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Mr. A. Taylor

Philosophy 100

November 7, 2005

The Battle of Nature vs. Nurture

In Nancy Kress' "In Memoriam" the philosophical issue of identity becomes apparent. As a son pleads to his mother to take part in a medical procedure, which wipes your mind clear of memories, the question of "what makes me 'me'?" arises. Set in the future, the mother is faced with a decision: whether or not she wants to die as a result of having too many memories, or as a result of having none at all. The son, Aaron, takes quite a different approach however; as he feels that it is not a question of death, rather a question of life. He feels that by getting the memory swipe "[She] would make new memories, start over. A new life. Life, not death!" ( ). Aaron seems to view the procedure on a more linear or quantitative level, while his mother, on a qualitive level. The problem becomes discernable as an issue of nature vs. nurture. There are also many underlying symbols such as the neighbor (Aaron's father) whom has had the memory swipe, the shrine located in the mother's back garden for remembrance, and the constant reference to the way the mother remembers even the most minute and irrelevant of details from the past. The battle of nature vs. nurture will be argued in the remainder of the essay by means of the characters, Cara and Lalia. Cara taking a position supporting that identity as being a result of experience as well as genetics (nurture and nature), while Lalia supports that identity is formed purely through the passing down of genes (nature). Cara's argument will closely reflect my own opinion.

The First Dialogue

Lalia: Cara, what is the matter? You look very shaken up.

Cara: Oh hello. Yes well, I just received some rather bad news. It is about my father. I've lost most of him. He had a major stroke last night and has suffered severe brain damage resulting in amnesia.

Lalia: I'm very sorry to hear that. However, you have not lost your father at all, he is still alive.

Cara: Is he really Lalia. He does not know me, or my mother. He has no memories. He has lost half of himself. He has lost his past and most of what made him my father.

Lalia: Our memories are not what shape us. It is what is in us that make us who we are. Genes, which we have inherited, are what makes us. They form our identity. Your father's genetic make up has not changed therefore he himself has not lost anything.

Cara: I don't fully agree. Yes, genes are a part of who we are, but there is more. Genes make people vulnerable to such traits as depression and aggression but they are not inevitable. Our surroundings are what decide the way we react, with the genes we were given.

Lalia: However, John Locke once argued that any living being with an organized form, with cells and matter that continuously work together in the organized form with a certain purpose, has the same identity the complete length of its lifetime, which has already been predisposed by its cells (). So really, your father is still exactly the same, identity wise, it will just be his memories that have left him.

Cara: Yes, but John Locke also, more strongly, argued that your identity reaches only as far back as your memory reaches back (). So that I am who I am now only as far my memory reaches. Since I can remember what I had for lunch last Tuesday, I am the same person I was on Tuesday. And furthermore, since my father can't remember anything his identity is no longer the same as it was before the accident. However, I still do not believe the matter is quite so black and white. There is still some of my fathers identity intact, however little it may be, in his nature.

Lalia: Do you remember that story we read in Philosophy class?

Cara: Yes, "In Memoriam". Why?

Lalia: Well, the neighbor, whom had once been the mother's husband, regarded them as just that, the neighbor and her son. He had had the brain swipe and remembered them as nothing more. Yet when he was talking to Aaron about his most recent sailing adventure, Aaron mentioned that he used to go sailing with his dad. So it becomes apparent that even after he had lost all of his memories, his routines and tendencies remained the same. The lack of memories did not change who he was because it was in his genes.

Cara: Yes, but that is still not plainly genetics either. No one can possess genes in which make them a sailor, that is still through experience.



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