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A life long learner. The aim is to live with experiences not dreams.
8 months ago
At some point of time we all wonder who we really are. Today I will try to tackle this eternal question in my way. We think that it is a philosophical question and is really not answerable as ‘I’ is an abstract question. It is not a real thing but a product of our mind. As a matter of fact ‘I’ is not a made up concept but the most real thing in our life if not the only real thing in our life.
If I ask you who are you then you will say I am John or Peter or whatever is your name. But if I say that no you are Tom then also you will remain the same you. You would certainly reply that off course I will be the same as my name is only a reference, I am a human being. You will be right is saying that because we are human being, in other words a biological organism, I am my body.
But why do we limit ourselves to the body. Suppose I am going in a car, then why will I not say that I am the car? That’s because when I get out of the car I am still what I am. If the car ceases to exist then also I exist. That means the thing which is me must be constant wherever I am. I am where my body is.
Or is it?
Say suppose I cut my nails and hair, am I losing some part of me? Or suppose I take something bigger, I lose my legs and arms and have a transplant of all possible organs that can be transplanted like kidney, liver, heart etc. Am I then still what I am. If you ask me then I will say I am still what I was. It would mean that those organs were mine but I was not me. That would mean that the ‘I’ is not my body as I am still there without most of it.
So if I am not the body then I must be my mind. The mind is composed of three things or we can say impulses that come to us either from the memory or our present perceptions. First is the sensation that come from our 5 senses, and then are the emotions like anger, fear, happiness, love etc and then are the thoughts which is basically blah blah blah. These three mix to form our personality.
We can consider ourselves as our mind. But these three impulses keep on changing all the time. Now I am feeling a sensation of pain because I pricked my finger with a needle, but when I stop pricking then the feeling of pain is gone. So is with the other senses. My girl friend loves me so I am feeling happy but if the next moment she leaves me then I will immediately feel sad or angry. And what to say about our thoughts, they are changing every moment. Remember we concluded that that I must be constant to be me. If I am changing as per the sensations or emotions or thoughts then how can it be me? A combination of all these three which makes our personality but it also changes with time from a baby to teenager to adult to old age. So these impulses are happening to me but I am not these impulses.
Now let me make 3 statements which we very routinely make.
I am feeling hot
I experience joy
I hear my thoughts
What is happening is that the ‘I’ is separate from the thought or emotion or the sensation. The ‘I’ is experiencing this impulse that is, ‘I’ is the observer or witness or the experiencer to these impulses. So I am neither the body nor the mind. So now we have to look somewhere else. Let’s go deeper.
Behind the mind there is another layer which we call the layer of awareness or experience. Now let us do a small thought experience. Imagine a car in your mind, it doesn’t matter if you can imagine a clear image or a blurred image, but surely you will form an image of a car. Now ask yourself these two questions:
Who sees the image?
What is the thing that sees the image?
Take a few moments and think the answer.
If I ask you who sees the image, your answer will be very simple -I see the image.
What is the thing that sees the image?- it is surely not an emotion or a sensation, nor is it a thought. The car is a thought, but what is the thing that sees the car – it is an observer or an experiencer that is experiencing the thought of a car. So the mind that is projecting the thought of a car and the thing that is experiencing that thought are not the same. The word that is commonly used for this observer or the experiencer or this awareness is consciousness. So the consciousness is the capacity to experience or the capacity to be aware of something.
Now I will touch upon the tricky part, am I my brain?
Suppose I and you physically interchange our brains. So now I am having my body but your brain, and you are having your body and my brain. Your body is experiencing my memories, experience and personality, and my body is experiencing yours. If I was given the choice who am I, then I would surely say that I am where my brain is. If both of us are put in a torture chamber then I would surely say and so would you that, torture what used to be my body that is you and not where my brain is now. The sensations will be felt by my body and your brain but not my brain and your body. So the ‘I’ resides where my brain resides.
Let’s take it a further. Suppose we don’t interchange the brain physically but only the data in the brain is interchanged. The data in the brain is just swapped between you and me. So now it is my body, my brain but your data. For you it is your body, your brain and my data. In the same torture chamber I would say and so would you that, torture my body, my brain but your data. It is the data which will be experiencing the pain and not the brain and body in itself.
Remember what we concluded before, I am constant wherever I am. As per this I am where my brain data is. So I am where my impulses and experiences are.
Let’s go a further. Now my brain data is copied in two other brains. So I am now having the same memories and experiences in 3 places, my original me and two other copies of me. Now, all three are indistinguishable, except for the physical appearances. Now all of them will say torture the other two. Though the brain data is same but the experience will be coming from the body. Or will I also experience the pain when the other two are being tortured, most likely not. As it is in the realms of science fiction till now so nothing can be said for sure.
This does not make the ‘I’ is the brain data.
Let us look at it in a different way. It can be that the ‘I’ is the product of the brain or it is carried within the brain. It is just like the body is yours but it is not you, likewise the brain is yours but you are not the brain. It is like the difference between the hardware and the software. The software cannot be the brain data because the software only processes the input data. The data must be somewhere else. The ‘I’ can be separate from the brain and the brain is only the device through which the ‘I’ manifests itself. It can be like a radio signal; the brain captures the signal and produces the output. If the brain is destroyed that does not mean that the signal is destroyed.
There are many parts of the brain that doesn’t have to do with anything consciousness, like the parts that control the digestion, heart, muscles, feeling, thinking etc. If we remove all the parts of the brain that are not necessary for the consciousness then only a small part of the brain or a small group of cells may be left that deals with it. But are those small groups of cells what we call consciousness or does it help in manifesting consciousness.
We may never know the answer as to whether consciousness is just a function of our neural structures or they are just an antenna that allows the body to connect to the consciousness.
(I am not connecting it with anything spiritual, or religious or philosophical or scientific but a logical discussion and conclusion.)