Who are we?
This was basically a question asked by Stephen Hunter (a writer on WriterBeat) with a nod to Pete Townsend. He advised us to peer deeply into a mirror, put ego to one side and ask ourselves what was the essence of our selves.
We all, I am sure, have a deep sense of identity. We view ourselves as individuals who can exert will. We can make choices about what we believe, what we like, what we associate with. Free will is at the center of our concept of self. It is the basis of our laws as well as our identity.
Religious people might believe our essence is spiritual in nature.
Political people might think that they chose a political stance out of some conviction held by their inner self.
Law enforcers will insist that we exercised free will in carrying out criminal acts and can be persuaded not to do so.
Yet do we really have any free will?
Some psychologists think not. They say our ‘inner self’ is no more than a construct of our upbringing, culture and experience. They also believe that that ‘inner self’ changes with time and experience – that those changes are usually slow so we do not notice. Wouldn’t it be interesting to go back and inhabit the mind of our younger self? I’m sure we’d be shocked. We assume that our views, which we see as naïve, might have changed but our inner self will be constant. But is it?
What seems to be true is that if we had been brought up in a different culture we’d believe in different things. We’d have a different religion and cultural values, different tastes and even feelings. But would our inner self be different?
You know – I think it would. Despite my strongly held views and robust sense of identity I suspect we are all products of our time and place. There is no inner self at all. It’s an illusion.