Growing up, I was a fan of the San Diego Padres baseball team. Well, specifically Tony Gwynn, but the Padres came with him. There have been years where I watched them trade away quality top talent, in hopes of landing a large quantity of moderate talent. Why have one 5-star player, when you can have three 2-stars? So when a team I loved had replaced every player at every position with new players, were they still “my team”?
This is the crux of the thought experiment raised by Plutarch. Not Hunger Games Plutarch; I’m talking about ancient Greek Plutarch. He wanted to know when the Ship of Theseus stopped being the Ship of Theseus, if it was replaced with replica parts, one by one. You can check out a discussion at Brain Pickings.
At least make sure you watch the video in the Brain Pickings article, which can also be found here: Who Am I?
Humankind asks “Who am I?” At least since we’ve been able to think these types of thoughts. There may be some earlier humans who never really contemplated their place in the universe, or if Oog and Thag talk about them when they’re not in the cave… I digress.
Both the video and article are fantastic for explaining what is at the heart of the conundrum. However, I want to know what’s at the heart of the human. This leads me to a different question.
Why do we ask “Who am I”?
“Who am I?” gets at identity. I want to understand why we question it. I am going to spoil the end of this post and tell you right now, I don’t know. But it does generate interesting questions that need to be explored. Surely, some folks have explored one or more of these. I want to to talk to these folks. If you are one of these folks, let me know! I want to talk to you.
- Is who we are different from time to time? From place to place? From situation to situation?
- Is “Who am I?” even what we want to know?
- Should it be “Am I being who I want to be?”
- Should it be “What’s my place in the universe?”
- Should it be “Who do others think I am?”
- Do people with extreme levels of self-confidence ask “Who am I?” (extreme = really high AND really low)
- Does “wearing many hats” fragment our identity?
- Why can’t we be the same person and keep our identity whole?
- Are the forces on the need for “many hats” external or internal?
- Does finding an answer to “Who am I?” solve anything?
One Last Thing Before You Go
This search for identity generates a new-to-me connection. Our inability to satisfyingly answer “Who am I?” leads to a void that “things” have been able to fill. If I buy a cat, I open the door to becoming a cat person. If I buy activewear from Nike, I showcase my athletic identity. Heck, you can’t even properly root for the Padres without buying some team gear. Maybe that’s part of how we cement part of our identity answer.
“Who am I? Well, I got all these Padres hats and shirts, so clearly I’m a Padres fan.”
It feels like those are the easy answers to what is supposed to be a deep and soul-searching question. “Who am I?” sounds like a status report on the path to the ideal you want to achieve.
But still, I gotta know, why are you asking?