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Are You Really Who You Think You Are?

By: Catherine Cai

I celebrated my birthday yesterday! I always get sentimental when I remember my previous years. I remember all the things that have changed and all the things that I would have done differently if I had the chance. I think about all the teeth I have lost and all the times I have fallen and gotten back up again. I think about if I am the same person I once was. Wait, that’s terrifying. I haven’t changed that much right? Am I still me?

As I lay awake last night, trying to calm down, I thought, well, that’s stupid. Of course, I would be the same person. Just because I lasted another year doesn’t mean I’m some sort of shape-shifting creature. But wait, science has proven that your body replaces your cells every seven years. Does this mean that I am a different person now from my seven-year-old self? I still have my distinct traits. But what does that matter if who I am, at its most basic level, has been changed?

No, that can’t be. I still have experiences that shape who I am. I have my personality and that will never change, right?

Well, what happens if I develop dementia? Or if I have a tumor on my brain that permanently alters my personality? What if I develop Alzheimer's and lose my memory? Would I still be me? How would I be able to differentiate between my past and present selves? Would it be who I am now that’s considered me, or would it be the younger, healthier version of me?

I tossed and turned in my bed. Now that we’re talking about that, I mean, who even am I? If I changed my name to “Adelaide”, but retained all my prominent features, would I still be me? Well, I guess, people change their names all the time. What if I was born as a male, but followed the same path of life that has shaped and molded me into who I am now? Would that still qualify as me? I see people going through gender reassignment surgeries and stating that they feel more like themselves. But I don’t think that applies to me. I’m perfectly content in my own body. I would retain my mental state, but my physical state would be vastly changed. How would I quantify that? Would having the same mental state be as important as having the same physical state? Less? More? What happens if I did the opposite of what I have done in the past, but retained all my genetic material and physical features? It feels as if this should matter more, but why?

Well, let’s think about this. If I perfectly reconstructed my ten-year-old self, comparing her to my present-day self, which one would be considered me? They would have similar cells and physical features, but my present-day self would have more memories and varying experiences. I wonder would both be me? Should I also be defined by my past self? Is who I am not just me now, but my past self as well? That’s not what comes to mind when I think about myself though. I think about who I am in the present, but that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t affected by my past decisions.

Let’s say I am a mixture of my past and present self. Where does my past self end and the present begin? I should still be able to discern where my past self ends and where I begin. After all, when you mix sugar and water, you can still tell which is which.

As I thought about this more and more, I realized that I didn’t have an answer to the multitude of questions that were running through my head. I likely will never find an absolute answer. But sometimes, all that matters is that you can believe who you think you are.

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