50 First Dates

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In 50 First Dates, Adam Sandler plays the part of Henry Roth, a womanizer who has fallen in love with Lucy. Lucy (Drew Barrymore) was injured in a car crash and loses her short-term memory every time she falls asleep. When she awakens, she can remember nothing since the day of her accident. Henry pursues Lucy’s affection and takes on the challenge of making her fall in love with him again every day. In one scene, Henry and Lucy are snuggling in bed, face to face, at the end of a romantic evening. Henry asks, “Will you marry me?” Lucy says, “Of course.” The two fall asleep. When Lucy awakes, still face to face with Henry, she screams, pelts Henry with various objects and ultimately knocks him out with a Lacrosse stick. In a second scene, Henry has turned back from a long-planned trip to Alaska and come to the mental hospital where Lucy is living and teaching art. Lucy still has no memory of Henry, but she takes him into her studio and shows him painting after painting she has made of him. “I don’t know who you are, but I dream of you every night,” she tells him.

Philosophers have long debated how humans remain the same from day to day. Are we, both physically and psychologically, the same people we were yesterday? In my opinion, continuity of the self requires that the physical self communicates and works in tandem with the psychological self. Physical continuity lies within the brain, the main central processing unit of our entire being. Our body can be compared to the Ship of Theseus. Over time, the entire ship was replaced with new parts. Likewise, our body is regenerated and renewed over an extended period of time.

Are we then, the same physical person we were 15 years ago? After intensive studies done by neurologist Jonas Frisi?? n, the scientific community has confirmed that “the cerebral cortex and visual cortex of the brain have been confirmed to be as old as we are”; therefore, physical continuity of the self lies within our brains. 2 How does the perpetual brain, then relate to a psychological self? Many physicalists would argue that the psychological self, known as the conscious and subconscious, is derived from the physical brain.

It is within this conscious and subconscious mindset that we define our own sense of “me”. In addition, memory as a means of psychological continuity finds its base in the consciousness. Many philosophers are unsatisfied with memory as the sole means to psychological continuity. In the movie 50 First Dates, the main character, Henry Roth, tries to remind Lucy, a girl with a severe mental handicap, of their love for one another by taking her on daily “first dates”. Because of her mental disability, Lucy cannot remember anything since the day of her accident.

Locke addresses this situation, stating that psychological continuity is “the idea that if you can remember doing something, it was you who did it, and if you can’t remember doing it, it wasn’t you, but a different person”. 3 To explain this conundrum, philosophers have come up with the idea of self versus sense of self. The self is the physical presence of a human being. In the case of the 50 First Dates, the self is Lucy’s physical body that is present on the dates with Henry. The other part of this explanation is the sense of self, which is the mental awareness of one’s surrounding situation.

Lucy’s sense of self is a special case. Locke would argue that while Lucy’s body was there, her person was not physically there. While the first part of Locke’s explanation is certainly true, the second is slightly incorrect. Memory, as it pertains to Lucy and the rest of humankind, is based in the subconscious. When we say we “remember” something, it is simply the subconscious memory rising up to levels of consciousness. Lucy, in fact did remember everything she did with Henry.

In the end of the movie, Lucy shows Henry dozens of pictures that she drew of him only from her subconscious memory. Although her physical self cannot remember the experiences she had with Henry, her sense of self, or her subconscious, ensures her psychological continuity. Extending Locke’s idea of tabula rasa, our subconscious is a blank slate that gets written on by the events and environment of life. Because this slate records all of our experiences, whether conscious or unconscious, our unconscious mind ensures the continuity of psychological self.

However, over time, the list of memories of events grows so long that it fades into obscurity, which is known as the subconscious. Only the poignant or recent details on this slate of life are brought up to our conscious memory. In fact, according to cognitive neuroscientists, “we are conscious of only about 5 percent of our cognitive activity, so most of our decisions, actions, emotions, and behavior depends on the 95 percent of brain activity that goes beyond our conscious awareness”. 4

Skeptical philosophers then raise the question of self versus sense of self in the face of crime. If a crime is performed unconsciously, should the individual still be charged of the crime? The answer lies within Locke’s distinction of the biological human and the metaphysical person. While the biological human performed the crime, the actual person was not conscious of their actions. That person could not make rational decisions, and therefore did not willingly perform the crime. In my opinion, the convicted person should be acquitted of the crime.

Since personhood is the core of a human being, the core should not be punished for something uncontrollably done by the physical body. Continuity of the self is found in both physical and psychological aspects. The physical self gives a base for which the psychological aspect may operate on. The psychological aspect in turn produces the distinction between consciousness and unconsciousness. It is in this exact unconsciousness that memory, the basis for psychological continuity, is found. Therefore, as Marianne Szegedy- Maszak states, “Your unconscious is making your everyday decisions”.

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