Is it just me, or has there been a little run of ‘the self is a delusion’ articles and talks around and about?
One used the analogy of a smart phone to deconstruct the sense of selfhood. Much as a smart phone contains applications that together make the phone smart, so the argument goes, the brain contains evolutionary applications – an emapthy app, a language app, a sex app – that together make a person. And personhood of itself is nothing more or less than the sum of those apps. But the analogy is flawed, and I suspect the psychology is too. A smart phone is not smart by virtue of its applications, no matter how sophisticated. It’s smart because of the people who designed it and, crucially, because of the people who use it in smart ways too. You can’t be rid of selfhood like that.
Another used the story about Sister Vagira who likened being a person to being a cart. There’s the axle and wheels and carriage and springs. But the cart, it’s said, is just the assembly of those elements, nothing more of itself. Only again, those elements are only a cart because of the people who assembled and designed it and because of those who drive it. You need a concept of personhood to understand a cart.
It may be very hard to say what an ‘I’ is, and it is surely multiple and porous. (It sadly needs repeating: Plato knew as much, and so did poor Descartes for that matter.) But don’t rush too fast to concluding there’s no ‘I’ at all. Better, surely, to rest with you and I being something of a mystery, deepened in the analysis, not dissolved in it.