There’s a very simple answer to the titular question of this piece. No, Socrates cannot be an alligator. That’s so obvious you might be wondering why I’m bothering to say it. Well, last week, I read an article called All Possible Worlds. In it, Timothy Andersen talks about the idea of multiple universes and how there are an infinite number of these universes. Because there are infinite universes, everything that can happen does happen in at least one of them. He says that since everything that can happen happens, there is a universe out there where Socrates becomes an alligator.
Andersen doesn’t just announce that Socrates is an alligator out of nowhere. Taking a page from the philosopher Alvin Plantinga, he is discussing the difference between necessary and contingent facts. Necessary facts are true across all universes. Contingent facts might or might not be true in any given universe. According to Andersen, 1+1=2 is a necessary fact and Socrates being human is a contingent fact. It happens to be true in our universe, but there’s no telling what form Socrates may take in another universe.
This is utter nonsense. Simply put, even if there is another universe where there is an intelligent, philosophical, Athenian gadfly alligator called “Socrates”, it wouldn’t be Socrates. It would be a completely different entity that happens to have the same name as Socrates. It would also be nonsense to call whatever the intelligent, philosophical, Athenian gadfly that looks like an alligator an alligator. If it really looks like an alligator, I’m even skeptical that it could be intelligent, and it certainly couldn’t speak.
I would go even further than this. I say that everything that is, was, or ever will be is unique. If that’s true, even if there’s another intelligent, philosophical, Athenian gadfly that’s human called “Socrates”, it wouldn’t be The Socrates. Socrates is a unique individual from a specific time and place. Anything from a different time and place, definitely from a different universe, would not be Socrates. The best we can say is that the other human or alligator called “Socrates” is analogous to Socrates.
So, why would a seemingly intelligent scientist make such a basic mistake? I really don’t know. Maybe he’s read too many comic books. Maybe he thinks that physical identity and symbolic identity are the same things. Luckily, according to Andersen, there’s a universe out there somewhere that has an entity in it that’s analogous to Timothy Andersen who doesn’t make such a simple mistake.