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Identity and identification
essay [ ]
An exploration of the ontology of the self

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by [un atman ]

2008-10-29  |     | 

Who are we?
However cliche this sounds, it speaks of a gap in our knowledge today. When I say “I am” what do I refer to? The body, the brain, the mind, the name, the citizenship or do I refer to something is beyond these layers of convention?

In order for us to try and formulate an opinion on this matter it is first necessary to establish what is existence in the first place. Ouch, that should be a tough one!

The inherent postulate to the existence of fire for instance is an infinite duration of the correlation between appearance of fire and the energy of the fire to be a fire.Descartes, in his meditations, had the intuition “I think, therefore I am”. But you cannot think if you’re not conscious, so a more fundamental condition, which comes before thinking is “I am conscious”, or, more concise “I am” (because you cannot say “I am” without being conscious). Therefore, our most fundamental intuition would be “I am, therefore I exist”. This is an ontological statement which emphasizes the fact that every REAL thing has to have the potency or energy to be what it is. The manifestation of existence is empowered by the potency of being.

“I am, therefore I exist” sounds illogical because it is illogical. Any intuition is fundamentally illogical. Because logic is not the basis of establishing truth. We cannot know reality by logic, because logic starts when you already have your premises stated. Only then can you start a logical thread and come to some conclusions. What is discouraging is that the information contained in the conclusion is not new to the premises. It is only more explicit. Take this example for instance:

Premise 1: All humans are mortals.
Premise 2: Socrates is a human.

Apply logical correlation between the statements

Conclusion: Therefore Socrates is mortal.

But the fact that Socrates is mortal becomes apparent immediately from the juxtaposition of premises and the conclusion does not come with additional information that is not contained in the premises themselves. You can say that logic helps us organize the information given so that we understand it better and utilize it, but it does not create information.

The experience of being is something we all relate to. It is the only certainty that we have. “I am now” is the absolute truth for us. And that absolute truth is not logical. Why should we exist? What is the premise from which I should draw the conclusion that is necessary for me to be?

In this context what is our identity? The dictionary says that identity is “A state of being the same”.

What is common to all these sentences?

I am the son of my mother
I am the father of my children.
I am the student of this university.
I am the driver of this car.
I am psychotic.
I am a Taurus.

The “I am” is obviously common to all instances. If we think of identity as “a state of being the same” therefore we must apply the term identity to the “I am”. If we are a bit introspective we will see that we can be all these things all at the same time because there is something coherent that unites them. That is our identity. The state of feeling the same person while still having many ways to describe our relationships with the world is the fundamental meaning of IDENTITY.

It is a scientific fact that 100 percent of all the cells in our bodies disappear after 7 years, being gradually replaced by new ones, synthesized from our food. The apparent conclusion is that if our cells are replaced, we are replaced. Still, we feel the same person (even though in the mean time we may have changed our sex, cut out our hands and suffered an amnesia). We may feel happier, we may feel sadder than 7 years ago, we may not remember things, but we are still “We” (with different attributes). The attributes are our IDENTIFICATIONS and not our identities. These are only layers superimposed over our REAL self. It is true that, according to the particularity of these layers we are determined in our actions and thoughts, but we are not our actions and we are not our thoughts. These actions and thoughts are conditions to which our self is subjected by the exterior world. In a sense we are the prisoners of our own identifications, but we also have the power to change our identifications, that is, to escape from the prison.

Our mind is an instrument different from our real identity, because the mind is not aware of itself. We are aware of the mind and it is WE who look at the mind, just like a person watches TV. Very often, due to the fact that the person is absorbed in the program, they identify with the people and the surroundings within the framework of the story presented, but that doesn’t mean that the person is the actor or the surroundings manifested on the screen of the TV.

In our life, our mind may think that “I am a student”, but we see that in a few years this identification changes and our mind thinks “I am not a student”. But the I is still there and, if are more introspective, we see that we feel that we are the same person who has different memories.

Suppose someone walks into a classroom and asks “Who is the smarter student of all of you?”. One is picked up by the other, or picks himself (it doesn’t really matter). Now the person asks him:

Show me your hand. The student raises his hand
Show me your feet. The student points to his feet.
Show me your head. The student points to his head.
Show me your chest. The student point to his chest.
Now, show me yourself! The students instinctively points to his chest, too.
But does this prove that the student is his chest?

What does this imply? That the student identifies himself with his body. For him the body is his identity, but is it the real identity?

Some may say that we are actually our brain. But can you say the word “brain” and think of yourself. Do you say “I, the brain”? No, you say “MY brain”. If your brain changes do you change? If your body changes, do you change? Who is this thing to which our brain belongs, to which your body belongs?

It is the “I”, “The Experiencer”. And the inherent nature of this experiencer is to consume experiences. That is its his ontological energy as an experiencer, much in the same manner in which the ontological energy of the fire is to burn. In the Vedic view this is called dharma, or "constitutional essence".

You only think you are all these things because you identify with them. If you look in the mirror and think you are the person in the mirror, when someone modifies the mirror you may think that you are modified, because you think you are the mirror.But that is an illusion.

The conclusion is that we are not the body, we are not the brain. We are something indescribable in words, just like our consciousness. It is there but we cannot describe it in any way, because it is not possible to formalize it into words, precisely because, before the formalization there is the experience of being conscious. It is transcendental, but nevertheless, REAL. That may give us a hint of who we really are.

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