knowing what to do, when to do it, and who might care about the outcome.
krystl identity: what you mold your clay personality into, what people steal when they memorize your social security number. 990609
jessica who you should be at all times. who you're hiding from when you lie to yourself. the face in the mirror. 990922
destro i need one. 000106
Grendel the happenstance upon which i leave an impression upon a breast

EuroBrew Something I lack 010419
Iz It's only a "thing" when you have it. When you have no identity, you have no"thing" and life crumbles around you because it is constructed around your (non)identity. 011114
zenfishsticks where have i been all my life? 020113
eklektic after we got out of work at around 1 oclock am, we decided to go to swenson's to pick up some burgers. we pulled in and laughed about various guys who came to our window. especially eric, who seems to always wait on our car when we go to swensons. he totally wanted jen. but we just laughed at him and let him almost fall as he ran toward our car. jen decided to put her "spencer" cd in. i told her they sounded "emo" among other things and rachel grabbed my shoulder from the backseat (i always ride shot-gun). "you know emo?" she asked. i sort of looked at her funny and said "sure. i know emo." i laughed mockingly and said "why...ARE YOU EMO?!" she said yes with this huge smile on her face and proceeded to tell me how she was the only emokid in her clique at Firestone. she asked me to name off bands that i listened to and she was happy and taken aback when she found out that we liked the same music. haha - all you cross-country runneres are soo emo... :) 020817
Rae my identity is a reflection of those i am around.

Sometimes my identity gets mixed up with my Twister's idenity.

I am a materpiece in progress...
cheryl brown Well, at least no one is claiming to be me,
all my other personalities are being accredited to other persons.
Luckily Cheryl Brown is the one I like the most.
reitoei who? a name quivering on the tip of the tongue, a memory of a face lying, taunting, in the shadows of of the mind; memories of parties you went to but didnt want to. conversations that were forced upon you in the corners by this unidentified person. but shadows will not suffice here. you are under pressure. "remember me? we met...."
you falter and collapse. so much easier to fake rememberence. oh yes. of course. how good to see you again...
me dentifying the "I" 030628
ashmanzhou this day it seems is nothin but broken souls a dreamin
this day is nothin but a hope
this day is nothin we can hold close
and all is broken snapped and thrown away
who you are is more that what or why or when
yourself is makin you become
someone who matters more to you
someone who cares for somethin but all is nothin
dont put faith in identity make faith make hope and follow dreams
Sam Vaknin . Exposition

In the movie "Shattered" (1991), Dan Merrick survives an accident and develops total amnesia regarding his past. His battered face is reconstructed by plastic surgeons and, with the help of his loving wife, he gradually recovers his will to live. But he never develops a proper sense of identity. It is as though he is constantly ill at ease in his own body. As the plot unravels, Dan is led to believe that he may have murdered his wife's lover, Jack. This thriller offers additional twists and turns but, throughout it all, we face this question:

Dan has no recollection of being Dan. Dan does not remember murdering Jack. It seems as though Dan's very identity has been erased. Yet, Dan is in sound mind and can tell right from wrong. Should Dan be held (morally and, as a result, perhaps legally as well) accountable for Jack's murder?

Would the answer to this question still be the same had Dan erased from his memory ONLY the crime -but recalled everything else (in an act of selective dissociation)? Do our moral and legal accountability and responsibility spring from the integrity of our memories? If Dan were to be punished for a crime he doesn't have the faintest recollection of committing - wouldn't he feel horribly wronged? Wouldn't he be justified in feeling so?

There are many states of consciousness that involve dissociation and selective amnesia: hypnosis, trance and possession, hallucination, illusion, memory disorders (like organic, or functional amnesia), depersonalization disorder, dissociative fugue, dreaming, psychosis, post traumatic stress disorder, and drug-induced psychotomimetic states.

Consider this, for instance:

What if Dan were the victim of a Multiple Personality Disorder (now known as "Dissociative Identity Disorder")? What if one of his "alters" (i.e., one of the multitude of "identities" sharing Dan's mind and body) committed the crime? Should Dan still be held responsible? What if the alter "John" committed the crime and then "vanished", leaving behind another alter (let us say, "Joseph") in control? Should "Joseph" be held responsible for the crime "John" committed? What if "John" were to reappear 10 years after he "vanished"? What if he were to reappear 50 years after he "vanished"? What if he were to reappear for a period of 90 days - only to "vanish" again? And what is Dan's role in all this? Who, exactly, then, is Dan?

II. Who is Dan?

Buddhism compares Man to a river. Both retain their identity despite the fact that their individual composition is different at different moments. The possession of a body as the foundation of a self-identity is a dubious proposition. Bodies change drastically in time (consider a baby compared to an adult). Almost all the cells in a human body are replaced every few years. Changing one's brain (by transplantation) - also changes one's identity, even if the rest of the body remains the same.

Thus, the only thing that binds a "person" together (i.e., gives him a self and an identity) is time, or, more precisely, memory. By "memory" I also mean: personality, skills, habits, retrospected emotions - in short: all long term imprints and behavioural patterns. The body is not an accidental and insignificant container, of course. It constitutes an important part of one's self-image, self-esteem, sense of self-worth, and sense of existence (spatial, temporal, and social). But one can easily imagine a brain in vitro as having the same identity as when it resided in a body. One cannot imagine a body without a brain (or with a different brain) as having the same identity it had before the brain was removed or replaced.

What if the brain in vitro (in the above example) could not communicate with us at all? Would we still think it is possessed of a self? The biological functions of people in coma are maintained. But do they have an identity, a self? If yes, why do we "pull the plug" on them so often?

It would seem (as it did to Locke) that we accept that someone has a self-identity if: (a) He has the same hardware as we do (notably, a brain) and (b) He communicates his humanly recognizable and comprehensible inner world to us and manipulates his environment. We accept that he has a given (i.e., the same continuous) self-identity if (c) He shows consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns ("memory") in doing (b) for a long period of time.

It seems that we accept that we have a self-identity (i.e., we are self-conscious) if (a) We discern (usually through introspection) long term consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns ("memory") in our manipulation ("relating to") of our environment and (b) Others accept that we have a self-identity (Herbert Mead, Feuerbach).

Dan (probably) has the same hardware as we do (a brain). He communicates his (humanly recognizable and comprehensible) inner world to us (which is how he manipulates us and his environment). Thus, Dan clearly has a self-identity. But he is inconsistent. His intentional (willed) patterns, his memory, are incompatible with those demonstrated by Dan before the accident. Though he clearly is possessed of a self-identity, we cannot say that he has the SAME self-identity he possessed before the crash. In other words, we cannot say that he, indeed, is Dan.

Dan himself does not feel that he has a self-identity at all. He discerns intentional (willed) patterns in his manipulation of his environment but, due to his amnesia, he cannot tell if these are consistent, or long term. In other words, Dan has no memory. Moreover, others do not accept him as Dan (or have their doubts) because they have no memory of Dan as he is now.

Interim conclusion:

Having a memory is a necessary and sufficient condition for possessing a self-identity.

III. Repression

Yet, resorting to memory to define identity may appear to be a circular (even tautological) argument. When we postulate memory - don't we already presuppose the existence of a "remembering agent" with an established self-identity?

Moreover, we keep talking about "discerning", "intentional", or "willed" patterns. But isn't a big part of our self (in the form of the unconscious, full of repressed memories) unavailable to us? Don't we develop defence mechanisms against repressed memories and fantasies, against unconscious content incongruent with our self-image? Even worse, this hidden, inaccessible, dynamically active part of our self is thought responsible for our recurrent discernible patterns of behaviour. The phenomenon of posthypnotic suggestion seems to indicate that this may be the case. The existence of a self-identity is, therefore, determined through introspection (by oneself) and observation (by others) of merely the conscious part of the self.

But the unconscious is as much a part of one's self-identity as one's conscious. What if, due to a mishap, the roles were reversed? What if Dan's conscious part were to become his unconscious and his unconscious part - his conscious? What if all his conscious memories, drives, fears, wishes, fantasies, and hopes - were to become unconscious while his repressed memories, drives, etc. - were to become conscious? Would we still say that it is "the same" Dan and that he retains his self-identity? Not very likely. And yet, one's (unremembered) unconscious - for instance, the conflict between id and ego - determines one's personality and self-identity.

The main contribution of psychoanalysis and later psychodynamic schools is the understanding that self-identity is a dynamic, evolving, ever-changing construct - and not a static, inertial, and passive entity. It casts doubt over the meaningfulness of the question with which we ended the exposition: "Who, exactly, then, is Dan?" Dan is different at different stages of his life (Erikson) and he constantly evolves in accordance with his innate nature (Jung), past history (Adler), drives (Freud), cultural milieu (Horney), upbringing (Klein, Winnicott), needs (Murray), or the interplay with his genetic makeup. Dan is not a thing - he is a process. Even Dan's personality traits and cognitive style, which may well be stable, are often influenced by Dan's social setting and by his social interactions.

It would seem that having a memory is a necessary but insufficient condition for possessing a self-identity. One cannot remember one's unconscious states (though one can remember their outcomes). One often forgets events, names, and other information even if it was conscious at a given time in one's past. Yet, one's (unremembered) unconscious is an integral and important part of one's identity and one's self. The remembered as well as the unremembered constitute one's self-identity.

IV. The Memory Link

Hume said that to be considered in possession of a mind, a creature needs to have a few states of consciousness linked by memory in a kind of narrative or personal mythology. Can this conjecture be equally applied to unconscious mental states (e.g. subliminal perceptions, beliefs, drives, emotions, desires, etc.)?

In other words, can we rephrase Hume and say that to be considered in possession of a mind, a creature needs to have a few states of consciousness and a few states of the unconscious - all linked by memory into a personal narrative? Isn't it a contradiction in terms to remember the unconscious?

The unconscious and the subliminal are instance of the general category of mental phenomena which are not states of consciousness (i.e., are not conscious). Sleep and hypnosis are two others. But so are "background mental phenomena" - e.g., one holds onto one's beliefs and knowledge even when one is not aware (conscious) of them at every given moment. We know that an apple will fall towards the earth, we know how to drive a car ("automatically"), and we believe that the sun will rise tomorrow, even though we do not spend every second of our waking life consciously thinking about falling apples, driving cars, or the position of the sun.

Yet, the fact that knowledge and beliefs and other background mental phenomena are not constantly conscious - does not mean that they cannot be remembered. They can be remembered either by an act of will, or in (sometimes an involuntary) response to changes in the environment. The same applies to all other unconscious content. Unconscious content can be recalled. Psychoanalysis, for instance, is about re-introducing repressed unconscious content to the patient's conscious memory and thus making it "remembered".

In fact, one's self-identity may be such a background mental phenomenon (always there, not always conscious, not always remembered). The acts of will which bring it to the surface are what we call "memory" and "introspection".

This would seem to imply that having a self-identity is independent of having a memory (or the ability to introspect). Memory is just the mechanism by which one becomes aware of one's background, "always-on", and omnipresent (all-pervasive) self-identity. Self-identity is the object and predicate of memory and introspection. It is as though self-identity were an emergent extensive parameter of the complex human system - measurable by the dual techniques of memory and introspection.

We, therefore, have to modify our previous conclusions:

Having a memory is not a necessary nor a sufficient condition for possessing a self-identity.

We are back to square one. The poor souls in Oliver Sacks' tome, "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat" are unable to create and retain memories. They occupy an eternal present, with no past. They are thus unable to access (or invoke) their self-identity by remembering it. Their self-identity is unavailable to them (though it is available to those who observe them over many years) - but it exists for sure. Therapy often succeeds in restoring pre-amnesiac memories and self-identity.

V. The Incorrigible Self

Self-identity is not only always-on and all-pervasive - but also incorrigible. In other words, no one - neither an observer, nor the person himself - can "disprove" the existence of his self-identity. No one can prove that a report about the existence of his (or another's) self-identity is mistaken.

Is it equally safe to say that no one - neither an observer, nor the person himself - can prove (or disprove) the non-existence of his self-identity? Would it be correct to say that no one can prove that a report about the non-existence of his (or another's) self-identity is true or false?

Dan's criminal responsibility crucially depends on the answers to these questions. Dan cannot be held responsible for Jack's murder if he can prove that he is ignorant of the facts of his action (i.e., if he can prove the non-existence of his self-identity). If he has no access to his (former) self-identity - he can hardly be expected to be aware and cognizant of these facts.

What is in question is not Dan's mens rea, nor the application of the McNaghten tests (did Dan know the nature and quality of his act or could he tell right from wrong) to determine whether Dan was insane when he committed the crime. A much broader issue is at stake: is it the same person? Is the murderous Dan the same person as the current Dan? Even though Dan seems to own the same body and brain and is manifestly sane - he patently has no access to his (former) self-identity. He has changed so drastically that it is arguable whether he is still the same person - he has been "replaced".

Finally, we can try to unite all the strands of our discourse into this double definition:

It would seem that we accept that someone has a self-identity if: (a) He has the same hardware as we do (notably, a brain) and, by implication, the same software as we do (an all-pervasive, omnipresent self-identity) and (b) He communicates his humanly recognizable and comprehensible inner world to us and manipulates his environment. We accept that he has a specific (i.e., the same continuous) self-identity if (c) He shows consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns ("memory") in doing (b) for a long period of time.

It seems that we accept that we have a specific self-identity (i.e., we are self-conscious of a specific identity) if (a) We discern (usually through memory and introspection) long term consistent intentional (i.e., willed) patterns ("memory") in our manipulation ("relating to") of our environment and (b) Others accept that we have a specific self-identity.

In conclusion: Dan undoubtedly has a self-identity (being human and, thus, endowed with a brain). Equally undoubtedly, this self-identity is not Dan's (but a new, unfamiliar, one).

Such is the stuff of our nightmares - body snatching, demonic possession, waking up in a strange place, not knowing who we are. Without a continuous personal history - we are not. It is what binds our various bodies, states of mind, memories, skills, emotions, and cognitions - into a coherent bundle of identity. Dan speaks, drinks, dances, talks, and makes love - but throughout that time, he is not present because he does not remember Dan and how it is to be Dan. He may have murdered Jake - but, by all philosophical and ethical criteria, it was most definitely not his fault.
a thimble in time To the person going by "Sam Vaknin"--

Speaking of identity, perhaps we can speak honestly of your own. You seem to have a habit of cutting and pasting another's works.
heros giant cicles around words trying to pinpoint who one is multiple identiy demons circle the airwaves charicters jumping in and out of minds like penetrating needles into the soft skin of an individual being branded in ink 031109
Death of clothes left mine at home in the right hand pocket of my tux 031110
scorpion heart mine is a little oak tree. just a baby, reaching its tiny branches upward, towards the sky, because one day i want to be up there. big, with a strong base, with people's love writings etched into my oaken trunk, huge leaves stretched across my branches. right now, im a baby, fighting for my own spot. that one bit of territory i can call my own, where i can spread my leaves. i'm a baby tree with a baby identity but give me time! i'm going to be a strong oak, one day. 031122
quinn her eyes and dreams and infidelity
all worn sparklingly across her chest
as she smiles her secret smile
and wishes she were mine
zeke i am me! and is exausting the limitations of the edges that shape the surround which pushes inward towards a confrontation with the theory of my future history where a small expanse of darkness held between open hands that fall and falling describe the arc of my self. 040113
elisabeth42 You're born with it, you know it well as a child, it never leaves you, then you spend the rest of your life trying to find and define it. 040523
z can one be born with identity? i am not so sure. i have always asumed it is the product of experiance. we acrete it and construct as we live. 040706
skinny i'm neutral.
you see through me.
Lila Pause I'm maddeningly sick of all this "finding your identity" business. The way I see it, you don't "find your identity at 21" more so, it just accumlates slowly over time like mildew on a shower curtain. Your memories and experiences collect until, after a while, they form some kind of vague lop-sided concept that sticks to you like chewing gum on your shoe and insists on accompanying you up and down the street whereever you go so that- rain, hail or shine- you can take comfort in the fact that, having found your identity, you'll always be consistent in all your prejudices from now on. 040831
tessa what is identity?

why do i have to have one?
sisyphus a peculiar alignment of neuroses that persevere against the bad storms and the good ones, but are not for all that 'me' but instead a good bedtime story before the lights go out and all those those hard-bastioned neuroses learn about building sandcastles by the seashore. 070926
destiny eventually brings what you will it if that is your dark view, then so shall it manifest, and that is all death will bring you. on the other hand, if you take a higher view of the self, then death will bring much, much more... 070926
odedd identity fraud.
identity theft.

i stole mine from heaven, so that someone would forgive my sins

please don't run away.
amy lost, in the midst of some shiny new technology, as they say.

robots are not fearful, they're just robots.... it's not too extraordinarily cavelike in here, I've decided. ("let there be light")

or whatever.
what's it to you?
who go