As the baggage of life accumulates, some people inevitably begin to wonder how they can cast it off and begin afresh. The fact that we were born and raised a certain person, doesn’t mean we have to live out our years in that identity. In many ways, it doesn’t make sense to. The cells that make up our body are regenerated at most every seven years, meaning that if you are eight years old, none of the cells in your body were there when you were born. If you are 35, you’ve already gone through five different bodies. As we have seen, an old photograph of you may not show any of the cells that make up your body now. The chances are your appearance differs substantially, too.
Unfortunately, your memories are simply thoughts that are occurring at the present moment – electrochemical reactions which are produced by neurons which, themselves, periodically regenerate. What people believe they remember does not correspond with actual events that have taken place. This is often observed when two people reminisce about the past and realize they don’t remember things in the same way, if they even remember the same things. And so it often is with personalities, too. Changes in the way cells interact with each other in our bodies have profound effects on the way we act, and the way we perceive things. Seven years ago you may have been a jolly, outgoing type with an exaggerated libido, whereas these days you are depressed, reclusive and have no desire to make love.
It is clear then, that if you want to be someone else, all you have to do is wait around seven years. At least, that is the case if we look at you in isolation. The reality of the vast majority of us, however, is that we are not isolated. We have friends, jobs, bank accounts, passports, duties and obligations. The reason we perceive ourselves to be the same person throughout our lifetimes is that we allow the world around us to label us with an identity and, often to mold us.
It is probably that your name was decided for you. You had no control over which gender you were born as, nor the date on which you were born. If you have a religion, this is probably heavily influenced by others around you. For many people, their lifestyle and belief system are basically projected on to them – it is often only the ‘black sheep’ who have managed to find something of their own, true personalities. The things you enjoy, care about and have strong views on, may not have been important to you at all if you had been born to different parents in a different part of the planet.
By the time we have figured this out, we have accumulated a lot of baggage. Friends, enemies, savings, debts, responsibilities and obligations, reputations, records and much more, surround us, smother us and force us to continue being ourselves. Certain groups of people become aware of this more than others – expatriates, military veterans and prisoners are among those who feel that they experience more than one person’s life within a lifetime.
In order to be yourself, it is often necessary to remove yourself from the environment that stifles you. If you’re not comfortable chugging beer, waving flags and talking about Nascar, you might try your luck in a different place with different people, analyzing fossils, conducting research and discussing it with others. Only you can find the real you.
In terms of switching identities, it is often enough to simply move where nobody knows you. Some of us don’t like to be recognized – men might grow beards, some might opt for cosmetic surgery. For most, traditional options for adjusting one’s image are enough.
For those who want a complete change, it’s possible to create a whole new identity, although this, ultimately is traceable, if done legally. If done illegally (and well), it can be an excellent way to avoid creditors, the long arm of the law and other antagonists. Ultimately, however, the rise of ‘Big Brother’ states which hold our biometric data and a clear picture of our behavior from birth onwards, means that hiding and escaping is probably impossible. It took the combined resources of dozens of governments to find and kill Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Ten years had passed since the attacks on New York and Washington, hundreds of thousands had died and billions of dollars had been spent, but eventually, they got him. Only he wasn’t physically the same Osama Bin Laden they had set out to kill all those years before.