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Why are we individuals?

  1. Jun 18, 2003 #1


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    a very basic question that i wonder a lot about...here we are on this earth, along with all the other forms of life, we physically must survive in the same manner - requiring sleep, food, adequate health - yet, personality wise, we are unique...why? this question is not limited to human beings either, as my roommate's dog has quite the personality for example...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 19, 2003 #2
    Because life can't exist without diversity, and each and every one us responds to that diversity a little differently. It's a little over-simplified I suppose, and yet fairly close ...
  4. Jun 19, 2003 #3
    simple, we are special!

    we are here for a reason. entertainment.
  5. Jun 19, 2003 #4
    Re: Re: why are we individuals?

    life can exist without diversity. but, i'd say that we all had different personalities because of the enviournment we grew up in, and the genes we inherited. humanity's diversity is what makes our evolution so fruitful. without it, we may as well have sex asexually, becuase there'd be no new genes to create.
  6. Jun 19, 2003 #5
    Because we are narrowminded. We're 'locked-on' to our own (in)sanity. The form of it depends purely on environment. Personality is inversely proportional to entity's narrowmindedness (ie. stupidity).
    Universe is impersonal.
  7. Jun 19, 2003 #6
    Don't compromise yourself. It's all you've got. :wink:
  8. Jun 19, 2003 #7
    Our personalities are arguably as complex and diverse as our ability to communicate and abstract. Notably, however, they are often not as complex in certain fundamental ways despite what some people believe. For example, shyness is inherited and is obviously a survival trait. That nature provides us with such a diversity of fundamental dispositions then is a reflection of our social nature.
  9. Jun 19, 2003 #8
    Iacchus32: Don't compromise yourself. It's all you've got. :wink:
    You mean - stupidity? AAhhh...:wink:
  10. Jun 19, 2003 #9
    Huh, I'd actually not heard about that before. Interesting.
    I think all the different species I’ve ever watched for any length of time showed differences in personality, and I mean even spiders too, having raised several different types in a terrarium years ago. Often, especially in regards to cloning a complete human being, I hear that the clone will be different due to its environment (recall the Adolf Hitler cloned type movies). But what about family members that grew up very close to one another and shared many similar experiences. Don’t their personalities often differ radically from one to the other all the same? I’m half-suspecting that even if two people share the exact same influences they may still end up with different personalities. I wouldn’t be surprised, though I really don’t have any idea, to find that even clones raised side by side might end up with quite different personalities from each other despite having so much in common (Somebody out there may be planning just such an experiment, for all I suspect).
    I find this a fascinating topic, actually, and if there is any merit to what I’ve mentioned then I wonder if a strand of DNA has multiple personalities…

    In any event, this uniqueness is one of the reasons why I have a great love for nearly all living creatures (I don’t have much love for germs, viruses, and such ilk, however). I actually go out of my way to avoid stepping on a bug, though in my youth I was less considerate.
  11. Jun 19, 2003 #10
    If you consider temperature, humidity and background noise as similar environment, then thats not it. Twins = clones. Its those repeating tiny things, like book that one twin did read while other was watching TV, one twin got scared while other was laughing, etc. Two people can never share exact same influences, it would need same single physical person.

    Personality imo has to do with conciousness, and existence of concept of "I". I find fascinating to notice this with spiders and bugs. That separates machine from alive.
  12. Jun 19, 2003 #11
    Ah hah! my computer is alive! It certainly has personality, but a rather cantancorous one.
  13. Jun 19, 2003 #12


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    I think it is perhaps far more incredible if we were not individuals. Think about it. All the massive complexity of the human body. All the billions of events that alter our psychological character. All the gogglians of possible combinations for each person. The constant threat of random changes and mutations. Uncertainty on the quantum level. What are the chances of a perfect copy?

    I consider it somewhat a miracle of society and genetics that we humans are in any way at all similar to each other...
  14. Jun 19, 2003 #13
    No I don't. I mean being able to "think" for oneself. Rather than following blindly the "rule of the day."
  15. Jun 20, 2003 #14


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    Greetings !
    Why do we have different body sizes and forms ?
    Why are there different creatures ?

    Both a wider as well as a more specific aspect is
    the outside world - all "our" interactions with it.

    Live long and prosper.
  16. Jun 20, 2003 #15


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    draq, i am not looking for the surface answer...science tells us how with genetics, i am asking why?
  17. Jun 20, 2003 #16


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    And the letters are not even near each other...
    Merrie, I'm not sure that I understand where this is going. :wink:
    Please, explain yourself if you mean something other than
    the two factors I've mentioned.

    Peace and long life.
  18. Jun 20, 2003 #17
    Well I'm no neuroscientist, but according to what I think I understand...

    Genetics determine a lot of things about our brains, but that is all modified by other conditions as we grow into an infant. Then, as we experience more and more, those experiences build on one another, creating unique conditioned responses, opinions, attitudes, and so on. In short, we are unique because we lead unique lives.

    It is all based on how brains work. You can imagine the primate brain (and other somewhat intricate brains) as having two major areas (It's a lot more complex, but this simplistic way of dividing it is good for my point for now). There's the higher brain and the lower brain.

    The lower brain (sometimes referred to as the instinctive or "lizard" brain) consists of the brain stem, cerebellum, and a few other parts. It's lower in the physical sense but also in an evolutionary and complexity sense. You'll find this area in everything all the way down to ants. It's the dominant "behavior maker" in animals (and some people who are brain damaged or who have suffered extremely traumatic early lives). In this area, the nerves are "hard wired", the cells have specific connections that are directly determined by DNA and don't change very much. This wiring is also a lot simpler. The simplicity of these connections mean that responses are quick and efficient, but it also means that they are crude and simplistic. This area gives us most of our instinctive impulses. Someone throws something at you and you react without "thinking about it" for example.

    The upper brain is made up of "unspecialized brain cells". In these the DNA says, "here's the brain cells and how they act individually". Then, the experiences you have via your sensory input (sight, smell, taste, touch, feel) cause connections to form between the neurons (a type of brain cell). The nature of these experiences determines how and where the connections form and how strong they are. This not only codes all your memories, but also forms your "personality", or at least a good deal of it (remember the lower brain is still there and competing for attention). So, since everyone's experiences are different, these connections are different, and therefore give you a different personality than others. The good thing about unspecialized brain cells is that they can customize to the needs of the individual so s/he doesn't have to wait millenia for evolution to adapt his/her whole species. The bad thing is that the upper brain, being much more complex, tends to be slower and the connections more tenuous. That's why instincts feel so much more powerful an impulse than decisions made intellectually, and why it takes longer to come to complex conclusions than to react to being pricked.

    So your upper and lower brain are constantly competing for "control" of you. This is the old thing about controlling your impulses and doing something even if you know it's not a good idea (like eating cheesburgers or cheating on a spouse - not to equate the two!).

    An interesting thing I saw once was a study where they weighed the brains of children that had died. Some of them were from stable loving homes, and others were from abusive or otherwise threatening environments. What they found was that, for those children that developed in threatening environments, their lower brains weighed more in proportion to their upper brains, and vice versa.

    This, as it was theorized, was due to the fact that when areas of the brain are used more they form more connections (these connections are physical and so have weight). The brain adapts to environmental needs so this happens. The result is that the lower brain will be more likely to overpower the upper brain whenever a conflict occurs (like you're mad and want to hit someone, but your upper brain knows you'll go to jail and shouldn't). This may give a little insight into why an unhealthy upbringing may lend itself more often to criminal behavior (although not a certainty, as many exceptions surely exist).

    Dogs have some "upper brain" too, but not as much as us. Nevertheless, it's enough to learn tricks and develop their own personalities. In general, the more upper brain a species has, the more individualized it's members will be. For example, ants have almost no upper brain. Most all of their behavior is genetically determined so you won't see a great deal of difference between individuals, even if you give them vastly different experiences.

    So, our personalities have a lot in common. We all like to be loved, we have a propensity for anger, jealousy, and so on. We all laugh, etc. A lot of this comes from the fact that we have the same DNA as a species, which gives us the lower half of our behavior. The areas where we differ are mostly due to that ability of the upper brain to form according to individual experience.

    (note: the brain is actually a lot more diverse and complex than this would indicate, but this abstraction helps to get across a general way the whole personality differences thing works, at least as I understand it.)
  19. Jun 20, 2003 #18
    I think what Kerrie is asking for is more of a philosphical answer, and not a scientific one.

    The difference between the scientific perspective and the philosophical one is quite profound when it comes to humanistic experience. It's part of the emotions that make humans so complexed. For example. Take smelling your favorite food or a rose, or something pleasant. Scientifically your olfunctory senses(aka nose), recieves the smell and sends signals to your hypocampus where it's cross-referenced with a past memory and interpreted as a pleasing experience. This illicits a "good feeling"

    Then there's the other side of things. Maybe the smell of that rose brings up a memory of a girl(or boy) you once knew, and a time of complete happiness. Yes science can tell us how we go to that memory, but it definitely can't calculate the emotional side of things, or the experience of it. Science can't explain love. I mean sure, it's an electrical response in your brain very similar to large amounts of choclate. But the experience of it is quite different, or else we'd all have this pavlovian thought of chocolate every time we fell in love. hehehe

    Ok I'm off on a tangent....

    We are unique because it's what defines us as human beings. it's as much a part of what makes us humans as our eyes, noses, ears, and brains. In part it's what has allowed us to evolve into the higher (relativistically) form of life that we've become. Without it we'd simply be an autonomous amoeba swiming around in a pond without rhyme or reason. I happen to believe that individuality is an inherent charteristic of all higher forms of life, and that it's what allows us to develop. It's what brings about society, social interaction, and creativity. Without it, we would lack curiosity, and the ability to grow intellectually. Lack of individuality stifles independent thought, and forces us to all think and act alike. this leads to a society much like in the book 1984, where there was no growth, only following a set pattern. Without indivuduality, Einstien would have just been some schmuk sitting in a patent office for the rest of his life. Mozart, Beethoven, Newton. they'd all of just been "some guy" toiling through life like everyone else.

    Individuality leads to curiosity, which leads us to question everything, which leads us to growth. This is the reason for individuality.

    Kerrie was that the answer you were looking for ?
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2003
  20. Jun 20, 2003 #19


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    sorry draG...i didn't mean to offend you in misspelling your name...

    genetics explains how we are unique, but genetics does not provide the philosophical answer to why we are unique, hence why genetics exist...and genetics explains how we are physically different along with some pyschological differences...but when i am asking the question why we are individuals, i am mainly referring to our pyshochological differences - why does joe like blue, why does jane have an interest in horses, why does my dog like to show off...etc
  21. Jun 20, 2003 #20


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  22. Jun 26, 2003 #21
    But philosophic answers do not preclude a scientific understanding of what's happening. In fact, they need to fall in-line with the scientific model or else they are meaningless. If, by "philosophic" you mean "poetic", as in not using any technical words and phrasing things so they sound pretty, then I'd recommend looking at poetry. But Philosophy is supposed to be the love of wisdom. And wisdom includes understanding reality. Too many people are hung up on ANCIENT philosophy and refuse to mux science with it. When they do this they are engaging in archaic dialogue that does not advance true understanding and has no purpose except as artistic recreation (which isn't bad if you understand that this is what you're doing). There is one, and only one reason why we are individuals - and that is the reason I outlined before (plus or minus some particulars which had been dropped for simplicity's sake, or may be discovered in the future). I'll explain what I mean in other responses below...

    There is no such thing as a "philosophic reality" and a "scientific reality" - each equal and concurrent. There is ONE reality, and ONE thing that either IS or IS NOT happening. The scientific description of smelling a flower is the only correct and literally true one. But a scientific description is no substitute for actually experiencing what is being described. For that, you have to BE a human and BE SMELLING a flower. So, the particles do what they do, and if you're a human, you will know what that feels like.

    What do you mean when you say that science cannot "calculate the emotional side of things"? It can describe how and why emotions exist and how and why they function. But a description is not an experience and vice versa. This is not a limitation of science, but simply a matter of category by definition. Science is not designed to replicate experiences. But the question was "why are we individuals?" And the scientific answer is the only right one. If the question had been "What is it like to BE an individual?" then the answer would have had to have been a description of the experience in the language you're using.

    Here's the problem (and why purely "philosophic" answers bereft of any scientific understanding are ultimately unsatisfying to me). When you say "X because Y", this means that "Y" is the CAUSE of "X". So, what you're really saying here is...

    "Needing something to define us as human beings CAUSES us to be unique."

    But this is nonsense, and not a real answer to the question of "why are we individuals". You may as well make up a story about the magical pixie who came to the earth spreading individuality dust. It may be as entertaining, warm, and fuzzy, but it offers no further understanding and does not answer the question.

    The reason for individuality is what it does? That's like saying that "because they drive us around" is the answer to "why do cars exist?" The function of something is not the explanation for it's existence. Water does not exist BECAUSE we drink it. Ergo, individuality does not exist BECAUSE it "leads to curiosity... nd growth".

    If this was the "correct" answer, then the question should have been, "What is good about individuality?" In adition, if there is one particular answer that Kerrie's "looking for" and that she already knows, then she should have simply stated it herself.

    Don't mean to sound grouchy - sorry if it comes off that way but I can't put vocal tones into text. I guess a description of what I'm saying is no substitute for experiencing me saying it! :)
  23. Jun 26, 2003 #22

    You're insinuating that I don't have the scientific understanding of what makes us individuals. Sure, I could say that it's our genetic compositions in combination with surrounding environmental and evolutionary factors that makes us a unique person.
    But is that the philosophical answer? No it's the purely scientfic answer. You're trying too hard to blend science and philosophy, inasmuch that you're eliminating the philosophical meaning to it.

    My point Exactly. You cannot break an event down in scientific terms and still have it remain philosophical.

    This is where I think my point stands out. You insist that the only correct answer to an ambiguous question is a scientific one. And it is an ambiguous question. It all depends on your interpretation of that question. There are more answers to this question than science and philosophy. Religious scholars would attack this one with voracity. Why are we here? why are we individuals? It's all in the perspective of what's inferred by the question, and in this case I made a case for what I thought was her understanding of the question.

    I'll answer all these in one fell swoop. You say that the response lacks scientific understanding? or are you saying that I just didn't include a scientific perspective in my response? I could banter on endlessly about genetic composition, personality traits, evolution, hereditary influences ,etc,etc. Again it's as if you're upset that I didn't break down the composition of DNA for her to explain all the biological factors. Ya, I can do that, but that's not a philosophical response. Philosophy is human uderstanding of the world around us on our own terms. It's not exact, as science is. If a tree falls and no one is around, scientifically it still impacts the earth. It still creates sound waves which emenate around it, so therefore it still makes a sound. But does anybody really say that? No. I feel like you're basically looking to answer a philosophical question with a scientific answer.
  24. Jun 27, 2003 #23
    Every individual perceives the world around them differently and responses differently to it.
    It has been my experience that children raised even in the closest and lovingest of families will take away comletely different impressions, memories and responses from outwardly identical situations. This is why identical twins who supposedly share identical DNA and very nearly identical enviroments have different personallities and develope different characters.
    Identical twins raised seperately in completely different environments still lead remarkably similar lives and make similar choises even it the clothes that they perfer to wear. Yet, they are individuals in every sense of the word.
    Genes not withstanding we see, hear, taste, feel, experience and respond to every situation differently. Why? It might go all the way down to the QM uncertainty principle effecting and affecting the way our senses respond to molecular stimuli and/or the way our neurons make their indiviual connections in the beginning which ma be totally random at first.
    I can't remember what the exact figure is but something on the order of 99.8% of our DNA is common to all humans. The diversity of that .2% makes all the difference in that world and is what makes us unique. I find that remarkable and incomprhensable. Go figure.
  25. Jun 27, 2003 #24

    I'm not claiming you have no scientific understanding. I don't know you and nothing you stated previously indicated any lack of or incorrect science. What I said was that your answer did not address the scientific and should have.

    "Why are we individuals?" is not a philosophic question (at least not without some other dressing around it setting it up as such). Your example of "Why are we here?" is somewhat ambiguous and very philosophic, but not "Why are we individuals?" This question is as plain as asking "Why do we sweat?" The question is one of functionality.

    The reason we are individuals (as opposed to all being the same) IS because our neurons are unspecialized, interconnecting according to our experiences, which are all different. This is the one and only proper answer to that question, as far as can be determined at present.

    Likewise, if one were to ask, "Why is the sky blue?" The right answer would be because of the properties of light, the atmosphere, and the blue portion of the spectrum. But then if you asked, "Why does the universe exist in that fashion in the first place?" then you're getting into philosophy.

    Where there is a scientific understanding of a phenomenon, there is no purpose or place for a philosophic question about it. That would be like trying to philosophize about how and why your coffee machine works without ever discussing the inner operation of its components - meaningless. Only once you get to questions of ultimate truth and purpose, which are on the edge of our knowledge does epistemological philosophy become relevant. Of course, as I mentioned before, other areas of philosophy that are not epistemological may be relevant throughout.

    So, "Why are we individuals" is a scientific question with a scientific answer because it relates to phenomenon which can be observed and studied and which we have physical explanations of. It is also not asking anything about meaning, purpose, or the like, but simply asking a structural question.

    You said that there were all sorts of answers that pertain to science, philosophy, religion, etc. If you take a Christian example, someone might say, "We are individuals because God loves variety and wants us all to love him as ourselves and not because we were stamped out of a cookie cutter." However, technically - this is NOT an answer to "Why are we individuals?" This is an answer to "Why does the universe function in such a way that it brings about individuals?" In other words, it is the "why" that comes after the scientific answer (not concurrent with or an option to).

    The good news is that no matter what we discover scientifically in the future, there will always be a "why" to that - and there will be the place for philosophy.
  26. Jun 27, 2003 #25


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    A matter of your opinion, thus it IS a philosophical question...

    A scientific answer to a philosophical question...okay, if you choose to answer it that way, that's your choice...

    Honestly I don't believe there is any "right" answer to this question yet because there is much more to learn about why our existence is...

    Again, a matter of your opinion...

    I am not looking for any answers, I am seeking to know what others think...

    In this forum, it's okay to be philosophical, I think that many people who travel along the scientific path forget that it's okay to wonder...thus we have many members trying to answer philosophical questions with scientific answers...Remember...

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