Can science define our identity?
“Sense” of who you are, is not who you are. Personal perceptions are often erroneous. To “identify-with” or be “identified-by” are not the same thing as “Identity”. Belonging to something, like a social group or even a nation, has little to do with your identity. It is necessary to separate who you are from all aspects of how you live—or perceive—your life. Identity is fixed; how you express it is fluid.
These comments run counter to most contemporary views of identity. And with good reason. Until recently it was not possible to define identity. In a situation where the term was undefinable it took on many meanings, several of which are contradictory. It is now possible—and necessary—to discard all the old meanings of the term.
The reason we can (and should) discard all old meanings of “identity” is that we now have an objective definition that suits all situations and is applicable across all disciplines. It was developed by the Oxford English dictionary. Identity is defined as: The sameness of a person or group at all times or in all circumstances; the condition or fact that a person or group is itself and not something else. The definition embraces personal identity and communal (or group) identity.
This definition was unworkable because no one in the humanities could explain what is meant by “sameness” in a person or group. Volumes have been written on the subject without arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. There is no need to regurgitate the arguments. They are now redundant because science can explain exactly what is meant by “sameness” in a person and in a group.
Human genetics clearly demonstrates that every human individual has a distinct pattern of DNA sequences. Even so-called “identical twins” are not really identical. Furthermore, DNA patterns are left unchanged throughout all stages of life and under all circumstances. Because of these findings, the difficulties that social scientists have in verifying whether one physical body at one time is the same thing as a physical body at another time, melts away and is overcome in the human genome.
What about communal identity? A species is defined, in biological terms, by a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. Reproductive events can happen, in theory, anywhere within the wider human genome. Ability to reproduce with our own is, therefore, the essential unchanging constant that distinguishes us as human and defines “sameness” in the group or community. Moreover, human reproduction is—at one and the same time—the 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.
The dictionary definition of identity is fully satisfied at the personal and communal or group levels. Therefore, it substitutes for all former usages of the term. The ramifications of this change in paradigm are profound—even staggering.
The disassociation between our basic underlying genetic structures and our superficial—and often incorrect—understanding of human differences, questions the entire bag of diagnostic instruments we use to classify humanity. DNA is the new classifier. Our genes don’t correlate well with commonly used tools of classification like race, ethnicity, culture or nation. The inherent “sameness” that defines the human species (ability to interbreed) is and was identical for every classification (i.e. sub-set) that can possibly be devised; besides, every sub-set is permeable to the ‘other’ through interbreeding.
Therefore, unity within the human family, based on its ability to intermix, resists the notion of fundamental internal divisions of any sort. Differences are one of grade rather than essence and, though helpful in the study of human behaviour, do not constitute separate “identities”. If our outward systems of classification are suspect, then it is imperative to modify them in favour of the one method that provides the most fundamental understanding of our identity; namely, our DNA.
For a full article on the subject see Philosophy Now: here