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To what extent does memory as a factor to determine a person’s identity?


June 10, 2016 by maggiepan

There was a movie which told a story about a magician who use a machine to replicate himself when he plays the magic tricks. After the show ended, he would kill the clone of him. That makes me started to wonder how could he tell that the one he killed is the clone of him but not himself. Theoretically they are the same, with the same memory and same body. Is there any difference between him and his clone? That leads me to my knowledge question: To what extent does memory as a factor to determine a person’s identity?


Many people think that is the memory makes you who you are and if someone lost his or her memory, they would lose their identities. Since every thing we know and the way of thinking we have been developed through our entire life, the one of the most important way of knowing is memory. We gain memory and when memory get deep in our mind, we understand who we are, where we live, what we like, what we hate. Without memory, we have neither shared knowledge or personal knowledge. It is hard for someone like this to live in the society. By the cooperation of language, sense perception, emotion, and all other ways of knowing, we memorize these feeling or knowledge. However, we can see from someone who lost their memory still remember how to write, how to talk, and the way of thinking did not change.


Is that person still himself of herself when he or she lost all the memories? We normal people will also lose memories, by a process called forget. We forget a lot of things, memories gradually become vague and we start to add imaginations into it since the recall of memory was the process of recreate an imagination. When we forgot something, are we still the person who we are? Back to the real life situation, if the magician killed by his clone, would he know that? This also leads me to my another knowledge question: To what extend does ethic paly a role in natural science?


In this case, the magician uses the technique of clone to play magic tricks and after that he have to kill every clone he made. Technically he is killing people, but at the same time the people he killed was himself. Should we treat a clone person as a real person? They have everything a normal human would have, they have the ability to think, talk, they have emotion, they even might have memories. They have no difference with normal people. However, if we do not kill them that would also cause a lot of problems. If the magician has children and wife, how about the clone? In the clone’s memory, those people were his family. We cannot tell which one is the clone and which one is the original magician. In the past, some scientists also use such kind of technology to grow human ear in mouse or doing living body experiment. The experiments are cruel for sure, and that is ethically wrong. However, we cannot deny that this kind of experiments benefits us a lot. The ethic stops some experiment and did influence the science.


In conclusion, memory is a pathway of how people could get knowledge about who they are and what the world is like. However, it is still a question whether it could determine who we are.


  1. cathyk says:

    I find it interesting how you made the point that even though memory shapes our identity and gives us knowledge, someone who has lost their memory can still know how to read, write and think. Losing memories perhaps do not make our lives impossible, but we do lose a lot of meaningful things.Your last question, whether memory determines who we are, lead me to think about a novel that I’ve been studying in English class, “Brodeck’s Report”.

    In “Brodeck’s Report”, there is a debate about whether people should erase painful collective memories, such as murder or genocide. In the novel, some characters argue that if the past is erased and memories are forgotten, their guilt of the sins that they’ve committed will be alleviated. However, a KQ is: is it ethical to control or suppress collective and personal memory? One may say that if eliminating traumatizing memories will make your life easier, then perhaps it is not ethical. Although, if one cannot recognize his or her past mistakes, and accept them, how could he or she look forward to the future?

  2. Leo Hsu says:

    Indeed, memory, as a way of knowing, contributes greatly to the forming of our personal identities. As you mentioned in this blog post, many people believe one who has lost their memory has thus lost their identity. In relation to personal knowledge, I do agree with this statement. Our memory serves as the storage center for much of the knowledge we pick up through sense perception, emotion, and imagination; moreover, the knowledge transmitted to us from others through language is also stored in our memory. The lessons we learn from experiences we’ve gone through, the memory of a failed test, and so on all contribute to us creating our own personal knowledge, which contributes to our identities.
    However, I would like to disagree with the aforementioned statement in that I believe our identities are not just a sole product of personal experience; identity is instead the product of an overlap between our personal knowledge and shared knowledge. We think of our identities as being composed of the things we learn and the things we do, but we sometimes fail to take into account the fact our identities are just as influenced by our cultural upbringings. The values a culture holds and passes on to its upcoming generations are part of the shared knowledge of that culture. The various experiences gone through by the members of that culture eventually become part of a collective memory.
    You also mentioned the process of forgetting that we subconsciously employ to erase memories. It’s interesting how you raise the question of whether we retain our identities despite the continuing process of forgetting. In relation to what I previously mentioned, I think it is indeed possible to some extent that our identities as a result of forgetting in the collective memory. There are many instances where a nation must forget the sins they committed or the crimes committed against them in order to move on, forging a new identity. Take for example Germany. Germany’s identity as a democratic, Western nation espousing freedom is in little ways tinted by its past. This is however debatable; to some extent, Germany did not “forget” its crimes, but rather learned from them. The Strafgesetzbuch Section 86A of the German criminal law outlaws Nazi symbolism – is this an example of Germany’s collective memory shaping the current identity, or simply suppression of the past?

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