The Self Is An Illusion

Updated: Apr 8

I remember when recruiters used to ask me to tell them about "myself". It was a broken question, but there was no point in telling them that there is no rigid well-defined self. I would make up a response just to get by. They would come back with "tell us about 'your' strengths and weaknesses". This question had the same problem. It was really hard to deal with recruiters. I did not want to lecture them. They were business folks, not philosophers and psychologists. Besides, they would have gotten pissed had I lectured them. The last thing a corporate suit would want from an unemployed college student from the third world is a lecture about the malleability of the self.

The more psychology and behavioral economics I read, the clearer became the malleability of the self. You can modify pretty much all aspects of a man’s behavior and personality. You can induce and cure fear. You can cause trauma and also unfold it. I had a huge problem when I was given my last assignment in Business Policy back in 2017. It was called the Personal Planning Project. We had to come up with three core values, a mission statement, and a vision statement for life. The project was stupid to me because the self is very fluid. What people consider their core values are simply a summary of or a rationalization for their past actions. I just could not decide my core value because I had no values (no one does). I had no fixed personality, no fixed values, nor did I want to box myself into a lie. I reluctantly declared three core values to finish the project.

Right after graduation, I saw through the game. Sitting in the woods, I wondered if anything was consistent about the self. If really nothing is consistent, where is that which makes an individual an individual? Do we have to hypothesize/posit something of the nature of spirit or soul to establish existential individuality? Wait, that is a reductive idea of the self: a point of consciousness or something of similar nature that makes Roger Roger, not Kane. A year ago, in Spring 2017, I had discovered philosophy. My mind had been blown open in more ways. I wondered how an anti-reductionist would perceive the self? If the self is elicited by the situation, as we see in psychology and behavior economics, since most are driven by their situation rather than by their individual attitudes, it is the outside that is being manifested in them and their behavior. And the outside is everything. Where is the self then? And that was it. The individual is as much as everything as everything is the individual. Why do people use ‘I’? Because they have been taught so. There is no ‘I’.

Soon, I would find myself walking the trail to college slowly and softly (my friends were still in college; I had graduated 3 semesters early). I did not want to bother the woods, wondered if they liked my tresspassing. I started to become friends with them.

campus trails to Mississippi State campus
The trail connects campus trails apartments to Mississippi State's campus parking lot via a parking lot behind the Industrial Engineering building.

The reason my classmates struggled to find their core values and a mission statement was that there is no such thing as core values, because there is no core.

Years later, I recalled having watched the video below when I was 18 or 19. Sam Harris was right.

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