What is the “self”? Such a question has had a multitude of answers from philosophers and psychologists throughout history. Although there is an immediate understanding of what I refer to when I say “I”, upon reflection that clarity vanishes. Do I refer to my physical body? That changes over the course of my life as my cells are replaced one by one. (If I have my arm amputated, am I still the same person?) Is it my consciousness? Then I am conceivably a different person when asleep or drunk then when awake or sober. Is it my memories and experiences? Psychology has demonstrated that recalled memories are largely a reconstruction of the brain rather than a true recollection. And what happens if I get amnesia or Alzheimer’s?
All these questions make it difficult to truly pin down what the self entails. We have some sense of continuity over time, but that continuity can be easily broken. So I’d like to take some time to examine, from a psychological perspective, just what it means to have a “self” and to have a sense of self-identity. In the process, I’d like to advance a theory of the self that suggests that at least some of the continuity we experience is illusory. Instead of being a coherent structure, the self is constantly being assembled and reassembled by our minds. So with that said, hang on to your hats, and let’s begin.Continue Reading