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Entry #4 Personal Identity... The reason why you're not me

Posted 12-07-2009 at 04:40 AM by BeanMarine
Updated 12-07-2009 at 04:42 AM by BeanMarine
Personal Identity. What is it? What makes you, you, and what makes me inevitably me. It is a question that has eluded people for centuries and is probably the leading cause for this poor canine’s identity crisis.

Standing beside its claim, this blog will not revolve entirely around Science (although science will be a large bulk of everything else). TODAY, we will dive into the exciting, philosophical adventure of what makes each of us so special & unique!

WARNING: this entry will reach no conclusive results. It’s like an episode of NOVA that tries to solve the creation of the universe… but doesn’t. It's just here to satisfy my needy blogging desires.

You look into the mirror and ask yourself, “Why is that me?” and continue picking at your nose. The real question you should be asking is “Why should I think that it’s me in the first place?”. Your identity gives you the reassurance that you are the same person as you were yesterday or the day before. Despite the passage of time and the changes in your physical appearance, you are still you.

But how is this possible? Philosophers would also like to know.

First off, we should get down what identity is in the first place. What is identity and what does it mean to be identical?

To be an identity, it must be transitive. Whatever determines identity, it must be able to continuously travel through time. To be identical, there must be symmetry.

Confused, yet? It gets worse.

There are some theories that attempt to explain why it might be possible that you’re the same person over time, but it basically gets broken down to three things:
1) Your identity can be based on your psychology/memories, assuming that your mind is continuous throughout your life.
2) Your identity can be based on your body, since your body grows in predictable and continuous ways. You are even able to follow your body and measure how much you might change in the future (imagine that!)
3) Or maybe it’s just a combination of both psychology and the body.
Of course, with every theory, there are counter arguments

If you believe that your identity is based purely on your psychology and memories, then put yourself in this scenario: You have been captured by evil ninjas! But the evil ninjas are somewhat generous. They are willing to wipe out all of your memories before they poke you to death with their tiny kunai. Contending to this theory, you should have no worries, since the person who will die won't be you! The majority of the people will still get irked by the idea, despite knowing that their memory will get wiped beforehand.

So if it's not psychology, then maybe it's the body?

Imagine that the person you hate most in the world is standing right before you. Now I’m going to do a magic trick: I’m going to take our your bestfriend’s soul and switch it into this hated person’s body. If you believe that the body determines identity, then you’d still probably beat up this person into a bloody pulp whether or not your bestfriend’s soul was in it or not.

If you hesitate, then you’ve just proved this theory wrong.

Which leaves us with the last theory: that identity is somehow a combination of both the mind AND the body. But recall that in order to be an identity, it must be identical, and the mind and body are definitely not the same.

For instance, your body has depth in mass, but your mind (no, not your brain) doesn't. Your beliefs can't be seen in 3-dimensions and they certainly can't be weighed on a scale.

Unfortunately, the Mind & Body Problem is a whole other dilemma in itself, and would probably take up one or two more entries. But I'm fatigued and have a final on philosophy tomorrow about this very topic (hence the entry), so I'm off to sleep!

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  1. Torikakae's Avatar
    A counter to the third theory. If I was born normal, and I lost a leg (or an arm, or an eye, or whatever), am I less of a "me" than before? Many people who lose body parts say that they gained more than they lose. So they experience a stronger growth of their "me"-ness than they would if they didn't lose anything. So if the theory is right, then by losing more of my "me"-ness I actually gain more "me"-ness?

    And what if I had a stroke and part of my brain dies (the parts that deal with beliefs, personality, and personal memories). Then by some miracle I recovered, did I become less of my "me" as well? There's this one woman in the US who had a stroke and it took her 8 years to recover. She didn't lose any of her "me"-ness and was back to being her old self after she recovered.

    Maybe account for one last thing: the soul. The soul can't be proven nor disproven. Hence, any good scientist would always keep an open mind. Denouncing something that cannot be disproven is nothing more than close-mindedness, which denotes failure as a scientist. But then, the problem arises in scenarios we cannot observe. When I lose my body and my mind (aka. I died), would I still be me?
    Posted 12-07-2009 at 05:18 AM by Torikakae Torikakae is offline
  2. BeanMarine's Avatar
    Awesome, Tori! You've got a great philosophical mind for questioning the things most people take for granted. Have you ever taken a PHI class?

    I took one this quarter just for the heck of it, was totally prepared to partially hate it, but O actually learned quite a bit :3
    Posted 12-07-2009 at 01:57 PM by BeanMarine BeanMarine is offline
  3. Torikakae's Avatar
    Well yeah, technically I was forced to do it back in college. It was either take 6 units of Philosophy (+6 units of Theology) or don't graduate. It was fun, one of the few classes that I didn't have to study for :P
    Posted 12-08-2009 at 05:29 AM by Torikakae Torikakae is offline
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