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Who Am I? Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Awais Aftab, Pakistan May 31, 2004
Child & Youth Rights   Opinions
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Who am I? This is a question I have asked myself for years but have never found a satisfactory answer. As I ponder deep over this question, I realise that the answer to this mystery encompasses a number of other fundamental and basic philosophical questions.

The first difficulty in searching for the answer is the starting point. From where should I initiate? From which point of view should I proceed further? After some pondering I have felt that the choice of starting point is just arbitrary because from wherever you start you should get to the same final answer.

Let’s begin at the atomic level. I am composed of an extremely large number of atoms which in turn consist of subatomic particles, whose list is increasing day by day. According to the presently accepted model of atom, more than 99.9% of atom is mere vacuum, empty space. The rest of the space is filled with fundamental particles, which scientists consider as ‘points’ in the true mathematical sense. To add to the amazement, all these particles have a dual nature i.e. they are both a particle and a wave at the same time. So touch your body and if it feels ‘solid’ to you, remind yourself that it is 99.9% empty space and the rest is nothing but a complex system of waves!

As you can see that in search for my ‘identity’ I have to face the basic principles of atomic structure that apply to matter in general. Although we cannot escape the fact that these quantum mechanical theories apply to ‘our’ atoms too, we are different from normal matter, we are ‘living’. I am a living being. Now, this brings us at arms with another highly difficult question: what is life? What makes the molecule of DNA different from other molecules? What is so special about it? The discovery of viruses has made this question a hell of a lot more haunting. After all my study of living organisms (assuming viruses to be living) I have found one property in all of them: the struggle for survival. All living things try to survive, to remain ‘alive’ and that they do by means of reproduction.

Looking at the chemical composition of my body, I find that I am nearly 70% water by weight. So what am I? An exotic ‘suspension’ of organic compounds in water? In fact, only six elements account for 99% of my body’s total mass. However, these basic elements are joined in an extremely complex manner to form a living substance called ‘protoplasm’.

I am, like nearly all other living beings, made up of millions of ‘cells’. Each cell is a separate unit of structure and function. Although, basically, each cell carries out its own functions, their ‘autonomy’ has been reduced by an excellent mechanism of coordination. The brain controls this coordination which too is composed of cells. This coordination makes the whole body one unit.

I sometimes question that if each organ of my body was to be separated, and then which part would be ‘me’. Suppose I cut off my hand; my hand no longer remains a part of ‘me’, so what is this ‘me’? From this point we enter the realm of philosophy and theology.

According to many people, this ‘me’ is what we call ‘soul’. No one has yet been able to explain what a soul is. It is as difficult to define soul as it is difficult to define many other notions such as time and space. Scientifically there is no such thing as a soul but theologians are ardent believers of this concept. Belief in soul is found in all known cultures. Buddhism is perhaps unique in the sense that it teaches that the individual soul is an illusion produced by psychological and physiological influences. Soul as defined by a dictionary is: “The animating and vital principle in human beings; credited with the faculties of thought, action, and emotion and often conceived as an immaterial entity.”

So, if we accept this concept then our identity lies in the soul and not our material body. The idea of soul differs from religion to religion. Hindus, for instance, identify the individual soul with the divine. Islam, however, does not penetrate deep into this topic. In Koran it is written: “The soul is by command of my Lord, and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little.” (Surah XVII)

One may question that does identity only lies in the soul? Does body has nothing to do with it? I think not. No one calls a soul as ‘living’. The idea of this worldly life is only completed if we consider both the body and the soul. Adam was not ‘living’ until his soul was breathed into him. Thus we cannot reject our material body as having no contribution in our identity, at least in our identity in this world.

Considering genetics, an individual can also be defined by a specific sequence of codes of bases in his DNA. However, identical twins have the same genetic constitution but they are different individuals. So, this is another dead end.

An individual may also be called a unit of a specific population. The modern society has become quiet complex and well inter-related. An interesting example would be to compare the society with the human body. Just as cells are basically independent but due to division of labour are unable to survive alone and depend upon each other. Similarly, an individual in a community is fundamentally autonomous but he is unable to survive alone and depends upon others for survival. So, perhaps it is useless to define an individual and the focus should be on the population. Many phenomenons such as evolution occur only at the population level and not at the individual level, yet we cannot deny the importance of an individual.

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Writer Profile
Awais Aftab

Writing has been a passion, a love ever since I learned to write. For me, writing is a means of expression of 'secret tears and secret pleasures'. True writing comes from the heart and often it is the one to find you, not you the one to find it. Writing gives me power, the strength to carry on, the will to live and to live in a better way. It helps me find deeper meaning in the world around me and to understand myself much better. I can't survive without writing. For me, my writings are the whispers of life, in which the glory and sorrow of life echoes. For me, these are the glittering tears, whose every flash encompasses a thousand aspects of life. I believe that, 'I write; therefore I am.' However, true ease in writing comes from art, and I still have to learn a lot about that.

Hi Awais
Peter St.Christopher Kelly | Jul 9th, 2004
I think you are smart. I like you.

Sardar Taimur Hyat-Khan | Oct 3rd, 2004
I beg to differ with awais in regards to Islam not going deep in the matter of the soul. The soul is the most examined aspect of Sufism which is Inner or Batini Islam. The freeing of the soul from the shackles of materialism while yet in 'this world' is the subject of Sufism (At Tassawuf).

Hey there
Azira Binti Aziz | Jun 16th, 2005
I never got anywhere from that similar reasoning. The answer to that question actually lies within yourself. :) No amount of facts found within books, not even the Quran (may i not be spiked with lightning for this) cannot tell you directly who you are.

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