Who that our mind and our body were

Who are we?The thought of existence is one that many ponder, however there is no definitive answer to the question do we exist? Are we being perceived by others, or do we only exist through our own thoughts? Several philosophers have pondered the question; “What does it mean to be the person that you are”, especially from one day to another? Our personal identity is thought of as anything that would distinguish us from other humans. The flaw with personal identity, is that one must decide what features characterize any given person, but what does the real you consist of? Does the real me exist physically but not spiritually? Do I exist in a physical body? Or is the real me found in both my body and my mind? One way to think about this topic is to ask yourself if you can exist without your mind and your body. Every human has a brain, contained within their physical body, but the mind is a whole new entity. The mind is responsible for all our thoughts, memories and our emotions which has a direct relationship with the body through our personal experience. Personal identity is a common question among philosophy as they believe the answer will solve the question of who are we? This essay will talk about different views on personal identity and what it consists of. Philosophers such as Rene Descartes, John Locke and David Hume.     A famous philosopher who wrote a lot about personal identity was Rene Descartes. He believed that our mind and our body were two separate entities. He explained that the mind is where our real identity is located because, “our identity must be found in whatever remains identical to itself over time” (Sproule 308). Many theories suggest that since humans are in constant change, our present self is different than when we were babies, and our ideas of who we are will be different in 15 years. Descartes believed “The essence of the mind consists of the fact that I can think, and that is indivisible and does not extend in space. The body on the other hand, that is extended in space and divisible.” Thought, was the only thing that could not be separated from the body. Every human possesses their own thoughts, and that is unique to everyone. When thinking about Descartes theory of our mind and body being two separate entities, one question came to mind: how do they interact? How can the mind, only being composed of thought, which is a nonphysical substance, have any connection with the body, whose only feature is a physical substance? Through observation, we can tell that there is a connection between those two things. If we wish to move our legs, we will start to walk. Our body has feelings of hunger, which can be transmitted to the mind which will cause us to think of food. How does this interaction happen? Descartes developed a hypothesis, although it was rejected due to scrutiny. Despite not having proof, Descartes suggested that the pineal gland, which is found at the base of the brain, was the connection between the mind and the body. The belief that the mind and body are two separate entities has influenced many of us. Our physical and mental being were believed to co-exist in the same structure, therefore treatment for our mental and physical illnesses were applied to one element, or the other. Descartes view on personal identity is one stretches human limits as it concludes that we are more than one entity.        Aside from Rene Descartes, there have been many other theories about personal identity. Some theories are derived from physiological studies of human behaviour, while others are based upon medical points of view. Three interesting points of view that offer different looks at our identity would include: the materialist view, the modified materialist view, and the idealist view. Materialists believe that there is no difference between the mind and the body. Materialists, such as Thomas Hobbs, who was a seventh century philosopher believed that, “Mental events, like physical actions, are combinations of matter” (314). If our mind is found physical in nature, someday we will be able to create artificial intelligence to think. The modified materialists believe that thoughts are caused by physical process, even though the thought on its own is something other than physical process. People who believe in this study are called epiphenomenalists. They try to stay in the middle, as they believe thoughts are a byproduct of physical process, the same way that smoke is a byproduct of fire. What causes these reactions is a feeling at a physical level. An example of this occurrence is the feeling of fear. Fear does not make our heart beat faster, but the state of our nervous system is the cause of this terrifying feeling. Thomas Henry Huxley believed that the relationship between mind and body is similar to that of a steam-whistle. “The steam whistle, which accompanies the work of a locomotive engine and the engine itself: just as the steam-whistle is caused by the engine’s operations but has no causal influence upon it, so too the mental is caused by the workings of neurophysiological mechanisms but has no causal influence upon their operation” (Nimbalkar). The idealist point of view, is completely opposite to that of a materialist, as they believe that everything is mental, rather than physical. According to idealists, we create these ideas in our mind, but outside our thoughts, they do not exist. Some Idealism is relevant in today’s society as every individual perceives the world differently. Our attitudes and emotions will affect the image of the world we create. A famous Idealist was George Berkeley, who believed that nothing existed if we did not perceive it. In his theories, he explains that once an item is no longer perceived, it does not exist, for its appearance is gone. “Whatever power I may have over my own thoughts, I find the ideas actually perceived by Sense have not a like dependence on my will”. These three ideas are what some believe to make up our personal identity. Opposite to Rene Descartes’ theory of personal identity being found in the mind and body, John Locke believed our identity was founded in our consciousness, and not in the soul or the body. He believed in an “empty mind”, a “tabula rasa”, that is shaped through experience and feelings, which is the foundation for all our ideas. Locke believed in a third part, in between the soul and the body, called consciousness. Since the brain and any other part of the body are constantly changing, he theorized that consciousness remains the same, thus meaning personal identity is not in the brain, but is in consciousness. Locke believed that our identity could be transferred from one person to another. In his book, “Identity and Diversity”, he says, “…if the same Substance which thinks be changed, it can be the same person, or remaining the same, it can be a different person” (Locke 395). Locke answers these questions the following way: “Consciousness can be transferred from one substance to another, and thus, while the soul is changed, consciousness remains the same, thereby preserving the personal identity through the change. On the other hand, consciousness can be lost as in utter forgetfulness while the soul or thinking substance remains the same.” (Spicher)  If we assume that this premise is true, it is possible to have the same soul, but to be a different person. If we accept all these conditions, we accept Locke’s theory that, “The same soul or thinking substance is neither necessary nor sufficient for personal identity over time” (Sproule 324). To further explain his theory, Locke applies the story of the prince and the cobbler. In this story, the soul of a prince and all his thoughts are transferred into the body of a cobbler because the cobbler’s soul had been removed. After this exchange, the prince still considers himself a prince, even though he is in an entirely new body. Locke explains that the distinction between man and person allows the same person to show up in a different body, and remain the same. Locke’s focus remained on the prince, who kept all of his princely thoughts, proving that consciousness was the deciding factor. Locke referred to a “person” as a forensic term, “appropriating actions and their merit; and so, belongs only to intelligent agents capable of a law, and happiness, and misery”(Cole). John Locke believed that personal identity could be found in our consciousness rather than in a physical substance. Contrary to all other positions in this paper, David Hume believed the concept of personal identity to be an illusion. Hume believed that our ideas of ourselves are not based on any experience or impressions, but that self thought only leads to the perception of four feelings: heat, cold, love and anger. For one to understand Hume’s theory, one must first know what a perception is. A perception “all that is present to the mind, whether sensing, thinking, reflecting or “actuated with passions” (Sproule 330).  Hume claimed that self awareness is inexistent. “Human beings are bundles of perception rapidly succeeding each other” (Sproule 330). Hume believed that there is no tangible evidence for external objects; one just has a series of impressions, textures and colour that we draw false conclusions from. These conclusions form the object we perceive. He relates this idea to human relationships and explains that all humans can experience are sensory impressions, and from that we draw a conclusion of a continuing self. Each perception is different thus meaning that it is distinguishable on its own. He states that: “The imagination can therefore separate each perception from everything else and conceive it as separately existent” (Hume 79). To conclude this theory he states that, “Each perception needs nothing at all, nothing such as a mental substance, to support its existence, but may exist separately from everything else in the universe.” In Hume’s book, A Treatise from Human Nature, he furthers his explanation of the self illusion, “We have a distinct idea of an object that remains invariable and uninterrupted through time; and this idea we call the identity of sameness” (Hume 486). This book highlights his theory that the self is nothing other than an ideology constructed by each one of us to give ourselves reassurance that we are all unique. Contrary to many philosopher, David Hume believed personal identity does not exist. There are many ways people can interpret the concept of personal identity. From identity being located in the mind, and the concept of no identity whatsoever, one thing can be certain: our personal is composed of any thought, idea, feeling or event that has shaped us into the individuals who we are now. Patrick Rothfuss says, “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story” (Rothfuss). Based on this logic, we are all unique, and everything that happens in life shapes us into who we are.


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