Is Shape-shifting Possible ?



In as much as i love to watch movies based on fantasies, i also love to think of the possibilities of such fantasies happening in real life or what our current understanding of our reality says about the possibility of such fanciful ideas happening. In fact, some even go as far as claiming to have come across some of them before.
In our previous post we discussed about one, the possible existence of ghosts. In this article we're going to be discussing about another one and it's none other than "shape-shifting".

Shape-shifting basically involves the ability to alter ones physical form at will, like a man transforming to a real life goat or bird - actually it could be anything. Most of us may have come across this in fantasy stories or movies, like in Dracula movies- transformation to Bats, or DC's Titans - beast boy.
However, there are those of us that believe such abilities are possible in real life, thanks to witches and wizards or even extraterrestrial sightings. Sometimes you hear or see claims of an old witch that transformed into a bird. 😂
In some places such claims are common among religious people. Personally, i find it hard believing such claims but does it mean that it's not possible to shape-shift ?

Well, let's do some analysis with the tools of science and philosophy. As a normal person, our ability to control our body is actually limited, our control is mostly at organic level and it's not all the organs we can control. Also remember that our organs are made up of cells, we can't control our cells like the way we control our hands and legs. Cells on another hand are made up of parts too called organelles which we can't also control. These organelles too are made up of molecules and molecules are made up of atoms, e.t.c. To be able to shape-shift (at will) to any physical object one needs to be able to at least have control over his/her molecules/atoms.

Let's now for a moment assume it's possible to control one's own molecules at will, it's still not enough to guarantee the kind of shape-shifting you see in movies and it's due to other problems, one of them being the problem of identity. We mostly believe it's our mind doing the control and according to physicalism (the philosophy backing science) the mind is purely of a physical configuration in our body (particularly the brain) if one happens to alter his physical form, he's likely to alter the physical configuration that gives rise to his own unique mind/personality. What this means is that his old self dies (including his memories) and this could be a problem if he wants to revert back to his original form. In other words, under physicalism there could arise a paradox, this paradox is that the new form can never tell if it's identity is the same as that of the old form. Are you still confused ?
Okay, look at it this way. John (a human being) transformed to a real life goat and he did it when no one saw him. According to physicalism he's going to loose properties of his old self, including his memories (he now has the mind of a goat) and therefore cannot transform back to his old self. How does the goat prove to people that it was once John, especially when in danger ?

But do you also know that the goat could actually prove that it was once John ?
How ? - you may be asking.

Well, by doing away with physicalism and introducing "Cartesian dualism" or "mind-body dualism" or as @eniolw puts it "body/soul dualism".
Cartesian dualism is another solution to the mind-body dilemma discussed in our previous post, and it generally says that the mind and body are of different substances or that the mind does not necessarily depend on the body for it's existence, this closely mirrors the religious view of souls/ghosts. If one shape-shifts, it's only the body that can change not necessarily the mind. In simpler terms, if John transforms to a goat his old self can still be preserved in the realm of the mind/spirit which can help the goat revert back to John.

Unfortunately, Cartesian dualism has it's own problems of which you can find at the end of this article - Further Reading. The most important problem is that it's in conflict with modern science.

At the end of the day, it's difficult to tell if the kind of shape-shifting we see in movies is actually possible. Even Cartesian dualism, if it were to be true offers room for the possibility of being able to control one's own molecules. It's actually difficult to prove or disprove the existence of Cartesian dualism and personally, I'm yet to see anyone who has control of his/her body at molecular scale or even cellular scale.

While there seems to be no conclusive answers yet, such ideas make room for an interesting intellectual exercise. So for now, enjoy them for enjoyment sake. 😎

For Further Reading


Personal identity

Mind–body dualism

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Well, by doing away with physicalism and introducing "Cartesian dualism" or "mind-body dualism" or as @eniolw puts it "body/soul dualism".

I didn't, the Greeks did. Check out this article for example. You can also check out "Platonic Dualism," which is how it's best known.

I brought it up because you somehow made a connection between "Mind", "Spirit" and "Soul" in that other post of yours and I wanted to show that including the soul is rather an ancient Greek superstition. The Jews did not believe in these things, but they inherited them from Hellenism, etc.


Cartesian dualism is another solution to the mind-body dilemma discussed in our previous post

Huh, I just wrote about this too also in a media/movie kind of context.

I think most powers are a lot less desirable than we're made to believe while they're out of reach. Shape shifting would likely be awful XD


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