Probably not what you think you are


Reading through my July 2004 notes about the SELF reminds me that the concept of the “person” is difficult to capture.

Physically, a person is a collection of cells (more than ten trillion of them), which in turn consists of protein and nucleic acids and other biomolecules, which in turn consist of smaller parts called atoms, which consist of subatomic particles. Most of the cells that make up a human being, which form hair and skin, and nails and blood and a skeleton, are replaced at varying speeds – from every few days to every few years. Physically, a meaningful percentage of you is not really older than a few years. You are to a large extent not the same collection of cells you were ten years ago!

If you think the physical nature of humans is hard to capture, the psychic nature of humans will make you want to hold onto something even more. How exactly does memory work? How do you know who you are? How does personality take shape, and how does it change? How do you make choices? How do you decide on your preferences and your dislikes? Why do you like certain things or certain people or places, and hate other things or places, and avoid certain people like the plague? How much do you actually decide, and how much do you discover? To what extent is so-called free will an illusion?


Possibilities for the source of the SELF:

Possibility one: Within a few moments after the child is born a “wind” blows through the room. The new-born’s consciousness of self is, as it were, activated shortly after that. In this case, it would make sense to ask, “Who or what caused it?” It would also make sense that one would want to seek answers, or at least clues, about the purpose and meaning of your existence from this consciousness activator (or Consciousness Activator).

Possibility two: It is a slow process that occurs in small increments: initially nothing, or almost nothing; later one would be able to say that “somewhere between March and June” the child developed an awareness of himself. It might explain why new-born babies cause such a ruckus. If they knew the words, they would probably scream: “What the hell?! … was part of something one moment … and the next moment … What is going on here? What am I?!” In this case, there is no dramatic moment in which consciousness is activated, so there is nobody or nothing to try to contact for answers.