“THE GREATEST OF ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF 20TH-CENTURY SCIENCE has been the discovery of human ignorance.” Lewis Thomas, Lives of a Cell. “OUR IGNORANCE, OF COURSE, HAS ALWAYS BEEN WITH US, AND ALWAYS WILL BE. What is new is our awareness of it, our awakening to its fathomless dimensions, and it is this, more than anything else, that marks the coming of age of our species.” Timothy Ferris, Coming of Age in the Milky Way.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Story of "I" (Not to Be Confused with the Story of "O")

Life unfolds within and of reality, but "self" is based on a story. That is why, prior to language acquisition at about 2 years old, the "self" has not yet formed. But by about four years old, the ego ("I", "me", "mine") has naturally and automatically been constructed through language and memory: autobiography. Ego routinely retells its story and keeps its reflected image on the surface of the pond---even though it's not too difficult to see that the story is necessarily fiction. (How "real" is memory?) In any case, the reflexive story of "self" cannot hold up at death. It can't even be maintained while feeling extremely sleepy. In dreamless sleep, emperors and beggars are momentary equals, for they have lost all subjective definition of "self".

"I" at 11 years old

In her book, "Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self," journalist Jean Ouellete says:

"We are the stories we tell. We all construct personal narratives, and we spend our lives working and reworking them. Our memories might not be as accurate as we think—we fabricate and embellish even when we believe ourselves to be truthful—but this so-called autobiographical self is key to how we construct a unified whole out of the many components that contribute to our sense of self. You can sequence my DNA, scan my brain, subject me to a battery of personality tests, but you won’t find my essence in any one of them alone. Stories provide that unifying interpretive layer. If you really want to know who I am, let me tell you a story."

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