The Human System of Identity

We are both immutable and correctable - a contradiction in human experience

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick
This is your brain on identity. Any idea what I'm talking about? - image by the author via Midjourney

Two comments caught my attention recently. At first, they seem contradictory, but together, they expose a deeper-lying mechanism of human identity.

The first comment concerned memories. As a child, we may experience situations that affect our behavior into adulthood. But memories can't be changed in order to make them less difficult. Often, the people in our memories are gone. They cannot understand what caused our pain. They cannot apologize for their behavior or promise to change future behavior.

Instead, we must learn to bridge the child who experienced the memories to the adult they become. This bridge doesn't mean forgiving the actions or the people in the memories. It means only acknowledging the past can never change.

The other comment concerned what we are able to change. I wrote the gender identity we express today is built from the sense of beauty we develop over a lifetime. But I also wrote the Origin of Identity appears immutable.

The past cannot change, but our understanding must in order to heal from past trauma. Who we are today can change, but the reasons behind that person do not.

The theory lacks details on the daily process necessary to maintain our identity. What is the process? Is it infallible? Can it be circumvented? What is the complete system necessary to support human identity?

Our personal Model of Reality

Identity - and its manifestation as gender identity in the daily snapshot we observe - derives from our Origin of Identity and the negotiation we perform with our social environment. In this description, I leave out one piece, although I alluded to it previously in our sense of beauty.

Each of us possesses the sum of our experiences - our memories - and the processing performed to integrate the memories into a framework. Although the framework is unlikely to be completely rational, sensical, and consistent, it represents our personal Model of Reality.

In a very real sense, that framework is a personal metaphysics and epistemology: it is our reality, and it is the tool we use to understand reality further.

Our Model of Reality is not static, nor is it composed only of raw memories of experience. With every new experience - or even the same experience at a different time - we either reinforce our view of reality or weaken a foundation to rebuild our view of reality.

As we live our lives, our Model of Reality evolves with us. It becomes a store of data: facts and conclusions - the digested stuff of experience and our recollection.

Processing the human experience

How do we digest the stuff of a recent experience? We begin by first checking the Model of Reality for existing data. What do we know about this current experience? Have we experienced similar situations? What is our existing conclusion of this experience or an adjacent experience?

Obviously, this process happens very quickly - an instant in human time. We assess a situation, generalize it as appropriate, check for existing evaluation of similar situations, and catalog it for further processing as necessary.

Our Origin of Identity contains a vast array of intelligence. The knowledge to process experiences already exists...but we must experience it to know it consciously. That is, as we experience, our Origin of Identity does the work above - the assessing, generalizing, evaluating, and cataloging into a calcified set of beliefs, desires, and motivations.

Together, the Origin of Identity and the Model of Reality is a system that processes the human experience. They are symbiotic, not separate - the Origin checking the Model constantly, and updates to the Model affecting later decisions by the Origin.

A metaphor for the system is to view the Origin of Identity as a computer processor and the Model of Reality as a hard drive filled with experiential data. Alone, neither possesses the ability to operate and provide value. Together, they act as an operating system to experience life.

Living and growing as a human

Human experience does not occur in isolation. Instead, we experience our existence in a social environment. The Model of Reality is built through our attempt to express our sense of beauty and the response we receive from our social environment.

To return to the metaphor of bridging an injured child to a struggling adult, we assert memories and those within them cannot change. The intelligence represented by the Origin of Identity also appears immutable over the course of a human life.

Healing occurs in the interaction of our Model of Reality and the Origin of Identity: the Model can and must change as new experiences are processed. New data and new behavior overrides old data.

The Origin of Identity does not change - the base set of intelligence is constant. However, it processes different data. In this way, the intelligence in our Origin of Identity can remain "true" and our Model of Reality can evolve over a lifetime.

Memories do not change, but our evaluation around memories can change, and we choose to respond differently the next time we experience a situation. And as we experience the new choice and its effects, we rebuild the Model of Reality into one that better suits our lives.

The act of allowing original memories and pain to exist in juxtaposition to new memories and different evaluation bridges the Model of Reality from our initial hurt to our current understanding and healing.

The ongoing cycle of identity

With the introduction of our Model of Reality as the container for our sense of beauty, we have completed a theory of identity.

We must have a base set of immutable intelligence - an Origin of Identity. The Origin of Identity acts to negotiate safety in self-expression within a social environment. The results of self-expression and our sense of safety is stored and evaluated to build a rigorous, but correctable, Model of Reality. Ongoing maintenance is supported by a circular and mutually supporting System of Identity composed of the Origin of Identity and the Model of Reality.

As humans in a society, we can only negotiate for safety within our social environment, but our System of Identity empowers us to become self-healers. We literally can change what we believe, what we desire, and what motivates us - at least, as limited by the base set of immutable intelligence represented by our Origin of Identity.

Healing cannot occur through a Magic Pill. Without updating our Model of Reality, healing is impossible. But pain exists in the Model of Reality, not in the Origin of Identity. The work to change our Model and heal is not trivial, but it is possible.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.