A human brain is able to acknowledge certain parts of itself, including its thoughts, stored memories, and emotional states, as well as its overall presence, or identity. Identity refers to the I or Me, which the brain recognizes as Self. But what is ‘Me’, really? Is it my personality? Is it what I appear to be, or who I feel I am? Is it what I say I am? Is it what I do? Does my identity change over time, or stay the same? Consider that ‘Self’, what we refer to as ‘Me’, is a composite of the experiences accumulated in the brain from the time we acquire language, at about age two, to the present. When we unexpectedly catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror, we are often shocked to see something very different from what we feel is ‘Me’, our inner self. Although our knowledge and experience gradually changes with age, including normal psychological adjustments and transformations, we perceive our inner self to be singular, unique, independent. This perception of self, or ‘Me’, remains essentially the same throughout our lifetime. But we also build experiences and memories around familiar themes. Much of life involves repeated behavior that follows simple routines. Is this enough to cause the illusion of a coherent, persistent identity? We spend all of our lives inside our brain, much of it thinking about what matters to us. Suppose there are feedback loops within our conscious brain recurrently oscillating and echoing along familiar pathways, triggering memories that reflect critical lifetime experiences, revealing our most persistent attitudes, hopes, fears and desires. If so, these selected memories, supported by innate character traits, are being constantly reinforced, creating the unique perception of inner self.
A Collection of Writings on Nature, Science, and Art by John Holland