Identity is a funny thing, something we often take for granted. How do you define the you that you see in the mirror? Who is that person looking back at you and is it the same person who was there yesterday? What do you mean you have no reflection? Do your friends know you’re a vampire?
When you think back you might realise just how much you’ve changed over the years, even if you’re still relatively young. The fact that you (hopefully) no longer howl when hungry, or throw a temper tantrum at the supermarket ‘cos they’ve sold the last of your favourite ice cream or potato chips shows that you are evolving. Of course not in a Darwinian sense: you are unlikely to develop gills just because you swim a lot, or wings because you are tired of taking the bus. It doesn’t quite work like that, unfortunately.
“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
Chuck Palahniuk – Fight Club
When asked to prove our identity, we have various documents to confirm who we are: birth certificates, drivers’ licences, identity cards or passports. But even so, there is still room for confusion, as in the following scenario:
A time cop pulls Dr Who’s Tardis over: “Did you realise you were travelling way too fast through the spacetime continuum sir?’
Dr Who: “Er no officer, sorry. I thought I was well within the limit.”
Time policeman: “Name?”
Dr Who: “Who”
Time policeman: “You idiot, your name!”
Dr Who: “Who”
Time policeman: “Ah, a smart arse eh. Please step out of the whimsical time-travelling vehicle and provide your licence and registration.”
Dr Who: “Why?…”
It is said the Doctor’s real name is one of the greatest mysteries of our age, on a par with what the Nazca lines of Peru are for, and why Donald Trump is on the way to becoming the next POTUS. One wag suggested the Doctor’s first name was Hugh. Hugh Who. But I digress..
It’s intriguing how the character of Dr Who develops with each new actor that takes on the role, a cunning device by the creators to keep it going and keep it fresh. I particularly enjoyed the series where he was played by a dolphin, although perhaps controversially, the jellyfish Dr Who might have the edge as the definitive performance. But of course that’s all in the future..
As technology advances there are many new ways to protect or confirm your identity. We’ve had fingerprint recognition systems for a while and iris scanning tech too. Voice recognition, face recognition, even your ears can be a unique identifier, so I hear.
I have an unusual birthmark on my buttock, shaped like a walrus playing the bagpipes. Sadly it is not much use when trying to get credit at a bank, but it does at least provide a talking point with the security staff as they escort me from the building. Again.
It is claimed we all have a doppelgänger, an exact double out there somewhere in the world. There are a number of websites that are supposed to help you track down your brother / sister from another Mother. Of course if you already have an identical twin brother/sister, you are probably rather more used to the idea that you are not necessarily a unique snowflake.
My own attempts to track down a potential looky-likey have so far produced mixed results, with closest online image matches including a young black woman, a sweet looking Chinese infant and Aaron Paul, aka Jesse from the show Breaking Bad. So much for technology.
Still, if I ever find myself on a most wanted list issued by our future robotic overlords, I will blame any transgressions on Aaron. I’m sure he can afford better lawyers.
The famous Buddhist philosopher and writer Alan Watts once said: “Everybody is ‘you’. Everybody is ‘I’. That’s our name. We all share that.” Of course he probably did a lot of drugs in his time, but it does demonstrate that the notion of you is rather hard to pin down, once you start to explore it in any depth.
I once spent an afternoon searching for the ‘I’ at the centre of my being. I can’t say I had much success, although I did find a missing sock, a receipt for a toothbrush from 1997 and £1.47 in small change down the back of the sofa.
The notion of finding yourself is certainly popular and there are no end of spiritual advisers and teachers happy to help you on your path to enlightenment, for a price. But if you want to explore the boundless ‘wisdom’ of a so-called guru like Deepak Chopra, without wasting your cash, there’s always this website.
Some say that there really is no fixed you, that we are all fluid and ever-changing. Our cells die and are replaced daily, new neurons are formed in our brains and new ideas and memories coalesce, just as old ones fade in forgotten corners in the dusty attics of our minds.
‘We know what we are, but not what we may be.’
The idea of self as potentially ever-evolving and dynamic is probably good news to those who, like me, have yet to find their ideal niche in life. Ultimately, if there is no true you to uncover, then the ideal you may be the one that you create for yourself. Like a sculptor or painter, you must work to perfect your masterpiece. Create your own David or Mona Lisa, or at least have a crack at The Scream.
The worst that can happen is you end up as an amusing stick figure or a colourful blob. But you will be your own stick figure, a self-made blob. And nobody can take that away from you.
© Copyright Jason Lennick 2016. All rights reserved.
Tardis & Dr Who © Copyright BBC