Monday, April 11, 2011

Who is the “real” you?

Yesterday’s Financial Times carried a review of The Ego Trick by Julian Baggini. We’ve not read the book, but it seems to raise many absurd questions and touches on many absurd themes.

The reviewer begins, “The problem of self-understanding is a perennial one. But even before you tackle it there is a prior problem: making sense of selfhood itself. What is a ‘self’?”

Is there is a physical part of you that makes you, you? No, there is no physical “seat of personal identity.”

Is there is some transcendent self, some kind of soul? “Whatever stuff you are made from,” the author writes, “is the same kind of stuff that everything else is made of.”

Then there are more interesting questions such as the effect of brain tumors that destroy the “self,” along with severe head injuries, dementia and the like. What do these say about who the real self was or is? And then there are life-transforming experiences that alter self, such that the person that was is very different from what that person is after the event.

Baggini argues that self is achieved through an ego trick. “Namely,” the reviewer sums up, “that of constructing a strong sense of connectedness and continuity out of fragmented experiences… by our fashioning an autobiography for ourselves.”

The self is essentially an illusion – a powerful illusion, but an illusion nonetheless.

The reviewer calls it “one of the best, most readable and most stimulating introductions yet written about this intriguing topic.”

As we say, we’ve not read it and may never get to it, but we highlight it here as tackling a fascinating line of thought. If you’ve read it, let us know what you think by posting your comments on the book and its conclusions below.

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