Is it our soul? Is it the physical material or cells of our brain being continuous (I know that cell birth in the brain is very limited after childhood)? Is it the electric current in the brain not being turned off?
If your brain COMPLETELY died, and then it was re-sparked, and you regained consciousness, would that consciousness be you?
If you replaced your neurons with artificial neurons, bit by bit, would you be the same person?
What makes you think consciousness has continuity? Mine seems to have a discontinuity of several hours every night, and smaller but frequent gaps during the daytime, when my mind wanders.
Anyway, there are certainly no definitive answers to your questions. There is still much disagreement about these issues, which have been (and continue to be) debated extensively by both professional and amateur philosophers. This is clearly a Great Debate (or several great debates) rather than a General Question.
Yeah, but when you wake up the next day you are the same person you were the day before. You don’t have this reawakening with the feeling that you’ve just been born into someone else’s body. I think that’s what the OP meant by “continuity.”
Memory, perhaps? From that moment we become self-aware and have long-term memories, we’re always comparing our current experience with what we already “know” (or think we know) and deciding whether or not to add it to the memory banks. (It’s one of the reasons, I think, why our brains generally don’t remember dreams, since that would result in a massive misunderstanding of the nature of reality if we did before we could figure out “yeah, that bit in my memory where I rode a purple winged elephant over a rainbow wasn’t just a dream”.)
The OP assumes too much. And invoking a “soul” doesn’t help.
Sadly you get to realise the limits of personality and so called continuous consciousness when the neurons etc start to break down in dementia.
Is it the same “person” when a person can’t remember “who” they were, can no longer function, or relatives can no longer recognise the “person” they knew and loved. Each moment lived as if the first but also a kind of living death.
What we recognise as continuous is very fragile, but possibly a kind of necessary illusion.
Memory would seem to be a necessary component. Take the case of Clive Wearing, who lost the ability to form new memories. He has feeling of perpetually waking up, which sounds to me like a loss of “continuity”.
Unless metaphysical entities are invoked, then continuity is little more than the effect of the current ongoing process being able to reference its own history.
The ‘you’ you were yesterday doesn’t exist any more, because yesterday itself doesn’t exist any more - so there is no persistent thread stitching these two moments together, because there is nothing there for the other end to be stitched to.
Very Buddhist, but in each of those little micro-bits of consciousness, you have a sense of self.
If you have dementia, as my mother did just before she died, you won’t remember what happened yesterday, but you are still the same person, and your sense of self is largely intact–even if you’ve forgotten that that self is known by others as Mangetout, and that you got a 100 on a spelling test in third grade.
I think the short but unsatisfying answer is that the sense of self is highly complex and relies on a number of indistinguishable factors, including but not restricted to memory.
You said ‘but’, but I don’t see anything here that disagrees with anything I said. I’m not limiting the scope to conscious memory - it happens to be the main focus of discussion in these sorts of threads.
Unless you’re invoking entities that are part of me for some reason other than that they developed because of something happening within the ongoing ‘me’ process taking place up until now, then we’re in agreement.
Interestingly, and on a slight tangent, the concept (and problem) here is similar to an argument frequently made by creationists; that genetic variation is only possible within limits from some fixed point.
And the problem is that in order to be valid, the mechanism must be described in the context of the extant system - the fixed point or limit has to be part of the living individual. If it’s argued to be a fixed limit relative to some parameter embodied by some distant ancestor, there is no mechanism for it to work, because the ancestor is dead and gone.
I see continuity as involving two aspects. One is remembering what you did yesterday of five minutes ago, and that is memory, like everyone else has said. The other is responding in more or less the same way to stimuli. If you like eggs yesterday, you will probably still like them when you wake up today, and that doesn’t involve remembering that you like them.
Continuity can be broken either by loss of memory, or by drugs or brain damage which might make your preferences or reactions to things very different from what they were before. You can have personality changes with no loss of memory.
The continuity of reaction to stimuli would seem to come from how your brain is wired, and partially from hormone levels in your body.
I don’t really mean this as a nit-pick, but I think that does involve memory. Memory is more than just the conscious act of remembering something. Take, for example, what people refer to as “muscle memory”. I don’t think anyone truly believes that it’s your muscles that are remembering. It’s just a somewhat unconscious form of your mind remembering.