Is the Self an Illusion?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

What is it

Most of us think it’s obvious that we have a self, but famously, both Buddhism and British philosopher David Hume are skeptical that such a thing exists. What in the world could it mean to deny that the self exists? Could ‘the self’ just refer to a series of perceptions and feelings we have over time? If so, then whose perceptions and feelings are they? Is there any way Buddhism could have influenced Hume’s thinking on the illusory nature of the self? The philosophers question their selves with Alison Gopnik from UC Berkeley, author of "How David Hume Helped Me Solve My Midlife Crisis."

Comments (2)

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, February 2, 2020 -- 12:36 PM

The concept (or notion) of

The concept (or notion) of self is, to my thinking, synonymous with something called consciousness. There are those who question that as well, perhaps because there is no means (currently) of measuring it. Philosophy has no real estate on this matter, because it is all too theoretical and, well, slippery to get a handle on.. Hume and other early thinkers had not the beginnings of technological knowledge upon which to even begin a discussion of something so potentially profound. So, most, if not all of them, avoided any position on the matter---eschewed the topic as ineffable, as so it was. It seems unlikely to me that people like David Hume would have given Buddhism a second thought: too ethereal and, as such, inaccessible. Nowadays, there are a number of folks who have tried to explain consciousness---some of them highly respected. Mostly, their efforts have met scorn, disbelief, or worse, jealousy. I suspect many of them rue the day that they became interested in this philosophic tar baby. We are still light years away from a coherent approach to understanding the self; or consciousness; or whatever you wish to call this mystery which is odorless, colorless, tasteless and senseless. Seems to me. One possible, though tentative, avenue may lie with AI. I cannot begin to imagine how that could work---it is just a hunch.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, February 11, 2020 -- 11:16 AM

Every now and then, I am

Every now and then, I am moved to write something that is not immersed in a philosophical context. This is not one of those times. In the view of some, I may be standing still. That might be true. But, at least I am still standing. As a wiser man than I once told me: you have to stand for something, or else you will fall for anything. Over the ensuing forty-odd years, I have found that counsel impeccable.


Alison Gopnik, Professor of Psychology Uuniversity of California Berkeley


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