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fremen_warrior's avatar

(De)constructing the self: what are we, really?

Asked by fremen_warrior (5487points) September 26th, 2012

I have recently remembered, came to realize once again how true it is that “you are not your experiences”. Realizing that your past is not necessarily your future, neither does it have to be the present, I must conclude I am not (and never were) a person with a name and social security number, but an more or less self-conscious awareness with an archieve of past events and a set of reactions to the world developed over the course of collecting those experiences. I am therefore also not my personality, for it, too, does not exist as one ‘thing’.

There are no facts, everything just… is the way it is. “I am what I am” anyone? There is no good or evil, there is no intrinsic morality in the universe. There is only action and reaction. Emotions serve to push us into doing one thing or another (rest, feed, procreate, defend ourselves) – we are all programmed machines. Having said that… do we really have “free will”, and if so, to what extent? 60%, 40%, more, less? Does it matter?

This is more a personal declaration of independence than a question really. The realization that I am not me, but something greater than that is strangely calming (You’re all probably thinking: “Yep, it finally happened, he’s gone nuts. Nurse!” :D well you just might be right, who the heck knows?).

What do YOU think of all this? Who am I, who are you, who are we? etc.

Discuss everything you deem discussion-worthy (my slow descent into madness included, though optional really).

On a related note, if the above ramblings struck a chord, check out an older question of mine and tell me what you think abot that in regards to this question.

Congratulations if you managed to read this far into this post!


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22 Answers

harple's avatar

” I am therefore also not my personality, for it, too, does not exist as one ‘thing’.”

You seem to want to be able to define yourself by finding one key thing that can be said to be your whole. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Why can you not be made up of a collection of all the things you mention, and more beyond?

I am not only my personality, my physical self, my soul, my thoughts, my emotions, my beliefs, my ideals and morals, a person who reacts based on previous experiences, a person who reacts based on no previous experience… I am also in some part what others think I am, for to those people that is who I am.

I am complex. And so are you.

whitenoise's avatar

I am me. My world around me is unique and different from all of your worlds around you.

Your world around you has me somewhere in it. I am not in mine. You are not in yours.
In essence therefore you and I are the mutual differences in our worlds.


whitenoise's avatar

With reference to free will…

I need to believe I have that. Even if I don’t have it… living my life as if I don’t have free will doesn’t work.

For free will there needs to be a certain freedom from predetermined fate. On the other hand… for free will to have a consequence (be of relevance) there must be some predetermined future consequence of the actions I take in ‘the now’. So for free will neither a fully deterministic world, nor the opposite works.

So I choose to believe that the future is undetermined but the likeliness of future events is greatly limited by the now. Possibly like quantum physics. You cannot fully predict, because there is inherent randomness, but still the possibilities of future and present states are bound by limitations and chance.

Now you done it… you lured me into rambling. :-)

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

“Waiter! I’ll have whatever the man at the top is having, please.”

All kidding aside, @fremen_warrior, that really is a load of bunk, you know. Things are real. Molecules exist. We are humans made up of those molecules, and we are more than the sum of our parts. Our experiential natures lead us to feel like we have choice in the outcome of events. I choose A and B occurs. It happens. It may be debatable, but it happens. Your assertions about your experiences and your personality ring false.

There are no facts? Really? I think we can dispense with that one with the notion of the speed of light being constant.

We are all programmed machines. Well, no, not really. We have instinctual drives, but we also have reasoning ability about how to apply them. I may desire a steak but know simultaneously what eating it will do to my waistline and defer.

As for your personal declaration of independence, bravo! I would caution that you make it on a sounder foundation.

Finally, I didn’t understand your older question at all.

ucme's avatar

I am the eggman, or quite possibly the walrus.

Seek's avatar

I am me.

I am mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend…

I am the sum of my experiences as perceived my me, and the choices I have made based on the lessons I have learned.

I am the sum of the molecules which make my body (until, of course, those molecules are transferred into another form).

All in all, the question is meaningless.

Cogito ergo sum and all.

thorninmud's avatar

I can’t do better than Bodhidharma’s answer to the same question. When the Emperor of China asked him “Who stands here before me?”, he just said “I don’t know”.

That “I don’t know” has been called the three most important words in Zen. It goes far beyond a confession of ignorance; there’s no implied ”...but I’ll think about it and get back to you when I’ve got an answer”. It’s a recognition that “knowing” who I am imposes arbitrary limitations on the scope of one’s being. You can’t draw a line around who you are without, by the same stroke, excluding what you are not. Bodhidharma declined to draw that line.

Ron_C's avatar

We are all actors in eachother’s play. I belive that the wold revolves around me as much as you believe that the world revolves around you. Most interactions are voluntary with the exception of authoritarian personalities encroaching our personal universe,

I am god in my universe as you are god in yours. The main problem is that some people think they are god in all universes.

Bill1939's avatar

I see the question of self as similar to the conundrum of whether something is a wave or a particle in physics. Our sense of reality is derived from a reconstruction of immediate sensory experience and previous constructions. The principal structure of this construction was directed by genetic imperatives that optimize the survival of the individual, chiefly through emotional responses, before any cognitive sense of self has developed.

As “mature” adults, our bodies assert their will upon our actions. The will of the self is simply an afterthought. Habits, and other conditioned reflexes, direct our actions and reactions, while our conscious self follows the impulse with a scenario that rationalizes it, ‘thinking’ that we have chosen what is already in process (experimental evidence supports this notion).

However, because our constructed reality contains a probable past, a likely present and a possible future, we can consciously assert a will that can come to fruition. To the degree that one’s conceptual reality is congruent with actual reality, and understands causal associations, an individual has the potential for free will.

If we existed wholly in the moment, our self would be our bodies. However, one’s self exists as a reflection of their culture, its history, values and expectations. Whether we physically existed before our birth or will have a physical existence after death, our ephemeral existence in the now seems like a particle, but likely is part of a collective psyche’s wave.

wundayatta's avatar

Almost five years ago I was diagnosed as bipolar. Or was I diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Is there a real different between saying I’m bipolar and saying I have bipolar disorder? I mean, semantically, you can see one as a label for me and the other as the label for a condition I had. But in terms of how I feel and think about myself, was there a difference?

I came to enjoy identifying as bipolar. There are a number of positive things about it, even as there are some negative things. Certainly I hurt people I loved. Certainly I nearly decided I needed to die. But I didn’t die and I did recover from the illness and change my life so that I was no longer hurting the people I loved.

Nevertheless, I liked being crazy. I liked having an excuse for thinking the way I did. I am different because I can’t help it. It’s the way my brain is made. It’s not that there is something wrong with me. It’s not that I’m antisocial or unwilling to follow the rules. I can’t follow the rules. It’s my brain. It thinks differently.

So being bipolar gave me an excuse for being the way I am. It gave me an excuse for being different. For being unable to see things the way other people see them. For being unable to agree with some of society’s rules. For needing intensity. For thinking that falling in love is the most important thing in life. For doing it over and over. For loving more than one woman at once.

But I’m not bipolar any more. I’ve been cured. The meds took care of it and now I’ve been stable for several years. So now I don’t have an excuse for being crazy any more. Now I have all these disagreements with social rules and I have no cover. Now I think the things I thought when I was crazy, but I’m not longer crazy!

So what the hell does that mean?

I don’t want to go back to being uptight about being myself. I think what I think and I’m responsible for those thoughts. People can look down on me for my immorality and, I suppose, hate me and judge me and they won’t cut me a break any more, assuming they ever did.

The burden of disagreeing with others is fully back on my own shoulders. I can’t deflect the pain of disagreement any more. It makes my shoulders get all tense and it makes me anxious, and yet, pretending to be the same is not an option. I’d hate myself if I did that.

Being crazy gave me cover. It allowed me to relax. It allowed me to make jokes about myself that I don’t feel like I can make any more. I have to present myself seriously instead of saying my truth and following it with, “but what do I know? I’m crazy!”

Not being crazy feels like a much greater responsibility. I don’t know why. It shouldn’t. It’s not as fun. There’s not so much humor. In fact, the more I think about it, the sicker it seems. I don’t like being normal. Not one bit. It’s no fun at all. You people are all sick!

I’m going back to being crazy!

kess's avatar

Who am I?
It is the definition of self unto self…..
It is the understanding that becomes you and is You!

When truly define, that one needs no other thing, for he has found THE ULTIMATE and singularised as I AM .

Other will disagree for they have not seen what he sees, but yet that does not create any strife because his understanding is completed, and needs not be verified nor modified to accommodate anything or any other point of view.

Thus the mark of knowing self is absolute peace, peace both within and without.

Many will define themselves in various ways, but since their understanding is incomplete, they would find many reasons for strife.

Both with others and things.

They would still be seeking to be more of what they perceive themselves to be and sometimes they seek less than who they are.

These needs an outward verification self, and since that outward verification is necessary, they will always be inconclusive in their understanding of self.

Now since death is inconclusivity of self, thus they become it.

So to the Question Who am I?
The answer I am that I am, is still a mystery.
For it is the understanding of self unto self, which words will always be inadequate to define conclusively.

KNOWITALL's avatar

We are all capable of continued growth, change, learning, and have more experience with ourselves, our world and others every day. Thus I am what I am is true although it doesn’t, to me, deal with our ideals and standards, or our striving to be more than what we are now.

Pazza's avatar

@fremen_warrior – Probably not a ‘slow descent into madness’, more likely an awakening.
I came to the conclusion that consciousness is primary, and that matter is manifest from consciousness, I can remember vividly being stood under the oak tree in the garden where I grew up and looking at an acorn and thinking, ‘whats this made of?’ Although I can’t remember how old I actually was, I can remember playing with my ‘corgi’ toy cars under the swing and where feet had worn the grass away had become parking spaces for the cars.

On looking at the acorn and wondering what it was made of, I can remember thinking, ‘but what was the stuff that made the acorn made of, and what was that made of?’ and so on.

Later in life I wasn’t happy with the stock answer of what an atom was, and that gravity was an attraction, even though the stock answer for space was that it was completely empty. How could things possibly pull each other together with nothing in between?

The only answer (as I’ve later come to believe) is that space is a field of energy, and all matter is manifest from this field. The only question left was, ‘well, what is this field made of?’. The only thing I could come up with, is consciousness, or, infinite consciousness, or infinite love even. Once you come to this conclusion, you need not go any further, it is the ‘I’ or the self, the ‘oneness’ of the cosmos, there really is no separation between myself, other people, plants, animals or a rock, its all me, and ‘I’ it.

Not trying to go down the religion route, but I feel if there were any messages in the bible texts, then God made man in his own image, his image is the universe, therefore God is not a man, God is man, and God is the universe.

In this manifest material world, I like the quote from Carl Sagan “we are stardust harvesting star light”

In the source field realm, (of which there really is no separation from the physical) I am you, you are me, and we are infinite consciousness.

Maybe we’re here because we got bored with infinity?
Or maybe we’re here to learn?
Being manifest in the finite physical realm gives us the ability to forget, and spend time being individuals, and whilst here, learn to appreciate the beauty and wonder of physical phenomena, to love, to dance, to create, to socialise, and even be alone, before we are re-assimilated into the ‘bose einstein condensate collective’

fremen_warrior's avatar

@Pazza if you need me I’ll be over there, collecting my jaw from the ground ;-) This would explain why in buddhism there is talk of the ability to defy gravity etc. at some point on the road to enlightenment. It’s deja vu all over again and the Matrix was telling the truth after all.

Thank you for this, I will need some time to go over the implications now…

KNOWITALL's avatar

I like that Pazza——“to love, to dance, to create, to socialise, and even be alone, before we are re-assimilated into the ‘bose einstein condensate collective’”

WyCnet's avatar

I am a thought machine sitting at the crosshairs of my emotional being and my memories.

Waiter, haven’t they had enough?

Inspired_2write's avatar

Life manifested in human form to experience life on earth and to bring these experiences full of lessons, back to the collective to expand understanding on what it is to live life.

fremen_warrior's avatar

@Inspired_2write so how come people who are born nowadays have no recollection of this vast knowledge the ‘collective’ is supposedly gathering? I mean it would surely speed up the process; not to mention stopping the duplication of certain data(experiences)..?

Bill1939's avatar

Even if we are born with a “collective” knowledge of all aspects of the universe, @fremen_warrior, nothing can be known by an individual without their first experiencing it. Culture structures one’s experiences and establishes “common sense.” One creates an individual mental universe through their experiences, revealing elements of knowledge. For example while pi is a universal constant, until the relationship between a circle’s diameter and circumference is seen it is unlikely that an individual will consciously know it exists.

fremen_warrior's avatar

@Bill1939 I meant it in a literal sense where @Inspired_2write ‘s collective consciousness was this infinite experience and knowledge warehouse. If that were so, we’d practically be immortal expressions of this just changing bodies death life death life, the most extreme idea of reincarnation. Theoretical spiritualism squared ;-)

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