INDIVIDUALITY:the condition of being attached to a unique set of labels

If it is possible to identify something consistently in time and space thruout its life-cycle and associate a unique set of labels with it, then it can be treated as an individual. Over time-scales which are small relative to its life-span, the individuality of an entity is frequently determined by general characteristics and chaotic irregularities. The nick out of the dorsal fin of a whale or the tattoo on the arm of a soldier could be adequate identification in many circumstances. Things change thruout their life-cycle however, and certain features present at one phase are absent at another. The wings of a butterfly are absent whilst it is in a caterpillar form. Markers intrinsic to all phases are needed to keep track of entities which morph. In the case of humans, we rely on certain supposedly unchanging features such as finger prints, genetic markers and iris patterns.

The capacity to ascribe individuality or not depends upon the sensitivity of our sensory skills and the technological devices used to assist the discrimination process. Several blood samples will look identical to a general observer but a medical laboratory technician would have the facilities to discriminate between them according to a variety of characteristics. Some types of entities however have to be treated as 'identical' until familiarity or advances in technology enable differences to be detected. Electrons for example are usually characterized by such properties as mass and charge and spin, and unless they can be reliably tracked in space and time they are normally deemed to be 'identical'. Biological twins are usually initially designated as 'identical' because it takes more than a casual appraisal to acquire the skill to reliably tell them apart. Even a mother may be obliged to paint the toenails of each a different colour until experience uncovers some other discriminating characteristic.

Some caution is needed to avoid indulging in philosophical sophistry when using the word 'identicality'. The claim for instance that... [venus] and [the evening star] are identical... is nothing more than a kind of self-evident truth. There are not two entities which are indistinguishable at all. At core there is nothing more going on than the labelling of the one entity twice. To claim that an entity is identical to itself is not that illuminating or bright... It is only if there actually are two entities...because we are able to observe them both together at the same time... that the extent to which their properties are the same does indeed raise a genuine possibility of 'identicality'.

In social and political contexts biological individuality is actually a condition of vulnerability, powerlessness and dependency. The typical individual depends upon organized and cultural structures for food and shelter and support, and has little physical capacity to resist the demands and expectations of powerful social groupings. Even the all-powerful leader relies on political support which can vanish even quicker than it was formed. The human fantasy of superheros is a recognition of this reality of individual impotence. The solitary individual that chooses to demonstrate its individuality by providing for its own food and shelter, is easy pickings for the organised group that chooses to take over its resources. Even all the so-called 'individual achievements' invariably depend upon significant social contributions. One cannot climb a mountain or circumnavigate the globe or even write and talk, without the contribution of countless other individuals who have developed and constructed all the materials and technology necessary for carrying out the feat.

In spite of such vulnerability, the individual is still the essence of variation and creativity. Without the random and unique quirks of individuality, physical and social evolution is not possible. Without the flashes of individual originality and inspiration, the development of knowledge is not possible. In whatever context, the absence or suppression of individuality will be overwhelmed by adverse consequences.