Monday, June 23, 2008

"Where You End and I Begin Is Like a River Going Through"

Looking back on this post I'm realizing how difficult it is to write air-tight philosophical though on a blog, so please bear with me. On the other hand, there is certainly plenty to discuss/disagree with, so if you do so please contribute. Philosophy isn't about finding truth per-say. As they say, "Philosophy is like looking for a black cat in a dark room that isn't there." 
While writing my senior thesis on the qualitative change in identity over a period of time I came up with my own theory on identity. In not so many words, our personal identity is not a singular entity. Instead it is the amalgam of various identities, each one derived from our various experiences and tribulations concerning that particular identity. Various identities can include our: physical identity, emotional identity, sexual identity, intellectual identity, cultural identity, etc... In this post I'd like to take a look at how love and relationships affect our own personal identity, and as a result who we are. 

Let me first discuss what I mean when I speak of Qualitative identity, as opposed to Quantitative identity. Suppose I showed you a playing card, let's say the Ace of Hearts; I then proceed to light the card on fire and place the ashes in a bowl. With the wave of my hand I then produce another card, another Ace of Hearts. While being impressed with my trick there is no part of you that thinks that card is the exact same card that I burned and turned into ashes. Surely this is true, for we have the remains of the card in the bowl as proof. What makes the trick a trick is that I am able to produce a card with the same qualities- the same Red 'A' in the corners, the same Bicycle logo on the back, and the same heart symbol in the middle. The card I produced is qualitatively the same as the card I burned, but not quantitatively. This post will discuss the qualitative changes in our identity that we go through in love and relationships. 

Why do we have relationships? According to behaviorists (a theory that places behavior as the cause for our actions, not rational thought) our main reason for establishing a relationship is to further our own species, and more specifically our own genetic offspring. According to behaviorism love can be reduced to a behavior, with its main end being that of survival our own lineage. We do not leave flowers and love notes because we wish to express our love, we do such acts so that we may secure our mate in order to produce offspring. We don't select a mate because we think they are funny, or smart, or interesting, we choose them because we believe their genetic strengths are good matches to help produce our own offspring. In fact it's actually been proven that smell plays an important role in our selection of companion, and what can be more primordial that our sense of smell? Regardless, I have always had a hard time with the theory of behaviorism. I think as humans we have come a long way since our animal heritage, and we have developed complex systems of thinking- logical and otherwise- that we use to help define ourselves. I believe our path to choosing a mate is largely based in our biological needs, but even more so I think we choose a mate to help understand ourselves and develop our own authentic essence. 

Before the ages of 18-24 months we have no concept of self-awareness, no concept of our individual identity. Ever since we first discover our own self-image we are on a continual look to find out who we are, our own individuality. Satre said, "existence precedes essence," meaning our own identity is one created, and not existing a priori. But discovering our identity doesn't always come from self-discovery or our own creation, in fact many of the greatest lessons I've learned about myself has come from others. And I believe our search for a mate is in a large part a search for ourselves, another part of our own identity. Just as we first perceived our own physical image in the mirror, we look towards others for our own identity. We look into the eyes of our loved one for affirmation as to who we truly are. My father recently wrote me a letter giving fatherly advice in the realm of relationships (and in my father's fashion wrote it on grocery list stationary), "My advice- there are a million women out there that you could fall in love with- and each one would excite you and interest you in different ways. Each would stimulate a totally different facet of your personality." I could completely see his point. Each partner we take on adds something to us, they amplify certain habits, and subdue others. I could date a librarian who would increase my thirst for knowledge, I could love an actress who would play off my sensuality, or I could choose to date a triathlete who would motivate me further in my athletic endeavors. What continues our quest in seeking a satisfying relationship is to find that person that accentuates our personality in a way that we see ourselves. Or as my mother says about my father, we are looking for someone who, "makes [us] a better person." 

1 comment:

Stepiphany said...

That 'Scent of a Woman' article is very interesting. I've become mildly obsessed with the significance of scent since reading Jitterbug Perfume. I think it plays a weighty part in such a selection process, but I do also agree with you that such a process is largely navigated by the individual's pursuit of self understanding - there's still a lot that separates us from our animal ancestors.

Maybe it's scent that acts as the initial attractant, and behaviorial cognizance that perpetuates that attraction.