The question of identity has always intrigued me. How to understand yourself and who and what are we as individuals.
After watching two films: “Being John Malkovich” and “Memento”, I became interested in the Psychological Continuity Theory of personal identity.
The theory states: what makes ME, me, are my psychological characteristics: personality, disposition, value system and worldview, all these change very slowly over time. Memory, also, achieves continuity.
In “Being John Malkovich”, the protagonist slips into Malkovich’s mind and sees the world through his eyes. But he doesn’t become him, or does he?
In “Memento”, the protagonist, Leonard, looses his short-term memory. Before the incident, the killing of his wife, Leonard is a bland law-abiding citizen, then he becomes a killer. Was this change the result of a changed personality or was it because circumstances changed and his personality adapted?
The film shown backwards in time disorientates the viewer. With memory loss does Leonard lose himself?
Many of Leonard’s “memories” were not genuine, they were distorted. For memory to be a link to psychological continuity it must be genuine.
Your personal identity in one sense can change. In my working life I was a time study, in my retirement I am a writer. So my idea of myself changed over time.
I often think: Am I the same person now as I was as a baby? My answer is NO, I am different. My DNA is the same, but that’s about it. I have changed physically and mentally through the years.
A better question would be: Am I the person NOW, who was here yesterday or a week ago? What evidence is there? Well, I rely on first-person memory: I remember doing something yesterday and it was done, so I am probably the same person I was yesterday.
How about the question: What am I?
I am a biological organism that is a collection of mental states and events. I am a bundle of all my perceptions; the world through my senses and the way I interpret what I am aware of.
Why am I concerned about my identity?
Because only I can be responsible for my actions and this gives me a reason to care about ME. I have a special, selfish interest in my own present and future. Identity matters to me practically. My identity is very important to me.
This post was written by David Wise, author of “Web of Guilt”, “24 Traumatic Hours, Twice”, and “The Becoming”.
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Also published on Medium.