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AUP Philosophy Students Ask “Who Am I?”

by Jula Wildberger

I love teaching philosophy, and PL2070 Philosophy of Mind is maybe my favorite course. It is so wonderful to see how the questions we ask together make us see ourselves, our world, and our relation to others in a new light. So it’s only logical that as a closing assignment, I ask my students to tell us – in their own way and using whatever media they prefer – who they are. This semester’s class has done such a spectacular job – particularly given that they were attending classes remotely and produced their work in confinement – that I wanted to share their answers with the wider AUP community.

First up, as a warmup and an illustration of how philosophers of mind think and talk about themselves, please enjoy Oscar Hartzog’s Philosophy Cocktail Hour. To quote from the expert reviews of his classmates: "Genius." "Such a fun video!" "Phenomenal work." "This was so good!" "I enjoyed every second."

After this somewhat intimidating performance you may appreciate a systematic breakdown of the question. Robbie Collins has one for you, presented with his characteristic sharp wit and humor.

Ashling Kelly’s thoughtful slides take the opposite direction: she starts with the answers she has received from others, with what they think she is, and challenges them by raising the kinds of questions a philosopher of mind may ask.

Other students expressed their thoughts through art, like Abhiraj Giritharan, who created an anamorphic sculpture of himself. Have a look, and you’ll see why such a sculpture makes so much sense as the outcome of such a puzzling course.

In their brilliant dramatization of “The Philosophical Zombie” thought experiment, Joshua Garberg and Chandler Sooferan take us to the Chalmers Zone, where you may encounter your exact physical duplicate that lacks consciousness but is, by definition, empirically indistinguishable from yourself. Can you identify the real Josh? The video has been personally approved by David Chalmers himself.

Lea Zipstein leads us into the maze of an amazing mind. Explore lifeinallaspectsiscommunicative.com, which she describes as “some of the reflections and perceptions that make up [her] mind: short essays, drawings, videos, audio files, pages of notes, a few unoriginal images and a little bit of original poetry.” Lea doesn’t know who she is, or if she is anyone at all, so she wants us to draw our own conclusions.

In a similar vein, Paul Harding observes in his essay response that though the question “Who are you?” seemed trivial at first, it “is actually extremely complicated to answer ... It is a question that most people were probably asked a few – probably more than just a few – times, including me, and I personally never thought about it twice … But after taking the Philosophy of Mind class, it totally changed my view on this question that seemed quite insignificant to me before.”  

Philosophy of mind makes you doubt who you are, where you are, and what is real. Remarkably, many of us come to embrace that predicament. Living in a fearless question mode becomes something liberating and valuable for us. This spirit is well illustrated in Gigi Comer’s beautiful video art full of life-affirming positivity. Just what we need in times of confinement.