I sometimes wonder if "I" would have existed if another sperm had fertilized the egg that was to become "me". Is this even answerable in any meaningful way? I sit here and experience myself as a unique individual and I speculate that everybody else feels the same about their own unique consciousness and self-awareness. So if a different sperm had fertilized the egg that was there when I was conceived, would "I" have come into existence nine months later, but with a different set of genes?

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    This is a great philosophy question --I gave you an upvote for that --but it's not a good fit for this forum because there is no defined answer. You might manage to keep it from being closed if you make it more specific --i.e. "what would philosopher X say about this question?" or "how could we address this question in light of X-ism?" – Chris Sunami Feb 18 '14 at 16:56
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    If a different sperm from same the same man fertilized the same egg, 25% of the embryo's DNA would be different from yours. The result would be similar to your semi-identical twin. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twin#Semi-identical_twins – obelia Feb 18 '14 at 17:59
  • You could also think about the differences and similarities among identical twins (same genetic info) and siblings (with 50% similar genetic info). – obelia Feb 19 '14 at 8:44

Studies tend to show that about 50% of variability in behavioral traits is explained by genes and 50% by environment. Unlike with identical twins, your other could have a pretty similar experience to you. So, with 25% of your genes different, your other would be up to about 8x more similar to you than a random person is, and would have many of the same experiences and memories.

But of course that very-similar-person's consciousness wouldn't be yours; you are by hypothesis not around to experience anything. You can't really arrange it so you can without breaking the whole premise. So the other-you is identifiable as the most you-like entity in that hypothetical universe, and that is about as far as it goes.

  • While I would tend to agree with some of this. There seems to be a giant root assumption that goes unstated about the nature of consciousness and its relation to the physical brain. The seemingly appropriate follow-up question is this: did "I" exist a minute ago, a day ago, a year ago? It seems like answers as to why these questions are affirmative or negative would explain what your answer really means. – virmaior Feb 19 '14 at 5:54
  • I think the answer to the question "did 'I' exist a minute ago, a year ago" is yes. At least in the context of my own self-awareness and memory of who I was a minute ago. – Steve d'Apollonia Feb 19 '14 at 13:07
  • Although my experiences and physical parts are constantly changing I still think I retain a definite self-awareness that is specific and unique to "me". On the other hand I suppose a grain of sand on the beach is also unique - just as unique as a particular mosquito, bacteria, or cloud formation. Could it be that this concept we call "self-awareness" is merely a kind of biological feed-back loop or memory polling function that evolved as just another component in our biology - from single cells all the way to warm blooded mammals with backbones and a self-polling memory function in our brain? – Steve d'Apollonia Feb 19 '14 at 13:15
  • @Steved'Apollonia that may all be true... but I think Rex needs to indicate his answer to this question and explain why the different genetic material matters in a way that different matter does not. – virmaior Feb 19 '14 at 17:09
  • @virmaior - I'm arguing that the premise makes it an unanswerable question when asking it in the "did 'I' exist a year ago" sense. When asking it in another sense, we can tell that this person is likely to be Steve-like, but somewhat distinct: perhaps less different than identical twins (save for looks) are to each other, but there still would be substantial differences based on the genetic contribution. – Rex Kerr Feb 20 '14 at 1:00

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