I came up with this when I was reading about the Paradox of Fiction in one of my Aesthetic philosophy texts. Here it is:

  • The Paradox of the Loving Individual:

(1) One experiences themselves as a singular person, ie. as an "I"

(2) When two persons form an intimate pair-bond over an extended period of time, and suddenly Person 1 loses Person 2, whether through death or other means, Person 1 believes they have lost a part of themselves.

(3) How can Person 1 be both singular as "I" and multiple as "we"; in the sense that Person 1 loses part of their identity upon Person 2's disappearance, yet their subjectivity is singular?

I don't know if this makes any sense or is rubbish, just wondering if there are any theoretical solutions? or is this just an idiomatic problem in the western culture?

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    Nobody takes it literally that they have lost a part of themselves. It is just a metaphor.
    – D. Halsey
    Dec 9, 2023 at 2:33
  • My sociology teacher thought that animals have instincts but humans must learn, and she thought that animal infants could survive alone in the wilderness, but humans not so much. I did not agree with her that animals do not learn. First, the autonomous animals like fish and other hatching broods learn from trial and error. The social animals all learn the same way as humans but with less learning capacity. The fact that the self internalizes the relationship with the mother, father, etc. to gain vitality - the ability to live - and the self needs others to sustain pleasure during early life. Feb 8 at 1:05

7 Answers 7

  1. I loved my hairs.
  2. I regularly took care of my hairs and nourished them.
  3. My hairs were not like that already, they were horrible when I was child (Back then I never considered my hairs as me they were part of my body but I always tried to cover them or keep them short) By efforts I had acquired those lovely hairs by taking care of them.
  4. I am a ordinary person with interest in philosophy,I think I am a singular person who is conscious of it's own existence.
  5. In first person I refer myself as "I".
  6. My hairs were very important part of me.
  7. Due to heavy medications(for disease I had got in past) I have lost my hairs. I think I am incomplete without them.
  8. Due to affection for my well maintained hairs My hairs became a extension of me, when I lost them I cried alot, they have created a void in me.
  9. I had no place for them when I was child, then due to my engagement with them I expanded boundaries of I and gave them space in experience which is referred by me as I, now I am unable to contract the boundary of this I, loss of my hairs has left void in I.
  10. Isn't this similar to our relationship with humans as well?
  11. Someone is not part of us, then we start to like them and give them space in our own existence I, we get related to them, If they are hurt we are also hurt, in their happiness we find our happiness, and same for them too! we become a union. Then suddenly someday they depart leaving void in I.
  12. it's not that everyone is emotionless, even elephants cry on loss of members of their pack, and I am a human! When I fall in love with anyone or anything I do make them part of me.
  13. Many things are part of me, my hairs my skin, my relationships,my mind,my thoughts, my consciousness. When I have to refer them I use We as first person for us. But when I don't need to distinguish them I use I.
  14. This isn't a paradox or complex thing but just a way in which I make sense of my existence. In some ways, It is true that all these things are distinguishable from me. In some ways it is not true that these things are other than me. It's just a matter of perspective.

This is a problem that has been addressed before. The most direct discussion of it is probably Martin Buber's I and Thou.

Ich und Du, usually translated as I and Thou, is a book by Martin Buber, published in 1923, and first translated from German to English in 1937. Buber's main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:

  • The attitude of the "I" towards an "It", towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience.
  • The attitude of the "I" towards "Thou", in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

One of the major themes of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. In Buber's view, all of our relationships bring us ultimately into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou. Martin Buber said that every time someone says Thou, they are indirectly addressing God. People can address God as Thou or as God, Buber emphasized how, "You need God in order to be, and God needs you for that which is the meaning of your life."



(2) ... Person 1 believes they have lost a part of themselves.

(3) How can Person 1 be both singular as "I" and multiple as "we"

I think you're taking the idea of the shared identity in a relationship too literally. I would argue that people liken the idea of lifelong companionship as 'life sharing' and the metaphors or terms people use to describe it follow on from the idea of two people that share one life. Of course, it doesn't happen literally, each involved is still their own person (as you point out). The idea is purely a symbolic one, meant to represent the idea that is quite hard to put into words otherwise.

So if we take that into account, there doesn't seem to be a paradox here.

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    I think that this acutally isn't a problem of identity as I initially thought but rather a problem of psychological continuity, as Derek Parfit outlines. I suppose that I should rephrase the problem that person 1 and person 2 seems to be some compounding of personality which takes place. I'd suggest further, that to a significant extent the behaviour traits of both are linked in a pair-bond. My conclusion should be that the part of the "I" that dies in person 1 are the behaviours conjoined with person 2 and thus constitute a psychological-break which in turn makes person 1, a new self. Dec 9, 2023 at 4:33
  • @TheNovaScotianHumanist -- I arrived to the same conclusion. I think what might make it work is the non-verbal communication between the individuals in the couple. It is subconscious (i.e. we don't perceive it on conscious level) but if that channel has enough of bandwidth, the neural networks in our subconsciousness could merge into a single entity with the subconsciousness of the other person -- a pair-bond. Jan 8 at 15:19

You are over thinking it. People interact with their environment. If a person has consistent environmental factors over a significant period of time, they develop behaviour patters that are inevitably linked to those environmental factors in some way. If the environmental factors are then changed, the effect on the person's behaviour is disruptive. That's the case whether the change in the person's environment is the loss of a partner, the loss of a job, a change of house, and change of school, etc etc etc.


I am pretty sure you are making an informal fallacy (e.g. a mistake in reasoning due to the ambiguity of natural languages). A clearly example of an informal fallacy is:

1: Miley Cyrus is a star.
2: A stars is large cloud of burning gas.
3: Miley Cyrus is a large cloud of of burning gas.

Even though the first and second statements are true, they use different definitions of 'star'. For this reason it is incorrect to infer the third statement as also being true.

Similarly, your first and second statements are true, but use different definitions of 'I'.


A pair-bond could be a very real (if not a readily apparent) phenomenon, if we consider how it might work on subconscious level. Yes, on the level of the conscious awareness the partners remain separate individuals. However, it is possible that the flow of the intimate non-verbal communication could effectively merge the neural networks of their subconsciousness into a single entity -- a pair-bond. In this, each individual actually becomes part themselves and part their partner.

And since this process happens entirely under the radar of our conscious perception (as does the bulk of the non-verbal communication that drives it), only when we realize that we became somehow attached to the other person we might become aware of it.

"Might" because the attachment formation is always a gradual. Even if it changed us a lot, the change in general is constant and is expected anyway, and we may not realize how much of it was due to becoming a pair-bond. Only a sudden disintegration of the latter would reveal it -- as it often happens, we must lose something in order to realize that we had it.


For the specifics you should probably consult a neuroscientist. But my concept of this would be that our mind-body-system is a network of semi-autonomous subsystems.

What I mean by that is, that on the one hand all the parts of our body seem to be connected to a central nervous system, so we can think of the body as one unity, one system, one individual that has a clear outer boundary to the rest of the world.

While at the same time our consciousness or what people used to call our "mind" or "brain" (if they want to place it to a location within our body), is more of a free floating, but mono tasking entity. So idk you can for example feel your fingers touching something and while you do that you kinda ignore what other parts of your body feel like or for example you don't actively pay attention to your respiratory system and so on. So despite our consciousness being able to "pay attention", that is most likely to be receptive to signals coming from all sorts of places within our body, we nonetheless aren't doing it at the same time. So our consciousness is a subsystem of that body and not the whole system. So if the body is a house the mind would be an entity roaming through it.

At the same time we know for sure that despite not paying attention to it, our body is still doing something. Like if we stopped breathing as soon as we don't actively think about it, we would simply die, we usually aren't dying that way, so this must be some sort of subsystem that can function semi-autonomously from our consciousness. There is an interaction between the two, like we can control our breathing and if our breathing stops working we would be alerted of it, but if things happen normally there is some independence between the two.

So the way I understand that, neural networks simply function in the way that there are receptors, actuators and neural pathways. So receptors or perceptive cells react to certain stimuli, idk light, sound (air pressue), touch (denting pressure), moisture, temperature etc. and if they receive such a stimuli they send out an electro-chemical signal which are then bundled and preprocessed before they reach the consciousness, whereas the other way around actuators are basically miniature motors that perform a movement if you switch on the voltage. Where the other way around the consciousness or another part of the brain (again ask experts) send out an electro-chemical signal which is then redirected and de-bundled until the respective mini-motor receives a go to move.

So in effect our brain/mind/consciousness, might not actually be talking to our hands and feet, etc. but to subsystems which handle these units. Either specific brain regions or already in the specific domains where through continuous training the neural pathways have been adjusted to enable complex action pattern ("muscle memory"). So for example I don't actually think about the specific fingers when I type this sentence, I just think about the sentence and about typing and the process of moving the respective fingers connected to the letters of the word happens seemingly "automatic".

Though due to the fact that I am able both consciously "will" to perform the action and at the same time be able to "perceive" the effect. In this case by feeling the buttons being pushed and by seeing the letters on the screen appear as a result of my willing of the action. I'm able to make the connection between cause (my will to do it) and effect (the whole chain of effect of electro-chemical signals taking particular pathways in order to make it happen). And despite the fact that the chain of events that concerns "me" in particular, theoretically stops at the tip of my finger, my consciousness is just at the start AND the end of this chain. In the sense that I "will" the action and I "perceive" the effect. The entire particulars of the "in between" escape my consciousness, yet at the same time my perception of the correlation of cause and effect makes me think that "I" am the cause of that all. That the entire chain of events is "me". Is "my" conscious action. "I" am the start, I am the end, I am the will, I am the finger tips pushing, I am the keyboard keys lowering, I am the internet, I am stack exchange, I am the server, I am my screen, I am this small cursor moving left to right... Edit: Just a "showerthought", but the Christian description of "god" as "alpha and omega" as "start and end" might come to mind.

And if you think that is far fetched listen to people describing playing a video game and how they intuitively use personal pronouns with respect to the bunch of pixels that performs actions as their avatar in that game world.

There is also this really interesting effect of multiplayer console gaming where you press buttons and expect the character to move and identify yourself with their movement despite it being a scripted video or the controller not being plugged in or it's actually someone else playing that character.

The point being that our ability to master the usage of tools has provided us with a set of mechanisms that let us wield inanimate objects as if they are a part of our own body. Again not an expert but as far as I heard this idea is much more prevalent in Asian philosophy where mastering sword fight or calligraphy means becoming one of the hand and the tool or where videogame characters like mega man have a laser cannon for an arm, whereas western equivalents would likely have a "weapon" and more of a tool like relation to these things then one of identity.

Anyway the point is that by our will adjusting our neural pathways in order to produce a desired output that can very much be outside of our own self, we achieve a situation where an our environment can change who we are or the other way around where we adapt ourselves to our environment.

And if we already do that with inanimate objects where we can seemingly easily learn the correlation between will and reaction as they have no will of their own that we need to account for, thing of what it means if we do the same with an animate person.

Like in order to "master" another person, not necessarily only but also in the sense of dominion, but to understand how we resonate with them and how we function as one unity is a much more complicated process that probably has profound consequences in terms of how we construct our own neural network and adjust our pathways in order to idk "synchronize" if that makes sense.

So in effect if that connection was long and deep enough it might feel as if someone amputated a limb because for your consciousness, it might be exactly that. In the process of writing this sentence, the internet is as much a part of my body as the fingers are and it would probably take a few seconds before I consciously realize (not rationally understand, I do that already), that the finger is actually connected to my nervous systems and can be felt while the internet is out of reach of my feelings.

Edit: And with respect to other people the perception might not actually end with my fingertips either, like if we hold hands and you feel scared, I might feel the shaking of your hand and thus perceive your sense of danger in pretty much the same way as I might perceive a sense of danger from my own shaking extremities. We might actually develop an understanding of the other person's bodily reactions to a situation and in effect "feel" things, despite otherwise not feeling them ourselves. Or the other way around, if the hand I'm holding is not shaking, it might also calm me down. Technically we can also achieve a similar effect with technical measuring devices that extend our capabilities of perception, but with other people we have that much more immediate and with a lot more senses at the same time and as it might work both ways the connection might be even stronger.

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