Who am I? This is probably the first question of philosophy, to “know thyself”. This is a very complicated question, to say that I am a researcher, I am son of someone, I am an author of a particular book, I am black, it is a question of identity according to a certain social value I assign to myself or people assign to me, for example occupation, kinship, history, race. To say I am 15 years old, living in London is another thing which identifies my temporal and spatial existence in this world. Assume that you get all these information of someone, then you may have to ask what exactly is an identity of a person? Is there any ideality of identity in itself? By ideality, I mean a Platonian or Husserlian sense of the i-real abstract essence of an object. It is easy to say an identity is socially constructed, this can be true in certain aspect, but social constructivism is only possible on the fact that something is different, for example, different skin color, height, date of birth, etc. The fact, or categories of fact are what commonly understood as the essential properties of an identity. If this question is well posed, it can mean two things analytically, firstly is there any minimum number of attributes which are sufficient to be called the essence of identity, secondly is there any maximum number of attributes which are necessary to be called the essence of identity? There is a Kantian motive behind this question. In Logik, Kant specifies that the property of an object cannot be exhausted, it is infinitely derivable, and this probably finally leads to the frustrated assertion that the thing-in-itself is unknowable. If the question of identity can be described by some vocabularies is valid, and this as to be valid for now, otherwise we will face two even worse problems, firstly the insufficiency of language itself, secondly the effort of the government to exhaust all technique and technologies to determine the true “identity” of its citizen.
It is easy to have a postmodern critique on the concept of identity (being against becoming), essence (vs the problem of events), etc. But these critiques are actually very risky, since we are already in a world constituted by technological fact, which means the practice bear the constrain of quantity. This constrain of quantity also underlines the necessity of calculability. The technical tendency is not something one can choose, but one has to negotiate, while to negotiate means a limitation of negotiation space. If the postmodern critique is based on the negation of this technical tendency, it may fall into another nihilism. Heidegger is aware of this problem when he wrote “was ist metaphysik”, Heidegger wants to introduce “nothing” (das Nichits) as the foundation of metaphysics, while nothing specified by Heidegger is not the negation of being, rather it is where beings are from. This is not only a strategical critique of logic (apparently this article directs to Neo-Kantianism, or even more specifically, Logicians, that is why Carnap fired back by analyzing Heidegger’s writing in propositions to show that it is not making much sense), but also an affirmation the technical reason, something Heidegger calls destiny. (A deeper reading of Deleuze will attain another understanding of his favor of becoming, not as negation of being, but rather out of being)
This may already go too far 🙂 for the inquiry of digital identity. The current ongoing works on FOAF, VCard and other ontologies attempt to re-construct a digital identity from the fragmented “self” among the web. Consider when OpenID becomes popular (and I believe it will be), also OAuth, it is expected that it is very possible to unify the fragments by associating the unique ID with information on other websites. This is “of course” based on the assumption that the user is able to control the level of privacy, namely deciding if he/she wants to open up the his/her data to other social networking website. But the technological tendency qua innovative applications utilitizing these open stardard will finally make it mainstream. And at the time, the so called virtual reality, will collape. This is dangerous in several ways, I will try to re-interprete the notion of “virtual” in the next post.