Friday, May 9, 2014

You are You and Your…

I did not end up submitting this essay for anything, since I decided not to apply to UChicago (no engineering). But my good friend Lietenant Sarcasm posted her essay, which I thought was quite good, so I'm posting mine.

I took a slightly different approach, since the idea of the self as an emergent property fascinates me (it's what my senior project is all about, after all). Enjoy.

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Fickle thing, identity. To others, you are you and whatever they expect you to be for them. To yourself, you are you and a receptacle for past disappointments and future dreams. To posterity, you are you and your legacy. The question remains: what is “you”? If we separate out “you” into “you” and “your X”, then does it necessarily follow that the second “you” is indivisible? It does not. The identity sheds layers, whittling down finally to…to what? What is it that differentiates one person from the next, after all passing moods, social expectations, and background has been stripped away? Human beings under duress behave remarkably similarly.

Consider a serial killer. What pressures in upbringing, what genetic tendencies, made the taking of life a viable career choice? At what stage could something--anything--have turned our metaphorical serial killer onto a nobler path? Or was his or her fate sealed from conception? Before conception, given the parents’ temperaments and situations? Genetics are not fate. The child of an addict--two addicts, even--need not fall into vice. Circumstances are not fate. The child of abuse need not abuse.

I am me. I am me and my community. I am me and my family and my community. I am me and my upbringing and my family and my community. I am me and my creations and my upbringing and my family and my community. I am. Even this last is uncertain: perhaps I are, because this human being who calls herself by my name is made up of millions of cells capable of responding to stimuli and making decisions accordingly. The intellect is, perhaps, an emergent property of the complex systems of systems that make up this frail and wondrous human body. On the other hand, perhaps what I perceive as consciousness is the dream of a butterfly.

Do we have a core identity, a soul, if you will, that would be the same regardless of where or when or how we were born and raised? Is there any aspect of our personality that cannot be traced back, somehow, to external influence? (Genetics is included under external influence.) If someone was created with my exact memories, would she be me? If every inter-neuronal connection were mapped and replicated? Could someone tell the difference between her and the original?

When I was younger, sometimes I would lay awake at night and look at the ceiling and wonder - why am I me? Why did this consciousness choose to inhabit this body, this life? Could I see into another’s mind while preserving my own autonomy or would I seep into the other mind and leave with its electricity rewiring my own? Can we ever know, truly, what it is to be someone else?

You are your universe and chaos and time. I do not know if “you” even exists. But who am I to say so? I am me, my self and aye, every single term in this sentence breaks down when you push it hard enough. Careful if you do. They might push back.

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