Most of us are convinced that we’re coherent individuals who are continuous in time. There’s just one problem with this sense of self – it can’t exist
11 December 2019
LET’S be honest, it is what we think about the most: ourselves. What we want to eat or do, how we feel and whom we love. It is the essence of being.
This selfhood generally feels like a continuous “me” sitting somewhere in our heads: a me that is the same today as yesterday. “Most people feel that they are a coherent, integrated individual. They have free will, they are making their choices and they’re looking out through their eyes at the world around them,” says Bruce Hood at the University of Bristol, UK, author of The Self Illusion.
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And that is just what selfhood seems to be – an illusion. “You are actually a collection of conflicting messages and signals and thought processes,” says Hood. “And these are somehow brought together to experience as unified self.” Fine, so your self is just the “you” experiencing that, right? That becomes a Russian doll problem, says Hood. “There’s someone inside the head who’s having these experiences taking place inside their head and so on,” he says.
Neuroscience tells us that our subjective sense of self must be a distributed experience, involving various bits of the brain. Although experiments have taught us much about the brain areas involved in creating it, how exactly it is conjured up still eludes us.
We do know that a sophisticated sense of self and others only comes on us gradually. “Understanding that your thoughts are different from someone else’s and being able to reflect on your own thinking, that’s a higher order skill and …