Let’s say I’m minding my own business when a lady named Sophia appears out of nowhere and starts interrogating me. What follows is our conversation.
Sophia: How do you know you were alive an hour ago?
Me: That’s a dumb question — I’m here, aren’t I? And who the hell are you?
Sophia: Maybe you just appeared now?
Me: No, I was around for a while. I remember my life.
Sophia: What if those are false memories? If you appeared with implanted memories of a lifetime, wouldn’t you feel exactly as you do now?
Me: Perhaps, but so what? This is all irrelevant speculation.
Sophia: Is it? Studies have shown that memory is unreliable, and it’s sometimes manufactured entirely from present cues. So maybe this isn’t so far fetched? How do you know your memories aren’t a bit wonky?
Me: Whatever. Besides, the world doesn’t work that way, people don’t just appear with a bunch of memories.
Sophia: How do you know? Aren’t you relying on your memories of how the world works? Couldn’t those memories have been implanted? Besides, what if the physical people remained the same, but the “consciousness within” was what vanished and re-appeared? No one would notice, right?
Sophia: Couldn’t this vanishing and re-appearing happen every second? Maybe you vanished and were replaced several times since we started this conversation?
Me: Bull! I was talking to you a second ago!
Sophia: How do you know THAT wasn’t a false memory?
Me: Because I clearly remember it.
Sophia: Clarity of memory is no guarantee of its integrity.
Me: Don’t you have someplace to be?
Sophia: No. So when you plan for the future, who are you planning for? Isn’t it for a future “you”, which could be a different individual?
Me: If what you say is true, sure…
Sophia: How much of your life do you remember? For example, can you give me a minute by minute breakdown of what you did exactly one year ago? One week ago?
Me: No. In fact, I don’t even remember at all.
Sophia: Would you say this inability to remember holds for most of your life?
Me: Well, I remember some incidents, but for the most part, it’s vague, broad overviews. I couldn’t give you a continuous, second by second narrative of anything that happened any significant time ago.
Sophia: So it was as if you didn’t live.
Me: Nonsense. I lived a full life. I loved, laughed, worked and got to where I am today.
Sophia: How do you know? You just admitted you don’t remember most of your life. How is that different from just popping into existence?
Me: You suck.
Sophia: What’s more, even if you could remember, those times don’t exist unless you try to remember. They’re not floating “out there” as a background to your life. Fragments of them exist only when you try to remember them, and of course there’s always the question of what you are remembering. How many precious moments you thought would live forever are now gone… maybe forever?
Me: I repeat: you suck.
Sophia: So how does it feel knowing that this moment will also disappear — perhaps forever, and it will be as if you never lived?
Me: Who died and made you Socrates? Hey, isn’t a lot of this stuff The Cartesian Theater fallacy? Isn’t the premise behind this conversation flawed?
Sophia: Doesn’t that just add fuel to the fire? If there never was a “you” watching anything, then that just seems to make the case, right?
Me: I guess. But I feel separate, like I’m watching my thoughts and body. Heck, I can easily imagine myself in another body.
Sophia: Just because you can imagine it doesn’t mean anything. But let’s move on. Let’s say someone gave you one of two choices: (1) Permanently lose consciousness while your body goes on, or (2) die. Which would you choose?
Me: I wouldn’t care, because they’re the same as far as I’m concerned. I just don’t identify with my body that way. I guess my body is only useful as a support for my consciousness. It’s like a CD. I don’t care about the CD, I care about the music on it.
Sophia: Music that arises as the result of a process involving the CD.
Me: What do I look like, a rocket scientist? I don’t know how CDs work. But yeah, sure whatever.
Sophia: You’re more likely to identify with family, relationships and behavior than your body.
Me: It sounds like you’re saying I should identify with my body. Wait! My only knowledge of my body are my memory and consciousness, so aren’t we at the same problem with my identity? They could be implanted memories and all that crud.
Sophia: Exactly. That’s my point.
Sophia: Life doesn’t withstand close scrutiny. Or maybe it’s our concepts of life that don’t… maybe our thoughts fail to capture reality, despite what we think. So our identities, memories and veracity of thoughts are questionable, and attempts at grasping life leave us in ambiguity and contradiction.
Me: This is depressing
Sophia: It’s liberating. If you let it be.
Me: How? You just pulled the rug out from under me!
Sophia: I only undermined the cause of your worries, regrets, anger — in short, most of your pain. By casting doubt on these cherished “fundamental” assumptions, it’s easier to let them go and simply BE. As long as you take them seriously, it’s harder to let go.
Me: But didn’t you just use thought to undermine thought?
Me: Isn’t that contradictory?
Sophia: If it is, it just proved my point.
Me: Whatever! But what’s left after you undermine all those things?