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To what extent is personal identity reliable?


June 30, 2016 by Akane Kuma

I am sure most of you are positive about your own identity–I am the same person mom and dad brought home from the hospital; I am me from birth to death. Speaking of myself, I have several evidence to support this claim. I have the scar which I got from a flower pot when I was young, my blood type is O, I still remember the stories from one of my favorite books I read back in the elementary school…


However, what makes a person’s identity? Am I “the same” person who my parents brought from the hospital? What makes a person constant from birth to death?


One could argue that a person is constant from birth to death because one cannot change his or her body–yes, plastic surgeries CAN change the shape of your body but one cannot leave his or her body from one to another. One cannot leave his or her own body; thus, one has constant identity from birth to death. I still have the scar from kindergarten and surgeries because I did not leave my body. However, I would argue, as a biology student, that a body would change over time. So even though one cannot leave his or her body, it is inappropriate to say that a person is “constant” through out a lifetime if to use this body theory as the evidence. For example, our red blood cells can live for only four months so they are constantly renewed, our tissue cells has already changed over hundreds of times, our body has increased in both mass and volume…… If all the body cells had died and new body cells replaced those previous, can I say that I am still “me”?


So I said that our body changes over times, so what stays constant? If physical stuff changes, then those do not change are the non-physical stuff–our consciousness. Memories give one his or her identity. When I wake up, I remember who I was yesterday. What I did, where am I…etc. Memories are connected to present. I remember my favorite book from childhood because I constantly go back to the memory of reading that book. However, do I remember everything? Memories are inaccurate by their nature. I remember going to the park with my cousin and feeding pigeons. I recall those pigeons to be white, but when I see the picture, those were gray pigeons. Does this make me a “partially fictional” person? This suggests that I was reconstructing my memories rather than re-experiencing it. If we even remember “wrong”, can we still be so sure of who we are–our own identity? If identity requires memory, then we cannot be who we are until we gain the first memory. Moreover, if I support this view, then I must support the claim that one would stop being who he/she was if that person has lost his/her memory.


Both body and memory theory have problems of their own. So they are too weak to support our “identity”. 17th Century German Philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz has said “If any two things are identical, then they must share all the same properties.” and called this indiscernibility of identicals. Identicals? According to this statement, we are not identical to who we were from yesterdays or even few minutes ago. This gave me hint to how I might approach to the problem of personal identity. If to consider identicality as the same thing as identity, non of us can be a same person from birth to death. Body theory, my tissues and cells are reproduced according to my DNA sequence, since my DNA sequences does not change through out my life time, those new cells are genetically identical to those previous cells. Memory theory, I remember cutting my finger in kindergarten, so I am connected to that “me” and that “me” might have the memory that connects her to the first day of my life. Since present me have a memory that connect me to the “me” who has the memory of first day of life, I am connected to the memory of my first day of life (If A and B are connected and B and C are connected, A and C are connected).


After all, identity≠ identicality.

1 comment »

  1. jayeren says:

    It is very interesting to investigate one’s identity through such biological approach! Never thought of the renewal of cells that constitutes our whole body, the physical part of our identity. This makes me think of a medical miracle that was established not long ago that is the Human-head transplant surgery. This surgery would combine the head of a person that suffers paralysis of body from neck to toe, and the body of a person that died of brain death. Though one of the problem of this surgery is that the person may have identity disorder. Should that person accept the body of others that occupies nearly major part of one’s body as the identity of himself, or the brain that stores his memory, perception, and other psychological identities?

    Furthermore If I change it to a psychological approach. If the living environment for a Japanese kid changed significantly to, for instance, a western one. The value and knowledge that he or her is taught are completely different, or say, refreshed from his or her past. Therefore the person’s character and personality are all changed in some degree. Is this Japanese kid’s identity still the same? This may lead to the question of what the aspects that define one’s identity are. We can see the complete renewal of cells of one person as the most extreme form of change in physical aspect of that person. In addition to this comes the psychological aspect. To what extent do changes in these aspects affect one’s identity?

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