- This is the question that in Western psychologically-orientated societies we often ask ourselves. What is not generally appreciated, however, is that the question usually presupposes a view that every human being is basically different from every other human being. Who I am, on this view, is unique .
- By contrast, in Hlatky’s hypothesis we are all basically alike. His answer to the question is: ‘I am a conscious original part of the conscious original whole with the need for relationship (love, the experience of mutuality), who has connected to a body in creation in order to meet that need’. From this perspective, my own identity is the same as everyone else’s. The question ‘Who am I?’ thus becomes ‘What is a human being?’ In other words, the issue is no longer a particular, psychological one, but a general, philosophical one.
- How Hlatky arrives at his view is laid out in Understanding Reality. The main aspect – if one agrees that the original cause must be a conscious being (see Post 1) – is what the relation of human beings to God is.
- The monotheisms hold that God creates human beings in their entirety, that is, both their consciousness (the ability to experience) and their body.
- The pantheist view is different. One (Hindu) version of it is that the original Being or Brahman splits himself into separate beings [UR p.202]. So that view might hold, for example, that there is a ‘divine spark’ in every human being.
- Hlatky’s hypothesis is that God creates only the human bodies. The conscious parts can then make a connection to these human bodies. Before they make that connection, the parts exist in the same way God exists in the original reality (the original reality being what is constituted by the whole (God) and the parts). Of course, in that original situation, before a connection has been made to a human body in creation, one can’t refer to the parts as ‘human beings’ – hence the rather neutral-sounding term ‘part’.
- So in Hlatky’s hypothesis, the parts are as ‘eternal’, as original, as God. The parts retain their position in the original reality even while they connect to a human body in creation.
- Once the particular body ‘wears out’, the part can disconnect from it and subsequently connect to a new body.
- But since in Haltky’s view the part is original, it cannot develop. It is unchangeable. So there is no development of any basic kind (eg of some hypothesised ‘soul’, or towards enlightenment), either within a single life or from life to life.
- Since Hlatky hypothesises that God has a need for relationship, love, company, Hlatky’s main argument for his view of the parts – that they are original, non-created – is that it is not possible to see how God’s need could be met in relation to beings he himself creates in their entirety. This would be the equivalent of having a relationship with an animated toy [UR p.32. But see also The ABC of philosophy (UR p.173ff.) for other arguments].
- Nor is it possible to see how a creator’s need could be met in relation to parts it has split itself into. This would be tantamount to having a relationship with itself. Self-evidently, it is not possible to have a relationship with oneself: a relationship requires two conscious beings.
- If we can agree with the self-evidence-based logic of Hlatky’s hypothesis, then it is interesting to consider the huge difference that such a view of who we are entails.
- ‘Identity’ comes from the Latin idem, meaning ‘the same’ and has to do with what remains the same about something. In the case of human beings, Hlatky is suggesting that what remains essentially the same is our ability to experience (our consciousness). This never changes throughout our life [UR pp.50-1], in spite of all the changes that occur in our physical body. This accounts for the feeling nearly everyone reports at some point in their life of not really feeling older (perhaps brought home by suddenly catching themselves in a mirror or seeing an old photo and being surprised by how much their body has aged).
- And what also remains the same is our need for the experience of mutuality (love), which is associated with our ability to experience (our consciousness). The need for love is unlike our bodily needs. The latter are periodic: we may not need to eat or drink for a time. But we never ‘have enough’ of love: we never want not to be loved.
- If such is our identity, then we are all basically alike – 100%. At the same time, it is obvious that we are 100% unlike on the surface.
- If we don’t recognize our basic likeness, then we regard ourselves as basically unlike. Then we will identify ourselves with one element or several elements of our surface unlikenesses.
- Obvious choices for surface-‘identities’ include our gender, our thinking and beliefs, our nationality, our race, our sexual orientation, our skills, our social role, our past, and so on. But from Hlatky’s standpoint these surface characteristics of human beings would dissolve as points of tension between groups if it could be generally agreed that none of them represents our real identity. Against the background of the real identity that he argues we all share, these other ‘identities’ are no longer experienced as divisive or alienating, and so not as disturbing.
- Thus philosophical clarity about our real identity is, it is argued, the prerequisite for a conflict-free mental life not bedevilled by anguished searching about ‘Who am I?’, or by unending efforts to create, refine and maintain who I am, with the subsequent need to present that ‘I’ [UR pp.43-4] to others and have it be accepted by them [Hear Hlatky talking about this].
- This idea of a basic likeness is, as we have already suggested, an idea that we have in early childhood. The problem is that it is not then represented in language sufficiently in any culture. It is referred to often, but not with philosophical clarity .
- Unless the idea is spelt out with philosophical clarity, it will not be possible to reach a genuine and convincing agreement about it. It will then be swamped by the modern emphasis on basic difference, uniqueness and specialness – which opens the door to development, hierarchy and alienation between humans. Furthermore, this latter idea fails to solve the ethical problem between human beings. By contrast, if we agree that we are all basically alike in the way Hlatky is proposing, then we understand one another and so know how to behave towards one another .
1. For a discussion about how this view is passed on to children and for a discussion of the whole theme of this Post, see UR Dialogue 2.↩
2. The Bible, for example, talks of us as being made after God’s likeness: Genesis 1, v.26 ‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ But there are no specifics.
In the secular sphere there is, for example, the poem Human Family by Maya Angelou, containing the refrain ‘We are more alike, my friend, than unalike’ – but again without specifics about the ways we are alike.
Equally suggestive – but not spelt out – is what Kwame Anthony Appiah says in his 2016 BBC Reith Lectures (‘Mistaken Identities’). Having cast doubt on the solidity of common identities such as creed, country, colour and culture, Appiah quotes at the end of his final talk the Roman playwright Terence: ‘Homo sum. Humani nihil a me alienum puto.’ Appiah translates this as: ‘I am human. I think nothing human alien to me’, and concludes with the comment: ‘Now there is an identity worth holding onto’.↩
3. For elaboration of this last point and the connection of the question of identity with the question of meaning (Post 2), see UR pp.48-50.↩