Can we change who we are?

July 12, 2007 at 7:27 pm 15 comments

Since I cannot comment on Martha’s article about Bill’s question without signing in yet another e-network, I am going to do it here, giving birth to another new evergreen leaf.

The question is this: Can we change who we are?

In order to give a sensible answer to this question about changing ourselves, we must first find an answer to the apparently simpler question, Who are we?

The deepest philosophies that have been born in the history of human civilization have been, at some point in their development, directed toward this question of our identity. If we assume, for the sake of simplicity, that we know who we are, then we may proceed as follows:

The changes in us occur because that is the way we are. Every single human being changes every single moment of his/her life. Each change is a characteristic feature of that person. Two different people can never undergo the same sequence of changes in their lives. We define our changes. The changes do not define us. Therefore, it is not a question of fatality or irreligion, but of defining the self.

I am sure I have been quite vague, but I cannot do better because:
(a) What requires a few thousand pages cannot be justifiably condensed into one single blog post, and
(b) Even if I had that space, I am sure I would not have been able to present the matter as well as it deserves to be presented.

Entry filed under: perspective, philosophy, religion, spiritualism.

Clear Night Crescent Ode to the Burnt Finger

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. spasmicallyperfect  |  July 13, 2007 at 4:05 am

    Oh, the old question. I often wondered whether it was the right one. I am more intrigued by the ‘why do we want to change who we are’ – question. More so because often I am not sure that people take enough time to answer your first question “who are we?”.

  • 2. Ritwik Banerjee  |  July 13, 2007 at 4:56 am

    You are right indeed in asking “why do we want to change who we are?”

    My opinion, based on my unmentionably small exposure to philosophical works, is that the changes are already defined by who we are. If, for instance, I change into somebody else over a period of time, it would happen only because the propensity to change into my future self is already inherent in me. My present self defines my future self because my present self defines all my reactions to all my experiences.

  • 3. helenl  |  July 13, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Hi Ritwick, I found you from a comment on Clare Martin’s blog.

    What if we asuume the opposite: that we do not know who we are. The changes in us would be still unique (because each of us is unique), but change would be a part of our search for self. I think that’s more likely what’s really happening. I think we change beacuse we want to know who we are. Can we know who we are in one short lifetime without defining the self in realtion to other people or to God?

  • 4. Paul Knopfler  |  July 14, 2007 at 4:03 am

    Great post Ritwik.

  • 5. Ritwik Banerjee  |  July 14, 2007 at 4:06 am

    That is an interesting viewpoint Helen.

    Let us not think of the issue as “what is really happening” . . . because all we can eventually do is to come up with a consistent theory.

    No matter what we assume about our knowledge of ourselves, the self remains the same. I may or may not know it. The search that you speak of, is also a reaction that is already imbibed by the self. Don’t you think so?

    But these are minor differences in opinion. Eventually, it is the self (whether, as I say, we know it, or, as you say, we search for it) that pulls the trigger!

  • 6. Ritwik Banerjee  |  July 14, 2007 at 4:07 am

    Thank you Paul. 🙂

  • 7. helenl  |  July 14, 2007 at 5:04 am


    Maybe (i’m not sure) this is the difference between “I think: therefore, I am” and “I am, because we are.” Both are at least partially true and interesting to ponder.

    But it t is, indeed, “the self that pulls the trigger.”

  • 8. helenl  |  July 14, 2007 at 5:05 am

    OOPS. I meant Ritwik. I’m sorry.

  • 9. Ritwik Banerjee  |  July 14, 2007 at 5:16 am

    Reply to Helen:

    Lol . . . 😛

    Third time lucky I must be. From Ritwick to Ritwig to Ritwik!

  • 10. harmonie22  |  July 14, 2007 at 10:16 pm

    Great post. I think it’s important to always evolve and we always are evolving. Who am I? God only knows, but I call myself a child of God anyway.

  • 11. Shyma  |  July 16, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Here’s something for you Ritwik,

    “Nothing, but nothing
    is forever.

    Days and nights
    fall like dice
    on the board.
    Months and years,
    slip thru one’s fingers
    like sand.

    All is but a play
    of light and shade.
    Nothing but nothing
    is permanent.

    I am, the only one.
    Who keeps changing,
    every moment.”


    I am, the only one.
    Who keeps changing,
    every moment.

    That is the perfect statement Shyma. Thank you for this profound statement in the form of a beautiful poem.

  • 12. antisocialist  |  July 16, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    “Man is a being of a self-made soul.”

    Humans are defined by their actions; actions are defined by thoughts; thoughts are defined by the philosophy that any given human being accepts and lives by.

    By their fruits ye shall know them, because their “fruits” reveal their true person. The law of identity states: A is A, with the emphasis on the “A.” The law of casaulity states: A is A, with all the emphasis on the “is.” Identity and action are thus inseparable.

    Reply: I beg to differ, anti-socialist. Humans, as you say, are indeed defined by their actions. But actions are not always defined by thoughts. Very often, actions are a result of rather unthoughtful impulses. A person might be of a peaceful disposition because his thoughts and his guiding philosophy are such. But, in a moment of impulsive rage, he could very well commit a violent crime and regret it for the rest of his life.
    – Ritwik

  • 13. antisocialist  |  July 17, 2007 at 3:23 am

    Yes, but surely a thought of some sort came into play behind your hypothetical violent crime, even if the crime was impulsive. Even if the crime was an act of mindless violence, some process of thought went into it. Perhaps it amounted only to “I’m not going to think about it any longer, I’m just going to do this thing.” But that’s still a process of thought. The ensuing act defines the person to that extent.

    In this one man’s opinion.

    Reply: Perhaps you are right. I am not sure about this, and therefore, I cannot take a stand on the issue. But since you say The ensuing act defines the person to that extent., I find myself agreeing with you.
    – Ritwik

  • 14. Avarana  |  July 21, 2007 at 6:25 am

    I offer that we change with every passing second, as thoughts and reactions come and go, but we try no to stray to far in order to preserve our perceived Self. To really change, to become one with everything, break the wheel and rise like the dragon, requires a touch of the impossible and thus by itself is a very difficult path. So the short answer is, I hope I can.

    Reply: I understand what you say, but you and I, we have not contradicted each other. as thoughts and reactions come and go — thoughts and reactions are in the present, and therefore already present in us. Our present may be considered like a seed from which the big tree of our future self shall spring gradually.

  • 15. antisocialist  |  August 10, 2007 at 2:42 am

    I realize this is a cold thread. I just wanted to let you know that in an oblique way, it’s inspired my latest post, insofar as this fellow actually becomes a part of the mine where he’s worked all his life, both metaphorically and literally.


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