Is it possible to separate our concepts of identity and freedom? I don’t believe it is.
Identity can be viewed as many things.
It can be reduced to the physical realm and explained as the body we inhabit, or the brain where our ‘thoughts’ reside. Thoughts in this terminology meaning just the electrical impulses being fired within. Self identity would then be tied to a physical body in a specific timeline. This view surprisingly has more merit than it seems at face value. Theoretically we could someday be able to develop a machine that could reassemble every atom of your being and create a duplicate, would this not be a different person and yet their memories and personality traits would be identical.
Identity can be seen as our collection of memories and experiences. Many believe these are what makes us who we are and there’s a lot of scientific and sentimental evidence to support this. Consider someone with amnesia, where all memories have been permanently wiped, but we still consider them the same person do we not? And yet in our legal system disorders such as amnesia have been used as a defense to prove the opposite of this and that it is indeed a different person.
I believe identity has to be seen in a different light. I think how we obtain memories, through perception, has an important role in this. Is what we perceive real? Is there another reality behind the physical? Are we nothing more than conscious machines or is there something else at work?
I’m moved by the old thought experiment of a man who was raised his entire life in a world of black and white. There was no color. No way for him to see red, blue, etc. He was given a book that contained all the worlds knowledge. He could read about the colors, he knew of their existence. Then one day, he moved outside the room, and saw color for the first time. Did he not gain knowledge and experience? If so, then how do we define it, how do we quantify it? It’s completely outside our realm of physical explanation. I believe there are many conditions like this in our lives and I believe these are a driving force in our identity. They may not be as ‘black and white’ (pardon the pun, couldn’t resist) as the above example, but the very fact that we can comprehend it leaves room for other concepts and forms of knowledge that we simply can’t quantify.
Identity separated from the physical realm would not be able to be reduced to memories or a physical location in space and time. It would be impossible to describe in literal terms. However, I believe we can close our eyes and listen to the voice in our head, watch for the images and scenes it puts before us. That experience is our identity. Wherever it comes from, it defines us. Without it, we would cease to be. Even if we had the technology developed where we could somehow translate the impulses in our brains to somehow read another’s thoughts, we would not be able to obtain the same perception as the original, as the identity. There would be something more there that could never be taken.
Nothing I’ve said so far has been outside the normal scope of any other dualist/realist belief. It’s been long argued there is a metaphysical realm outside the strictly physical. This belief plays a key part in our definition of free will. Does the will act on it’s own? Are our choices just a result of physical impulses? If there is a physical impact on our choices, can we really consider it ‘free’ will?
I don’t know that I can say there is really such a thing as ‘free’ will. There is order which is governed by laws of cause and effect, and there is disorder, essentially chaos. Let’s consider some things we can say universally about our identity and our will.
It’s time bound. Whether it exists in the physical realm, or a non-physical realm, our identity and our will experience time. It passes. Without time we couldn’t close our eyes and experience our identity, we couldn’t form memories, we couldn’t make choices. Choices being bound by an experience of ‘either-or’. Of course the role time plays in the physical realm vs. non-physical could be different and obviously our perception of time can change between the two. These considerations still do not absolve will and identity of being bound by time. Without time the two would cease to exist as we perceive them.
Let’s call it ident-o-will, or.. willentity…. or… iWill… I’m no good with names… I consider them inseparable though… every good philosopher needs to be good at making up their own words… I guess that makes me a bad thinker… I call it my will. It is what makes me me. It is the impact I have on the world. It is the choices I have made. It is that which drives me. It is the flame that burns within and dictates that I will go on.
As I develop this train of thought I’m beginning to think I should have started by defining virtues…