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The self is not a stable entity
The self is a process

Sam Harris

JLFowler 6 Dec 20

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As always, depends on your definition of "self", but if self is identity, then it is very much a process, and open to radical change.

skado Level 8 Dec 21, 2017

"not a stable entity"

wow, you can say that again !


Obviously you can learn things that can change your core self-concept (and develop your skills, get promoted at work, etc.), and in that way yes, the self is a process. That said, many aspects of the self are stable. Your demographics, genes, etc. don't significantly change. Your gender doesn't change. Before anyone tries to jump down my throat, no this is not transphobic-transgender people's brains were always the gender they publicly transition to. Aside from that, your height stops changing after adolescence. Your age constantly changes, but your demographic of age (generation) doesn't. Your skin color doesn't significantly change. Introversion/extroversion doesn't really change (even if you learn to be more outgoing/quiet). Your humanity doesn't change, even if you become a criminal, soldier, or enemy of the state. Obviously your marital status can change, but personality-wise, you pretty much know whether you'd like to be married eventually by no later than 25 (even if you despair of ever finding someone to marry). There is no solid proof that you can change your sexuality even if you are motivated to. In fact, I'd say most personality traits are pretty stable, but opinions and ignorance can change frequently.

If I understand what the poster was referring to, it wasn't so much the physical things about us, demographics, etc, but who we "are", or who we see ourselves to be. It's pretty well documented in neuroscience that our "identity" (again, not demographic pieces - race, birthplace, etc) changes pretty much ceaselessly. Think about who you would be if you had different memories... now think about the fact that memories are not static, nor dependable, but constantly changing, influenced. You never remember "AN" event... you always remember your last memory of that event, which is tainted/changed by the context that surrounds the 'remembering.'

Our identity is always changing.

I would agree that there is a continuity of self. I would say though that a lot of that continuity is our past 'selves'. I look back at my life and recognize how much I have changed yet 'I' am still recognizable. It is also extremely easy to fall back into one of those past selves even when you really don't want to. Now having said that none of us are seperable from our social context. All of us are who we are as part of our social interactions and therefore are at least somewhat changeable depending on our social interactions. Interpersonal and intrapersonal are inseparable.

@markdancer It kind of seems like you're arguing semantics. Yes, if I had different experiences, my life could have gone in a completely different direction (though it shames me to admit it, I very seriously considered seminary in high school). However, though my labels would be different based on certain changes (believer instead of agnostic, racist/sexist instead of egalitarian, unemployed instead of customer service representative, murderer instead of upstanding citizen...) my core identity would remain unchanged. I am a very introspective, introverted person who is fond of indulging in such fantasies as the books Elantris and The Way of Kings, who prefers cooperation to competition, who learns quickly but also forgets names easily, whose natural curiosity and aptitude in mathematics allows her to excel in scientific endeavors (oh, and did I forget to mention, who has no patience for false modesty but nearly infinite patience in dealing with other humans).

That said, if you could be more specific in the claim of neuroscientific documentation of the ceaseless change of identity, I would likely understand no matter how much jargon you used (I passed biopsych with like a 96 IIRC). My impression is that you are merely referring to neuroplasticity, which provides about as much support for your position as saying that a car's identity is always changing while running because the pistons are constantly moving, things are constantly exploding inside it, and it is constantly degrading from the friction generated in the presence of such a plethora of kinetic energy. On the one hand, yes, that is true, but on the other hand, the make, model, and year of production are always the same, its parts will continue to function the same way until they break, and regardless of what color paint is applied to it, it will remain the same shape.

You're right there is some semantic disagreement. I agree that we do have a kind of core 'I' which can be very difficult to truly change but the car analogy only works if you believe in the capital 'I' Individual. A car doesn't careen around bouncing off other cars or fixed objects. At least if it's going to last. We do. Our interactions with everything in the world around us are unending and in each encounter we are never the exact same person. Just as when we go to the doctor and our blood pressure is usually higher all of our interactions have subtle and not so subtle, short term and long term consequences. No I am not coming at this from a biopsych approach but any study of the 'I' Individual is inherently flawed. We are social creatures that make no sense unless studied in some kind of social context. There are some decent behavioral studies out there but are there any social interaction studies combined with brain chemistry? Oh, I just remembered the Milgram study. That's an example where people acted against what they surely believed to be their core self.

@kmdskit3 I was only saying that I don't completely agree with the original post (the Harris quote). Obviously by the broader definition of the self you used the self is in constant flux. I merely enjoy a more nuanced discussion, and therefore used my own default definition of self-personality basically, kind of the secular equivalent of the idea of a soul. I would describe the definition you used less as personality and more as the entire person, which is as much about the body as the mind.

@Jnutter819 It isn't simply semantics; although words matter. Here's one source (I didn't spend a long time looking for them) [].

Here's a better one, not from a documentation perspective, but from a demonstration perspective.

Why are there so many "self-help" books, videos, programs, etc? Why is psychotherapy so prevalent? It's because we all (ok, maybe not all; though I'd argue that it's there in one way or another) seek to change 'who we are.' It's certainly what all religions are about, and we fool ourselves if we agnostics/atheists are immune from the same basic human impulse. We want to get rid of those parts of ourselves that we don't like and 'become' who we think we like better.

I like @kmdskit3's comments about how we all "bounce" off of our social environment (probably our physical too). You said you were inclined to go to seminary in HS. I DID go to seminary and spent decades believing, practicing, teaching that stuff. In SOME ways, I still do; in other ways I don't. Am I the same person? How about relationships? How is it that people can be SO in love, experience heaven on earth, then, after years find that that other person (and themselves) are not the same; don't experience things the same, etc.

I would argue that the reason it SEEMS like we are continuous is because the changes are slow and incremental (usually, not always) and our sense of time is so limited. Our memories (see post above) are not permanent, so our perspective about ourselves (as well as those of our loved ones) is never based on memory of "the original" self, but on our memories of our memories influenced by progressing events (the 'bumps' in kmdskit3's reply above). NO ONE can "remember us as we actually were." Even old videos are reinterpreted based on current sensibilities.

If you google "does one's identity change over time" you'll find lots of articles. Here's a philosophical one that points to some of the issues at hand: [].

@markdancer The format cut off the right side so I couldn't read your whole comment with 100% certainty that I understood you correctly, but let me point out things in your post as I see them.
Self-help and psychotherapy are mostly about getting rid of bad habits. I don't mean to degrade psychology, so let me clarify: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (the most effective and widely-practiced psychotherapy; abbreviated CBT) basically notes that behavior and cognition (thinking and emotion) are intimately connected to each other. For instance, depression is often caused (or at least exacerbated) by someone getting into the bad habit of thinking along the lines of "I'm not good enough"-dwelling on flaws, impostor syndrome, misinterpreting normal behavior of others as expressions of dislike or even hatred, etc. By coaching people to eliminate these bad habits, you can significantly improve their quality of life. Much of the same goes for self help, though people tend to be less successful using self help than getting CBT.
Religions are similarly about forming good habits and eliminating bad ones (as they think them). That's why Jesus said if you hold on to anger at someone you have basically committed murder-it's basically the same idea as Yoda's "Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate...leads to suffering!" (AotC). Nip it in the bud before it blows out of proportion.
"Am I the same person?" Personality-wise, I'd say yes. You clearly still have an academically-inclined, philosophical mind. You still wish to share the wisdom you have received. Your opinion of certain philosophies has changed, and your labels have changed, but to extend the metaphor I used in my last reply @you, that's like a car getting an oil change and a paint job. You still work mostly the same way, you just run a little better and look a little nicer.
Relationships: that's basically infatuation and euphoria wearing off, followed by a negative view on your partner's flaws. That is why people often break up for the same things they originally found endearing-what originally made them seem fun is now a problem, partly because they are thinking more long-term, often because arguments/conflicts result in a temporarily negative opinion that gets reinforced by nasty or dismissive thoughts. I would again say that this is more of an opinion changing than a person changing. I'd also say it's one of those bad habits that CBT can help you drop.

First link cut off, cannot access.
Embedded video consists of labels and opinions, not anything I've defined as personality or part of "the self"
Our (habitual) behavior changes slowly and incrementally in most cases, as do our opinions, skill levels, memories, etc. Those aren't part of personality, though. Personality is composed of TRAITS. Among these are introversion and extraversion. People don't really switch from feeling energetically depleted due to social interaction to feeling energetically depleted due to a lack thereof. This is something central to personality. Similarly, the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator generally classifies people in stable ways, and I'd argue that any inconsistent results are due to either testing inaccuracy or mood changes (if you feel angry, you're more likely to say you'd blow up at someone in a hypothetical situation than if you are calm/relaxed).
The fission problem, as your (last) source calls it, sounds more like an existential crisis than an argument.
The "animalistic" view does fit with how we differentiate two people, but again, this is referring to the person, not the personality, and includes memories/history.
Schlechtman's NCSV seems flawed to me: it conflates our opinion of ourselves and the labels we internalize with our personalities. If you don't see why I have a problem with that, you haven't been paying attention lol.


The process is what makes is a living entity, doesn’t stability of the self, go against everything we know about the natural world?

Depends on the definition of self. If it's a definition that's a good synonym for personality (or the theistic idea of the soul) then no, but if it's more closely a synonym for person or being then yes.


I will pinch this quote..


Telephone poles cost $328.


Nothing like belaboring the obvious, I always say. Well, maybe not always, but I say it a lot.


Well said.

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