Self and Malleability


Adapted from a 20 minute essay written in a Starbucks at 0720, inspired by a conversation at a party:

(Epistemic status:  Basically ranting and raving about concepts I don’t understand.  Feel free to tear this apart, I’m not too attached to it)

So, basically, there’s a point where you realize the “Self” as a Thing isn’t necessarily a true concept.  It’s a /useful/ concept, but it doesn’t strictly exist.  Arguably, every change in our structure is a “death” and our next moment is a rebirth, of sorts.  I’m not going to go deeply into the arguments against the Self, if you’re reading this you probably know them better than I do.  Instead, I’d like to look at the practical side of things, at least in the sense that I personally can get some value out of this, potentially.  If I reject the concept of the continuous self, what does that even mean? On a practical level, if I ever commit a crime, I am still held liable.  Despite the shakiness of the idea of continuity in my “selves”,  the actions “I” take in the past still impact “my” current decisions and “my” resource base.  Even if there is no Self, no persistent identity, the world operates on the assumption it is, giving it a /more/ than real quality in a way (comparable to the US Dollar in a way, backed more by idea than by reality).

Still, despite all this, I think there are actionable ways to act on the No Self concept.  I am sure Bhuddists and others have much better ideas in this field, but I’m not familiar with them (yet) and don’t yet want to contaminate my thought space before thinking about the problem myself.  As some may know, I believe a lot in being able to change, to put the right pieces of your experiences and being together to make a different whole (…despite being a reductionist shut up I don’t have to be consistent).  In my case, I want to please others I respect.  I also want to absolutely control most situations in my life.  I have a lot of conflicting drives, but I can switch them to a degree, and I find the switching comes easier when I abandon my self concept to a degree.  I often find myself saying “Oh, well, I guess I can’t do this thing because it’s how I am”, and sometimes (more frequently lately), I shock myself by doing much better at the thing than I self assessed.  I’ve been drifting more towards dropping the self assessment, at least phrased in such a way as “I am X” (smart, funny, angry, awkward, etc.), or “I can’t do X” (socialize well, attract people, dominate, whatever). 

This isn’t really application of the No Self concept…but I think that if I were to apply more of that, a more visceral realization that “I” am nothing but a short snapshot of a supposedly self consistent entity, I might be able to affect more drastic changes and “imprint” on myself stronger deviations as needed for various situations.  I mean, this basically comes down to a form of self-hacking.  It probably works better with more skills and more “roles” in my life to choose from so I have a greater variety of “accessories” to work with.  I mean, in a way, I’m basically just striving to be similar to the dolls in Dollhouse.  And I think that it is more plausible than most would be comfortable thinking.

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