A man in contemplation by a lake

On the Nature of the Self

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In a spirit of philosophical enquiry intended to make us think deeply about inherited ideas, in this article I will be pushing the boundaries of what it means to have a personal identity.

The idea that I am Steven Colborne is just an impression in consciousness that comes and goes. It has no stable or lasting reality, it manifests as certain thoughts that come to my mind sometimes when God wills me to think a certain way. There is no absolute reality other than the present moment, and in the present moment there is no past or future, no identity, there is only ‘this’, ‘now’, ‘being’, ‘reality’.

The thoughts that I have about who I am often manifest in the form of memories, but in truth, the memories that I have about myself might be unrelated to what I consider to be my ‘past’. It all depends on what God wants me to believe about myself at any particular time. God could bring to my mind that I am Penelope Foxtrot, and all my memories of Steven Colborne could be gone forever, in an instant.

God is the cosmic animator, He is bringing thought impressions to our awareness which give us a sense that we have things like an age, a gender, an occupation, a political affiliation, a nationality. What are all these things? They are merely changeable thoughts, even though most people gain their sense of identity from them.

We are not what most people think we are. What is a person? What tangible thing can I point to that makes me who I am? I suppose you could say, ‘my body is what I am’. That could well be as close to the truth as one can get. But your thoughts about who you are are distinct from your body — who you are is not merely physical processes. I am not a machine powered by a brain without any discernible cause for my neurophysiological processes, which is what some materialist scientists believe I am.

We are animated, in our thoughts and actions, by a living God. Any thought that you have about your body is just a thought — it could be other than it is. Even the ideas ‘male’ and ‘female’ are just thoughts, even though physically there are bodily differences between men and women. It’s conceivable that I might think myself to be other than merely my body, perhaps believing that my bed is part of me, or that my fingers are in fact other beings.

Where is your sense of gender when you sleep? You might dream that you are a person of the opposite sex, and yet maintain your sense of ‘I’. So it would seem that you are not your body. All our ideas about ourselves disappear when we sleep. God could wake me up as Steven Colborne today and Penelope Foxtrot tomorrow. God does whatever He will.

Have you ever thought about that voice you hear in your mind when you are thinking? Have you considered what gives it its character and intonation? Imagine if it were to change to a different kind of voice, so that a male might hear their thoughts as a female, and vice versa. I’m sure this does actually happen in some people. It’s certainly conceivable that it could.

You might resist what I am arguing in this article if you have a strong attachment to what you have learned in education about what and who you are. That would be understandable, and I hope my reflections don’t make you feel angry. They might present a challenge to your personal egoic stability. Perhaps, if you are angry, God may open your mind a little, and you may see that it’s possible to understand who and what you are in a slightly different light.

In this article, I have mentioned the word ‘mind’. But what is a mind? And as a related question, what is a soul? Tell me, what is your definition of a mind? What are its characteristics? Does it have physical characteristics? Does it have spiritual characteristics? Or is there no such thing — is it actually a myth that there is an entity that is the mind? Has anyone ever been able to coherently define what a soul is?

I believe that what I am is pure consciousness, focused by God through a human being’s body. God is reality, and we are all contained within His being, like separate branches of the same tree. We are not our brains, and there is evidence for this in the fact that God remembers things without having a brain. Surely it would be absurd to posit that God has a brain, so why do we think our memories and thoughts are somehow connected with our brains?

That’s quite enough metaphysical speculation for today. I will certainly close comments for this post, as I fear I could be opening up a metaphorical (and metaphysical) can of worms. But I ask you to consider these ideas for yourself.

I have written several books which explore the concept of self in greater depth. For those who are new to my work, I recommend The Philosophy of a Mad Man, which is currently available for free — visit my books page for details. Thank you for reading.