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18. Personal Identity; Reasons for Celebration

A Meaningless Word

In today’s world “identity” is considered to be highly complicated. It’s regarded as being ineffable and indefinable.[1] Widespread acceptance of this mind-set has given rise to a weakening of the term to the point that it has become a multi-hyphenated, widely applied, meaningless word.

sperm-egg

The New Identity is Immediately Protective of Self—a state that will be conserved until death of the whole organism

Fundamental Change

When considering any quest for enlightenment or understanding, objective solutions are preferred over subjective ones. And, with regard to competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected (Occam’s Razor).

Few assumptions are needed to acknowledge that our DNA sequences are the unchanging essence of our physical makeup and, therefore, define our identity (article #17 GKIS). Besides, these sequences can be determined objectively. In other words, identity is tangible not ineffable. This shift in paradigm forces a fundamental change in our understanding of who we are.

Floundering Ship of Theseus

Our unchanging DNA sequences overcome the paradox of the Ship of Theseus. We are one and the same being throughout our entire lives. Our underlying physical essence is composed of DNA patterns that are stable despite replacement of chemical elements or bodily growth. And it’s possible to pin-point the instant in which the identity of the individual comes into existence and when it ends. The start-point is described succinctly by Condic (2008):

Following the binding of sperm and egg to each other, the membranes of these two cells fuse, creating in this instant a single hybrid cell: the zygote or one-cell embryo … Cell fusion is a well studied and very rapid event, occurring in less than a second. Because the zygote arises from the fusion of two different cells, it contains all the components of both sperm and egg, and therefore the zygote has a unique molecular composition that is distinct from either gamete. … These modifications block sperm binding to the cell surface and prevent further intrusion of additional spermatozoa on the unfolding process of development. Thus, the zygote acts immediately and specifically to antagonize the function of the gametes from which it is derived … Clearly, then, the prior trajectories of sperm and egg have been abandoned, and a new developmental trajectory—that of the zygote—has taken their place.[2]

theseus

Ship of Theseus floundering in a sea of DNA

In other words, the separate functions of sperm and egg (seeking and acceptance) are modified and the new cell, the zygote, is immediately protective of itselfa state that will be conserved in the individual until the death of the whole organism. This provides a non-arbitrary definition of when the identity of the individual begins and ends.

Bedrock of our Existence

It is said that nothing influences our lives more than how we define our identity. Therefore nothing causes more pain if we are unclear about who we are. The good news is: an objective definition of identity now exists. We don’t have to find it, or merit it. We can never lose it. It never changes. It is the immutable bedrock of our existence. It is who we are in terms of our physical essence.

Understanding and Reaching Our Potential

Objective identity—by inference—has little to do with the anxieties, discomforts, lack of acceptance, pain of exclusion, setbacks, conflicting ideologies or politics. All these are facets of human life that our identity has to work through.

A strong internal notion of personal identity helps build positive attitudes towards ourselves, irrespective of the difficulties we have to face. Poor opinions breed feelings of low self-worth and result in dismal self-fulfilling prophecies. Knowledge of our indisputable identity is the solid base on which we can begin to build confidence to meet the adventure of life—with all its joys and pains. The main challenge we have to face is to understand our potential and reach it.

For those who feel, for whatever reason, that they are on the losing side should remember this: To have fertilized the mother’s egg, the sperm that was successful had to struggle against some 280 million competitors. It would be easier to win the Irish lotto. In other words we began life as an undisputed winner—abundant reasons to celebrate!

Refs

[1]  Fearon, J. D. (nd) What is identity (as we now use the word)? Department of Political Science Stanford University. Stanford. here

[2] Condic, M. L. 2008. When does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective. In: Westchester Institute White Paper Series. The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, Thornwood, NY, pp 1–18.

The GKIS is based on Shelter and Shadows by R. M. Keogh here

Photo: Wikicommons (sperm and egg binding). Image: R. M. Keogh

GKIS Gerald Keogh Identity Series

Coming Next

Identity beyond Notions of Ethnicity here