Life as tapestry: the whole cloth is the great clod, our lives patterns of thread in relation to each other—the patterns, the threads of those dearest to us are interwoven with our own, and in places here and there the interwoven threads merge as our identities flow into each other….
The above is meant to be a poetic expression of the following, hopefully, more philosophically rigorous idea. Having lost my ex-wife, Jennie, to suicide seven months ago (and “ex-wife” does not properly characterize the ongoing love we had for one another), and having just now (October 9th) gone through the memorial service for her sister, Lindsay, who killed herself seven months after Jennie, I am prompted to think the following.
So many of the fibers of my being are ones I shared with Jennie; they are the product of, and constitute, our shared identities. Part of her is gone, and part of her remains in me, as me. Such a beautiful thing; and I am so terribly grateful for it.
While personal identity is not a stable or constant thing, nevertheless, given the extent to which Jennie is a part of who I am, I can move forward with my life without worrying about leaving her behind or forgetting her, something I have been afraid of doing. This is a great comfort.
One might even say that that part of me that is Jennie is very much alive (she lives) and she will continue to evolve as I evolve through my interactions with others and the world more generally.
But how might I lay this all out in more rigorous, philosophical detail? Well, what are some of the typical components of personal identity?
2) Consciousness associate with/centered in one body (including will and self-consciousness).
3) Memories of consciousness (as the direct causal product of 2)
But it seems to me that we should also include things such as:
4) Sets of beliefs
6) Emotional make up
7) Ways of thinking about and approaching and evaluating the world (including others)
Now one might object that two individuals, X and Y, who are unknown to one another, who live on opposite ends of the earth might have exactly the same 4)-7), but we would not say that they are thereby, or to that extent, the same person; rather, they are just similar in those respects.
I am certainly sympathetic to that objection. However, here is where and how the threads of our identities begin to merge. When two people with different backgrounds and only some overlap regarding 4)-7) meet and then spend much time together, intimately engaging each other, and through that shared experience form common memories (so 3)) and in combination therewith exert causal/rational influence on each others’ 4)-7), creating a new kind of equilibrium in regard to them, then it is not that there is similarity of 4)-7) that constitutes shared identity. Rather, it is the mutual shaping of each other’s, and intermixing of, 4)-7) that allows for/constitutes this merging of certain threads/fibers of our being. It’s the causal/rational influence/connection between two people’s 4)-7), not just the similarity of their content that makes all the difference—the fact that two people’s shared 4)-7) is the product of mutual, reciprocal influence and not just coincidental similarity that constitutes the merged threads.
Now to some extent this phenomenon of shared identities occurs more broadly, especially and more and more with the use of technology to communicate and shape each others’ 4)-7). But it is strongest with those with whom we are closest: family, friends, partners/lovers.
Notice that I have not attempted to speak of 1)-7) in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions for personal identity. I am not sure, I am indeed doubtful, that personal identity lends itself to such analysis. But that is not necessarily an objection to the idea of personal identity or to my reasoning above.