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Personal Identity in “Dark Matter” by Blake Crouch Essay

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2021


“Dark Matter” is a book written by Blake Crouch that presents the story of identity change. In this context, the question of what defines a person’s identity arises. The body and memory theories describe the two different views on this issue. The memory theory suggests that identity is connected to a person’s thinking. According to body theory, the physical elements of a person define his or her personality. This paper aims to examine the topic of personal identity using the example of Jason from “Dark Matter.”

Dark Matter

Firstly, it is necessary to examine the book “Dark Matter” and evaluate the personal identity problem presented there. In “Dark Matter,” Crouch described a story of a family man Jason Dason. The main storyline of the plot is an attack that Jason survives, during which a stranger hits him in the head. As a result of this injury, Jason loses his identity, waking up as a different person. According to Crouch, “we all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we are a part of a much larger and stranger than we can possibly imagine” (96). When reading this book, the following questions come to mind – what constitutes one’s self? When one’s personality begins and ends? What are the origins of a person’s identity?

Philosophers and psychologists discussed these issues and the topic of personal identity for centuries, and no consensus was reached. One work that can provide a better understanding of this issue is “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” by John Lock, which will be discussed in the next paragraph (1). Therefore, the storyline presents a fundamental issue – is personal identity connected to a person’s body or his or her thinking. In Jason’s case, the physical injury that he had changed his memories and thinking, although he had the same body and appearance.

Definition of Personal Identity

Next, it is necessary to clearly define personal identity to be able to review the two theories describing it. Personal identity refers to characteristics that define an individual (“Personal Identity: Crash Course”). In addition, these elements allow distinguishing one person from another. One can argue that a person has the same identity over long periods of time.

However, one important question is, a person at one point in time, and a person at another point in time are the same people or two different individuals? According to the CrashCourse video, one approach to viewing the issue is presented in this definition – “personal identity persists over time because you remain in the same body from birth to death” (“Personal Identity”). The counterargument provided in the video is the fact that from a biological viewpoint, a human’s body changes all the time. This includes our bones, blood cells, and other elements.

Considering these arguments, the contrast of Jason’s life before and after the incident is intriguing because he wakes up as a different person. Therefore, he has a different body, which could mean that his identity has changed as well. However, another vital element to discuss is thinking and its implications for one’s personality. Jason has the memory of his other life, including his children, his wife, and his work as a physics professor, which would suggest that his identity remained the same.

One person has the same body throughout their life. The body determines the persistence of one’s personality. Even though the two Jasons from different realities look the same and may be viewed as the same person by others, their identities are different.

A controversy that should be reviewed here is – it is possible to assume that the identities of different Jasons are similar to the extent to which their bodies are similar, or not. Crouch uses an example of a fish in a pond, which swims but does not go outside of the water. Next, this fish is lifted from the pond, and it sees its surroundings. Crouch states, “you realize you are a part of a much larger and more mysterious reality than you had ever dreamed of” (70). This idea provides an understanding of the fact that personality is a complex issue, and there may be elements of it that humans cannot see.

Body theory does not consider the fact that Jasons from different realities had different life experiences and were influenced by distinct external factors. Consciousness and memory are the main elements of a person’s identity. According to Piccirillo, “any change in the self reflects a change in personal identity,” meaning that changes described on the “Dark Matter” do not actually alter the personality of Jason. Hence, one’s personality is a complex combination of past experiences, relationships, and knowledge that a person acquires throughout life, combined with character traits.

John Locke’s Memory Theory

The two different theories of personality are the body and memory concepts. According to the memory theory, “personal identity persists over time because you retain memories of yourself” (“Personal Identity: Crash Course”)”). Therefore, consciousness is the central concept of personal identity. The body theory argues that the physical body of an individual is the main element of their identity. In Lock’s view, a person’s identity is connected to consciousness, which is connected to the process of thinking and remembering. The memory connects a person’s identity today to the one he or she had in the past, which results in continuity. To a substantial extent, personality is defined by subjective experiences and external influences, whereas memory is a necessary prerequisite for a self to exist.

One’s identity is defined by both psychological and biological characteristics. Although the selected theories do not provide exhaustive explanations of the concept of personal identity, they indicate that Jason from the original reality is not identical with Jason from parallel realities. Memory theory seems to be more valid since it implies that the development of individual identity depends on subjective experiences, sensations, and internal processes, whereas body theory does not.

In the video by CrashCourse, the issue of personal identity using the example of a famous TV show character, the Doctor from “Doctor Who,” is discussed. In different seasons of this show, the Doctor changes his appearance, preferences, and character traits. Despite this, he still remains the Doctor, which can be compared to the changes in a person’s appearance and views as he or she grows up. Additionally, the viewpoint of Bernard Williams is presented since this moral philosopher offered an experiment in which all the thoughts and memories of one person were transferred to another (“Personal identity: Crash Course”).

However, the two individuals could choose which body receives a reward or torture. The answer to this question can provide insight into understanding what the true identity, body, or mind is. In this case, the question of what happens to the personal identity of an individual arises.


Overall, the book “Dark Matter” raises an essential question of the constituents of one’s personality. The body and memory theories offer two distinct views on the issue of personal identity. On the one hand, identity can be connected to the person’s physical body, while on the other, memories are the central aspect of it. This essay reviewed the two approaches using the example of the book’s main character Jason.

Works Cited

Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter. Crown Publishers, 2016.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Scholar Press, 1690.

“Personal Identity.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2019. Web.

“Personal Identity: Crash Course Philosophy #19.” YouTube, uploaded by CrashCourse, 2016. Web.

Piccirillo, Ryan. “The Lockean Memory Theory of Personal Identity: Definition, Objection, Response.” Inquiries Journal, vol. 2, no. 8, 2010, p. 1.

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