Social Question

flutherother's avatar

What gives things their separate identities?

Asked by flutherother (30158points) December 1st, 2015

Take two stones that are the same in all respects. Are they the same stone? Is the only difference their location (they obviously can’t occupy the same space).

Imagine an exact copy of yourself. You know which one is you as that other one you see is clearly an imposter. Where does your identity come from? In such a situation what makes you authentic?

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13 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

Separate identity is an illusion, an artifact of the way the intellect processes experience, reinforced by social convention. We interpret these separate identities to be intrinsic features of reality, but they’re just boundaries that the intellect superimposes on an essentially unbounded continuum of being. Here’s how Einstein put it:

”A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Mentally dividing reality into identities has its uses. But, as Einstein recognized, when we forget that this is just an intellectual expedient, then we lose track of our intrinsic wholeness: that in fact nothing separates us.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Would that it were true!

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I want to read Kant when I finish Proust. I wish you’d asked this question after I’d finished Kant.

From what I remember, our identity can be traced to our memories. Beyond that is a void.

But this doesn’t say it all for me. I’m struggling to put my thoughts into words, and I will have to return to this thread later when my ideas have better form.

Apparently_Im_The_Grumpy_One's avatar

Their separate experiences. Even two stones side by side experience variations in temperature, moisture, exposure to wind, etc. That collection of experiences differs between them.. granting each its own separate “identity” of sorts. But in the end, it’s all just a construct of our imagination as @thorninmud so eloquently stated with Einstein’s help.

One could argue that by virtue of this construct existing.. humans have created an identity for themselves.

marinelife's avatar

I doubt that you could find two identical rocks. Something different would have happened to them in their existences that would have created microscopic differences in texture or composition.

I don’t think that you can compare two stones to two human beings. We have consciusness and it is touched by everything that we see, hear, touch, feel and experience. No two could ever be identical. Like snowflakes.

msh's avatar

I have hesitated to ask this when I first read your question and those who answered. I am trying my hardest to understand something that would tie in with the two rocks. I can only go farther to understand more by asking all of you to help me understand the part that stops me from going further on with this difficult (for me) understanding -if you all would, please?
I had the class back in the dark ages when the prof put a chair on top of the desk, and asked all to explain what a chair was. Ok- long to short- it was a chair because we all agreed what a chair looked like. Since everyone agreed it was a chair- it was a chair. The molecular structure doesn’t matter because of all of us knowing it was a chair! I read my notes from that day over and over.
So the ideas of the two identical rocks confuses me because of all the reasearch into smashed atoms, etc.- or is it actually just an agreement of what the like components are very basically sharing?

Ok. If you have two identical rocks, you have the same atomic/ cell/ composition. Correct?
How then, are they separate? Why can’t they join back together since their composition is identical- or still share the same composition?
Is it because an outside force interfered and shattered/ altered the composition of the rock? Was there an abnormality in the basic make up of the rock which created a weak spot in the smallest particles- so there it shattered due to this mutation of the basic composition of the rock, plus the force breaking it apart?
So does that mean that from the point of separation – it changed the needed structure and therefore destroyed any chance to be cohesive or joined again?
Does anyone understand what I am asking? It is so difficult to figure out how to ask.
Why would it not absorb exact composition together again?
All the basic smallest particles are the same- but yet they are not because of the external forces actually destroyed the connection those two rocks had in there elemental basics? Yet were they changed within their composition enough to hinder any joining or exactness forever? Or did the break cause significant changes to those basic elements that worked together to make each of the rocks single?
Or is a chair a chair because we all agree upon it- only with rocks?
I don’t know how to ask when I am having trouble with a basics of the question.
If I am not making sense, I apologize. It is puzzling and I can’t or don’t understand how to reason it out, in order to take on more information- and the resulting inderstanding to go on to new questions to ponder after this hurdle in my mind that I just don’t get.
I would sooo appreciate any help. Thank you!
( It’s a chair because we agree upon it? Wait. What? Seriously?)

LostInParadise's avatar

Two things can be indistinguishable but are still distinct. For example, how many ways are there of getting 3 when you roll a pair of identical dice? There are two ways, a 1 on one of the dice and a 2 on the other. On the other hand, there is only one way of rolling a pair of fives. It makes a big difference in the odds whether you are betting on a 1–2 combination or a pair of fives.

All electrons are indistinguishable. If you observe the electrons in the outer shell of an atom, there is no way of keeping track of individual ones, yet the chemical behavior of the atom will change if an electron is added or removed.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Yeah, I suppose reality itself is relative. One sure fire way of recognizing us as individuals is that each of our views on that reality is different.

LostInParadise's avatar

Here is an application of the question to mathematics. As I hope people recall, the solution to the equation x^2 = -1 has two solutions, one of which is designated as i and the other of which must then be -i. They are the basis for complex numbers, which most people do not bother with but which have many useful applications in mathematics and engineering.

Now consider the question, how do we know which of the numbers is i and which is -i? If we switched them, everything works out the same. For example, complex solutions to polynomials always come in pairs, a + bi and a – bi. If we switched i and -i, this would still be true.

flutherother's avatar

@msh Describing something as a chair distinguishes it as different from everything that isn’t a chair. Human perception can tell the difference. You can distinguish metal chairs from wooden and three legged stool from four legged chairs but I was imagining two identical chairs with nothing to distinguish one from the other. The only way we can tell them apart is to see that one is here and the other is over there. There is no description possible that can tell them apart so are there two chairs or is there only one?

msh's avatar

@flutherother !!! Holy crap! I understand… Wow ok
I get it! Oh!
So that is what the responces above were saying about your question- I was stumbling over the basics-when I needed to draw back to question the reality of two chairs or not- tricky question! Nice job. There are so many ways this could be worked out.
Then the atom – @Lost In Paradise- the individual electrons can change everything- but are not able to be discernible within the workings of the atom doing it’s ‘job’. ..yet just one electron can change it all. Everything.
I get it! I just got what I couldn’t put together before. I had to read the question and responses over and over- but then it just clicked! Eureka, for crying out loud!
This changes what I had set up in my head that I needed to use to try and understand. Now I’ve got a million new questions- but I can ‘see’ all the way around – like angles and substance instead of a flat, one dementional view of all of this on paper. It changes- I have to work on this somemore.
My fuses are blown.
Hey- thank you folks! I so appreciate this. I was thinking perhaps some might bang their head on their keyboards and I wouldn’t be able to explain why…or what I couldn’t ‘see’ by myself.
This is so cool. You guys are gooood.
Thank you!
So very much.

Plonk's avatar

@thorninmud is on a helpful track in describing separation as an illusion. It’s like the notions that humans are made up of body and mind. In fact, you cannot separate them physically and have them still be alive. Mind only makes sense when it is embodied.

We—humans—have come up with the idea that we can break things down into parts in order to understand them better. In doing so, we often forget that things are not the parts they are made of. They are whole things. The world can be separated into the idea of animate and inanimate things. However, on an atomic level, how can you distinguish whether one atom belongs to one thing and not to another?

Humans have created the fiction that things are separate because it is useful. It is still a fiction. We are all connected in one way or another. Separation is merely an idea. It is an idea that can hurt people by making them feel lonely. Actually, it’s not the idea that hurts people, but the fact that an individual might convince themselves that the idea represents truth or reality. In fact, we can change our notions of truth and reality simply (although it is very difficult to do) by changing our minds.

If we can do that, then we are constantly choosing our understanding of our reality. If we can do that, then why not choose an understanding that satisfies us rather than makes us feel inadequate—or worse—like killing ourselves?

The thing that gives things their separate identities is your perception that they are separate. They are not actually separate. You just have decided they are separate for your own purposes. If you really want to know why they are separate, you must investigate your own perceptions and internal model of how the world works. There is a reason why you see things as being separate. No one else can know what your reason is unless you tell us, and even then, we can’t be sure you actually are representing yourself authentically. But if you want to know, then ask yourself how this idea that things are separate helps you. It is an idea shared by a lot of people, but it is only an idea. It is not real.

LostInParadise's avatar

But if you want to know, then ask yourself how this idea that things are separate helps you.
There are distinct advantages to treating a rock as being separate from a tiger.

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