Honestly I had thought this to be a boring question for a long time. Yeah, it is interesting to think about from time to time. But for the most part conversation was often trite and people just used it as a pathetic means to feel smarter.
But a few interesting concepts that were tossed my way recently really brought this question to new light. The first one being that a long long time ago, people used to think that their inner monologue was gods speaking to them. Nowadays scholars tend to scoff at that notion and laugh at it. But being introduced to that archaic strand of thinking really shook me. Up until I had heard of that example, I had been following Descartes’s theory of:
“je pense, donc je suis” or “I think, therefore I am”
This is a concept thought up by a 1600’s french philosopher who basically thought of the plot for the Matrix 400 years before the movie came out. He thought to himself, my senses lie to me all of the time…what if they are lying to me right now about everything? What if nothing that I know is real? What if I’m not real? Ahhh!!! He then settled his mind by decided that, because he, right now, is thinking. That he must be real. What his senses are picking up on might not be real. The reality that he knows might not be real. He may currently be living in the matrix. But at least he, and his thoughts, are real.
Descartes frequently likened his thoughts to a bucket of apples. He thought that in order for the whole bucket of apples, or thoughts, to be considered good. That each and every apple had to be examined for rot and that if one of the apples had rot, then none of the apples were to be trusted.
And that whole theory seemed fine and dandy to me, I was content with it. But the fact that my thoughts might not be my own really threw a wrench in their plans. Someone could potentially be controlling my every thought. I could be like a video game character. Constantly acting and making decisions that to any onlooker, could be mine. But in reality they are not, they are controlled by some cosmic hand pulling invisible strings. I know that it seems far-fetched, but it still freaks me out sometimes.
The second and much more jarring mindfreak occurred as a result of this lovely video.
If you don’t want to watch it, here is a “quick” summary:
Your brain is composed of two hemispheres and each of them controls specific processes and functions that the other has no control over. For example the left side of the brain controls all forms of communication from language to hand signals, and the right brain is capable of recognizing faces which the left is not. Another example is that the left brain controls the left side of the body while the right brain controls the left side. These hemispheres interact and communicate with each other through a nerve that can be cut. Cutting this completely separates the two and eliminates any means of communication that they have. The eerie part of this is that it also seems to eliminate any means of cooperation that they had. The separate sides of the body will begin to fight over things, such as which candy bar to choose or whether or not you should be picking something up. You can even ask the sides of the brains questions and get different results from each. Asking the subject with a split brain to”Pick up the shape that is your favorite color” can result in each hand picking up different colored shapes. There is also a famous instance of a woman who got the nerve cut as a treatment for epilepsy (which used to be common practice) and afterwards one of her hands would constantly try to kill her.
Sorry this is a complex topic and it is not easy to summarize. There are quite a few things to be curious about after learning this news but I am going to approach it in the most self-absorbed way possible! So what does this mean about me? Is there a second conscious living inside of me? Am I repressing a sad, tortured person who is only given the opportunity to act on its own once a second nerve is cut?
Honestly a lot of the evidence seems to point in that direction. But then more questions come into play, such as which of the brain hemisphere’s is really me? It is easy to assume that the hemisphere that can communicate is the real me, but why do we assume that? There is no real reason to. Both hemispheres…both people… are equally me. That is, to put it in the words of the video,”deeply creepy”. And it brings me back to the question originally posed by the title, Who am I?
P.S. I had hoped to bring some sort of new thoughts to the table instead of mindlessly babbling like the potheads that I mocked in the first paragraph. But now I fear that I ended up sounding exactly like them. So if I did, sorry!