Growing Up: The Same Person That You Were 5 Years Ago

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What causes a person to change? Could it be a person’s age, physical appearance, their mindset? Even if these things change does that necessarily mean a person themself is changing? Is it still that same person if everything about them is different from when they started? The question can be looked at through several different lens’ and perspectives.

First off, this question can be answered in a literal sense. Take a girl at age 10 and the same girl 5 years later at 15. Did she change? Yes, her body has changed from a child to a young adult. Her hair has probably grown longer and her body has gotten bigger. So is it still the same person? People would say yes but, what if everything about this girl has changed. She shed her skin several times, her cells have all died and regenerated. So when you look at her, there is no physical part of that 10 year old girl remaining with this 15 year old girl. Her hair, finger nails, skin, cells, it all changes with time and in our lives change is not something we can stop. As long as we live we are constantly changing.

The same thing could be applied to if someone went through a traumatic event. Their memories, thought process and overall personality can be changed drastically. It is why people often say ‘they aren’t the way they used to be’ because they are usually never the truly the same. This new experience they’ve gained causes them to look at the word and situations differently and never in a way they would have before. One way to look further in depth at this question is through the lens of philosophers and one in particular, Hericlitus.

Heraclitus is the philosopher to go to when questioning the ever changing flow of life itself. His views on the change and flow of life have fed the minds of other great philosopher who came after him, agreeing and expanding on his theory.

Heraclitus was born into a wealthy family, but he renounced his fortune and went to live in the mountains. There he reflected on the changing state of the natural world and saw it was in a constant state of flux. ‘Cold things grow hot, the hot cools, the wet dries, the parched moistens’, He said. Everything is constantly shifting, changing, and becoming something it never was before. Heraclitus concluded that nature is change. That nature flows forever onwards and even the flow itself is prone to change.

Hericlitus explains this through a theory he calls the ‘Doctrine of Flux’ also known as “Panta Rhei” in greek, which he explained through a river illusion. His theory was famously misquoted by plato,’You cannot step twice into the same river’ (Plato 402a). What Heraclitus actually said was, ‘In the same river we both step and do not step, we are and are not’ (B49a).

This was his way of explaining the worlds constant state of change. In this statement Heraclitus is saying that we can’t step into the same river twice because the river is constantly changing. If you go down to a river you’ve always known and stare into the water, you aren’t seeing the same water you were a second before. Every second new water fills the river and thus the river has changed. Say you step into the river, then step out. When you step in a second time you step into different water, and therefore a different river. Each time you stepped into said river you are stepping into a new river each time and because things are constantly changing you will never step into the same river twice. The situation will never be able to recreate itself.

He believed that “life is flux” and the very nature of life cannot exist without change. He says that we should not try to resist this change as it is the essence of our existence. Change is inevitable through life. Trees lose their leaves, air circulates, water evaporates. Things are never truly the same as when they started and they were never meant to be. The tree you passed in the park has grown new leaves several times over, the air in a room changes by the second and the water in lakes and ponds is renewed every hot day. You can walk into a room, step out for a few minutes, and step back in. The room won’t be the same one you walked into a moment ago. Physically the people in the room might be different, be sitting in different positions, and new ones may have joined. The air in the room will be different. So even if it’s just for a second, you can’t step into the same room twice. Just like how you won’t see the same pond water or breathe the same air. It’s different every time because everything is constantly changing.

Another way this can be interpreted is through a theory presented by philosopher John Locke on the personal identity. While Hericlitus focused more on the phisical asspects of change, Locke deals more with a person’s thought, memories and consciousness. He states ‘Whatever has the consciousness of present and past actions is the same person to whom they both belong’ (Locke 27.16)

Locke is not concerned here with learning from our actions or with moral improvement. He is more concerned with what makes it so that somebody is the same individual over a period of time. He is also very intent on dealing fair punishments. He says praise and blame respectively can only be fair if the individual being rewarded or punished is the same individual who did the good or bad deeds.

So what is it that makes someone the same as they were yesterday or even 5 years ago? First Locke says there’s a difference between being the same human being and being the same person. Being the same human being is simply to be the same living organic body. Or as Locke puts it, “the same continued life communicated to different particles of matter, as they happen successively to be united to that organized living body”(Locke 27.8). Basically you’d still be the same human being 5 years from now even though molecularly all your cells will be different. In contrast to that, being the same Person is to have continuity of consciousness. A person needs to be able to remember and recall their own past actions. Locke’s defines a person as: “A thinking intelligent being, that has reason, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness, which is inseparable from thinking”(Locke 27.9).

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With this Locke decides that any change in the self reflects a change in personal identity, and any change in personal identity implies that the self has changed. He then goes on to say that one’s personal identity extends only so far as one’s consciousness. He believes that in order to be oneself you need to be able to think, because being able to thinking means your conscious of oneself.

Consciousness and memories go hand in hand according to Locke. He says that if you can remember an experience, you in fact are the one who experienced it. However this brings up a hole in his theory. If someone can’t remember an experience then technically, they did not have that experience. One example is if an old man can’t remember his childhood, then the man never had a childhood. The boy and the man would be 2 different people.

In the end this questions discussion can be summed up through a similar thought experiment called ‘The Ship of Theseus’. First, suppose that the famous ship sailed by the hero Theseus in a great battle has been kept in a harbour as a museum piece. As the years go by some of the wooden parts begin to rot and are replaced by new ones. After a century or so, all of the parts have been replaced. Is the ‘restored’ ship still the same object as the original? You could say no it is not the original because the parts which comprised it are no longer present. Its made up of nw pieces making it a new ship. However you could also argue yes because it looks the same and the memory of the ship is bound to the object. People will see the new ship and think of it as the old one.

Thus, the question as it stands will continue to be debated among philosophers of our generation. As for ‘are you the same person you were 5 years ago?’ Physically yes, time will continue to change you. Us as people should openly accept this change as it it a part of life, like Hericlitus says. When it comes to your mentality no, your memories and experiences keep you as you. The fact that you are conscious of yourself and your past proves that you will continue to be you, like Locke says. So depending on the circumstance yes a person would not be the same person 5 years from now but, instead of trying to prevent it, we should try to embrace it.

Work Cited

Rayner, Tim. “Heraclitus, Change, and Flow.” Philosophy for Change, 6 June 2014, philosophyforchange.wordpress.com/2008/04/07/heraclitus-on-change/.

Mark, Joshua J. “Heraclitus: Life Is Flux.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 May 2019, www.ancient.eu/article/183/heraclitus-life-is-flux/.

Plato: Cratylus, Parmenides, Greater Hippias, Lesser Hippias. With translation by Harold N. Fowler. Loeb Classical Library 167. Harvard Univ. Press (originally published 1926).

Admin, ~. “Locke on Personal Identity.” Ask a Philosopher, 10 Dec. 2012, askaphilosopher.org/2012/12/10/locke-on-personal-identity/.

Piccirillo, Ryan A. “The Lockean Memory Theory of Personal Identity: Definition, Objection, Response.” Inquiries Journal, Inquiries Journal, 1 Aug. 2010, www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1683/the-lockean-memory-theory-of-personal-identity-definition-objection-response.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 1694.

“Ship of Theseus.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 May 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_of_Theseus.   

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