On Identity

Consider a new technology. A form of crude but effective mind control, that can with total effectiveness and no margin of error remove any single memory of group of memories from your brain. Ignore the science and the ethics behind the existence of this technology; it exists, and you have access to it.

Would you use that access to remove memories that you didn’t want to have?

I’ve been sitting here all day, soul choked and mind plagued by my subconscious running rampant through my past, bringing up memories I’d desperately prefer stayed buried in a corner of my mind — wondering if I would.

On some level, those memories are part of my identity. Would I wake up the same person tomorrow if I didn’t remember those events, those people? Certainly, some of the memories that plague me are valuable lessons, one that I might be forced to re-learn if I forgot them. Others are simply painful reminders of events I wish never had happened. Removing either type would change me, certainly — I doubt that’s in question.

But… are those changes for the worse, or for the better? I’ve sat here, psychoanalysing someone who doesn’t even exist, wondering if that person would be a better human being than I am. More motivated, more engaged… less damaged. Less driven, though. Perhaps less empathic. Definitely less self-loathing, more self-esteem, I think — but a lot less self-knowledge. Probably not enough to even to begin to write this post I write today.

I just don’t know what kind of person I would be without those memories. I don’t think I’d risk it. There are a few changes that would make me a person I’d like much more than I do now — but there’s countless others that would make me a person I’d like less. My identity is fraught and complicated, but it is me, and some day I might be at peace with it.

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