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What Makes U, U?

David Cowles

May 16, 2024

“…The ‘you-experience’ is the same for every human being…for every living thing…for every ‘actual entity’. Yet every entity is unique.”

Have you ever wondered what makes ‘you’ you? You are certainly unique, a one off. As your friends say, “They threw away the mold.” But where do ‘you’ leave off and a ‘different you’ begin? And what makes that ‘other you’ not you? In other words, why are you not me? Why am I not you? Too early in the AM for this? 

You are the product of a single male sex cell and a single female sex cell. Most likely, your conception was the product of a single act (intercourse) in which as many as 1 billion sperm cells set out in search of an ovum. You are testimony to the fact that at least one male cell reached its destination. Congratulations, BTW!

Suppose your conception had occurred on the same ‘occasion’ but resulted from the union of a different sperm cell with that same egg? Same time, same place; same partners, same act. Would ‘you’ still be you? Presumably you’d be someone - and if not you, then who? And the who you are now?

Every successful conception generates a unique ‘you’; it doesn’t matter how close or how distant two potential conception events might be – every conception is unique, as is every ‘you’. Identity is not a continuum.

As usual, we have things backwards. We assume you and then we try to associate you with a particular set of physical parameters.  In fact, the potentiality for a ‘you-event’ is everywhere, but every actual ‘you’ is a singularity. 

Imagine you are a ball bearing rolling off an assembly line, smooth and shiny as you like. You are certainly unique in the sense that you are one among many. Presumably, but unintentionally, at some probably irrelevant level of detail you can be distinguished from the other ball bearings in ‘your run’ but for all intents and purposes you are interchangeable.

You are both ‘what you are’ (Wassein) and ‘that you are’ (Dasein). What you are consists of attributes that you potentially share, to one degree or another, with every other entity. That you are is unique to you; however, your experience of being you is exactly the same as every other entity’s experience of being itself. Yes, every entity experiences itself being itself…because that is what an ‘entity’ is! But no two entities are the same.

All entities, myself included, draw from a single, common set of attributes (‘accidents’), but every entity, myself included, exhibits these attributes differently – different attributes in different proportions, combinations and arrangements. To borrow terminology from Kant, you and I are noumenally identical but phenomenally unique.

Whatever distinguishes you from everyone else is ‘accidental’ but what unites you is ‘substantial’. Everyone experiences themselves as a ‘you’ and that experience is presumably the same for everyone; how could it not be? Being you is…being you! You are you as I am I. So the ‘you-experience’ is the same for every human being…for every living thing…for every ‘actual entity’. Yet every entity is unique. 

Riddle: What is the one sentence that is always true in every situation? Answer: “They threw away the mold.” 

Psychology (mind) is different from Physiology (body). Mind is body and body mind (Ryle), yet ‘the study of mind’ is very different from ‘the study of body’. Apparently, mind and body describe the same phenomena, but from different perspectives, attested to by the radically different vocabularies required.

Likewise, Ontology is different from both Physiology and Psychology. Most of us go through life thinking that we are what we are; but according to JP Sartre, the reverse is true: We are not what we are; we are what we are not.  

Think of all the things that have happened to you, all the experiences that formed you, all the chance occurrences that impacted the course of your life; none of them has anything to do with you. You are now who you were at the moment of your birth (or before) and who you will be at the hour of your death. 

“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Regardless of what marvelous or horrible things you’ve done or have been done to you, you are, always have been and always will be, just you…now and at the hour of your death. This is the hour of your death!

Every sufficiently large and structured set of elements constitutes a ‘you’. Every ‘you’ is the same you, even though every you is unique. Every ‘you’ is what it is in the same way; there is only one way of being ‘you’. However, what ‘you’ are is entirely unlike what anyone else is. Or, if you prefer:  I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together… (Beatles, I am the Walrus)


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