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Lions Roar : January 2005
20 SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 and substantial, while—even though sci- entists can now correlate mental activity with electrical activity in the brain—no one proposes that thoughts, emotions, consciousness and the other mental phe- nomena are substances. So, how could the self be both substan- tial and insubstantial? We are not dis- cussing some machine with different components, some of which are made out of metal and some of which are made out of plastic. We are asking how one thing— the self—could be made up of two things that have no common basis. How could that possibly work? How could they be connected? If something is not made of any substance, what could possibly attach to it? What could hold on to it? If we now accept that the self cannot be both the body and the mind, we need to explore the possibility that it is just one or the other. What if the self is just the mind? That leads to the rather absurd conclusion that an immaterial mind could possess a material body. How would that work? A further problem with this arrangement is that if the self is just the mind, how would you know when you stubbed your toe? The body would be something outside the self, like a piece of furniture. Next, we need to ask whether the self could be just the body. This leads to the absurd conclusion that a material body could possess an immaterial mind. Also, if the self is just the body, how could it know anything, since it is the mind that knows? If the self is just the body, it also follows that a corpse would be a self. There is one more possibility that we need to look at. If the self cannot be both the body and the mind, or just the mind, or just the body, can it be something that is neither the body nor the mind? If such a self really exists, it should be observable in some way. The problem with this explanation is that no one has ever found a self that is neither body nor mind. A further problem is, again, how could such a self possess both a material body and an immaterial mind? Let’s try a different type of investiga- tion. Let’s look at René Descartes’ famous conclusion to his own investigation of haps when we experience extreme psy- chological states, we don’t think that we have multiple selves to cycle through or choose from. We think we are the same person all the time. We might have differ- ent personalities in different situations, but this is like the self putting on different clothing, not changing selves. The second characteristic is indepen- dence. We think the self makes choices; for example, we can decide to clean the house, or watch television, or go out to dinner. We don’t think that these situa- tions arise due to causes and conditions over which we have no control. The third characteristic is permanence. The self appears to be lasting or perma- nent because it feels like we have had the same self all our lives. While our bodily appearance changes, and our knowledge and experience changes, the self doesn’t seem to change. I vividly remember my father-in-law on his eighty-third birth- day saying that he didn’t feel that he was any different from when he was a child. It was an interesting comment and clearly illustrates this third characteristic. The fourth characteristic is impor- tance. Even if we don’t go around think- ing, “I need to look out for number one,” self-importance is the undercurrent of all our activity. We only have to recall what we feel like when we are stuck in traffic or cooling our heels in a doctor’s waiting room. Few of us think, “I don’t need to get to work any more than the rest of the people stuck in this traffic jam,” or, “I don’t need to see the doctor before these other patients.” In fact, we might consid- er ourselves more important than almost all the other people in the world put together! This is the way the self appears to us— as one thing, independent, lasting and important. Having discussed the way the self appears, we can begin to investigate what it really is. One way to do this is to ask ourselves some simple questions. For example, is the self the body or is it the mind? Is it both, or is it neither? Most of us would say that the self is both the body and the mind. Yet the body is something tangible