The self appears to be something we create or, better yet, assemble. But I said at the outset that we are going to proceed logically. So if I am going to maintain that I and me are not the same, and that me is a later development, then it is only fair to say something about I.
Of course, there is no logical answer to the question of who/what we are. The best I can hope to do is to outline something you won’t simply reject as unreasonable, something you can accept as enough of a possibility to make it worth reading on.
With that in mind, I want to propose one assumption: the fundamental unity of life. That is admittedly a pretty big assumption, but less than has been passed down through generations as religion and spirituality. Whether we have expressed it as God, an animistic “Mother Nature” concept, a journey toward some kind of mystical union or nirvana, or even the various faces/aspects of the Divine as in Hinduism, we seem to see a unity underlying life.
I see no need to bring a deity into the picture, especially since there is nothing close to a consensus on this, but I think it would be more than arrogant to dismiss a collective thrust running through human thought through the ages. So I’ll settle for the unity of life. But with such famous and enduring ideas as the flat earth or the earth as the center of the solar system (or universe), I don’t mind padding the argument.
The prevailing scientific explanation for the birth of the universe is the Big Bang. I can’t think of anything more unitary. As far as we can determine, everything that exists came from one cosmic irruption that has been expanding and changing ever since. Of course this does not prove anything, but it makes the unity of life that much more reasonable a possibility.
Another thing to consider is the nature of life. It is possible that life is a random development, something that arose purely by accident from inanimate matter. Perhaps strict evolutionary biologists will say we have no evidence to go further than this, and I respect that from a purely scientific point of view. But it is at least equally possible that some energy animates life, that some momentum is at work.
You have to choose which makes more sense to you, but I go along with the sense of life as having momentum. At the same time, I would have to reject any idea that this momentum has any particular direction in the sense that we could know where it is headed. Even so, I would take things one step further and recall a famous philosophical principle that has been around at least since the time of the ancient Greeks: from nothing, nothing comes.
We obviously can have no idea what, if anything, existed before the Big Bang. (Interestingly, the Hindu concept of the days and nights of Brahma would be a perfect mythological fit for a universe that expands and then contracts over and over again.) But if life is not random and accidental, then there is no reason not to suggest that we can look at it as the journey of an energy or momentum that is coming alive, evolving, in the physical universe.
Alright, that was a mouthful. So let me run it by again. Instead of an elaborate creation story or myth, positing some deity with a plan, we have a simple impetus or life force that accompanies (maybe even produces) the Big Bang and then slowly takes form according to the physical reality produced by that primal event. In essence we have a creation with no predetermined end, a momentum that manifests or incarnates in the world of matter.
The only thing I want to stress before moving on is that what I am proposing is less fantastic than any standard religious account of creation. It adds life as a constituent or driving force to the scientific account of creation as we understand it, but without any plan or goal. It is a reasonable possibility that also is consistent with the most basic thrust of religious and spiritual thought through the ages.
Now that we have a starting point, we can go back to the hanging question of how I can be different from me. But I think we’ve covered a big enough chunk for now. So see how that all settles and I’ll pick up the thread in the next post.