The Immanent Functions of The Non-Existing Self

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Does the self exist? This is a hard question. From our everyday perspective the self is what gives us some sense of consistency, but if we look deeply into the question about the self, the psychological and philosophical topics related to the nature of the self, then maybe it is not too strange to claim that the self might be nothing more than a set of memories, perceptions and emotions.


This is not a new approach to the self. Western philosophy often reject its existence.

The Buddhists, for instance, make the claim that the self does not exist. This claim is supported by modern psychology for several reasons. Cognitive science, neurology, evolutionary psychology and psychoanalysis prove in their studies that the idea of a consistent self is just an illusion.

On first place the self has no particular place in the brain. The self is more close to a function. Indeed the human brain is hardwired to establish some certain consistency that brings sensations, memories, desires and emotions together, but behind it there is not actual anatomical brain region that could be associated with the perception of the self. The self does not exist from neuroscientific and cognitive point of view. It is just a set of brain functions. Clearly, from personal point of view it is difficult to imagine that our otherwise consistent self image is actually not consistent at all.

From evolutionary psychology discourse the self could be seen as an adaptive technique that permits the individual develop more empathy towards the ones it shares DNA with. The closer two people are the more likely it is to help each other transmit their genes. But for the individuals of the human species this is only possible when they develop some functional consistency, which identifies them as a part of a group. In humans the instincts that bring animals together are developed in something different – the concept of society and this is why the self emerges as way to connect all the experience and the knowledge not only of the individual but of the group itself.

Psychoanalysis studies the stages of the personal development and the unconscious mind and never considers the self as a coherent structure. The self is being developed throughout the whole life but in a way it never actually exists. The self is still the middle ground between the internal unconscious desires and the social norms. It is a function or a process developed to hold together the image of oneself, the drives and the restrictions, but during the analytical process it is being questioned over and over again in a way similar to the meditation.

The question about the existing of the self is essential not only for the personal wellbeing, but for the society as well. Questioning authorities is easy, but questioning our own minds is the ultimate challenge.

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