The annihilation, which some people suppose to follow upon death, and which entirely destroys this self, is nothing but an extinction of all particular perceptions; love and hatred, pain and pleasure, thought and sensation. These therefore must be the same with self; since the one cannot survive the other.—David Hume Of Personal Identity, A Treatise of Human Nature
My mother has dementia, probably Lewy Bodies, as well as kidney failure, as well as a slew of other things. Since my father died in 2010, her decline has been rapid.
Luckily, she (mostly) remembers who I am. Just yesterday I came into town and met her and my brother here at the hospital. She didn’t say much, but when she overheard my brother tell me that he was leaving town to visit my other brother, she got a little peeved and said to him, “I don’t understand why you’re leaving now that Tina’s here.”
This is a distinct My Mom personality trait. This is SO her.
Needless to say, it made me very happy. Not because of the content of what she said, but because what she said was HER, not someone else, not nothing, not silence.
Other times, I feel only her absence. I’m sitting right next to her now, and I just spoke to her. She replied, “I didn’t know you were here,” even though I’ve been sitting here for hours. Sometimes she asks me, “Are you Tina?”
Regarding Hume’s quote: I feel I’m experiencing perceptions, sensations, and thoughts being stripped away from her, but somehow this falls short of death of identity. Something about his observation feels wrong. It could be wishful thinking on my part.
On the other hand, I’m really lucky. I’ve heard horror stories, people who were once sweet and kind turning sour and hostile. I wonder how it is with people whose dementia symptoms are far worse, what it must be like for their family and friends to have virtually nothing left of the old personality. Would they find Hume’s quote closer to the truth?
What it is that makes us who we are? What is it that others “see”? How far can my perceptions and thoughts can be stripped away before I lose my identity? What if my appearance changed as well, and I morphed into someone else’s body, sort of like a certain Michael Jackson video, so that my perceptions and thoughts and looks changed all at once? Would I still be the same person?
I want to say yes, but I sense that I’d have to cook up a good reason, which I haven’t done yet. The fact that I want to ‘cook up’ anything is a bad sign. What do y’all think?