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who am i?

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Dec. 8th, 2000 | 01:10 pm
mood: contemplativecontemplative

Take a seat and begin to read. These are the words that I present to you and I do this under the assumption that you are who you are and not just who I think you are or perceive you to be. If you are not yourself, then start over and read this again, only this time as you.

The simple and somewhat confusing statement in the previous paragraph is the point of this paper. Definition of identity is a task that is not only hard to take on, but also seemingly so simple in practice. Regardless though, the question of "Who Am I?" is one that a lot of people ask. They wonder who they are, why they are here, what did they do with their life, what they are supposed to do, and when they are supposed to do it. These and many other questions are seen everywhere from everyday interaction to the most peril of situations. This is the question of personal identity, the question of what makes me who I truly am. The answer is simply that everything combined makes up who you are, that no single quality or trait defines who you are in its entirety.

One view on this topic is the stance that our souls make up who we are. By soul, they mean the non-physical traits that we seem to possess but that we cannot see. In this theory, our 'life' can go on forever because are not contained by our physical bodies. This view is known as the Soul Theory and has come under attack by many philosophers. It is admitted that it cannot be used as a sole explanation for personal identity, but many philosophers would like to use it to at least acknowledge the uniqueness and individualism of humanity. They do this rightfully although it is hard to prove so because it seems obvious that our souls help define who we are and how we behave. Is it enough to explain who we are entirely though? That answer is obviously no.

What about the mind, our thoughts and beliefs? One common statement on this issue is that our mind distinguishes us from animals. It is stated that our minds make us psychologically distinct and therefore our identity must be tied in with this distinction. This statement was most well known as the stance that John Locke took in what is called Memory Theory. Locke defines the difference between man and person. He states that "man" is physical and behavioral while "person" is consciousness. This distinction is what drives Memory Theory, the thought that identity is based on our self-consciousness… our ability to remember what has happened to us in the past. His view is that people's experiences and thoughts are unique to them, that no two people could ever have the same thoughts and experiences throughout their entire life and therefore, everyone is unique.

This definition is done by using your past experiences to link you to your current state by stating that no one else can know your thoughts and experiences, so if you remember them then you have to be the same person that you were when you experienced them. This, according to the theory, affirms your identity but is it enough to define who you are?

The problem is that we forget a lot of our experiences. Does that mean that we are not the same person that we were when we experienced that part of our life? This is more of a semantic issue though, and can be mostly cleared up by stating the level of granularity that you must use to explain the connection between your past and present situations. This does run into a danger though, because given enough leeway… two people may be provably the same person due to the error introduced by broadening the explanation. An example of where this might come into play is with identical twins. In this example they were raised the same, treated the same, and for arguments sake… had basically the same experiences. The only difference is in what they are called (their names) and minute details in their experiences. They are obviously two separate people, but if the granularity of distinction is too coarse, the theory would say that they are the same people. This is obviously dangerous ground that is being walked.

Another issue that Memory Theory runs into is that our memories are not always totally accurate. We sometimes think that we did something, and we remember it quite vividly, but in actuality we did something different. In cases such as these, the memories were apparent instead of genuine. So from that one logically concludes that only genuine memories define who you are. The problem this presents is in the definition of genuineness, by asking the question of how do you determine what a genuine memory is without pre-supposing identity? This is a seemingly insurmountable problem of the theory and is known as the problem of circularity.

One theory that tries to deal with this is known as the Brain Theory. This theory is fairly simple in nature and basically sums up to the statement that the organ of your brain (and everything that it contains) makes up who you are, no matter where it is. This begs the question of personal identity when transplanted into a different body or mutilated into another state of being. This is easily addressable to other organs. An example is the body, and that corresponding theory is known as the Body Theory.

There are also other stances that are taken. One such stance is by David Hume, where he states that the concept of identity is purely fiction. What he means by this is that people introspect to figure out who they are and only find a series of disconnected and distinct ideas. Since people are searching for some sort of encompassing connection, they merely forge one to be a container for these disconnected thoughts. This container, is what people view as "self". This stance is definitely an interesting one, but how can one explain the fact that I can look at someone, or talk to them, or listen to them… and know that they are the person that I think they are? If there is no true identity, then how does Hume state anything at all when all of his thoughts are not truly defined? How can he state ownership of ideas when they could very well be someone else's?

There are also other factors that come into play. Some of these are the factors of gender, race, or sexuality. Do they have an affect on who you are? Depending on what theory you subscribe to, that answer will vary quite largely. It seems quite logical though that peoples behavior is affected by these factors. In our society, things such as racism, sexism, or phobias based on sexual preference have a great affect on how people interact, what people say, and even on how people chose to live their life. Some of these factors could even be hypothesized to lead to mental roadblocks and barriers that are actualized by society.

So what is it that makes a person that person? Is it their soul, their mind, their body, their race or sex? That question is simply answered by saying that it is everything. No one single trait is enough to define who a person is. If identity is defined by their sex or race, then there is not enough specificity to show difference between people of the same sex or race. If it is defined as the soul, then how can we evaluate a person as being the person that we think they are. One could easily appear to be someone physically, but truly be someone else since the soul is not a physical entity it is not visual. Taking the stance that ones mind defines who they are, what happens when that mind is no longer functioning, yet the body still works? Is that person no longer who they were before and if so, who are they now?

So, when one refers to himself or herself they are referring to the encapsulation and explanation of interaction of all the qualities discussed here. They are referring to the links between mind and body and soul, as well as their gender and race. They are referring to their place in society, their place in the world, and their place in life. In doing this, they silently bridge gaps and boundaries that philosophers will continue to debate for many centuries to come.

All of this talk about identity wraps up in a confusing little package. It seems silly that a question seemingly as simple as "Who Am I?" results in such a paradigm. Often though, the simplest questions to ask are the hardest to truly explain.

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Comments {9}

dreamland

....

from: dreamland
date: Dec. 8th, 2000 11:56 am (UTC)
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you pretty much summed up everything in a nice tight package. yup. ^_^
but these are all "theories"...thoughts analyzing other thoughts... hehe... different people's ideas on topics after doing some tests...
you can always have debates on controversial topics like this because different ppl believe and think different things... and we're arguing about other beliefs and perceptions here too... hehe... it's interesting how you can ask "why" to everything... and continue in a cycle until you don't have an answer to "why" anymore...
::frustrated, throws hands up:: "that's just the way things are, dammit!!" hahahahaha... so funny... like little kids about the age 2, "but why mommy??" mom gives an explanation.. "but why mommy??" another explanation... "but why??" mom is frustrated... haha.

but i agree... "who you are" is everything you encompass...your thoughts, your mind, your heart, your soul, your feelings, your body (what you were born with), your personality, your society... and many choices you have made along the way... i think that's really important. my friend chose to hang w/ the gothic community... my other friend chose to kill himself... my other friend chose to keep things bundled up inside (which i think is horrible because i'm afraid of those explosions...when you keep everything to yourself), my other friend chose to never have premarital sex... choices... the way you live... you're own set of morals or what...

i think society definitely creates a lot of a person too... the ideas and thoughts you've been exposed too... like someone who's only been in a christian society will not have the same thoughts as someone who has lived on the streets w/ drugs and stealing to get around...
the situations you are put in... and so many ppl have that stupid idea of doing something just to "fit in," to be "liked," to "have friends".....
THAT IS WHEN THEY FORGET TO "BE THEMSELVES." they are so busy following everyone else to try and "be more popular" or what... it's stupid. you see that everywhere at any stage in life. it's just not the 'middle school/high school popular crowd thing.' it's everywhere at all stages... sigh... so sad to watch...
animals... hehe... but we are animals... human nature... mammals... hehe... how do we know animals are thinking about other complex thoughts... in some other way we don't know about... cuz we can't think that way, we can't see that way... they aren't dumb.
John Locke is awesome. =) yes, we grow through the different experiences we have in life. i am pained by my own past experiences... but you suffered through and are scarred by many other experiences you faced through your own life... and i will never truly understand all your emotions from those scars... just as you will never truly understand all my emotions from my pains...
even identical twins... they aren't the same ppl... may have the same genes, come from the same egg n' sperm... but they each will have different traits, different souls... just like trying to make clones... things would be different... clones wouldn't come out the same. may look like me, act like me... but thoughts n' such would be so different.

and i could respond to forever but i have to go w/ nix now to get her car!!!

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Tim

Re: ....

from: visions
date: Dec. 8th, 2000 12:08 pm (UTC)
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the "but why?" circle is basically socratic logic. hence, the frustration. socrates was a very frustrating philosopher to many... perhaps why he was put to death. :)

i agree that society does affect you, but it doesnt necessarily define you. the molding though, in turn... can define. it just depends on what you are looking at.


as far as clones go though, i assume that you dont believe in genetic predisposition? that everything we due is already determined by what makes us up.. our DNA. if you do believe in "fate" as it is commonly labeled, then if someone were to clone me... my exact fate would be shared and the pure fact that fate would not be able to distinguish between me and my twin because everything from our choices, to our dna... would be the same.

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dreamland

hmm...

from: dreamland
date: Dec. 8th, 2000 12:14 pm (UTC)
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but that's like an idealistic view of a "clone"... ppl nowadays... like that sheep dolly, are just trying to clone our genes first of all...

that's like playing with science fiction... cloning our "fates" as well... is such an idealistic idea... it may be possible... but right now, it's way out of reach from our hands...

that is what i think. ^_^

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Tim

Re: hmm...

from: visions
date: Dec. 8th, 2000 12:25 pm (UTC)
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i was purely speaking of cloning your DNA.. which is in essence... everything.

"fate" is associated with "who you are" and at the very core... you are DNA.

it's one thought...

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dreamland

Re: hmm...

from: dreamland
date: Dec. 8th, 2000 05:30 pm (UTC)
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true... but is your "soul" your "spirit" your "experiences" a part of your DNA? i don't think so...

and fate... hmm... i don't know... it's a mystery... is there sucha thing as fate? hehe... maybe... but along the path of life... i think a lot of what happens is based on things you pick to... like is someone's "fate" to die of cancer at age 12? maybe... ahh...

so many "miracles" or other things that happen that we just don't know how to explain at times..


i don't believe in "God"...(a force, ok... but i believe "God" is a human created idea...) .... but i do believe in "ghosts" and i have no idea how to explain that... just another one of those "gut feelings" hehehehe...

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y

from: zdroopie
date: Dec. 9th, 2000 02:45 am (UTC)
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you pusted your paper ? .. that is allot to post hehee...

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Tim

Re: y

from: visions
date: Dec. 10th, 2000 04:56 pm (UTC)
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hehe. i was bored so i posted it. no biggie. if people didnt want to read it, they could ignore it :)

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Our Blank N bliss to Fill

from: anonymous
date: Dec. 10th, 2000 04:53 pm (UTC)
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so many questions that cant be answered..

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Tim

Re: Our Blank N bliss to Fill

from: visions
date: Dec. 10th, 2000 05:23 pm (UTC)
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that is what life is all about... trying (sometimes to no avail) to find the answers to all the questions that we pose.

the issue becomes, what is truly discernable or solvable and what is a pure waste of time?

even that question... that issue... is one that cannot be simply answered.

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