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The Identity Collective (or Not)

Perception
Image by Jon Ashcroft

Think about someone you love, someone you despise, or anyone who is on your mind a lot.

Who is that person?

Are they their body? Are they their brain? Are they their mind? And if they are their mind, what is their mind? Who is this person? What is this person?

And for that matter, who and what are you?

If my experience is anything to go by, the more you contemplate this, the less straightforward the answer becomes. I’m not my body, I’m pretty sure of that. Nor am I my brain. And I have no idea what my mind actually is.

Now, maybe you are saying, No, no, no: you are not any of those things; you are spirit. Or maybe you use the term, soul. Fair enough, but what are these things?

Truly, the more we ponder these questions, the more we realize how little we really know.

But let me ask you this: does this thing that you call you, does it die when you do? Was it born when you were born?

And is this thing that you call you, is this the same thing that I would call you; that your best friend would call you; that your parents would call you? In the words of the Butthole Surfers, you never know just how you look through other people’s eyes. It really isn’t possible.

More correctly, you never know how anyone looks through other people’s eyes. Perception defines how and what we see, and perception belongs to the individual (whoever and whatever that may be).

Here’s what I notice: there is an awareness that identifies as me. Within this awareness is a body and a brain, and when I identify as me, I use these things as reference points. Other reference points would include my memories, experiences, emotions, and personality. If you ask a scientist, they will tell you that these things are products of chemical activity in my brain. For instance, I have a memory of something that happened to me, but the memory itself is just a collection of synaptic connections. The thing that happened to me (1) no longer exists, and (2) almost certainly didn’t happen exactly as I remember it. Indeed, my whole experience of my interaction with the physical world can be explained in biochemical terms. So does that make me merely an electrochemical invention?

And if I am an electrochemical invention, does that make everyone in my life one too?

Personally, I do not know. I can not know. And I don’t really care.

What I can be fairly sure of is that something is identifying as me. And this something has identified what it defines as others, who interact with it and who it identifies by names and personalities and physical characteristics it has perceived.

But we (whatever we may be) are clearly not what we think we are. Think about it: if we can’t know exactly what we are, then whatever we think we are cannot actually be what we are.

So here we all are (whatever we may be) interacting with one another, living our lives, imagining we’re each solid, finite human beings, while really we’re something altogether different.

It’s almost as though there were a big sea of thoughts swimming around, and every now and then a collection of them form and give themselves an identity. These identity collectives then interact with one another, while randomly taking in other thoughts as they pass by, claiming them as their own.

Or not.

It doesn’t matter what we are. What matters is what we make of this. That other person in your life—how do you treat them? If they are a reflection of your perceptions, what does that say about your perceptions? What does it say about the way you see you?

We may not be what we think we are, but we are—in many senses—a product of what we think. And so is the world around us.

So, if it’s true that our experience is defined by our perceptions, we could play with that. You know those people in your life you really want to change? Perhaps the reason they don’t change is because your perception of them hasn’t changed. Instead, why not try and change your perceptions?

See what happens.

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