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Q: self or no-self that is the question ( Answered 4 out of 5 stars,   2 Comments )
Subject: self or no-self that is the question
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: qpet-ga
List Price: $80.00
Posted: 27 Jan 2003 15:20 PST
Expires: 26 Feb 2003 15:20 PST
Question ID: 149273
What are the concepts in regards to a sense of self/identity? Is it
only a function of the brain located in a particular area? A
hierarchical level above unconsciousness? The Buhddist doctrine of
no-self, are there similar concepts in other philosophies?
I know this is a very complex subject and might take some time to
research. A broad spectrum review of the subject and short summary
would be great. Thank you.

Clarification of Question by qpet-ga on 28 Jan 2003 06:12 PST
Hi j_philipp,
Thank you for your comment. The answer certainly is going in right
I would, however, like to get information on a number of different
views on this subject, from diverce sources.(Philosophy, Religion,
science ect.)
Good start though!
Thanks again,
Subject: Re: self or no-self that is the question
Answered By: umiat-ga on 28 Jan 2003 15:38 PST
Rated:4 out of 5 stars
Hello, qpet-ga!

This was an extremely interesting question. I tried to cover the
"concept of self" from the various angles you highlighted, including
religion, philosophy, science, and sociology. There is no doubt that
this question could turn into a major thesis paper. It is fascinating.
However, I had to limit myself a bit, before I got too carried away.
Therfore, I will leave you to sift through the following:

Buddhist Concept of "No Self"
The concept of "no self" in the Buddhist doctrine is called "Anatta."
However, various questions arise when considering this concept. If
there is ""no self, where do the Buddhist concepts of Karma and
Rebirth fit in? Who, or what, experiences these concepts? And, as a
carryover to the Judeo-Christian philosophy, if there is no "self",
what is the purpose of a spiritual life?

"The Pali Canon -- the earliest extant record of the Buddha's
teachings," lends little help, for it does not even address these
questions concerning the concept of
"no self." In fact, the Budhha himself refused to entertain the
question of whether there was an existence of "self," explaining that
"to hold either that there is a self or that there is no self is to
fall into extreme forms of wrong view that make the path of Buddhist
practice impossible."

 Though many try to analyze the Buddha's non-response to the question
of "self," their interpretations can be regarded as misguided. The
Buddha regarded this question under the category of "those questions
that should be put aside." "Why? No matter how you define the line
between "self" and "other," the notion of self involves an element of
self-identification and clinging, and thus suffering and stress. This
holds as much for an interconnected self, which recognizes no "other,"
as it does for a separate self. If one identifies with all of nature,
one is pained by every felled tree. It also holds for an entirely
"other" universe, in which the sense of alienation and futility would
become so debilitating as to make the quest for happiness -- one's own
or that of others -- impossible. For these reasons, the Buddha advised
paying no attention to such questions as "Do I exist?" or "Don't I
exist?" for however you answer them, they lead to suffering and

Read "Anatta: The Concept of No Self in Buddhism," by Thanissaro
Bhikkhu at

According to Buddhist doctrine, those who harbor a sense of self often
tend to see themselves as separate from the rest of the world:

 "When we divide our experience into self and world, we see ourselves
as "here" (with a corresponding interior world) and the world "over
there" - outside and around us. We see our lives as a series of
interactions between the outside, "the objective world," and our
interior subjective world."

 To be free of self, in the Buddhist sense, means to become the
experience, rather than to relate the experience to self.

 "When we understand that self is selfless, then our ground, our
starting point, is the activity of relating. We arise from the unity
of relating, we dissolve into the unity of relating. We don't need to
"figure things out." When we don't separate, we don't need to
interpret. When we don't attach, we don't suffer. Peace of mind does
not come from being clever or intelligent, merely awake. The simple
path to clarity is to dissolve our self into relating."

Read "Self and No Self." Dharma Talk. Albuquerque Zen Center (April
2000) at

Ayurveda and Self

 Ayurveda defines Self as the "inner dimension of our nature." Self is
extremely important in Ayruvedic philosphy:

 Self comprises "the central point of our being, the hub of the wheel.
It is the true inner center of our diversified lives. Thought,
feelings, speech, action, and relationships all originate here, deep
within the personality. The whole person-and the whole field of
interpersonal behavior-can be spontaneously enhanced by the process of
self-referral, or looking within to experience the Self. This is
analogous to the natural process by which all the branches, leaves,
flowers, and fruit of a tree can be simultaneously nourished and
enlivened by watering the root."

 In Ayurveda, it is considered extremely desirable to be in direct
contact with one's self:
 "The Self can be directly experienced. Those who do experience it
find it to be deeply peaceful, yet a reservoir of creativity,
intelligence, and happiness that spills over into all phases of

Read "Basis For Ayurvedic Philosophy - The Concept of Self." Holistic at

Bahá'í Faith and Self

 The Bahá'í Faith has two primary concepts of "self," either positive
or negative. . Some of the negative references to the self are
described as follows:

the satanic self
the darkened self
the prison-cage of self
the shadows of the valley of self
this fire of self
the Satan of self
the tomb of self
the idol of self
the bondage of self
the veil of self
the treacherous hand of self
the dust of self
the wall of self
the clay of self

 When self is used in a positive light, "it is almost always
qualified," as in:

his inmost true self
thy proper self
the higher self (`Abdu'l-Bahá)

 The importance of the distinction between the two types of self is
best summarized by the following:
 "Given these terms, we can now define "self" more precisely: self, as
negatively referred to in the Writings, is our immanent self, our
particular self. It is the self which has a name, and is distinct from
every other self. In this station, we are separate from others; we can
look at someone and say, "That is not me". We can also prioritize the
desires of our self above those of the selves of others, since the
desires of others will not aid our own self."

 "Just as with the Manifestations of God, there is also a "higher
self" that we all participate in, a station by which all human reality
is essentially united: the transcendent self. In this station, we are
all leaves of the same tree, rays of the same Sun, flowers of the same
garden. The desires of another are coequal with my own desires, since
they are the desires of one reality. It does not matter, for example,
if "I" perform a certain service, or "another" does it; in both cases
in is "a servant" who has performed it, and since this is the
transcendent reality of human beings, in fact there is no difference
in who did it. Ego does not have authority on this plane, nor can it
claim anything for itself."

Read "The concept of self and the Kitáb-i-Íqán."

An Astrologer's Concept of Self

 There is a notion of self that places ultimate importance on "self
image" as the primary determinant of what one is to become in life:

 "Your self-image is the cause of everything that happens to you. If
you truly believe that you are noble, you will live a noble life. If
you think like a beggar, you will live accordingly. Nothing is so
important to you as the concept you hold of yourself."

 It is important that we discover our own self image through
experience and the guidance of wise teachers. Rather than be content
to adopt a "self image" decided for us by our families, our peers, and
our society, it is important to allow ourselves to "give birth to
[our] own original idea" of ourselves.

 We must remember that "all of the millions of stars in the heavens
above are a poem, a song, a psychodramatic mystery all saying the same
thing --- that every star is an ever-living fire, wild and alive in
the void, poised in a mystery endless and divine --- and every man and
woman are exactly the same as every star. Each star has a right to
exist and to create what it deems best, and so do you."

Read "Your concept of yourself," by Robert Tkoch, (Astrologer since
1970) at

The Social Concept of Self

 The sense of one' self is a concept that develops and matures through
childhood and adolescence, until it becomes relatively stable:

 At an early age, a child will often determine their self concept
based on daily or weekly events. As the child ages, the ability for
abstract thought allows them to pull on experiences, "assembling the
evidence".... and "put it all together - all they have heard, seen,
felt, been afraid of and been been proud of. They use this accumulated
experience to determine their place."

 Early influences on the development of a child's sense of "self" come
primarily from the parents at a young age. Soon, the teacher's
influence may come into play. Lastly, a child's peers become the most
important influence on developing a sense of self. "From 9 or 10 years
on it is what other children think that exerts the strongest force on
a child's beliefs about themselves."

 Outside influences are not the only determinants of self-concept. A
child's temperament is also important:

 "Some children are just 'born' optimistic, or pessimistic, or
indecisive. Because of this they are more likely to believe they are
good, or bad, or to be uncertain. When the evidence from what a child
experiences is mixed and ambiguous, their underlying temperament can
also influence what they finally believe about themselves."

Read "Self Concept and Self Esteem." ChildDreams Pty Ltd. (modified
May 2002) at

 "The self in scientific writings is generally seen as socially
constructed and this idea of social construction or cultural
production of the self is very important as foundation understanding
concerning the relationship between the individual and their society."

From "A Brief Overview of the Concept of "The Self." Master of
Midwifery Website
University of Southern Queensland at

Locke (1694) expounded on the Western concept of the development of
self as being tied to the continuity of self-consciousness. Locke
defined a person as:

 "a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and
can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different
times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is
inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it....
For since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that
which makes every one to be what he calls self, and thereby
distinguishes himself from all other thinking things; in this alone
consists personal identity, i.e. the sameness of a rational being: And
as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past
action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is
the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self with this
present one that now reflects on it, that action was done.

Read "On Becoming a Person," by John Barresi. Philosophical
Psychology, 1999, 12, 79-98. at

Confucianism and the Concept of Self
 Confucianism also share the concept of "no self." Rather, the self
exists only to the extent that it strives to "take the form of
understanding how one is to achieve {the Confucian} virtues."

 "If one had no selfish motives, but only the supreme virtues, there
would be no self. If he serves selflessly, he does not know what
service is [does not recognize it as service]. If he knows what
service is, he has a self [to think] only of parents but not of
yourself is what I call no self." (Zoku Kyuo dowa [Kyuo’s Moral
discourses continued], 1835)

 "Hiroshi Minami, another writer on Confucian thought, notes that
"[the concept of no-self] is identical with the spirit of
service-above-self, where every spontaneous impulse is rejected as

 In Confucianism, it is necessary to strive to develop a host of
virtues, and thus, the "the self can never be static." In Confucian
thought, a human being is born only with the potential to become one.
"In other words, at birth, being human is no different from being an
animal. The true human condition is achieved in life, if indeed it is
being achieved, through the practice of the virtues."

Read "The Concept of "Self" in Confucian Thought," by D. Klemme.
Unification News.
(August 1999) at

Concept of Self from Rene' Descartes

 According to Descartes,the definition of self is as simple as his
famous quote: "I think, therefore I am."

 Therefore, our conscious sense of self exists as long as our brain is
in use."From this standpoint, one could argue that the more you think
about your self, the stronger its existence."

Read "The Concept of Self,"by Josh Buckner.

An analysis of some thoughts on Self from the writings of Walker Percy

 The concept of self is "is ambiguous and elusive," according to an
analysis of Walker Percy's, "A Short Quiz."
 "Walker Percy's main implication is that the self cannot be
conclusively defined. Or to put it another way, it can be defined in
an infinite number of ways, but none of which are fully conclusive. As
Percy points out, this can be very troubling because we have been
ourselves for our entire lives, "you have spent a lifetime with
yourself, live in the Century of the self, and therefore ought to know
yourself best of all."(Percy 12) He conveys the idea that we really
don't know ourselves at all. Percy gives a few examples of this
phenomenon. We can identify ourselves with the horoscope of any
astrological sign. There are sixteen theories of the personality, and
no one seems to be any more insightful than another. Not many people
study ancient theories of physics while Plato is just as likely to be
studied as Carl Jung. "If you answer that the study of the human
psyche is in its infancy, remember then this infancy has lasted 2,500
years and, unlike physics, we don't seem to know much more about the
psyche than Plato did."(Percy 12) We sometimes don't recognize our own
voice or even our own appearance. We can claim that another person has
certain characteristics to a certain degree while he can identify
ourselves with both of two extremely contradictory groups of
qualities. The conscious is defined radically diversely by religion,
science, and philosophy, and there are wide varieties of definitions
within these categories."

Read "The Concept of Self," by Josh Buckner.

Medical Science and the Sense of Self

 The right frontal lobe of the brain appears to determine much of our
"sense of self"
according to a study authored by Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the
University of California, San Francisco. Research shows that the right
frontal lobe "appears to govern personality, including one's
religious, social and political beliefs, and even style of dress."

 This is quite interesting, in lieu of the other philosophies
surrounding the concept of self.

 "We think of our "self," including our beliefs and values and even
the way we dress  as something we determine, not just an anatomical
process," says  Miller. "But this research shows that one area of the
brain controls much of our sense of self, and damage to that area can
dramatically change who we are."

Summary of the Concepts of Self

There is no "self" - As seen in Buddhism and Confucianism

"Self" is defined as the "inner dimension of our nature." - Ayurveda

There are two types of "Self" - Positive and Negative -  Bahá'í Faith

Our own concept of "self" determines our role is in life - Astrology

Self is evident by the mere act of thought - Philosophy (Descartes)

"Self" is an identity developed through self-awareness and interaction
with role models, peers and society - Western Science and Sociology

Self may be primarily determined by the anatomical processes of the
brain - Medical Science

What better way to conclude this summary of the different concepts of
"self" than by the following quote

 "Different cultural experiences have all produced conceptions of
self. This fact alone points to the human quest to understand what
exactly it is that we are. Each of the conceptions of self thus
produced can be seen not as simply different, but as different
perspectives of the same reality. Since the human self is by many
understood to be more than flesh and electrical impulses, perhaps the
diversity of such conceptions also points less to ignorance than to
the complexity of the human being."

From "The Concept of "Self" in Confucian Thought," by D. Klemme.
Unification News.
(August 1999) at

 Thank you for such a fascinating journey. If I can provide further
clarification, or any of the links fail to work, please let me know!


Google Search Strategy
+Buddhism +no self
+concept of +self  
+brain +sense of +self
Western thought and concept of self
+Religion and +self

Clarification of Answer by umiat-ga on 28 Jan 2003 15:44 PST
Please excuse a "missing link."

 The information under the heading , "Medical Science and the Concept
of Self" came from the article, "Finding One's 'Self': Damage to Brain
Lobe Changes Personality, Study Finds," by Willow Lawson. ABC

Request for Answer Clarification by qpet-ga on 28 Jan 2003 20:02 PST
Hi umiat-ga,
A lot of great information here, thank you. You have covered most of
what I was looking for(about 80%), however, I would like to have some
more information on different viewpoints from the field of
science.(Neuroscience, evolutionary science for example).

Clarification of Answer by umiat-ga on 29 Jan 2003 09:08 PST
Thank you for your clarification, qpet!

I hope I have touched sufficiently on the other points you wanted to

Evolutionary Theory and the Concept of Self

  The "sense of self" separates human beings from the rest of the
animal kingdom. Humans have the unique capacity to relate not only to
the "here and now," but to the past and the future.

 Although a chimpanzee may have the capacity to relate to the
present,"it does not have any autobiographical understanding of its
past self; nor can it anticipate its own future self as humans can."
This concept has also been referred to as the "extended self."

Read "On Becoming a Person," by John Barresi. Philosophical
Psychology, 1999, 12, 79-98.

 The recognition of oneself as an "original entity" is essential to
the concept of "self," and is an evolutionary advancement that
separates humans from animals. "We can put ourselves in the future or
in the past. We can visualize our commute tomorrow and can recall our
commute from this morning."

Read "Q & A: Julian Keenan.Insight Online (4/15/2002) at

 The "mirror recognition test" is commonly used to show the
distinction between humans and animals in their ability to recognize
"self." Though orangutans, gorillas and even elephants have passed the
mirror test and are clearly able to recognize themselves, their "sense
of self" is still not the type of "extended self" that humans possess.

 The fact that self-recognition is tied to a mature level of brain
function is evidenced by the confusion of very young children when
they look in the mirror. It seems that babies cannot recognize
themselves independent of their mothers.

 "Human infants, in fact, seem somewhat confused by mirror images
until about the age of 18 months, leading development psychologists to
suggest very young babies tend to see themselves and their mothers as
part of the same unit."

Read "BLAB: mirror recognition in elephants - update."

Neurology and the Concept of Self

 Neurologists are becoming aware of areas of the brain that determine
one's concept of "self."

 The intimate involvement of the human brain in self identity is
evidenced by the loss of ability to recognize one's own face in a
mirror following severe brain injury. Magnetic resonance imaging has
linked the  right frontal lobe of the brain to the area where "self
concept" resides.

Read "Q & A: Julian Keenan.Insight Online (4/15/2002) at

 The direct connection of the right frontal lobe to one's ability to
recognize "self" has been tested by neurologists using
picture-morphing tests. When a photo of the individual is morphed with
a photo of a celebrity to form a composite face, patients "recognized
themselves in the picture when using their right brain; while using
their left brain, patients recognized the celebrity."

 However, does this mean that "self" resides in the right half of the

 "There is something critical in the relationship of the right
frontotemporal area to the self and self-awareness," says Alvaro
Pascual-Leone, HMS associate professor of neurology,  at Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center. "But it doesn't mean that that's where self

 "Although there may not be anything so simple as a self "center" in
the brain," says Julian Keenan, HMS instructor in neurology at Beth
Israel Deaconess Medical Center, picture-morphing studies "allow us to
add weight to the notion that some specific area or network that
includes right frontal areas has something to do specifically with
this idea of self."

Read "Right Brain Appears Quicker Than Left at Spotting Self," by
Courtney Humphries. Focus (1/26/2001) at

 The loss of the "sense of self" is often a fear of patients with
advanced multiple sclerosis. "

 "The mind is one of the most important indications of individuality.
No two people have exactly the same thoughts, emotions, personality
traits, or even soul. People guard their mental functioning closely.
However, when the cognitive problems of MS set in, {patients} may find
that they have lost hold of that which they consider to encompass

 While the physical effects of MS are hard to treat, "psychologically,
treatment is also very difficult simply because the disease attacks
the very core of the individual. How do you bandage a diminished sense
of self?

Read "Multiple Sclerosis and the Self," by Anne Frederickson. (1998)


 And a final thought about "self":  

 "Before I can even begin to wonder what I am, I must have already
realized that I am."

From "Subject and object." by M. Edey. Journal of Consciousness
Studies, 4 (5/6), 1997, pp.526-31 at

Google Search strategy
+sense of +self +humans versus animals
+neurology +sense of +self
qpet-ga rated this answer:4 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $10.00
Sorry it took me so long to get back, bussy. Thank you for your
answer- a never ending subject, but a good range of viewpoints. Thank
you for putting the extra effort into the answer!

Subject: Re: self or no-self that is the question
From: j_philipp-ga on 28 Jan 2003 00:55 PST
The Concepts of Self/Identity:

Self-consciousness (or introspective awareness) is the capability to
think about oneself; self-knowledge, self-evaluation, and
self-reference. A thought that would start with "I" would therefore
denote a concept of identity. This presupposes an entity's capability
of language -- prelinguistic self-consciousness would therefore be
non-existent or of much simpler nature.

I would like to give an illustrative example by brain surgeon and
philosopher Detlev B. Linke from his interesting German book, Das
Gehirn (The Brain). His patient is awakening and regaining
consciousness after an operation. Linke holds up a paper with the word
"Nose" on it, and asks the patient to point to her nose. In the first
phase, she will point to the word "Nose" on the paper. Regaining more
of her consciousness in the second phase, she will correct herself and
point to Linke's nose. Only in the third phase will she point to her
own nose.

Psychologists argue the distinction of "self" and "world" starts to
form when the baby realizes needs are temporarily rejected, e.g.
hunger does not automatically result in feeding.

For online resources on self-consciousness, please see:

Topic: Self-Consciousness

For an elaborate bibliography, see:

Bibliography: Self-Consciousness

I hope this helps answering the first question.

Search terms:
"detlev b. linke"
ego identity location brain
"self-consciousness" location brain
Subject: Re: self or no-self that is the question
From: umiat-ga on 31 Jan 2003 19:10 PST
Thank you, qpet! 

 Your question was a lot of fun, and very interesting. In fact, all
your questions are interesting. I'm going to really start keeping an
eye out for them!


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