One of the most remarkable observations from twins studies is that the role of genetics in shaping many traits grows with time rather than diminishes. I have always been fascinated by this: thinking about it now, as I am reading J. Settle, C. T. Dawes and J. H. Fowler’s paper, “The Heritability of Partisan Attachment”, I suddenly recalled the passage from Pindar that Nietzsche was so fond of quoting, in which each of us is urged to “become who you are.” The idea has always seemed quintessentially poetic to me: a phrase plainly self-contradictory used to express an idea that cannot be readily composed out of the concepts we keep on hand.
If we can become who we are, then there must be, for each of us, a true self that we come to resemble more closely over time, much as a sculpture is revealed by a craftsman’s long work on a generic block of marble.
But such an idea requires that, at at every moment, we are not our true selves, but only an approximation of the being we would be if we lived forever. We would have to be merely the shadow of our own Emersonian genius.
This is an enormously strange concept. What are we if we are not ourselves? And how can a self exist if it is not embodied in the world as a living person?