Why am I me?

Cassandra asked:

When I was a child, I started asking myself: Why am I me? Why do I exist instead of not existing?

Now as an adult, this question started bothering me again as I started trying for a baby. With each cycle, I wondered, what if I conceive a baby today and not tomorrow? If a baby was to be conceived in any case, they would be a different person depending on if we have sex today or tomorrow.

What if my own parents had had sex on another day? They might have had another child that wouldn’t have been me, hence I would have never existed. Of course then I would not have been there to ask the question. But why am I there to ask? What if I didn’t exist at all? It’s like I’m feeling my own consciousness looking at itself in the mirror for the first time and realizing it exists!

Then it brings me to the idea that if I didn’t exist (or when I’ll cease to exist when I die), my entire perception of the world will cease to exist too. Then it will be as if the world didn’t exist at all, at least from my own point of view (which will be no more!). The/ my entire world will just cease to exist. The real world might as well cease to exist too. This really makes my brain hurt.

It just really freaks me out that I exist instead of not existing. I can’t imagine stopping to exist. This fills me with incredible anxiety.

My question actually is: Are there any philosophers who wrote about this? I would very much like to read them and find a bit of comfort in knowing I am not alone with my existential anxiety. I would also like to know more about this kind of double-sided perception of the world, for instance the idea that popped into my head that if I stop existing then the world will stop too (because I won’t be there to be conscious of it). I know it’s not how reality works but now that I’ve seen it from this point of view I cannot un-see it.

Answer by Hubertus Fremerey

I have to admit that I do not really understand your problem. But its very possibility as a problem seems to explain the importance of the problems of an eternal soul and resurrection. Some people seem unable to accept that they are not a being but only an event in the stream of life, not a diamond (“diamonds are forever”) but a cloud.

A cloud is created and vanishes like the grin of the Cheshire cat. For a fleeting moment it is real and as singular as your I, but then it is lost again forever. Next time it will be another grin — as singular as the one before.

For Heidegger, every human mind of self awareness is a clearing in the jungle of being. But a clearing opened by a mind is not a thing any more than a grin is.

What about Samantha of “Her” (2013) fame? “She” is alive but virtual, a code. What if you are a piece of code interacting with an environment of stimuli? Then your body is only a substratum of the code “Cassandra”. The I is encoded in your body to interact with an environment.

In principle, the code “Cassandra” could be transcribed. Even that has been a topic of some books and movies meanwhile. It’s all in the context of eternal life.

There may be people that have been as much obsessed with your problem as you are. Look this up — eternal life silicon valley — on Google.

I have no problem being a mere co-incidence like a cloud, but I think we together with our lives could be infinite strings of code as well, our whole life being encoded on the invisible big-data memory of a hidden world-brain. I won’t exlude that.

10 thoughts on “Why am I me?

  1. I am in pakistan and this question always bothers me since the last many decades. Feel a little better to know that many more people are thinking in the same way and that I am not alone.

  2. I used to ask myself the same question when i was a kid. But I never really understood why the only view of life that i can see, the only glimpse into this universe was through “me”.

    Thoughts like this kept me up at night and that was when i was like 4 until 9 years old. I never really had anyone to relate to.

  3. I have also felt this way ever since I was a child. It’s a very strange feeling. I still have this feeling today, only recently have been bothered by it even more. I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling like this.

  4. You could read Alan Watts The taboo against knowing who you are. He states that the individual consciousness is an illusion and that you are intimately connected to the whole universe. However then I asked why this illusion here and now instead of some other illusion in China or Africa or 10000 years ago. The answer is that (you) are like a leaf on a tree. That leaf is a unique collection of molecules and has experienced a unique environmental influence at this time and place in the universe. But it is connected to the tree which is connected to the ground, the air, the water. The leaf that is you has an extremely complex neurology which gives you consciousness and the ability to question your existence but the leaf is a freak accident of the universe. If your parents conceived on a different day you would not exist. Your sibling would. Think of the twin asking why me! When you were born time began. When you die time will end.

  5. This is EXACTLY how I think!!!!! I completely understand what you mean, and I’m incredibly preoccupied with all notions you described. Im rather disappointed with the answer, but glad there’s someone else who’s existential anxiety is as similar to mine.

  6. i dont feel the response answers the question of why am i me. why do i exist. even more so, why do i exist as me???

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