Identity as Sameness

Identity as Sameness

Dennis Bradford

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Identity as Sameness

Identity as sameness has been of paramount importance probably for all of human prehistory and nearly all or our history.

When encountering someone new, we initially want to understand whether this person really is a stranger or another member of our same tribe, clan, sect, ethnicity, religion, culture, or sub-culture. 

One’s identity comes from one’s group.

Identity as Individuality

Merely considering the biological imperative of survival reveals the importance of the concept of identity as sameness.

In Middle French, for example, the word ‘identite’ means ‘the quality or condition of being the same’ [The Economist, 4 Jan 19, p. 57].  We still use ‘identity’ in this way when, for example, we think or talk about identical twins.

In the last two-and-one-half centuries, though, identity as individuality has become more and more important.  Instead of coming from one’s group, one’s identity comes from one’s uniqueness.

One reason for this was the development of the laws of nation states that codified rules and practices about harvests, land, and ownership. 

Surnames [last names] were qualifiers added to names that denoted families.  This was necessary to dispel confusion because, for example, even in the late 1700’s in England, 9 out of 10 males had 1 of just 7 names (namely, ‘Charles,’ ‘Edward,’ ‘Henry,’ ‘James,’ ‘John,’ ‘Richard,’ or ‘William’).  Denoting family names was obviously important with respect to inheriting a title or land or other property.

Prior to the creation of civil status, censuses required only enumeration.  After the creation of civil status, censuses began to require identification to fix the state’s relationship with every citizen.

States began enforcing identity as individuality more stringently in the 1800’s by, for example, issuing identity cards and legally prohibiting citizens from changing their names without permission.

States were also very interested in establishing the identity of criminals by using anatomy such as fingerprints and that process continues today by using other biometrics such as retinal scans.

The Truncated World

Using the method of methodological materialism that deliberately ignores consciousness (awareness, thoughts) in order to foster objectivity, modern science has had a lot of success identifying individuals as bodies.


Impressed by scientific advances, some have concluded that the world really is just the truncated world.  Metaphysical materialism has become popular among scientists and apologists for modern science.

Put another way, consciousness remains a scientific embarrassment.  Scientists are thrilled about the possibility of coming to understand more about the infinitely large (the cosmos) and the infinitely small (the subatomic world), but they tend to be attached to the delusion that to be real is to be material.  They typically write it off as the accidental by-product of neural activity.


What makes you unique?  What else could it be except what Eckhart Tolle calls your “form identity.”  Your form identity is your “bodymind,” in other words, your physical form, your mental forms (i.e., your thoughts), and your emotions (which are both physical and mental). It includes your ego and its structure.

A quality (property, characteristic) is what two or more individuals may share or have in common.  Can two or more bodies have the same set of qualities?  As long as we don’t count spatial and temporal qualities, in theory the answer is ‘yes.’  Two balls, for example, could have the same shape, the same size, the same texture, the same taste, the same chemical composition, and so on.

In the truncated world, there’s nothing that could prevent two bodies from having all their monadic (not relational) qualities in common.  Monadic qualities like redness may be had by one individual, whereas relational qualities like leftness cannot be had by one individual.  An individual can be red but obviously cannot be to the left of itself.

So monadic qualities cannot individuate or be the sole reason why two bodies are not identical.

Perhaps, then, relational qualities individuate?  Or is it that two bodies have different sets of relational qualities because they are already different individuals?

What about the real world (as opposed to the truncated world)?  Could thoughts individuate?  Or could two persons think the same thought?  Similar questions arise with respect to emotions.

Don’t we all have a unique form identity? Don’t we all have our own unique stories?  It certainly seems that we do.

Essence Identity

Our form identities are differences, but our essence identity is what makes us the same. 

The English phrase ‘human being’ works perfectly in this context:  as humans we are different, but as beings we are the same.  Our human bodyminds are all unique, at least spatially and temporally, but our human essence is the same.

What is our essence identity?

It’s been called by many different names in many different languages.  It’s really the non-form identity that we share with all other individuals (whether human or not).

Crucially, it’s beyond both space and time.  It is formless and eternal.  I typically call it ‘Being’ but you may prefer ‘Beingness,’ ‘The Divine,’ ‘God,’ ‘The Eternal,’ ‘The Deathless,’ ‘The Formless,’ ‘Aliveness,’ ‘The Plenum Void,’ ‘Life-energy.’ ‘The Great Spirit,’ ‘the Sacred Ground,’ ‘the Formless Godhead,’ ‘the Fertile Void,’ and many other terms including ‘Consciousness.’

Because it’s formless, it’s impossible to conceptualize.  Could it, though, be apprehended nonconceptually, perhaps even directly?


What I invite you to wonder about is the nature of consciousness

Is it an individual?  Well, no.  Since two or more humans, for example, can both be conscious, it would seem to be more like a quality than an individual.

However, if it’s a quality, it’s certainly a peculiar sui generis one.  What is it exactly?

To claim that it’s just awareness is true but unhelpful.

Here’s an important mistake:  do not identify consciousness with only conceptual consciousness (thoughts, judgments, statements).  Descartes’s famous dictum “I think, therefore I am” is too restricted. 

He’d have been closer to the truth if he’d claimed, “I am conscious, therefore I am,” but that, too, as Nietzsche pointed out, is loaded with the assumption of a substantial self.  Although language doesn’t work well at this depth, we might try, “There is consciousness, hence there is reality.”

To echo the theologian Paul Tillich, could consciousness itself be the root and ground of all being?  Could every individual somehow participate in consciousness?  Could consciousness pervade all of reality? There are respectable philosophers who have come to that conclusion, and, if they are mistaken at all, they certainly have not made some simple mistake.

Could consciousness be your essence identity and everything else (including your spatial and temporal qualities as well as your thoughts, emotions, and ego) be merely your form identity?

If so, would it be possible to live well by realizing yourself as consciousness?  The idea that living well is fulfilling our potential goes back in western philosophy at least as far as Aristotle. 

Might awakening experiences be crucially related to realizing yourself as consciousness?

If this short essay has intrigued you, it’s fulfilled its purpose. Wonder on!

(If you’d like to do more reading on this, I recommend is Steve Taylor’s Waking From Sleep as well as his The Leap: The Psychology of Spiritual Awakening.


4 thoughts on “Identity as Sameness

  1. Carlo

    I liked this essay
    It invites thinking… without too strongly pushing a particular answer!

    A heavy-duty topic!


    04/01/2019 at 12:19 pm
  2. Joyce

    so splendid

    04/01/2019 at 12:23 pm
  3. sharon

    this is a confusing topic ,,will take your advice and read taylors books to gain a better understanding..lots to think about..interesting topic..

    05/01/2019 at 8:16 pm
  4. June Rose

    Interesting blog post! It is a great start to know first yourself as an individual.

    06/01/2019 at 11:49 am

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