If somebody asked “Who are you?” you’d probably start describing yourself as someone with certain qualities and flaws, you’d try to define yourself and your character as someone who was and always will be you.
But do you know that the person you take yourself to be now, is a COMPLETELY different character than the one you were at, let’s say eleven. And if 7 or more years have passed since you were eleven, you two have nothing in common. Not even your body molecules are the same.
In all probability, the only thing that stayed the same is the awareness that goes beyond the self. The observer.
“Buddhists argue that nothing is constant, everything changes through time, you have a constantly changing stream of consciousness,” – Evan Thompson, a philosophy of mind professor at the University of British Columbia, tells Quartz.
“And from a neuroscience perspective, the brain and body is constantly in flux. There’s nothing that corresponds to the sense that there’s an unchanging self.”
One neuroscience paper, published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences in July, links the Buddhist belief that our self is ever-changing to physical areas of the brain.
There’s scientific evidence that “self-processing in the brain is not instantiated in a particular region or network, but rather extends to a broad range of fluctuating neural processes that do not appear to be self specific,” write the authors of the paper.
“The standard neuroscience view is that deep sleep is a blackout state where consciousness disappears,” Thompson says.
“In Indian philosophy we see some theorists argue that there’s a subtle awareness that continues to be present in dreamless sleep, there’s just a lack of ability to consolidate that in a moment-to-moment way in memory.”
A study published in 2013 found that meditation can affect electro-physical brain patterns during sleep, and the findings suggest there could be capacity to “process information and maintain some level of awareness, even during a state when usually these cognitive functions are greatly impaired,” according to the researchers.
Buddhists believe that there’s some form of consciousness that’s not dependent on the physical body, while neuroscientists (and Thompson), disagree.
But Thompson supports the Buddhists’ view that the self does in fact exist.
“In neuroscience, you’ll often come across people who say the self is an illusion created by the brain. My view is that the brain and the body work together in the context of our physical environment to create a sense of self. And it’s misguided to say that just because it’s a construction, it’s an illusion.” says Thompson.
But what if both views are correct? What if there is a certain consciousness which is not dependant on the body and our body is a receiver for it. Take for example vision, there is certainly some form of consciousness in living things outside of us and we perceive it in many forms, in which one is vision. We receive this translated consciousness through our eyes.
This consciousness, in whatever way we perceive it, slightly affects our brain and reshapes our neural activity. But in any case, you are the one who tunes to whatever you want to receive.
So maybe, the spirit you choose to embody through any given moment in life shapes the neural activity in your brain and a certain kind of self
The self itself is just an illusion, an ever-changing illusion, but you are the magician that decides what kind of illusion you’ll make.