Why We View The Self As We Do
by Scott Hughes
Philosophy and psychology both often focus on the self, which generally refers to the source of unique consciousness in a unified being. In other words, the self is usually seen as that thing in us which thinks and makes decisions.
In reality, the mind is not a unified being. It is a natural machine made up of various parts. The mind has many different desires, feelings, and instincts. The self is actually a construct of the mind and of society.
The mind uses the idea of the self so that it can function in a centralized way. By conceptualizing itself as a more unified and singular entity, the mind can more easily understand its desires and feelings. In other words, the mind constructs the self to synthesize all the different desires, feelings and instincts into one coherent set, which it then uses to make decisions and rationalize past decisions. For example, part of a person may like and want something while another part of that person dislikes and does not want that thing; the mind can more simply understand these conflicting parts by conceptually synthesizing them, and deciding on either liking or disliking the thing.
Society and other people also use the concept of the self to understand and interact with a human. Generally, it is impossible and impractical to know all the different feelings, desires, instincts and influences that cause a human to act certain ways and make certain decisions. To understand humans, we conceive of them as singular persons with singular selves. For example, it would be possible for a human female to both want and not want to have sex with a man, and for her to both consent and not consent to the sex, but it would be incredibly difficult to understand those conflicts and to judge the situation; To help with that, we conceive of the woman as a unified and singular person who either consents or does not consent.
Basic wisdom also influences our idea of the self. As relatively unwise children, we have a much more immediate idea of self. A child could think of "themselves" in the far future, and the child would not fully see it as the same person. We all do that to some degree, which is why we make decisions that give us immediate benefit but hurt us more in the long run. Examples include procrastination, overspending, and overindulgence. As we get older and gain experience, we have to pay the consequences for our shortsighted choices. As a result, we learn to behave in a wiser, more longsighted manner. We learn to think of ourselves as a longer-running entity.
Thanks to wisdom, we do not just define ourselves as the body and feelings we have today, or this week, or even this year. Instead, we define ourselves as the fundamental sameness between the body and feelings that we have throughout our entire life. We do not think of ourselves as just the atoms or matter in our body today, but instead we think of ourselves as a more generic pattern that remains the same even as all the atoms and matter in our body are replaced.
Death also greatly influences the way we define the self by creating the limit for its longevity.
The human death generally happens quickly, and marks a major turning-point where the human body permanently loses consciousness. The body quickly stops functioning and decays. All the unique information and thoughts stored in that human's brain or "mind" are lost. This includes memories, perceptions, personality, and such.
As a major turning-point, death makes for a useful place to conceive of the self as existing until. Additionally, since we usually associate all the unique information and thoughts of a human as elements of the self, it becomes necessary to think of death as the end of the self, unless we think of death as simply an event of major transformation of the self, which we usually do not. (Of course, there are some people who believe that all the unique information and thoughts of a human, and thus the self, still exist after death despite the destruction of the brain.)
In summary, the mind and society construct the self to understand and interact with the human in a practical and simplified way. Wisdom causes us to view the self as more than just a momentary being. Death usually causes us to view the self as the elements of a person that exist to death, but not beyond death.
Luckily, our view of the self is very unclear and adaptive. We adjust our ambiguous conception of the self to deal with new situations. Feel free to consider rethinking your idea of the self and how you define yourself.
Whatever you do, good luck and have fun!
About the Author: Scott Hughes owns and manages OnlinePhilosophyClub.com which is an informative philosophy website
. You can discuss this article and other philosophical topics at the Philosophy Forums
. It's completely free, and all viewpoints are welcome.
Please discuss this article here. Please post any comments or questions that you have.