History Matters!

This points us to another theory of identity—the causal/historical view. According to this view, individuals can change over time, and what is important to their identity is that the changes are fluid and continuous. As long as the parts are changed one at a time, we can see that a single individual persists throughout the changes.

One might look at human beings in this way—while in many respects I am very different from the boy who built that spaceship in 1982, it’s correct to say that it was me who built that ship. That boy and I are identical in the sense we’re using here. This is because I came from him, through a series of gradual and continuous changes that brought me to this point. Perhaps words like “transform” and “refine” are even appropriate here (though “refine” might give the wrong impression!). What’s important is that my history includes that boy in 1982, and through a series of causes and effects involving eating a lot of ice cream, reading a bunch of books, falling in love, and having children, that boy has become me. This is what the causal/historical view of identity says about what makes me and that boy the same person.

We could say something similar about the DeLorean. Surely it changes, but Andersen changed bits gradually, transforming the original Cuusoo model into a model with a somewhat different form. The released set has its causal and historical origins in the Cuusoo project, which is why Team BTTF deserves credit for the design. This also explains why any LEGO Ideas project has to contain only the original creative work of the submitting member. The LEGO Ideas Review Board has to ensure that the submitting member is responsible for the historical origin of the project. Otherwise, that person wouldn’t deserve credit for the final result. So if the final set results from the work of both Team BTTF and the LEGO Group, do they deserve equal credit?

Probably not. An analogy to music can help. Imagine a musician who writes some songs, then sings them accompanying herself on guitar, recording a few home demos on a laptop. These demos, whatever their virtues, are usually not ready for public release. If a record company is interested, it might hire a producer, sound engineer, mixer, and studio to record the songs in a manner that will make them ready for commercial release. In the course of this, the producer, in particular, can have creative input into the final product. The producer might bring in additional musicians or add effects to flesh out the sound, all of which hopefully adds to the aesthetics of the songs themselves and makes them ready for the marketplace. The original musician is still considered the creator of the music, but the final product can be significantly different from the original home-recorded demos. Though the producer and other recording professionals deserve some credit, the majority of credit goes to the original creator. Likewise, Team BTTF deserves the majority of credit for creating the DeLorean Time Machine.

So in the end, to say that Team BTTF created a model that was eventually released as a LEGO set means that we can’t identify their work with either the physical matter or the form, because their original DeLorean and the final LEGO set differ in both matter and form. Instead, the causal/historical view explains how the DeLorean changed from its origin to its eventual release. This view also explains why Team BTTF deserves recognition (and royalties) for their design. In an important sense, the final set #21103 would not have existed without the work of Sakuretsu and Togami. In Lockean fashion, they mixed their creative labor with LEGO bricks. The causal/historical view recognizes their original idea as the seed that became the final set, reflected by the LEGO Ideas Guidelines’ originality requirement. And isn’t originality what we value most about LEGO building? Like Emmet, you too can exercise your imagination and have original ideas.

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