So I bought Geoffrey Klempner's book and read it on the Kindle app. Actually I got the whole Philosophizer Trilogy since it was the same price, but it's the Idiotic Conundrum that shall concern us here. It's a cool book, but didn't bring me closer to answers than his videos and free writings that I already discussed in my first metaphysical interlude. If you still haven't grasped the conundrum then it would be extremely useful, but for me it mainly served to make me feel confident to dig further into it knowing that if I make progress, I won't simply be replicating his thoughts. He does not present a metaphysical system anyway, spending most of the book lamenting the impossibility of getting an answer and dismissing existing philosophy as "theories" -- until the last couple of pages where he ends on a more optimistic note.
I might not have existed, but someone exactly like me might have existed in my place. What is the ultimate reality that decides if I am me? That is the Question, the Quest (for Klempner, at least), the idiotic conundrum. I shall not become obsessed with this myself, but it does deserve some thought.
Philosophers commonly ponder the nature of identity persistence through time (Ship of Theseus and all that all the way up to contemporary examples), but they rarely if ever bother to ask why I am me NOW! That is the Question. Being skeptical about your persistence through time does not get rid of it. I call it the cosmic serial number. I am one cosmic serial number, but I could have been another. If it does change over my lifetime then I am largely blind to that change, but that's not the hardest question. Materialists actually have more reason to believe it does change, because they deny an ultimate reality that could be far more mysterious than an arrangement of atoms, why not capable of sustaining you over time? Hume famously missed this too, and Descartes invented needless fairy tales that don't explain it either -- a soul "substance" that can't be it and a Cartesian theater that adds nothing. Kant was sort of onto something with his transcendental idealism and noumena but didn't go all the way to the idiotic conundrum, and Nietzsche missed it spectacularly with his eternal return which in this respect amounts to the same as atomistic materialism, which is to say denying the problem altogether.
Only Donald Hoffman comes close to actually explaining it. I have never seen him actually address it, but he lies the groundwork for an explanation in videos like this. Once you get rid of reductionism and the shared hallucination that we call spacetime with physical objects, the alternative might have the properties that we are after -- the network of conscious agents who interface via our shared reality. And you must drop the reductionist path if you accept that this "reality" is an interface. Studying the pixels on your screen doesn't get you closer to understanding how the processor works; the causal power lies on another plane entirely. A sort of idealism plus natural selection gives a better view. We are both so far removed from ultimate reality that we can't measure any truth about the structure of the world with our scientific instruments that only get at the interface, yet also directly plugged in since we immediately feel it.
Or at least can feel ultimate reality if we pay attention. Not just the two of us, Klempner and I. You can, too, unless you are literally a zombie. I know you can because I didn't always or at least not continuously ponder the idiotic conundrum or have a name for it, yet I believe I was conscious then too. Whenever there is consciousness, there is the conundrum whether you are aware of it or not, because someone else might have been having that experience in your place through no distinction that can be observable in this universe. You are therefore uncreated by this universe and something separate.
I had feelings as a child that I now would label as awareness of my cosmic serial number. I didn't regard it as a "conundrum," just marveled at it. I thought this sense of self was simply what it meant to have a self and I still don't think it is an uncommon feeling. What is uncommon is to make an issue out of it. It is slightly more surprising that some actively deny it and become positivists. And come to think of it, it is weird that an entire major religion like Hinduism makes a dogma out of there only being one. Atman the individual self is ultimately identical to the universal also called Atman or sometimes Brahman, they say; this is in the book and I thought so too independently: there is no justification to limit the number to one, just a story they made up. It sounds poetic to say things like we are all waves in the same water of consciousness, but there is no compelling metaphysical justification for it. If I have two glasses of water are they really one because there is one water? No, there is no reason why they can't be separate. Each new glass of water can have a new serial number that can't be written in it but can still be very real. What this reality consists of, this separateness of cosmic serial numbers, is the conundrum.
I guess I am not making any progress either, and that's okay. But now we have some common ground on which to start. You don't need a wall of academic references, just this book to get started having a stab at it. Even though I don't share his despair at not knowing, Klempner's "ring quest" resembles male sexualism in its futility, and as such I can relate. There is no indication that society will give up its belief in the metaphysical badness of sex in my lifetime, unless collapse gets rid of industrial civilization altogether. The normies believe it as firmly as they believed in witches in the thick of the witch-hunts. Ironically, they believe in the metaphysical badness of sex without particularly believing in metaphysical personhood. Now if they had a theory of the idiotic conundrum that also explained how perfectly enjoyable sex can be "abuse" -- at least they would have some internal consistency, but sexual abuse stands out as the only metaphysics they believe in. Without admitting that it is metaphysics, to be sure, instead blaming psychology, but they don't fool me.
I am aware, aware of the gap. Klempner and I share this awareness to the fullest but there are also smatterings here and there. For example in this conversation between David Deutsch and Tyler Cowen. The latter is a "metaphysical agnostic," which means he might be at least half aware. Deutsch calls it "something like physicalism," which doesn't quite get at it. You can believe you need the continuity of your physical body to be you (and hence not survive a Star Trek transporter) without realizing that that body and mind also could have been someone else existing in your place. Which should be the central question of consciousness, but is oddly ignored especially by the academic philosophers who study consciousness. Very odd that something so central can be so marginalized. But then again that's how it is with sexualism too, so I shouldn't be surprised.