What constitutes Identity?
Science has yet to come up with an answer; but philosophy (and practicality) can’t wait for it to find one. We usually define “identity” as a collection of things: A person’s actions, private thoughts, physical appearance, sense of life, genetics, philosophy, emotions and attitudes, tastes, and a million other things.
But all these are open to change; If I am horribly burned in an car accident (changing my appearance) I don’t cease to become me; in the same sense, if I think the ideas of the Communist partly are persuasive, and radically change my views, I am still me. Our concept of Identity also constitutes change; each element of identity is interchangeable with a different element. I have radically changed from my five-year-old self in nearly every category; but we don’t consider five-year-old Ryan and modern Ryan as different people (though we would if they existed in the same time and space.)
Identity doesn’t even have to be unique; if I was cloned in such a way that the new me was an exact replica of me in every way that I exist right now, it wouldn’t be long before we grant Ryan number two an individual identity.
Perhaps it’s simpler to think of identity as a center of focus. I am me because nobody but me can be experiencing this body, through these eyes, with this mind in the same way at the same time. In this-almost Buddhist- sense; “Identity” and even “Consciousness” are merely the center in which events, sensations, ‘elements’ of identity, and perception swirl. This too has its pitfalls; as it treats something we all experience, the current concept of an ego, as something non-existent, an illusion created by complex interactions of matter and energy.
This raises more questions; most notably: does 'consciousness' require 'identity' (or self-awareness.) The obvious answer is “yes”; a thought requires a thinker; though Buddhist and Materialists say “no.” Of course, if they where right, why would nature create the ‘illusion’ of identity (which, in some part, can be observed even in animals.) Is it some kind of byproduct, or does it serve a purpose? And if it is an illusion, and not needed, why haven’t we encountered and identity-less consciousness (or would we be able to tell if somebody lacked an ego?)
I think, one of the reasons people find the concept of the soul so comforting, is it gives an easy answer to the idea of identity; we are our souls, everything else is window-dressing.
I know I would find somewhat comforting. This question is more personal then most mysteries; we experience ourselves everyday, without knowing what those ‘self’s’ really are; we think, without quite knowing what thought or ‘intelligence’ or ‘consciences’ is; we are using our minds to discover just what the mind is (a tool trying to figure out how it works and what it is.)
These are wonderfully bizarre and brain-twisting questions and conundrums; and, rather then representing a lack of knowledge, are actually a testament to just how much we’ve evolved.