Who am I? What does I even mean?
I’m pretty confident my body isn’t me. If I loose a limb, I don’t loose some sense of self. If in the future we all live in a large distributed network of virtual reality and my body is no longer needed, I would still be me. If I had no physical body at all though, how would I exist? I need a physical body, at least initially, to develop as a person. I can’t imagine being born as a computer person. I guess that’s what AI is all about. Creating consciousness in a machine. It’s a bit of a head fuck.
I’m going to assume current technology, and say my human brain is required for I to exist — without it my consciousness wouldn’t exist — but it certainly isn’t me. It’s just the physical matter which enables me to exist.
The mind does it’s own thing most of the time. It repeatedly thinks about the past and future, spontaneously jumping between seemingly random thoughts. It seems to almost always be running, like some background process on a computer. It even does it while I sleep. But if I sit and meditate I can observe my mind, I can zoom out and watch each of these habitual thoughts float past like watching a movie. When I truly let go, it disappears for a few seconds.
If I can make it vanish, it can’t be me either. But I have memories and they are persistent, they don’t disappear. I’m pretty confident my experiences (and therefore memories) in life determine who I am. They have moulded the way I move, speak and think. If I lose my memories, would I still be me? That’s a difficult question. I think no. My human form would still exist, but I’d be an empty droid.
If I the contents of my mind were copied to another location, lets say for ease, an exact clone of my body. Then the old version was destroyed. Would that new person be me? Everyone who knows me wouldn’t see a difference. But that new human has a different consciousness than the version of me that is writing this post.
Is consciousness really a thing? It’s just kinda there. It disappears when I sleep but resumes when I wake.
“I” am any consciousness that observes my mind.
When either consciousness or mind is missing, so am “I”.
Looking back at the clone point from earlier, I think the new version would still be me. It would look like me, talk like me but most importantly, it would think it was me.
With this view it seems foolish to get attached to a sense of I. It is only ego which makes me attached to a static notion of “I”. Like this version of me deserves some higher order of existence.
In conclusion, I am me. The current consciousness that observes my mind.