It’s a really, really, really good question.
Are we a collection of our memories? Are we a biological body walking around in the universe? Are we the end result of generations of people having sex — thus with unique DNA and the characteristics that go along with it? Are we a perfect soul walking around in an imperfect body? Are we thinking things that have to reside in what is, in essence, a flawed vehicle?
Good question —
I love this as a starting place for intro to philosophy, if only because it gently introduces a lot of questions out of metaphysics and epistemology. What is it to say you’re a human being starts you thinking about the nature and existence of human beings — a thought you may or may not have had in the past. It seems to me that most areas of study assume we have that question nailed down (the physical and social sciences make this assumption for sure)… but, it isn’t so clear now is it?
You seem to think you know who YOU are (I’m really hoping you can replicate your name from your ID, and that you know where you live etc..) — but, a deeper look at the question reveals that you may NOT know who you are. You present a self to the world — is it the SAME self as is inside? probably not. You have thoughts you decline to share, you have private habits and parts of your body you don’t show everyone (unless you’re a video-cam porn star or something… I don’t know that…nor do I want to).
Who “You” are also changes over time. I think about my own life and from my perspective at 45 years old, I notice that I’ve changed several times — I used to be fairly politically conservative, shy, and generally on what I thought was a straight path. Then — as usually happens — I had some life-changing events.
I’d say the death of my sister 13 years ago was one of those events. I saw that the people I assumed would always be in my life (because she was part of my memory since I was 3 and she was born) might not be there… that changed me.
I’d also say breast cancer changed me — for a variety of reasons. I realized my physical body isn’t the reason I’m beautiful — and that it never really was — I saw how those around me reacted to my illness and possibility of my death — and how my spouse really felt about me and my challenges (i.e. my ex spouse, not my current spouse — infer what you will there, I make no more comments…).
I found new and unexpected ways to put my values out into the world — new ways to interact with others — and new things to value. I think I became a different person, based on the old person and values instilled in me by my family… hmmm… weird, huh?