I would read that… >_>)

        On another note, I kind of like how ambiguous the question is. It makes the possible answers to it more interesting I think.

        • Silvachief says:

          Keep in mind that the doctor “can’t, or perhaps won’t” answer your questions about whether this new you’s memories and sense of self will remain afterwards. For all you know the treatment will reset you back to the person you were before the accident, effectively wiping out the individual that resulted from your amnesia.

          The idea of having another person’s memory’s alongside your own is an interesting one and was sort of what I was getting at with the third set of questions. Would these two sets of memories exist separately, with two personalities to go along with them, or would an entirely new personality originating from the combined memories result? I think I would be too scared to find out, if it were me, especially if it were something offered to me as I am now. If it were the only way to access the memories and experience of a dead/dying scientist that had discovered some miracle cure for death? Maybe then I would consider it.

          As a side note, I also would read the described novel XD

          • lifesongsoa says:

            Yeah, it’s really hard to say for sure without having more answers. I would need to know or at least think that “I” would be okay first, but if I were confident of that? I would do it.

            • Silvachief says:

              And if you had been told straight-up that “you” would be okay? Then it becomes more of a question of whether you are comfortable taking what has up until now been somebody else’s life, or even if you see it that way at all.

  2. 名前のない少年 says:

    “I’m already aware of a number of holes in the concept”
    This is an understatement. The whole your concept makes no sense. As to why – you know where to read about it.

    • Silvachief says:

      I believe your comment was this one, right?

      “Can’t be answered. Without significant amount of memories that person will no longer be me, who writes this post right now and I can’t predict his actions. That would probably depend on how much I can remember. But if I don’t remember anything, I think there are more chances that he’ll sign it. Maybe not… Edit: this question probably can answer only the one who lost his memory for real.
      It’s been an entire year now since you woke up. – That person is not me. No answer can be given.”

      As i’ve mentioned before, both in the thread that was posted in and on this page: no, we can’t know for sure what would happen. The objective of my questions are to guide speculation and discussion. There are a number of things that we can’t possibly know, but that doesn’t make them any less interesting to think about.

      Your suggestion that the question become: “If everything I describe in Scenario A will happen to a protagonist of the story X, what would you (as a viewer/reader) like to see him doing?” is a fair one but is different to the one I have asked. If I were to extend my question to include the implicit ideas behind it, it would be something more like: “Given your own interpretation of the importance of memory to an individual’s sense of self and ability to function and make decisions, what do you -think- you would do in this situation?”. The reason I didn’t specify that is, as Lifesongsoa mentioned above, because the ambiguity of the original question invites different takes on what is being asked to be explored.

  3. 123 says:

    I can attempt to give an answer to this, but I don’t think it’s one of those things which I could answer unless I was actually in the situation.

    So, I find out I’ve got amnesia. “The doctor can’t, or perhaps won’t, answer your question.” OK I’m picking holes here, but I can’t believe there would be an approved treatment where they don’t know what the effects were. Let’s ignore that for now though. I imagine I would be quite distressed by my lack of memories, so I would guess I would sign the form. But that’s assuming that I have a similar personality/thought process to my current-as-of-writing self. I don’t really know much about psychology, but I wonder how much of my decision making process is influenced by memories and experienced. This also depends on what the extent of the amnesia was.

    I would think it would be hard to get by in the world with no sense of who you are, so that’s probably another reason to sign. Also, regarding the ‘What will happen to the me that I am now?”, the amnesia-ed me wouldn’t have any experiences, so I’m not sure if that would concern me.

    But yeah overall I have no idea really :-). Just some rambling. I might just leave it there, I’m even less sure about the next two scenarios.

    • Silvachief says:

      As for the approved treatment thing, obscure treatments like this one would be eventually need to be tested on patients themselves for disease-related effects after they’ve been deemed to have no horrific short-term effects on normal people. Doctors would normally be a lot more forthcoming on the information though 😉

      As for not knowing, that’s only to be expected because we really can’t know. The conclusion that a you without memories wouldn’t be self-aware enough to care about what happens to them is also a fair conclusion. The difficulty of effectively starting from scratch without knowing anyone is also a good point.

  4. Kai says:

    Oddly, for such an ambiguous situation, my choices seem clear. Let’s first consider the outcomes of both choices.

    If you choose to sign the form and regain your former memories before the blow to your head, you will gain your former “self”. What’s more, your cute little imouto won’t be alone and you need not “act” to be someone else.

    But then, if you choose not to sign your form – it’s more about deconstructing and reconstructing your very self. After the blow to your head, you lose your name, personality and identity of the previous “self”. So if you choose not to sign it, you will have to reconstruct your own identity. In the meantime, you also have to lie to everyone else with your reconstructed identity.

    Seeing the outcomes, I can’t see any merits in not choosing to sign it, you lose more than you gain it. Besides that, you are pretty much a newborn after the accident, what with the lack of identity, knowledge and experience, so I can’t see anything to lose by losing this “second” identity.

    The third choice seems like even more of an obvious, miraculous choice and the best of both worlds, lol.

    But then again, I’m totally speaking from a third person here. Perhaps I may feel and act differently if I actually experienced the phenomenon, which is unlikely.. anyway.

    • Silvachief says:

      I also felt my choices were clear, though that may be because I wrote the questions XD

      You’ve touched on something that others haven’t with the concept that, whether you view yourself as a separate individual or not, rebuilding your life would be really quite difficult. Would you try to fit in with the people the previous you knew or try and make your own friends? That kind of thing.

      Also I think you’re the first response that liked the option of merging both memories. Out of interest, although you would have already signed to begin with, what do you see coming out of signing after that final question? Is it the individual before the accident with a few extra memories tacked on? Two personalities co-existing? Or perhaps a new personality formed by the combination of memories?

  5. Kai says:

    That’s actually pretty hard to answer, since it’s not something I can only answer with accuracy unless I actually experienced it, lol. But if I were to speculate, the “individual before the accident with just a few extra memories tacked on” perhaps? I don’t know how old is the character in person here, but I assume he’s at least 10 years old. I think a personality constructed in just one year wouldn’t be able to take over the personality constructed in ten years (or more if the character is older) – so it’s just a few more memories, or perhaps possibility, just a few more minor traits tacked on. Well, unless something out-of-this-world happened during the “second” personality that forces a shift in his personality to one opposite end of the spectrum..

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