Friday, 26 November 2010

Who Am I?

When I was twelve years old we were given a little assignment at school, I suspect because there was free wall space and they needed to fill it. We were given a lined sheet of paper with a box in which to answer the question 'Who Am I?'  With hindsight, I realise that what they were after was a nice paragraph or two along the lines of 'my name is...I have one/two/three* brothers/sisters* (delete as applicable)....I like ice-cream and chocolate....I don't like....' You get the idea.

Despite supposing to be one of the clever ones, I made a big mistake. A mistake so big, I was sent to the headmaster.  What was my mistake? I answered the damn question.  It was a lesson early on in my school career, that it was only the exceptional teachers that really wanted you to answer (or try to answer) their question... Apparently my answer was so alarming, that they were concerned about me, and so much so that they couldn't deal with it and the headmaster's intervention was needed.

So what did I say? What made them anxious about my psychological well-being?

Well, the fledgling philosopher in me took the question literally, and I rather assumed at the time that that is what everyone was doing.  I wish I had a copy now of what I wrote, because I rather suspect it would make a nice little introduction to an essay on Personal Identity. I will come back to this question, probably repeatedly, because it is a fascinating one...what do we mean, to what do we refer when we say 'I'? Age twelve, I could use the word, but I had absolutely no idea what 'I' actually meant, and I simply said so, with a twelve year old's honest reasoning. Whoops. Call in the Social Services.

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