The biology of the ‘self’

Seen through the lens of contemporary biology, the ‘self’ is a pretty uncertain concept.  Compare that to the Buddhist understanding of ‘anatta’.

…maybe there is no “one” home, nobody minding the store. If so, that is because the “environment” is no more outside us than inside, part tapeworm, part bacterium, part genes, part hitchhiking retroviruses, collaborating mitochondria, and no independent, self-serving, order-issuing homunculus. Purveyors of Buddhist wisdom note that our skin doesn’t separate our organismic selves from the environment; it joins us, just as purveyors of biological wisdom know that we are manipulated by, no less than manipulators of, the rest of life. Who R we? Well, that depends on what the meaning of “who” is. Who’s left after the parasites and pathogens and other fellow travelers are removed? And after “you” are separated from your genes? “That what we call mind,” wrote David Hume, “is nothing but a heap or collection of different perceptions, united together by certain relations, and supposed, though falsely, to be endowed with a perfect simplicity and identity.”


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