What makes you you, without falling back on a "soul" argument?

 Since my falling away from Christianity, I've rejected the idea of a soul. I think the essence of who we are lies within the combination of our personality and our life experiences which shape our personality. With this view, some frontal brain injuries and illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer can change someone's personality so drastically that they could be considered to be a different person in the same body. "She/he's not the same person I married", is a refrain I heard numerous times from the spouses of patients with advanced dementia.

 But on the other hand, everybody changes to some degree in both personality and experiences as they age. I consider myself vastly different from the girl I was 10 years ago, in both personalty and experiences, but I don't consider her to not be me. How can the two be reconciled without adding in a "soul" aspect? Is there a different explanation of what makes you you, without getting into spiritual answers?

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This is a very interesting question.  As I understand it, the Buddhists consider the Self to be an illusion.  I think that answer isn't good enough.  I have a Self, here I am, I'm typing right now.  My best answer is that the Self is a process or a set of processes, a doing rather than a being. 

Contained in a body which is constantly being renewed.  Another process. 

Then again, they do talk about "a constant state of becoming". 

I think René Descartes put it a bit more eloquently. "I think, therefor I am." I won't be a total douche-bag and add the Latin for it.

This reminds me of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said:

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.

Interesting. So perhaps the entirety of me-ness is the compilation of every me in every moment of the past, such that its a continuum from my birth until now. Even further, it stretches out into the future, diverging into different directions at every single decision I could possibly make in the future until eventually every strand of this vast web reaches a potential death of me... 

"So perhaps the entirety of me-ness is the compilation of every me in every moment of the past, such that its a continuum from my birth until now"

Well, I have to say, not quite. You are the entirety of you that you remember. There are certainly things that you have done that you have forgotten. There are experiences that never left a lasting impression and as such have no lasting effect. But there's more to it than just memories. All of our knowledge is stored in a material capacity in our brains. Our brains are affected by the different neurochemicals that it produces. Our emotions, our environments, the stresses we face and many other factors all affect our perceptions, which can color our memories and judgments. Our mental self is dependent on our physical self, yet our physical self can also be dependent on our mental self (that is if our consciousness really can effect our physical nature and it's not just an illusion)!

The real question is "are you who you think you are?" If you were to describe you, ask three of your friends to describe you, and ask your parents to describe you, exactly how well would they correlate? Would you recognize all of those descriptions as you? Since no one knows you better than you would you consider your description the most accurate even knowing it maybe heavily biased and therefore inaccurate? If your description of you was missing something that others had, then is that missing part also a part of who you are or is it not because you don't consider it to be? Do we get to define ourselves or are we forever at the mercy of the perceptions of others?

Our situations can also drastically affect our behavior. People with anonymity are willing to act more callous and cruel then they would normally. This is part of what plays into mob mentality. We we are given orders to obey, we can also be willing to inflict more harm on others as seen in the Milgram experiment. When something terrible is happening, many of us just stand around and wait for someone to take responsibility. Other times, when we are given positions of power over other people, some of us turn into tyrants. Sometimes when we are placed in extraordinary circumstances, some of us will step up to the challenge with heroic acts. If such a situation forces us to act differently then we normally would, either terrible or terrific, are those actions a part of who we are? Is it echoing something about ourselves that we didn't otherwise know? Is it just that the situation created it and it's otherwise not who we are?

One thing I've noticed is that I've noticed about myself is that I remember my desires and intentions even if I they did not lead me to act or if my actions were not what I intended them to be. How do intentions compare to our actions in defining ourselves? Is more importance given to one over the other? Are they equal? But if we go deeper... from where do those desires and intentions come? When we see someone hurting, most of us have a strong desire to help. Do those desires come from my conscious self or do they emanate from somewhere else and my conscious self is the observer of those desires?

"Who am I?" is one of the greatest questions anyone can ask of themselves, but personally, I prefer the answer, regardless of what it is, not to be a statement, but a goal.

"remember" - consciously, or unconsciously?  There are things that happen to us that we don't consciously recall, yet they shape our subconscious. 

Both versions of that consciousness reside in the same body. Same body, same person. The brain is of the flesh. The mind is of the brain. The mind is of the flesh.

So a clone of my physical body would be me as well? Same body, but lacking my memories, experience, ect. It would seem to be that even with the same brain structure and temperament, she would lack all the shaping of my personality by my past experiences.  

I think if you cloned every single molecule, she would have exactly the same memories and personality. 

the sum of all past experiences shapes who you are


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