I came across Tim Urban blog post what makes you you?
And it was a delight. I enjoyed how he tackled this question not by simply taking us down Ontology lane by providing quotes from Aristotle to Heidegger, but by rather by narrating a series of thought experiments. It’s a lengthy post and it should be read, as any summary takes away from the pleasure of experiencing the meandering of your own thoughts, like a centipede they get nudged, probed, stretched and dropped. The two main sources that Tim heavily relied on were: The free course from Yale Professor Shelly Kagan’s http://oyc.yale.edu/philosophy/phil-176#sessions, & Derek Parfit’s book Reasons and Persons, which both now are on my reading list. Tim also teamed with Kurzgesagt to present this YouTube video on the same topic http://youtu.be/QOCaacO8wus
The post starts with 3 theories of the Self:
1) The Body Theory: Physical body and its incidentals, including Cells, bones, DNA, the pieces and/or the sum.
2) The Brain Theory: The Gray Matter inside your skull only is you.
3) The Data Theory: The Stuff inside the gray matter is only you, memories, thoughts, etc..
With each theory the holes are exposed right away. However, with series of thought experiments listed below:
A. The Torture Test
B. The Teletransporter Thought Experiment
C. The Split Brain Experiment
D. The Cell Replacement Test
E. The Body Scattering Test
As you read through the various tests, the idea of what you think you are oscillates. The interesting part as the sequence of the narrative changes while pondering the same thought experiment, your opinion on what you value most about yourself: data, brain, or body subtly shifts too.
What is my conclusion? I think when you experience the impermanence of your thoughts in successions, you are indulging in a part of you that is akin to when you are staying at a five star hotel; you are accessing your own luxury, you are just visiting this hotel, and while you are here, use the robe, order-in food, look out the window, get a message, get drunk, watch TV, have sex, and when you check-out don’t forget to thank the establishment.
All this short-lived pondering, much like the life span of a fly, leave me with vague colorful streaks, that somehow represents the slow shifting of a new perspective relative to an old perspective, and vice-versa, rummaging the space of this fleshy building like a wild young boy, and my older self is there snapping pictures from hundreds of cameras that are stringed along the interior walls. To what purpose? To celebrate the fact that we are hacking our own mind, using our own words, and then sharing a piece of you to prove we are not alone.
I think at some point we realize that we can’t crack the ceiling, we can’t be the architect, so we might as well enjoy being an interior designer.
It was an interesting read through-out, did I say interesting already?