Sperm, egg and consciousness

I’m pretty sure there isn’t a factual answer to this, so I’ll put this here. If I’m wrong, feel free to move in to GQ.

So, the wife and I are finally getting around to conceiving. And one thing that continues to freak me out is that tiny little things, such as the timing of the conception, hell, even the position during the conception will likely give the finish line to one sperm versus another. And, thus, if we choose to go at it one minute versus another minute, we’re essentially going to have a different child. I don’t mean different hair, or eye color. I mean, a different offspring with different consciousness.

But, am I right? Do the millions of sperm that don’t reach the egg represent millions of consciousnesses that will never be? Is consciousness determined by which sperm crosses the finish line first.

(I leave the egg out of the equation not out of sexism, but because that will only be detemined by the month of conception. But, if we’re talking month to month, then, this would apply to the egg as well.)

As I understand it, about 40-50% of a person’s personality is likely to be inherited.

That suggests that about 20-25% of your personality is based on your dad’s personality.

Assuming that each sperm is about 50% different from each other sperm (I think that’s a good assumption, but I’m not great at stats), that means that about 10-12% of your personality is based on the timing of sex.

Not a huge amount, but nor is it trivial.


Yes, sort of, since each will be unique. Even identical twins have different consciousnesses (which sounds really funny in the plural). But looking at it from the egg perspective is probably more accurate, since it takes an egg/sperm pair to make a person and there are lots fewer eggs than sperm.

But, imagine what it’ll be like when we are able to clone humans. Everytime you brush up against something you’ll sluff off cells that could have become conscious. It’s enough to drive a person crazy-- or not.

But, I’m not asking about personality. There are probably people with similar personalities to yours. But, your consciousness is completely unique.

What do you mean by consciousness, then, if there’s no overlap between it and personality? What, specifically, do you mean by the word when you ask, “Is consciousness determined by which sperm crosses the finish line first”?

If you’re not referring to something that’s genetically encoded, then it gets even worse: every cupcake that you do not eat, digest, process into sperm, and fertilize an ovum with also represents a potential consciousness that doesn’t make it, doesn’t it?


Well, then, there’s no debate. Each sperm cell holds a potential child, different from every other potential one.

If you wanna go absurdum on it, different foods you eat and other things will determine what sperm get created. There are lots of sperm that never got made because of different decisions you’ve made.

And even once the sperm exists, it has the potential to degrade if it sits around too long. Conceivably genetic mutations will appear depending on when you have sex.

All see your *absurdum *and raise you one: What about all the sperm/eggs that won’t be produced by all the children that won’t be conceived by all the sperm that don’t make it to the egg? And what about all the…

Ok. I guess I’m not phrasing well. I’m also NOT trying to get into any sort of abortion debate!

Anyway. I control me. That’s what I mean by consciousness. I could have come out meaner, or friendlier, or more shy or more gregarious, and that would have been my personality, and I understand fully that this is largely controled by genetics. But, regardless of my personality, I would have still been me. There is something about me that puts me in charge of what my DNA constructed.

What I’m asking is, does each sperm contain a different consciousness? A different person in charge of whatever body/personality that the DNA codes for?

Which proves once again, never say “no” to a cupcake.

I’m still not sure you’ve got a workable definition of consciousness here. If you control you, are you saying that, were you meaner, you would control you in the same way? It seems to me that a meaner you would control you differently from the current you, and so you’d have a different, meaner consciousness then.

It may be that you believe in a “ghost in the shell” consciousness model–that is, whatever constitutes You is something immaterial that controls your material self. I’ve got real problems with that model. However, if that’s what you’re using, then I don’t see any reason to suggest that each sperm carries a different ghost.

If, however, you believe that consciousness may be attributed to physical phenomena, then it seems to me that it must be attributed to phenomena occuring in your nervous system. If so, then, to the degree that traits of your nervous system are heritable, the form of your consciousness is heritable.


I can’t believe that sperm are conscious. Well, I could believe that they are conscious to a teeny-tiny degree, if consciousness is indeed a gray problem and not a black/white one.

But the consciousness the child develops later is something else entirely, and that consciousness is, in my mind, a different one than would be with a different sperm.

What you’re asking hinges on whether consciousness occupies a brain or if the consciousness is nothing more than the brain and its energy.

Can’t help you. We talked about consciousness recently, and I feel it’s a paradox.

Sorry, cupcake, but I’m not ready for kids!


That’s exactly what I’m saying. I would be me, but meaner. I would control myself differently, but I would still control myself.

Let me take it back a generation. Had a different sperm coming from my father than the one that resulted in me won the race to the egg, would I never have become aware? Would I have never existed.

As for the ghost model, I don’t really have a model. I’m genuinely coming here asking for opinions (or facts, if they exist).

Sorry. I, in no way, meant to imply that the sperm themselves were conscious.

What do you mean by “I” in that sentence? I know that question is irritating as hell, but it’s central to the issue. How different would you have to be from who you are before you were no longer you? Could you still be you if you were ten years older, the opposite sex, psychopathic, with no memories of your current life, and an overwhelming fixation on Carmen Miranda? Could you still be you if you were your current age, your current sex, no psychopathy, all your current memories, and no Miranda fixation, but conceived from a different sperm?


Since consciousness is one of those things that has yet to be properly defined to everyone’s satisfaction, I have a sneaking suspicion you aren’t going to get any helpful responses to this.

It seems reasonable to say that the product of each possible combination of sperm and egg–or each identical twin from a single fertilized egg–would be a different human being, and so there is a different consciousness for each potential child. That consciousness seems not to be solely determined at the point of conception–if it was, then both identical twins would have identical minds or else one would be a soulless monster–so I wouldn’t say it’s purely a product of each sperm and egg. It appears far more complex.

You would never have existed. It’s not the timing of the fertilization that determined “you”. It wasn’t even the unique DNA, though, that determined “you” as my identical twin example pointed out above.

I could still be me under all of those conditions. I would just be a pyschopathic, female, Carmen Miranda fixated me. But, I would still be in charge.

I could have my memory wiped clean, ala Bourne Identity, and still be me. Because even with the lack of memory, or the overt fixation on Carmen Miranda (and frankly, who doesn’t have that) there would be something inside me that would put me in charge.

See, that would be my answer as well, but do you have any ideas where the “you” is coming from then? Is it determined at conception, birth, later?

Again, I really just want to point out that I’m not trying to be argumentative or goad people into some other debate. I just wanted to get some ideas on the topic, and figured this to be a good forum for it.

Could you be a thirty-one-year-old guy with long red hair who posts on the Internet under the name Left Hand of Dorkness and still be you?

If not, why not? What do you mean by “you”? You say that it’s the part of you that controls you–but what is that part of you like, and what would make it a different controller sufficient that it would not be you?