The Persistence of Lego-Man


(A.K.A: In Case You Were Wondering What Goes on In Dr. Winguard’s Metaphysics Class)

Lego-Man has a problem. He is made up of parts. This is not entirely shocking to him, for he understands his nature as Lego-Man, but something has happened to him that bothers him. Recently, one of the yellow bricks in his left arm was replaced by a red one. Furthermore, one brick in his right foot went missing. On top of that, someone placed a blue brick right on his head—all in the span of 24 hours! Now Lego-Man is confused. How can he be the same Lego-Man if his parts have been replaced or lost, if he’s been added to? Is he a different Lego-Man altogether now? He doesn't feel like a completely new Lego-Man; in fact, he feels like the same old Lego-Man plus or minus a few parts. Completely ignoring the miracle of his consciousness, he reaches for a book on the shelf labeled “Mereology” and begins to read.

He recognizes that his problem is with the Doctrine of Mereological Constancy—which states that things are unchangeable with respect to their parts—and this sends him into an identity crisis. How can he escape this Doctrine to figure out how he persists through time as his parts keep changing?

After reading a philosophical article written by a man named Olson, he begins thinking about the new block on his head. What happened to him here? He understands that he called himself Lego-Man before the brick was placed on his head, but now he must call himself Lego-Man-Plus-One to be truthful to his identity. However, hasn't he simply grown larger? Isn't he simply his old Lego-Man self and now just occupies more space? What if he called himself “A” in the past, then gained a new block which he called “B,” yet still calls himself “A” and the old Lego-Man “C.’ He is now confused as to how “A” and “C” interact. Did “A”and “C” exist mereologically alongside each other, with “A” being distinguishable from “C” by having the ability to gain parts? This is only one of the solutions he finds in Olson's paper, and he does not like any of them because they don't square with his intuition. He begins to fear that the Doctrine of Mereological Constancy isn't so bad after all, and he simply needs to come to terms with being an entirely new Lego-Man.

But there are more problems for Lego-Man's identity than him gaining or losing parts. Sometimes he is bent, like when he is sitting on a desk, and sometimes he is straight, like when he is standing on a desk. He recognizes that the properties he has are intrinsic to himself, not extrinsic and are made his relation to other things in the room. How can his intrinsic properties change?

He flips a few pages in the book. Here we go: he finds a nice man by the name of Lewis who proposes a solution to the problem. Lego-Man is surprised to find that he has “temporal parts” and that the reason he can be bent at one time and straight at another is because his temporal parts are bent or straight at different stages in time. Lego-Man feels comforted at first, but then he begins thinking and panics. Now, not only can he fail to retain his identity when he changes physical parts, but this also extends to his temporal parts too!  Thus, he never wholly present at any time, for his parts are elsewhere even though he feels like he is wholly present now.

Lego-Man doesn't know where to turn. He reaches deep inside himself and his anxiety, and in that angst, his individual Daseinhis human existence— is made clearer as a complete whole.  Upon much reflection, however, he realizes that Dasein is temporality. “But didn't Dr. Wingdaddy say not to use phenomenological ontology?” Lego-Man asks himself. In a last ditch effort he reads a paper on constituent theory.

He doesn't remember much, being the simple Lego-Man he is, but he does find a shred of comfort. He may be made out of Lego bricks, and those physical parts may change, but as long as those Lego bricks are in “G-favorable conditions”—“G” being that of “being Lego-man”— he is Lego-Man!  Lego-Man celebrates his re-found identity ecstatically and, relieved, stands on his shelf once more in peace.