Who Am I? The Search for Our Identity Continues

Have you ever woke up in the morning and wondered whether you are still dreaming? Have you ever done something unintentionally and blamed it on your subconscious mind? Better still, have you ever tried asking yourself, ‘who am I?’ Were you able to get the answer?

I have thought of all those questions. In fact, I have thought of those questions many times in my brief 21 years on this planet. I wake up every morning and wonder whether I am the same person I was when I went to bed last night. Sometimes, I stare into the mirror while making all kinds of faces and ponder which one of those ‘faces’ is the real me.

What defines us? What constitutes our identity?

More importantly, is the mind and body an entity that cannot be separated?

Who am I?

Arthur Schopenhauer once said that we use the mind that understands matter. How then can matter understand the mind? While this is logical in a sense (beware, I am using my mind), science continues to use the ‘senses’ and empirical evidence to study the relationship between the mind and body (matter) in an effort to understand who we really are.

Evidence that the mind and body can be separated can be found in the sad case of Phineas Gage. Caught in an unfortunate accident that destroyed the frontal lobes of his brain, Gage lost his ability to make decisions when given two alternatives. Worse, his identity totally changed and the old destined for success Gage was replaced with a drunkard, depressed and burden to the society figure.

The case of Phineas Gage isn’t the only instance of scientific proof that the mind and body can be separated. Using modern scientific devices, certain parts of the brain can be stimulated with electrical shocks to trigger hallucinations in individuals that seem real. Remember the movie Matrix?

The French philosopher Descartes rationalize that since we are able to doubt all things under the sun, including ones own existence, doubt is therefore the only thing uncountable. Since doubt is the constant, there must be an entity doing the doubting and this entity must also be thinking at the same time. Thus the phrase, dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum, which means, I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am.

Before you start thinking of a counterargument or an antithesis against the reasoning of Descartes, bear in mind that most of us live our lifes following the same principle that Descartes pointed out. Who and what you think you are is defined by what you think about yourself. If you really believe that you are a good and kind person, nobody can convince you that you are not until you acknowledge it. The principle, I think, therefore I am still holds albeit in a different manner.

If what you think is the main element in a person’s identity, surely the accumulation of ones thoughts would equal to the identity of an individual. It would be memories then, which define who we are. Assuming that memory defines who we are, when memory lost (this happens daily) and Alzheimer’s kicks in, does this mean that we gradually lose our identity or that our identity is in a constant state of change? This is due to the fact that our views and opinions of things change as we age over time.

Scary, huh?

Taking things a little deeper, we should not only use an internal view to understand who we are. While it is true, as I have said above, that what we think of ourselves constitutes a major portion of our identity, external factors should also be taken into consideration. Suppose I pretended to be a beggar and walked the street in a perceived attempt to beg money from the public, would I be treated any differently from any other beggar if people have no idea who I am?

I don’t think so.

When external factors are taken into account, I think, therefore I am can also mean I think, therefore you are. A person’s identity isn’t just something that incorporates our internal feelings about ourselves but also external perception of who we are. A son of a king would more often than not be treated like a son of a king regardless of how unkingly his behavior might be. Similarly, an individual would be treated as a beggar as long as you perceive him to be a beggar. Even if you are kind to a beggar and donate some money, you are still treating him as a beggar!

Just a few days ago, I calculated that if I would live up to 80 years old, I have already spent a quarter of my life in my childhood. If I would live up to 50 years old, almost half of my life is gone. If I would die tomorrow, 99.9987% of my life is gone (rounded figure and yes, I did calculate it..a round of applause to the insane fellow). However, if I take what I have written here into account, I would only live as long as my memory lives. I guess this is maybe why I am writing this essay, as an evidence of the current ‘me.’

I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am, therefore you are.

2 Responses to “Who Am I? The Search for Our Identity Continues”
  1. pochp says:

    Don’t you think this is very easy to answer if the ‘I’ doesn’t exist in us?

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  1. […] Who Am I? The Search for Our Identity Continues « Eternity in an Hour […]

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