The survival of your identity

Our brains are notorious for being the subject of some of the trickiest philosophical questions. Here we address the issue of identity.

What is your identity?

Your identity or 'I' feeling is the experience that you are in your head and not in the head of someone else. You consciously experience what is happening in your head, but you do not have direct access to what is happening in someone else's mind. It's a subjective experience.

We feel like we are the same person as yesterday or last year. In reality we change greatly. The molecules that make up us are constantly being replaced, but more importantly, the structures and patterns in our brains are also constantly changing.

We forget a lot, learn new things, our environment changes. A person can change dramatically in ten or twenty years, all the way from childhood to adulthood. If you have been keeping a diary for a long time, it is interesting to read back what you did and thought years ago.


Yet you still consider yourself that same person. It seems like there is a continuity in your identity. Even when you wake up from sleep, coma or sedation, you still feel like the same person, despite the fact that your consciousness has been interrupted.

Others also continue to see you as the same person, but for different reasons. For example, because you hardly change in the short term. But also people who have not seen you for a long time will still consider you the same person. Even if they can no longer recognize you by your appearance or behavior, they will identify based on your name, background, or shared memories.

A contemporary scan with MRI. Can we upload our identity from our brain? (Wikimedia commons)

Make a copy

Let's do some thought experiments. Suppose teleportation would be possible. The structure of your brain is scanned at very high resolution, much better than is currently possible. This information is used elsewhere to make an identical version of you. Meanwhile, the original (you!) Is being destroyed, so apparently you've been teleported.

Would that new version of you still feel like the same person as you? Probably yes, because all memories, personal characteristics, and skills are the same. And others will look at it that way, they see no difference. Can we then say that your 'I' lives on without problems in the copy? This is a bit more complicated.

Which copy has your identity?

Suppose you don't make one copy, but make two or even a lot. Then your 'I' would be in each of those copies. If you asked them, every copy would find that they have the same identity as the original person. But that seems impossible unless your identity can split up. How can you have the experience of being in multiple heads at the same time? In the one yes and the other does not make sense either. Then the consequence is that your 'I' is probably not in any copy.

Another point of view is if the original is kept while a copy is being made. Your identity would certainly still be in the original, if the scanning technology doesn't change you. It does not seem likely that the 'I' would also go to the copy.

The conclusion seems to be that each copy that is made has a completely different identity from the original person, even though they are identical at the time the copy is made.

Upload your brain and identity

Is your identity inextricably linked to your brain?

Another thought experiment is to move all the information in your brain very graduallyupload'to a computer. We assume that our mind is substrate independent, so it does not matter whether it is located in biological brains or, for example, in silicon chips. You replace brain cell after brain cell with computer hardware and software that simulate the precise structure and function of the brain. If you do this procedure gradually you will not notice it and your 'I' will continue to exist during each intermediate stage. The end result is that your brain is uploaded into a computer.

It looks like your `I 'is neatly located in the computer. If you now start making copies of your `silicon brain '(a lot easier than with the biological brain), you will run into the same problems again. Does it make sense to have a copy your brain as a backup for when you suffer brain damage or die? Probably the result would be a different person.

Could the 'I' be a great illusion?

If the 'I' is a completely subjective experience, can it be an illusion? Is the whole concept nonsensical?

The consequence of this is that you should have no problem with being killed yourself, provided that an exact copy of you is made elsewhere at the same time. After all, you move net on your own. However, your urge to survive would want to prevent your original from being destroyed at all costs.

But still. Living beings simply have a strong urge to survive. This is a logical product of evolution; species without that trait would quickly become extinct. Could it be that this urge is the only reason you would not agree to the above procedure, where you are destroyed while an exact copy is made?

I personally believe that a certain degree of spatial continuity is essential for the preservation of your identity. You can move it to another medium, but gradually. You cannot consider an exact copy that is made separately as yourself.

How do you feel about this?

35 thoughts on “Het voortbestaan van je identiteit”

    1. My scientific intuition also says that it is nonsense, just like, for example, free will (unless you define the concept of free will counter-intuitively as some 'compatibilists' do). In any case, the term is not very useful for objects (eg Ship of Theseus). That is why I also wonder what the exact reason is that I would not accept being replaced by an identical copy of myself. I'm going to look at that book.

      1. the senses are our receptors. The brain processes it so that there is a perception that is consciousness that makes our identity. Identity seems to me to be a derivative of consciousness, and I have come across a number of terms that articulate this "viewing box"; phaneron, egocentric predicament, solipsimse. Identity is a perception.

        An identity is something personal. As it grows, it can take on a life of its own. An identity then lives on in the history and thoughts of people.
        And our internet identity in one of the many data centers.

        1. To immediately pop into metaphysics. Some schools of thought see the ego as nothing more than a focus point of consciousness, your physical body is a focus point of a much greater consciousness. You have a body in a consciousness. This focal point gives you a unique viewpoint but it is only a focal point. Objectively there is no I at all in the world, there is the world in which there are different focus points. But it is all connected.

          Bashar calls this the second law of creation. All is one and the one expresses itself throught the all.

          If you find it interesting, here are Bashar's 4 Laws of Creation.

          For me, that information has shifted some paradigms. : D

    2. The I is a logical consequence of the existence of the human body and the brain, which resides in the body. Although our brain is able to relate to others through mirror neurons, we are not able to merge completely with another.

  1. Very good article :)
    I don't think spatial continuity is that important. Most famous example: lucid dreaming, about which Niek wrote an article. As long as your memories of your previous physical abode are clear. And whether your 'self' is an illusion or not: it is a recognizable illusion. It is what you identify with. Your lover, your job, your hobby, the species you belong to, all the thinking beings in the universe. As such, I think it itself is indeed real.

    1. Well said.

      The problem only arises when you look ahead: “is that future copy really 'me'?”. The copy does not experience any problems, at least not if it does not know that it is a copy. Unless it's a philosopher, of course, there are always problems. ;)

  2. mother tongue

    Few comments (free thought):

    There is such a thing as split brain theory.
    I can split you up, with each brain experiencing its own self.
    That is the paradox.
    Which half are you then?
    But I can also merge you with another me.
    At least, according to the theory.

    Your brain is the input and output to and from an electromagnetic field.
    Your brain is also a power plant to maintain this field.
    If you clear this field, you are dead even if the cells are still alive.
    Someone in a reversible coma still has an electromagnetic field.
    Your identity is therefore at the quantum level and is non-local.
    That immediately explains all kinds of paranormal phenomena.
    Chemical reactions are only meant to generate electricity.
    Each brain cell contains superconducting nanotubes that jointly generate an electromagnetic field and insert and extract information from it. That is why our relatively small head is such a very powerful computer. We already switch with quantum bits.
    Without oxygen no free electrons and no electromagnetic field and you are gone.

    Regarding continuity, you keep at least the same DNA, which creates certain possibilities and impossibilities. It therefore ensures that a certain way of processing input and output takes place.
    The rules of the game hardly change thanks to this DNA, at most you have more wiring and a well-filled memory. Also, your entire development is stored both as wiring and memory, what you learned as a child is the basis for everything else.
    You notice that in dementia, they revert to previous experiences. Old connections last the longest.

    Okay, assumptions are in between.
    Like your reactions.

    1. It is the collective consciousness that manifests and experiences itself through billions of people, animals, plants, microorganism, planets, etc. The manifestation takes place through subatomic projection.
      The perception of an identity resides in the brain and is necessary for it to exist in this reality.
      Without this perception this manifestation or world could not exist.

    2. The split brain phenomenon is very interesting indeed and can shed some light on this issue. A number of children who have had half their brains removed (it was necessary to save their lives) are able to function quite well, thanks to the plasticity of the brain ( Even more interesting is that in some people who have lost the connection between the hemispheres (the corpus callosum), it appears that both hemispheres appear to have independent consciousness. One half seems unaware that there is another half. I wonder if those people perceive their identity differently from people with a normally connected brain.

    3. As for the electromagnetic field, electrical signals, along with chemical signals, are part of thinking, and thus part of consciousness. But if you were to turn off this process and thereby stop your thoughts, wouldn't you be temporarily "dead," or at least appear to be dead? If it is reversible (that is, if you can undo the shutdown) you might be functioning normally again.

      1. mother tongue

        Chemistry is nothing more than that atoms detach and / or connect to other atoms. This often involves a potential difference. Shared electrons are left or short. That is why it often involves disconnecting and reconnecting. It also often concerns equilibria with substances on the left and right side of the formula or is sign. In other words. the reaction often goes both ways, but due to changed composition or changes in potential it goes more in one direction than the other.
        Consciousness at this level has little to do with it other than that the input and output change.
        In other words. a brain cell receives more or less input through the connections. It can also supply electricity in the form of a potential difference across the connections and thus between brain cells.
        This is just an analog switchboard.
        If consciousness were to occur here, then in principle everything where there are continuous chemical reactions and equilibria could eventually become consciousness. As far as we know, liquids have no consciousness. Yes, or yes, and then we come out of a thinking primordial soup. Who knows, but I think that chance is small.
        What really distinguishes a brain cell from other cells is that it contains the so-called microtubules.
        This could be the key to our consciousness.
        Just read this little piece in the wikipedia.
        It really has everything to do with electromagnetic radiation and little with chemical reactions other than that these regulate the input and output and indirectly maintain the electromagnetic field thanks to the potential difference.

  3. That identity is on a quantum level is an interesting idea. Do you have more information about that?
    Do you think identity and consciousness are the same?

    1. mother tongue

      No, I have things there myself. picked up here and there.
      It seems logical to me that we are not dead molecules and not even the chemical reaction but that we are more of an electromagnetic field. Otherwise there would be many more living things with a will that do not need a brain and thus a power plant and some sort of quantum computer. It is my own idea that that is why you are brain dead so quickly.
      If the energy is lost, the field is gone and you will not get it back after switching on and then you are brain dead without your brain being really dead. In other words. your brain is still alive but no longer generating a field.
      After ten minutes without oxygen, for example, your cells are still alive.
      Death only occurs after that, when the defense stops and the germs start to eat or when the environment becomes so acidic that cells disintegrate. As long as everything is still in place, you can just transplant it into a working body.
      If you cool someone down considerably, you can still transplant organs many hours or even days later, but the brain just doesn't work anymore.
      If you are brain dead, the waves do not come back or not enough.
      Only the most basic functions such as breathing and the like will still work.
      The programming is out of the processor, only the wiring and bare processor are there without the windows and documents.
      I may go wrong here, but I can't find anything about it.
      As has often happened, I may be right.
      Simple logic!
      Be inspired and do whatever you want with this knowledge!

      I think identity is partly related to this field.
      Part or actually the most important part is formed by our brain which regulates the input and output.
      That is the glasses through which you look and which determine how you react.
      So the quantum computer that electromagnetic field is more of a spectator until it awakens.
      Anyway, that will be a very philosophical discussion.
      It becomes even more philosophical when you start from a big self and a small self.
      You were the big self also called God until the small self gradually emerged.
      After you die, the parodox is dissolved and you are one with the great self again.
      This is a very simple holistic world view and can of course be further differentiated.

  4. Interesting article. Especially the thought principle to make a copy of yourself and the variants on it provide interesting perspectives.

    In my view it is mainly about the relationship between 'identity' and 'consciousness'. The subjective experience of 'I' is only possible when there is consciousness. The question then is what exactly is consciousness? And in the case of the copies, what is a conscious experience? If I had an exact clone of myself. It would remember exactly what I've been through to date, but is completely new physically. He has not physically experienced what I have experienced because my copy did not exist yet. Is the other Berny then me? I would say 'yes' and 'no'.

    I would also find the thinking frightening and the thinking will also have psychological consequences. After all, you are no longer unique and replaceable.

    I don't think uploading 'yourself' to a computer is a true clone of yourself. Something I think Kurzweil suggested in order to be able to live on forever in order to become immortal. In my view you are no longer a human being.

    Another angle could be a hybrid form: to what extent is there still 'me' when the brain and machine, for example, merge? For example if you were to put chips in your brain?

    1. mother tongue

      With current technology, you don't notice much except for a little more input in your brain.
      Chips are still linear switchboards, which makes sense otherwise they would become unpredictable ...
      But that can also be an advantage if you want a self-thinking robot ...
      You are not unique anyway and yes, you are replaceable.
      All old fairytales ...

    2. Indeed, I also think consciousness is essential to your identity, as others have mentioned. Awareness is sometimes described as "thinking about your own thoughts and feelings" or some variation of it. That is a fairly objective, in principle measurable, definition. It doesn't quite include how we experience it ourselves.

      It is true that your copy has not actually experienced anything from its past (before copying), but he thinks so. He has exactly the same memories, scars, tanned skin, emotions when seeing loved ones, etc. as the original. But you are right that this is a difference between original and copy.

      1. mother tongue

        There is no difference, both will experience themselves as unique and identical.
        There is a difference only for you because you as maker or spectator know the difference in the realization.

    3. Are you saying you are no longer human when you are in a computer? Or if you have the prospect of living much longer than the current 80 years? Literally eternal life does not really exist anyway, in the sense that you will always have a finite age. What could possibly be that you (almost) eliminate all causes of death so that your life expectancy becomes very high.

      1. mother tongue

        It depends on whether you can maintain the same state of consciousness of qualia in inorganic form.
        Still seems impossible to me, but who knows. You should build an artificial brain that can switch in the same analog way and generate an electromagnetic field. It then becomes a collection of lights with diodes rather than a collection of logic gates. With AND and XOR etc. you get at most a simulation that passes the Turing test.

  5. I am not a super smart person myself, but to give an example; if I were to make a copy of myself but the original continues to live in the Netherlands and my copy in India, then my copy will have a different life experience, which means that its identity will change 'I'. So if my copy and I were to speak again after 10 years, we will be completely different people. So somewhere the culture, environment, interaction etc. play a major role in the formation of the 'I'. What do you think about this?
    I like to learn new shit

      1. mother tongue

        True, but how they deal with certain things can just have a genetic basis. Although I wonder if this is not entirely subordinate to culture. For the same money, genes only provide basic needs and the possibility to be influenced by culture ...

        1. What you deal with is what my mother used to say, but maybe identical twins do not have an identical character.
          Which then immediately causes different views, even before they grow up differently.

  6. In fact, what we call 'I' does not exist. I is a fantasized identity that appears in consciousness.
    In fact you are all alone in the world / cosmos. For you are just another self that also appears in that same consciousness.

    But as long as you are still pursuing egoistic goals (a better world is also an egoistic goal) you will never see this. Then you will look for arguments to contradict what I am writing here. And in this way you will reinforce your self-identity.

    In short: almost all of humanity believes in separateness. And you cannot disbelieve by taking on another thought, it does not work that way. Someone can believe what I write here, but then he just exchanges one belief (in separateness) for another belief (in wholeness) And believing happens in the brain.

    So you don't have to look for it in the brain. My brain is just a different manifestation in the same consciousness.
    Anyone who wants to see through what I write here will have to look for it in consciousness.

    PS This also makes all religions superfluous at the same time. If you do not already have an essential identity here on earth, then it is not very likely that it is there in some heaven. What we call 'identity' is irrevocably lost after we die.

    1. mother tongue

      I live in a poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro.
      You probably won't last a month here.
      Nice all that theory, but here you need a solid ego to survive.
      Mind you, I am not in favor of that.
      I just determine.
      Furthermore, your argument has something, but I cannot escape the impression that, just like religion, it is a flight from reality and its uncertainties.

      1. You confuse a number of things.

        In your suburb, an ego may indeed be badly needed and I will not last a day.
        But I do not live there and am in a great position to look beyond just survival.
        The ego makes people live in a delusional world and it may be that the circumstances make that you never get out of it. In your suburb you will never see it or you may have to do something outrageous?

        Ego makes that what you call reality is not reality at all to me.
        So we can determine that we both live in different reality.

        In your suburb you need to have a strong personality to survive.
        In my world I am consciousness which has an appearance that is physical and can think.
        It is a completely different way of looking. And I realize the luxury of it.

  7. Our intuition and our inner life are not made to deal with such matters. These are mainly influenced by life on the savannah.
    Everything that lives wants to survive. That is not a rational thing, it is simply ingrained in the genes.
    Rationally you could indeed come to the conclusion that the ego is an illusion and that it is no problem at all if your atoms spread out again to make new forms.
    But instinct resists that.

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