Identity is what makes me who I am, as opposed to some other person. In the seventeenth century, English philosopher John Locke suggested a series of thought experiments that involved transplanting certain parts of the self, to find out what essentially defines us: Suppose that your next-door neighbor were in your body, and you were in hers. You suddenly had short blond hair, for example, and broad hips. Would you still be you? If so, then your body is not essential to your personal identity.
Now suppose that your characters were transposed. You took a lover and lied about it, or started going to church, neither of which is like you. Would you then be a different person? I don’t think so. You’d be the same person, acting in strange new ways.
But now suppose that your memories were transposed with your neighbor’s. You thought of your neighbor’s children as your own and remembered the day they were born and how that felt. They were asleep in maple beds that you remembered inheriting from your mother. At that point, I think, you would have become someone else.
So, to a certain extent, it’s your memories that make us who we are. For example, I am the person who remembers seeing a flock of white pelicans over Thompson Lake and the apple tree in the backyard of my house. And every time I notice something, every time something strikes me as important enough to store away in my memory, I add another piece to who I am. These memories and sense impressions of the landscape are the very substance of my self. In this way, I am – at the core of my being – made of the earth.