The self: What are we to do?

“LET yourself go” now has a whole new meaning, but there are fewer things harder to let go of. Our concept of ourselves as individuals in control of our destinies underpins much of our existence, from how we live our lives to the laws of the land. The way we treat others, too, hinges largely on the assumption that they have a sense of self similar to our own.

So it is a shock to discover that our deeply felt truths are in fact smoke and mirrors of the highest order. What are we – whatever it is we are – to do?

First of all, keep it in perspective. Much of what we take for granted about our inner lives, from visual perception to memories, is little more than an elaborate construct of the mind. The self is just another part of this illusion.

And it seems to serve us well. In that respect, the self is similar to free will, another fundamental feature of the human experience now regarded by many as an illusion. Even as the objective possibility of free will erodes, our subjective experience of it remains unchanged: we continue to feel and act as though we have it.

The same will surely be true about the self. The illusion is so entrenched, and so useful, that it is impossible to shake off. But knowing the truth will help you understand yourself – and those around you – better.

via The self: What are we to do? – 20 February 2013 – New Scientist.

Leave a Reply