Have you ever wondered, “why are we who we are?”
I started to question myself more recently. I wonder why I feel a disconnection between who I am in front of others and who I truly am. I know that many people also feel something similar. However, sometimes this kind of wonder makes me appreciate my life trajectory (so far), whereas sometimes such wonder confuses me and makes me want to withdraw from why I am who I am.
I feel more strongly recently after moving to London. I was proud that McGill and my life in Montreal made me someone slightly different, and I like who I am in that city and circle. In London, I need to know who I am. Am I a Canadian who is genuinely accepted as a part of Western society? Am I a Taiwanese who simply wants to know a greater world and finds the “Canadian” identity easier? I don’t speak like any of them.
If I simply consider the linguistic perspective, sometimes, French, Japanese, Korean and many other languages feel closer to me and better capture my thoughts than the languages that I am familiar with (Chinese and English), but I am not that good at speaking in these languages as well. If we assume that a language that the users feel closer to is closer related to their existence, does it mean that the languages that I am familiar with do not necessarily relate to my existence closer than the languages that I have limited knowledge of (given the fact that many languages feel closer than the languages that I am familiar with in different circumstances. Should I even consider the percentage of “familiarity” and “comfort” of one language to make such conclusion?)?
The languages that I know are a part of the knowledge that I hold, whereas my very existence is something more personal and fundamental to me… This means that my knowledge of any language and my knowledge of my very existence could have been associated but different subjects. I am trying to use my knowledge to acquire knowledge of my very existence. Some languages express some of my ideas closely due to the presence of some ideas in the languages, but not others. My mother languages may have limitations in expressing some thoughts that I have due to the absence of some ideas. I could have been a Russian-speaking person from Central Asia, a Latin American who speaks Spanish and anyone else… but these ideas will still exist in the same languages in this case, regardless of who I actually am. And regardless of who I actually am, I may still feel closer to these ideas since they will still exist over there.
All these wonders, confusions, sentiments and many other things remind me of a philosopher who ascertained that the only thing that he can be certain about (himself or his very existence or his knowledge). René Descartes once argued that “I am thinking therefore I exist“. His syllogism went as follows:
(Credit: A Discourse on the Method from Oxford World’s Classics)
Regardless of who I actually am, perhaps I can consider his arguments and account, and accept that my thoughts prove my very existence rather than disproving it. And having such foundation in my thoughts in mind, I can establish further knowledge on myself, ourselves, otherness and so on—to further understand our very existence.