“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’re ever been. The one constant in our lives is change.” — Daniel Gilbert
Do you exist at this moment? Did you exist ten years ago? Are you your body?
If you answered “yes” to all the above questions you have a bit of a problem. The body that you had ten years ago does not exist. Or at least, huge parts of it does not exist. Atoms in our body are constantly replaced. (Not every atom in your body may not be replaced on a regular basis, for example, atoms in the tooth enamel are not replaced which means that you can use a person’s tooth enamel to estimate the year a person’s teeth was formed.) So it does not make sense if you identify yourself with your body, to say that you exist now and also existed ten years ago. More or less every molecule that was present in your body ten years ago are gone. Strangely enough we still have a concept of our self and an essence of self. But how do we know what to is our self?
This may seem like a hopeless philosophical discussion about our self. Yet interesting problems arise when you think about the power of time and the nature of self.
“If the person you will be in 30 years — the person for whom you plan your life now by working toward career goals and putting money aside in retirements plans — is invariably different from the person you are today, what makes that future person “you”? What makes them worthy of your present self’s sacrifices and considerations?”
A problem is that we tend to think that we are at the end of our journey. We have reached the final destination of what we can become. This idea may be the underlying reason for lots of unhappiness in our lives and it may prevent us from trying and testing new ideas and approaches. In the video below Daniel Gilbert talks about our future self, “Why do we make decisions that our future self so often regret”. He says that it is easier to remember what happen before than to imagine what the future will look like. This explains why we are overestimating the value of something that will happen in the future, for example, how much we are willing to pay for a ticket to see our favourite band.
Joshua Knobe, experimental philosopher, talks about some thought experiments that pushes our ideas about the self. How does the self extend over time? Is there a kind of essence of the self? How do we know what falls inside or outside the self? You can read a transcript of the talk at Edge.
“Imagine what things are going to be like in 30 years. In 30 years there’s going to be a person around who you might normally think of as you, but that person is actually going to be really, really different from you in a lot of ways. Chances are a lot of the values you have, a lot of the emotions, a lot of the beliefs, a lot of the goals are not going to be shared by that person. So, in some sense you might think that person is you, but is that person really you?”
Both these videos and the ideas about the concept of self are interesting. The concept self can be describe in several different ways, for example, the psychology or philosophy of self, or a religious view upon self. There is an extreme definition of the self, as “ the outcome of double interacts with meaningful others”. (Symbolic interaction). Or the self is the outcome of millions interactions of little selfs, each as big as a neurotransmitter, which lead to meaningful action, like that in colonies of ants.
The two videos describe the concept of self as something that takes place in our head. The core of “me”- ness is found inside.Yet from a Thinkiblity perspective they have similar problems. Thinkibility is a biological approach to thinking, where it is assumed that thinking takes place in an environment and the characteristics of the environment influences the end results. In a similar way, the self concept can be described as something that we do and the creation of our self takes place in an environment. By shifting the focus to seeing a human as being part of an environment different questions related to our concept of self emerges. . . Thus, rather than focusing on seeing our self as summary of one’s traits, values, social roles, interests, physical characteristics, and personal history, the way we develop a self concept in an environment is the focus. There is a constant dynamic exchange with our environment that makes our self what it is. Our self has a temporary quality where factors such as colours, music, scents and movements influence who we are in that moment.