Time Traveller Convention

Students at MIT are the hosts for the time travellers’ convention scheduled for May 7th, 2005 10:00 pm EDT. We’re looking forward to having seen you there…

This actually comes from a book I’ve been reading, Philosophy Through Science Fiction by Ryan Nichols, Nicholas D. Smith, and Fred Miller (New York: Routledge, 2009). The publication date presumably provides further confirmation that time travel is possible.

The book is in many ways a standard introduction to philosophy, illustrated with examples from science fiction and incorporating stories and excerpts in that genre. Obviously for a number of subjects in philosophy (from mind to the nature of time to free will to epistemology), sci-fi has explored countless thought experiments that are relevant, and so the combination of the two in a textbook makes good sense. And the book, in addition to covering the standard topics, also addresses “the fetus problem” in the context of personal identity. The problem, in a nutshell, is that a fetus at one point was not capable of psychological states, and yet the “Standard View” of personal identity understands it in terms of psychological continuity. The result seems to be that it is impossible for a person to have once been a fetus! See pp.339-349 for the fascinating discussion of this subject, which is not regularly incorporated into philosophy courses.

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  • re: the fetus/personal identity issueThis is a really fascinating issue. Are any of us really even the same persons that we were when we were 2- or 5- or 10- or 20-years-old, much less when we were fetuses? I think the Buddha and Hume would dispense with the problem by saying that we are mistaken in believing that we are actually enduring selves: there is no such entity as a continually existing person; rather, we are just ephemeral bundles of personality traits, behaviors, and beliefs–all of which change and evolve over time.