Philosophers debate persistence conditions for personal identity because everything about us seems to change, including our cells, our memories, and our bodies. But DNA doesn't change and it codes for specfic traits in every cell of the human body. It's true that we experience changes in the way phenotypes are expressed in particular experiences or memories, but why not conclude that DNA is the ultimate source of personal identity? Philosophers don't seem to give this biological candidate serious consideration. Can you tell me why?

DNA cannot very well serve as a sufficient condition for personal identity over time, otherwise identical twins would each be identical with both their past and future selves. Can DNA serve as a necessary condition for personal identity over time? Imagine a futuristic machine that introduces a minute and meaningless change to your DNA (difficult, I realize!) at 4pm today -- a change that would not result in any noticeable changes in your feelings, memories, conduct, appearance, etc. Would it be credible to say that the person after 4pm is a different person from you? These are, I think, among the reasons philosophers would give for not taking DNA to be a good answer. But then good answers are not easy to come by for this question.

DNA does change. There are "point mutations", for example, in which say a single nucleotide changes, say from guanine to cytosine. . . . CTG TCA . . . becomes . . . CTG GCA . . . If there is a strand of DNA that suffers such a change, is it then not the same strand of DNA? This is exactly like the question whether persons become different persons if they lose say half a finger. And now we have the problem of DNA identity. When are two descriptions sufficiently similar to count as descriptions of the same strand of DNA? Anthony Quinton has the general issue right, in a 1962 article in the Journal of Philosophy called "The Soul": 'No general account of the identity of a kind of individual thing can be given which finds that identity in the presence of another individual thing within it. For the question immediately arises, how is the identity through time of the identifier to be established? It, like the thing it is supposed to identify, can present itself at any one time only as it is at that time. However alike its temporally separate phases may be, they still require to be identified as parts of the same, continuing thing.' By the way, 6% of identical twins do not have identical DNA, so the members some pairs of identical twins would be metaphysically identical and some would not.

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