Are You the Same Person You Used to Be?

Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker:

Try to remember life as you lived it years ago, on a typical day in the fall. Back then, you cared deeply about certain things (a girlfriend? Depeche Mode?) but were oblivious of others (your political commitments? your children?). Certain key events—college? war? marriage? Alcoholics Anonymous?—hadn’t yet occurred. Does the self you remember feel like you, or like a stranger? Do you seem to be remembering yesterday, or reading a novel about a fictional character?

If you have the former feelings, you’re probably a continuer; if the latter, you’re probably a divider. You might prefer being one to the other, but find it hard to shift your perspective. In the poem “The Rainbow,” William Wordsworth wrote that “the Child is Father of the Man,” and this motto is often quoted as truth. But he couched the idea as an aspiration—“And I could wish my days to be / Bound each to each by natural piety”—as if to say that, though it would be nice if our childhoods and adulthoods were connected like the ends of a rainbow, the connection could be an illusion that depends on where we stand. One reason to go to a high-school reunion is to feel like one’s past self—old friendships resume, old in-jokes resurface, old crushes reignite. But the time travel ceases when you step out of the gym. It turns out that you’ve changed, after all.

More here.