Personality Transformation and the Afterlife

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I got the following example from Ben Bradley about a completely different topic, but since it raises interesting issues about the afterlife I figured I'd steal it and ask some questions about it.

Suppose you had a terminal illness. You're given six months to live. There's a treatment that can save you, but it will lead to a total transformation of your personality and interests. For example, you might stop enjoying philosophy and the intellectual life and start enjoying bottle cap collecting. You would find complete fulfillment in bottle cap collecting and not miss the intellectual life, but the desires you currently have would no longer be fulfilled. Ben poses the case as a means to wondering whether it would be better to die in six months or to undergo the treatment and be transformed so drastically that your current desires and preferences would very likely go unfulfilled.

My question is this: what significance does this case have for the possibility or nature of an afterlife? More particularly, what should someone who is not a univeralist say about this sort of case? If I need to spell out the details of what I'm thinking to guide the discussion in the direction I've been thinking, I will, but I'd rather see what people want to say about it first.


Well, the truth is, when and if you become that other person, you won't remember your former self, so in a sense, living or dying isn't relevant. The person who survives past 6 months is, in effect, not the same person who made the choice to live. Since your perception of self doesn't live past the 6 months, then in effect, the original person does not survive, so it makes no difference.

As far as the afterlife is concerned, I don't believe the person I am now will be obliterated in the afterlife. It will be transformed as to be without sin, so part of it will be different, but in the same way that I remember being a certain way when I was young that I am no longer, nor do I have any desire to continue to be. I will not be somebody else in the afterlife - I will be myself, but a progressive version of myself. I will still have a connection, however remote to my pre-transformed self.

There are two questions. One is whether you then would mind. Of course you wouldn't. But the other is whether you now would want this to happen. Do you really want to become someone devoted to bottlecap collecting who receives great fulfillment from it? I don't, not now anyway. If I have the operation, what I care about would change, but that doesn't mean that I now don't care.

That's the original puzzle, though, on whether to have the operation. The puzzle I'm interested in is what to say about someone who is a Christian who knows this operation will so radically transform his or her personality and belief structures that the person will no longer value spiritual things and not even believe in God anymore. A universalist will say everyone gets saved anyway, but what about someone who says that at bare minimum belief in God is required?

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