Is there a you that is independent of your thoughts, emotions, and reactions? Or is the self just a symbol of ourselves?
We commonly feel that we are the thinker of our thoughts, the one who feels feelings. But is this self actually producing thoughts and feelings? Or are these feelings happening to nobody, just a movement without a center. The feeling of having a self could be just another feeling.
That’s not to say that this illusion is futile. Experiencing a self may have benefits for the way we think and act.
While out for a walk or not focused on anything in particular, we may notice our thinking moving in a certain way. Even though we are not preoccupied with something outside ourselves, there may be a certain inward preoccupation. It’s undeniable that a major focus of our thinking is in relation to ourselves. If we look at it, this thinking seems to be happening automatically without conscious intention, before there is awareness of it. Me simply seems to be a fact, it is the ground of our existence.
But have we ever stopped to actually look? Since this movement is so prevalent in our daily lives, we have to ask ourselves: is this movement not so much about us, but actually is us?
Could it be that there is no separate us apart from this movement of thinking? If there is not this movement of self-concern, is there a self at all? This seems to give a different meaning to the postulate from Rene Descartes “I think, therefore I am”. Habitual thinking about myself may create and reinforce the sense of me, not the other way around.
Here are 5 short videos which are a must watch for anybody interested in this topic:
Is There a Real You?
We have a common-sense idea that there is a core or essence of ourselves to be discovered. And that this is kind of a permanent truth about ourselves, something that’s the same throughout life. Well, that’s the idea I want to challenge.
It’s the shift between thinking of yourself as a thing which has all the experiences of life, and thinking of yourself as simply that collection of all experiences in life. You are the sum of your parts.
The Ego Tunnel
It has now become clear that we will never solve the philosophical puzzle of consciousness if we don’t come to terms with this simple proposition: that to the best of our current knowledge there is no thing, no indivisible entity, that is us, neither in the brain nor in some metaphysical realm beyond this world. So when we speak of conscious experience as a subjective phenomenon, what is the entity having these experiences?
Thought and Consciousness
We say, “I am different from greed and therefore I can control it, I can operate on it, I can suppress it, I can enjoy it, I can do something about it”. The fact is, the thinker is the thought. There is no thinker without thought.
How is Personal Identity Maintained?
The illusion of continuity is only created when you look for it, when you ask yourself: can I remember what I did this morning? or, can I remember when I was a kid? Because this brain can pull up memories, you make this story of “I have lived this life”, and you call that “me”.
The Self Is an Illusion
The sense of being an ego, an I, a thinker of thoughts in addition to the thoughts. An experiencer in addition to the experience. The sense that we all have of riding around inside our heads as a kind of a passenger in the vehicle of the body…. Now that sense of being a subject, a locus of consciousness inside the head is an illusion. It makes no neuro-anatomical sense. There’s no place in the brain for your ego to be hiding.