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Is memory-loss tantamount to death?

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    Due to circumstances in my life recently, I've been thinking about death alot. I think not about the horrors of dying, but the horrors of being dead. Now before anyone decides to be a smartass, I don't buy into the whole "a rational being cannot fear what it cannot feel" stuff; I enjoy being in existence, thank you very much.

    So I've tried to pinpoint what it is exactly about death that scares me so much. And it basically just comes down to me no longer being myself!

    And then that brought me to this train of thought. In a sense, for me, losing all my memories is just as scary as dying. If I lost all my memories and were dumped somewhere random in the world where none of my family/friends could find me, I would effectively be a new person - and this thought scares me just as much.

    What do you guys think?
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    Yep, death is scary. I spend a lot of time thinking about why it scares me too. My usual reaction is to try and avoid thinking about it before my head implodes. :dontknow:
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    (Original post by lifeisgood.)
    Due to circumstances in my life recently, I've been thinking about death alot. I think not about the horrors of dying, but the horrors of being dead. Now before anyone decides to be a smartass, I don't buy into the whole "a rational being cannot fear what it cannot feel" stuff; I enjoy being in existence, thank you very much.

    So I've tried to pinpoint what it is exactly about death that scares me so much. And it basically just comes down to me no longer being myself!

    And then that brought me to this train of thought. In a sense, for me, losing all my memories is just as scary as dying. If I lost all my memories and were dumped somewhere random in the world where none of my family/friends could find me, I would effectively be a new person - and this thought scares me just as much.

    What do you guys think?
    You've brought up a really interesting discussion here - I'm disappointed that the responses don't reflect that, to be honest. I do wonder why there is a 'Philosophy' sub forum in which people either (a) talk pseudo philosophy (would people post uneducated/poorly thought responses in a physics sub forum or a history sub forum? No? So why do people generally think it's okay to have wishy washy thoughts in the Philosophy sub forum? It ain't cool).
    Or (b) someone raises a real philosophical discussion and is met with childish responses or unengaging responses. Baffles me. Anyhow...[/rant]

    This theme of whether or not a person continues to exist after loss of memory/mental faculties has been discussed for years and years. It is still a topic in undergrad philosophy degrees today. It covers quite a broad range of things from alzheimer's, dementia, brain damage (severe and less severe), coma patients etc to physical/clinical death. One interesting thing is that you can split the brain into two parts and a human being can still function (pehaps to a lesser degree than previously, but they can still fuction - that's the crucial point) - so perhaps you are you actually two minds in one physical brain.

    If you read up on dualism/physicalism it might interest you. If you believe that you are wholly physical then yes, when your memories 'dissapear' then so will 'you' because memories are simply brain functions and on the theory of physicalism once your brain is worm food then that's it - 'you' are gone. But if you adopt a dualist outlook then your mind (which includes your memories) is something beyond the physical (what many religious people would call a 'soul') and continue to exist long after your skin and bones have rotted away.

    You are basically delving into the philosophy of mind - an absolutely fascinating area of philosophy.

    Regarding the 'horrors of being dead'- this is a different area of philosophy but it's related to your worry about losing memories. If you're scared of death itself (not the process of dying) then your reasons for this fear depend on your beliefs about what happens to you when you are dead i.e. whether you continue to exist in some non-physical form or not - hence it ties back to dualism (the belief that the mind and the body are seperate entities, hence your mind can exist without your body).

    Anyway, really cool topic. It's interesting stuff but I wouldn't let it worry you so much - you sound a bit disturbed by the loss of your mental 'self'. I suppose it is disturbing but I'd rather see it as something that we are not 100% sure about. For instance, as far as science is currently aware, 'loss of mind' will happen to all of us, either during our life (alzheimer's, brain damage etc) or once our bodies die (decomposition of the brain - destruction of what is the mind). But until we can prove (because we can't) that the mind is bound by the physical (the brain) and in time and space then we can't conclude that our minds cease to be when our bodies cease to be.

    Weird isn't it, that the existence of our mind feels timeless and eternal yet our bodies constantly feel vulnerable to the ravages of time?

    Rather than letting it get you down, I suggest you explore the philosophical ideas - this is a good start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philoso...93body_problem
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    This is a really interesting question.

    I think of it this way: The human brain is like a television through which we receive broadcast signals.

    The TV has a certain level of intelligence all on its own; it is programmable, it keeps time, it obeys commands from the remote. The brain is an amazing piece of machinery too. It's the command station for the physical body in which a person lives. But the brain also receives "signals" emanating from a separate source, like shows on the TV screen that are broadcast through the air via satellites in space.

    In other words, reincarnation is not like "you" die and then "you" are reborn in another body. The body is only a sort of house you live in during that one life. The existence of the real "you" is constant, like that satellite signal that beams life into the TV.

    To this Reincarnationist, having sudden and complete amnesia would mean that the machinery is breaking down, not the source of the signals itself. It could be seen as a sort of dying of the physical body, at least the part of the body that is in communication with the non-physical source of the individual.

    I think the missing piece in your question may be the realization that you DO remember your history in time, any incarnations you have experienced. How much you can recall consciously (through that human brain of yours) depends largely on how much you allow yourself to remember, or want to remember. There are a few good books on the how-to side, and bunches of bad ones.

    You must already know that past incidents unrecalled can still profoundly affect an individual in countless ways. What happened to you, even the things you can't consciously remember, influence your thoughts, your personality and the choices you make on a day-to-day basis. And that's the really important thing - you learn, you grow.

    As for me, I was born with memories intact of my last life. I don't know why, but I suspect part of it may be because I may have something important to "teach" others. I think most of us do.
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    Good question, and I will have to be brief because I don't have much time. Basically, I want to raise two points:

    1. somethingbeautiful rightly pointed out that you are afraid of "dying" rather than death and what that would mean. You mention how you would be afraid of not being yourself after memory loss, so I take it your main concern is that the possibilities that existed for your old self wouldn't apply anymore to your new self. Well, why do you think that is? Do you think that you wouldn't have the same emotional attachment to the people that you do now? That you would be interested in different things? That you would have to go through the hassle of having to rebuild yourself all over?

    2. The main thing to be aware of in my opinion, is what decisions you would be afraid of taking differently. If you find that some of these decisions you're only making because you're reluctant to assert yourself, or because you are in denial, you have to address this. Say that you love somebody, but you are afraid to pursue it because your parents won't allow it. You would face a difficulty if you woke up with no memory and fell in love with this person wouldn't you? Because you wouldn't feel as strong an attachment to your parents and would probably make the love choice. In this sense, these thought experiments can show us what we really want. Are you afraid of memory loss because you would forget why you didn't allow yourself the things that you really wanted, ie, are you afraid because thinking about this has made you realize that you actually have the ability to pursue what you want, but you still decide not to?

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Updated: February 27, 2012
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