Originally published 27 Nov 20
At the very core of your identity a kernel of self awareness combines memories of the past with the fleeting sensations of the present, and adds a touch of anticipation for the future.
The question of whether this ongoing sense of 'you' is as robust as it feels has intrigued philosophers and psychologists throughout the ages. A new, small psychobiological study weighs in, looking at brain scans to conclude that at least some part of you is indeed consistent as you grow and age.
"In our study, we tried to answer the question of whether we are the same person throughout our lives," says Miguel Rubianes, a neuroscientist from the Complutense University of Madrid.
"In conjunction with the previous literature, our results indicate that there is a component that remains stable while another part is more susceptible to change over time."
Self-continuity forms the very basis of identity. Every time you use the word 'I', you're referring to a thread that stitches a series of experiences into a tapestry of a lifetime, representing a relationship between the self of your youth with one yet to emerge.
Yet identity is more than the sum of its parts. Consider the allegory of Theseus's ship, or the grandfather's axe paradox – a tool that's had its shaft replaced, as well as its head, but is still somehow the same axe that belonged to grandfather.
If our experiences change us, swapping out components of our identity with every heart break and every promotion, every illness and every windfall, can we truly still say we see ourself as the same person today as we were when we were four years old?
You can be forgiven for thinking this sounds more like philosophical navel-gazing than something science can address. But there are perspectives which psychology – and even the wiring of our neurological programming – can flesh out.