Me, Myself and I

A long, long, long time ago when I wore anklets and saddle shoes, and my cousins and I were children, my uncle Hank said to one of us — me? my brother? my cousin David? my cousin Greg? “Don’t be a snitch.”


“What’s a ‘snitch’?”

“Tattle-tale, honey. Who’s a snitch?”

“I don’t know.”

Words. Snitch is a verbed noun, too, or a nouned verb. I don’t know which. And nobody’s telling. (ha ha)

Hanging with the kids down the or up the alley I’m getting a sense of how we accumulate words. Though it’s almost unfathomable to me at this point that once I didn’t know ALL the words, I didn’t. Hanging with the kids, I’ve seen what was actually happening in elementary school and it wasn’t what I thought it was.

In a way, none of it — education, relationships, experience — has been what I thought it was. A few days ago I read a post on one of my favorite blogs Don’t Hold Your Breath. The post is titled “The Limits of Us.” The author brings up the question of identity. It just happened that last night an article on new research into identity popped up on my Apple News app. “Brain Scans Confirm There’s a Part of You that Remains ‘You’ Throughout Your Life” . The article links to the research paper on which the article is based.

The essence is that part of who we are is there from the very beginning and it is one of the factors that allows us to recognize ourselves through time. The point of the discovery is the identification of a part of our brain that has always known who we are. As far as I understand this article (the scholarly paper is actually clearer) the aspect of identity the research looks at is our faces, knowing our face (self) through time.

That doesn’t interest me much, honestly. That image is not my “self.” But my “self,” as I think of self has been the same since I was very small. At four or five years old I was already drawing pictures of a happy female in a room with a window that showed mountains in the distance. On the floor around that female are sleeping dogs and in front of her is an easel with a painting on it. She holds a brush.

To me identity is more profound than recognizing my face even though it ages into an unrecognizable morass of wrinkles. I think of the way each Dalai Lama is found, by an infant’s ability to recognize the tools that belong to the life and duties of the Dalai Lama.

I remember that, as an adolescent, I was very interested in learning who my friends and lovers were REALLY. I even asked them. “Who are you REALLY?” That must have seemed like a ridiculous question (and I couldn’t have answered it) to most of them. Now I understand that each self — mine, yours, theirs — reveals itself in deeds over time. While it might be a pre-existing essence, reality, from the moment we are born it’s only through the tools of our world that it’s revealed to anyone, even to ourselves. Probably all we can ever know is the reflection in the mirror. That snitch.

44 thoughts on “Me, Myself and I

  1. A mirror image is your face backwards. That’s all most of us ever see, unless there are portraits in the house. So, what you get used to is an illusion. Interesting.

  2. Interesting.

    Wylie Online wants $8.00 to see the original study so I’ll have to just settle for the abstract.

    I have photos of myself from when I was very little. I doubt I could identify myself from any other similar looking boy if I’d never seen those photos before. When I think of what “I” look like, it isn’t until adulthood that I have any clear memories.

    When I was young, all my drawings were of rockets and planets and such. I never featured in them.

    • Boys draw monsters, rockets, planes, cars, trucks — outside world stuff. Girls are far more likely to draw pictures of people and daily life activities. Strange but true.

  3. Ya know what? I was just thinking about that! Identify ya self Martin I said to my self but I am Popo’ in my heart not Martin. And Popo’ has never been a guy who likes injuries to other people in his life so he is still fighting for the rest of the world! Blessings to my better self! Thank ya for reminding me of my essence.🙏♒️🐕🎈

  4. Hmmm….I get that there is a part of you that remains you through your whole life. Sometimes I think we choose to discard it or hide it from others, and sometimes we embrace it, but if I get what your saying, I’m not always sure our faces are a reflection of our true self.

  5. this is so very interesting and something i think i’ve pondered at some level from time to time. with regard to gender and children and art, last year i gave my class a variety of loose parts to create whatever they wanted, no limits, no prompts. they used wood, nails, yard, wire, fabric, bottle caps, felt, glue, etc. – when everyone was done, i announced that we’d have a show to share what we made with each other. it was fascinating to see that the boys all created vehicles, weapons, superheroes, etc. – the girls created people and pets from real life, along with a range of things from their imaginations such as fairy things, so interesting.

    • Yeah. As soon as I started school, I drew my playground with all the equipment and kids playing on them. I sometimes think the historical oppression of women by men is based on that very fundamental difference. Boys’ drawings tend to be definitive and aggressive. They must look at little girl drawings like, “WTF?” If they look at them. (Nothing against men or boys.) It’s like the kids up my alley. The little girl plays pretend — she likes pretending she’s a cat. I asked the little boy what he liked to pretend and he said “I don’t.” And he doesn’t. His feet are planted firmly on the ground. His mind doesn’t extend into other worlds. He is focused on solving objective problems in quotidian reality.

  6. I must say that the study seems really shallow to me. I agree, Martha, that it is not a study of our identity of self, only a study of our ability to recognize the image of our own face. To write the equation “face=self”, which is essentially the aim of the paper (as far as I can see), takes a very shallow (skin-deep) view of self. Does this imply that if one were to receive a face transplant one would be a different person? Or is the self as deep as the bone structure, so new skin wouldn’t change one’s identity, but facial fractures might? The paper is a visual recognition study, not an ontological study, though I find the ontological question of self much more interesting than the facial recognition one. Richard Morgan’s novel “Altered Carbon” looks at self as accumulated experience and memory, positing a world in which that identity can be stored on a chip and transferred to different bodies (which he refers to as “sleeves”) and bringing a form (based on wealth) of immortality.

    • I guess the scientists were looking for a mechanism in the brain that is “self” but I don’t get it. I’ve ALWAYS been something in particular and I’ve ALWAYS known it. The PKD idea that the self is a sum of memories (Electric Sheep) that can be “given” to replicants is more interesting than the idea that I am my face. I’m not my face. Altered Carbon sound interesting, but that brings up the question for me; there is an important discovery in the understanding of mortality, and it might be the VERY thing that makes us human and IS our “self.”

  7. That’s my kind of article. Fascinating. I think photographs of young children – candids, not posed – can be a real window into personality. Before outside influences can erode or re-shape who they “are.” I don’t remember doing much drawing as a child (except staying inside the lines in coloring books…). I don’t know why, but perhaps it was criticized or compared to my sister who turned out to be the artistic one. Looking in the mirror is still somewhat of a shock. That’s not who I am!! 😲

    • I used to think “staying inside the lines” crippled the soul, but now I see it’s really all about coordinating the eye and the hand which is important. So weird. My brother was “the artistic one” in my family. One day my grandmother uttered a blasphemy and you should have seen my mother’s face. My grandma said, “I think Martha Ann might be the real artist in this family.” But why should there be only ONE? The only time in my life I felt like I looked like me was when I was 45 – 55. THAT person I recognized inside and out.

      I think we all have an intrinsic “self” and that doesn’t change over time. Maybe in some people it’s stronger than in others.

  8. Am I missing something really profound? I read this study conclusion to my husband and we both had a chuckle, having been ourselves all our lives. I’m glad you’ve found out you’ve always been you. 😉 Thanks for contributing today.

    • I don’t think you missed anything. These scientists just wanted to find a physical thing in our brains that we identify ourselves with, but their search for “identity” was based on our ability to recognize our own face (huh?). I didn’t “find out” I’ve always been me, but I was curious about whether there IS a part of our brain that connects to identity or whether (as I suspect) that identity is a permanent and intangible quality. These scientists didn’t study that or look for that, so kind of a dumb study IMO.

      • I agree with the “permanent and intangible.” I’d say the part of our brains that hold identity is basically our memory, which starts recording life experiences the day we’re born. Personality is a set thing for each of us, but is influenced heavily by training, home example, and reactions received to our behaviour.

  9. I’m with The Little Prince:
    “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
    It is our self-consciousness, our awareness that we have a self, that makes us human.

    • I agree with you and the Little Prince. It would be interesting, though, if there were an actual part of our brain whose job is the maintenance of our identity, a physical thing that holds within it our self-consciousness. It could be a great discovery for certain kinds of mental illnesses and disorders.

    • I don’t think so. I found the drawing when I packed up to move here in 2014. It had been stashed away in one of my dad’s notebooks since I did it in 1957. I had no memory of it. It surprised me. For most of my life I didn’t imagine painting as I do now. It just seemed far away, forgotten, impossible. The dogs? I always wanted dogs and as soon as I realized I had the main ingredient to make that possible (a house I owned) I got a dog. I was 35.

  10. Interesting. Reading your post and the research abstract, I took away something different. Years ago I realized there are certain indicators of place – smell, climate (humidity, elevation, vegetation) – that scream “Home!” when I’ve been away for years. Hard to articulate, but my brain knew I was home as soon as my car crossed a particular mountain pass. It struck me at the time as a brain stem sort of recognition, something very primitive and basic to my sense of identity, something that will always be there because of the place of my birth and early years, regardless of living elsewhere later. Hardwired, so to speak. I think the study was simply testing if identifying one’s own face is a component of that deep sense of me vs others, processed in (I’m guessing) that same area of the brain. Not “self” in the highly developed philosophical, spiritual or religious sense, but something much more simple, a primitive sense of “me” that exists in our primitive brain, just as a deer (one just crossed my field as I typed this) knows itself as distinct from other deer and other creatures. An area of my brain that subconsciously recognizes my own smell, feel, shape, movement as comfortably “me” and now – in the modern age – recognizes photos of my face over time as yet another element of my basic identification of “me,” which is really just the shell that houses my fully developed personality, my “self.”

    • I agree that’s what the study was attempting to find in the human brain, though I’m not sure about whether the study was looking for the deeper sense of me vs others or just the obvious sense.

      For me that sense of home is tied to altitude. I discovered that the first time I went up to the Laguna Mountains (6000 feet) after living in San Diego for a year or more. I immediately felt “better” in some undefinable way.

  11. Self is more than skin – so very true. Also true that self is not necessarily able to be located at a point in the brain. Some folks are the same self their whole lives. Others are more chameleon, changing as time and experiences mold them. Being more plastic in nature is a survival adaptation and for those with the ability to change might make them more resilient when disasters strike… Or it could all just be a distraction. I think therefore I am…. I’m not going to spend too much time trying to noodle out if I’m who I really think I am or worse if I’m who you think I am. Gah! Lunch time.

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