Friday, October 28, 2005

A definition of identity

One can divide, in my opinion, Identity in two distinct categories: inherent traits and learned, or acquired, moral and psychological “beliefs”. First and foremost, given the fact that every baby is unique and clearly distinct to all other babies, it is reasonable to presume that any event this baby will experience will be interpreted in a unique way. While every child bitten by a dog will pull back his hand in pain, not all will develop a lasting fear of dogs. Our DNA, our own, distinct, physical and mental characteristics will shape all thought and emotion we can experience. We can not sense ultrasounds like dolphins, we can barely sense smell, we are inevitably trapped by our senses and cognitive process in forming a version of reality we can comprehend. This is true not only in inter-species comparisons but even amongst individual humans. Even in babies can one see differences in behaviour, different fascinations, different needs, different ways of reacting to events. From the second we are born there is already a framework of limitations which our cognitive process has to work with. It is not anything in the mind, yet, which differs but the mind in itself.

The second aspect of personality, which is as important as the first, does not share its static nature. If one considers the former as symbolising a container, this second category represents all that goes in it. Every single event, every thought or emotion, every impulse that passes through our brain shapes identity. At birth, Identity looses its static nature and is expanded by a continuous and random accumulation of events. We develop tastes and opinions encouraged by past experiences. We develop passions and fears due to events and emotions we encounter. We develop a personality based on the totality of events we experience and of the reaction that follows them. These acquired truths are fundamental in shaping what we call personality. The initially empty container of our mind gets gradually filled with information that allows us, forces us, to continually re-evaluate our beliefs, our emotions. We develop preconceptions and moral obligations which affect our reaction to any given event, we slowly construct an identity which shapes all we do, all we feel.

This gathering of information is predominantly active when we are young. As we age our mind becomes less receptive to change and our identity gradually becomes more static, it is harder for events to dramatically alter our way of thinking. This concept is portrayed effectively in many novels of which one stands out. In Milan Kundera’s work, “ The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, the author uses a musical comparison to illustrate this concept beautifully:

“ While people are fairly young and the musical composition of their lives is still in its opening bars, they can go about writing it together and exchange motifs, but if they meet when they are older.. their musical compositions are more or less complete, and every motif, every object, every word means something different to each of them.”

Even though age weakens our ability to shape our identity, it never really becomes totally static. Even when we are old and our personality is well defined we can still experience events which, if strong enough, can cause us to dramatically shift our identity. We are continuously in danger of suddenly realising that all we believed no longer rings true, we are forever liable to see all our convictions destroyed by a single, revealing thought.


Blogger Ash Sere said...

Interesting discussion. In my work I certainly meet people whose personalities shift considerably.

It is a disturbing proposition, however, to state that someone's identity could change. Identity implies uniqueness. Most (if not all) people desire to think that they are special somehow, and not just one tiny ant in an invisibly small ant hill. To strip men of their claim to a distinct and unchanging identity is to prove their irrelevance.

8:17 am  
Blogger Wonko the Sad Clown said...

I do not beleive taht identity is as static as you might think. We change, mature and develop new fears and passions constantely.

p.s. What is the work that you do?

11:50 am  
Blogger Patricl Ayling said...

I am 62 Studying DD100 with the Open University
This month Identity

I found your comments very interesting


6:17 am  

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