Robin Hanson: A Theory of Identity

“A person’s “identity” is something less than all his or her details but more than a few simple stats. What is it exactly, why do people need to discover it, want to stay true to it, why could only their “heart” tell them what it is, and why would a 35 year old still be searching for it, even after they’ve taken every personality test ever devised? Why do ads mostly tell us what identities we could project via their product, and how could a new job or lover help us find our identity? I’ve been working out a theory; here goes.


This theory predicts that the features that are included in our identity are those which others rely on the most to be stable, and which cost us the least to keep stable. Features that cost lots to keep stable, and that others would care little if changed, would only be in an identity if they were crucial to the the coherent story that is one’s identity.”