I occasionally find myself musing about the conceptual meaning of the word ‘SELF”. It is a word that I use in many different ways in normal everyday discourse.Some examples are: myself, yourself, selfless, selfish, self-conscious, self-sacrifice, self-awareness, etc., etc.. I usually don’t think about the conceptual meaning of these words as I use them, except as required by the context of the discourse. So, we use it; what does it represent or mean? My dictionary gives a definition for “SELF” as “the union of elements (as body, emotions, thoughts, and sensations) that join the individuality and identity of a person”. This definition is one of several given but this will serve as a starting point for further musing.
My concept of “SELF” starts with the idea that it is primary, indivisible, ie, without parts. So I have a problem with the first phrase of the dictionary definition. This phrase,”union of elements”, clearly is in contradiction to my concept of “SELF” in that it implies “SELF” has “elements” or parts. Furthermore, the examples of “elements” have their own conceptual difficulties. My concept includes the need that the “SELF” have zero mass. The “body” has mass thus it cannot be the “SELF”. My objection to “emotions” is based on my belief that emotions are a class of output signals which the “SELF” uses to reveal its state and that these are conveyed by the mechanisms of the body and not the “SELF”. In a similar way, I can argue that “sensations” are a class of input signals to the “SELF”, which tell the “SELF” of the non-“SELF” world and thus influence the state of the “SELF”. I view “thought” as the process which the “SELF” uses to extract meaning from input and create output. This view, I believe, negates the possibility of “thought” being the “SELF” even though, it being a process, has zero mass. A further examination of the given definition begs for an exploration of “individualty”as it relates to the “SELF”. The word “individuality” implies differences exist between the members of the group. For the purpose of my musing, I assert that the perceived differences between “SELF”s ,that are observed when comparing the reaction of different “body”s confronted with similar circumstances, are due to differences in the process used by each “SELF” to produce action based on the “body”s sensory input.
I further assert that all “self”s are alike; all of them! I take as my model, for the assertion above, the example of the Electron. The Electron is what is known as a fundamental particle, ie, it has no internal structure, no smaller parts. All Electrons are the same and can be freely interchanged without effect. As a parallel to my assertion above, Electrons can be made to “act” differently when subjected to different processes; they remain identical Electrons however. It is not known what an Electron “is”. However it is possible to study the Electron and define its properties without this knowledge. In a similar way we can study the “SELF”without knowing what it “is”.
There are many interesting facets to the subject of the “SELF”. For instance, when in the time period of a Human life, defined as starting at conception and ending at death, does the”SELF” become the “SELF”? Does the nascent “SELF” develop gradually as a fetus does or does it pop into existence when the growth of the “body” reaches a threshold for the “SELF” to exist? If the “SELF”s are identical and the perceived differences between people are due to differences in “process”s, how are these differences developed? What happens at death? The seeking of answers to these “SELF” questions has much to offer in the quest for greater insight into the subject of Life on Earth. I plan to keep up the musing. It is better than television for exercising the brain – so I’m told.