Friday, November 18, 2011


One of the standard “problems” in philosophy is the so-called “problem of personal identity.” Essentially, it’s the “what makes me ‘me?’” question, and is particularly puzzling when we wonder about identity over time.

The nub of the issue is that because we change so much from year to year, it’s hard to see how one can conclude we remain the same person all of our lives. After all, I’m nothing like the infant I was more than half a century ago, so why should I claim that that baby with his bottle and me with mine are identical. After all, from the standpoint of our physical, mental, or even biological properties we’re not.

There are, of course, “solutions” to the problem. We can talk about bodily continuity, or a kind of connected chain of memories, or, if we want to go all dualist, we might propose that it’s the singularity of soul that defines me consistently.

Frankly, I’m most sympathetic to the so-called “illusion theory,” which says that the “self” doesn’t really exist. All we are is an ongoing collection of mental states and physical attributes; just like Oakland, California without its “there” there, here I am without any “me” here.

But then that means that all “I” am is what I think and do at any moment. The strange implication of this, if I understand it, is that if I don’t do the things I do then I’m no longer who I am anymore.

If I skip a day of my yoga practice, as I more than halfway did yesterday then apparently, I’m no longer a student of Ashtanga.

If I stop writing 327 word essays and posting them to the internetz, then I can’t say that I’m still a “blogger” (not that I’d have any interest in so defining myself.)

On the other hand, if I miss the weekly Point83 ride, I’m still a cycling miscreant: it was just once and not because of weather.


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