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17. Objective Definitions of Identity

DNA Sequences

In recent years the Human Genome Project gave us, for the first time, the ability to read mankind’s complete genetic blueprint. Every individual has an exclusive genetic structure, which is a distinct pattern of DNA sequences. This basic pattern is measureable and constitutes an objective description of an individual’s deep-seated physical makeup.

Furthermore, it is left essentially unchanged throughout all stages of growth, development and degeneration. The foundational DNA sequences remain the same from the beginning of an individual’s existence as a zygote to his or her last breath. The fundamental pattern does not depend on cognitive abilities or consciousness. The victim of Alzheimer’s disease, who has lost most of his or her memory, contains the same genetic configuration he or she had as an infant without self-awareness or as a fully-functioning adult during the peak of a successful career. As such, DNA lends itself to an objective definition of identity.

Personal Identity

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Images that have little to do with Identity

Being relatively new, the understanding of the human genome was outside the comprehension of social scientists from the time of John Locke or David Hume right up to the present day. The difficulty that they and others had in verifying whether one physical body at one time is the same thing as a physical body at another time is overcome in the human genome.

We can now ground persistence of personal identity in the continuous existence of our basic DNA sequences, irrespective of epigenetic changes which happen during cell differentiation or which cause certain genes to turn on or off over one’s lifetime and can occur as a result of dietary and environmental exposure. Personal identity is also persistent irrespective of exceptional changes to DNA in differentiated (somatic) cells; the exceptions hereby proving the rule. It is persistent irrespective of damage to DNA due to random accidents, or the losing and gaining of different material particles in our bodies over time. The permanence of the abiding substanceour basic underlying genomic patterncan now be empirically determined and verified, even as all else changes.


Real Identity lies in our DNA sequences

Communal Identity

Personal identity is the product of sexual reproduction that generates new and unique DNA sequences. In other words, the identity of the individual emerges from a male and female that havein their turnoriginated from the organic substratum of the human species. A species is defined, in biological terms, by a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. Ability to reproduce with our own is, therefore, the essential unchanging constant that distinguishes us as human. Reproductive events can happen, in theory, anywhere within the wider human genome. In other words, human reproduction defines the identity of the group in a comprehensive manner.

Human reproduction isat one and the same timethe factor that defines our communal identity and gives rise to our personal identity. It is the organic link between both; the common bond, without which neither exists.

Objective Definitions

Therefore, a common definition to cover both identities is possible to devise and may be expressed as follows: Identity is the sameness of the individual or group at all times and in all circumstances; the condition or fact that the individual or group is itself and not something else. The late sixteenth-century origin of the word “identity” (in the sense quality of being identical or the same) is also conserved in the definition.

We now have succinct, measureable and objective ways to define personal identity, communal identity, or both together.

Next: Personal Identity: Reasons for Celebration here

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HumanNewborn.JPG