A podcast fan named Chuck asked if we could have a podcast devoted to the concept of the “self,” or the Buddhist concept of “no self,” so here it is.
David emphasizes that there are two issues. First, can your “self” be validly judged as not good enough, as inferior or even worthless? Or, can your “self” be validly judged as more worthwhile, or even superior? And is it really true that some people are more worthwhile, or less worthwhile, than others? Do more worthwhile, or less worthwhile human beings exist?
Second, do we even have a “self?”
Fabrice talks about the history of the concept of ego. For example, Freud divided the human mind into three parts: the id, ego and superego. Do these really exist as “things,” or are they just concepts, or metaphors for talking about the mind? When you try to think about the “ego” or the “self” as a thing, that’s when you get in trouble.
David argues that if you believe that someone people are “more worthwhile” or “less worthwhile,” you’d have to define what a of worthwhile human being is. Once you define it, you can always show that your definition has one of these problems:
- It applies to all human beings, and therefore has no meaning.
- It applies to no human beings, and therefore has no meaning.
- It is inherently meaningless.
- It does not apply to you.
David and Fabrice illustrate these traps with one of the most common definitions—thinking that your worthwhileness as a human being depends on your achievements, productivity, or success. They conclude that can only judge specific thoughts, feelings, or behaviors as more or less worthwhile, but there’s no such thing as a more or less worthwhile human being.
Next, they raise the question, “Does the ‘self’ exist?” And “What is the self?” David argues that the notion is nonsensical, or that there is no such “thing” as a “self.”
Although the discussion in today’s podcast is philosophical, and may go over the heads of some people, it has practical importance because most people who are struggling with depression and anxiety do believe that they are “not good enough,” and that their “selves” are somehow defective or flawed. Letting go of this notion can help to speed recovery, as well as what the Buddha referred to as “enlightenment.”
David expressed the hope that we may be able to return to this theme in future podcasts and perhaps find ways of making these potentially healing and liberating concepts more understandable! These concepts can take time to grasp, so be patient with yourself.
* * *
October / November / December 2018–
Cool Workshops for You!
TEAM-CBT Methods for the Treatment of Relationship Difficulties
Step by Step Training for Therapists
by David Burns, MD and Jill Levitt, PhD
Sunday October 28th, 2018 (9 am-4 pm PST)
Live in Palo Alto plus online streaming
Learn how to reduce patient resistance and boost motivation to change. Master skills that will enhance communication skills and increase intimacy with loved ones. This workshop will be highly interactive with many case examples and opportunities for practice using role plays.
Join us for a day of fun and inspiring learning on site in Palo Alto
OR online from anywhere in the world.
Learn from David and Jill–a dynamic teaching duo!
6 CE*s. $135
To register, go to the Feeling Good Institute
or call 650-353-6544
* * *
Rapid Recovery from Trauma
a two-day workshop
by David D. Burns, MD
October 4-5, 2018–Pasadena, CA
November 1-2, 2018–Woodland Hills, CA
The November workshop includes Live Streaming
if you cannot attend in person)
For further information, go to http://www.IAHB.org
or call 1-800-258-8411
* * *
TREAT ANXIETY FAST–
Powerful, Fast-Acting, Drug-Free Treatment Techniques
that Defeat Anxiety & Worry
a 2-day workshop by David D. Burns, MD
November 29 and 30, 2018–San Francisco, CA (in person only)
December 3 and 4, Portland, Oregon (in person and live streaming)
PESI is proud to offer an exciting workshop by David Burns, M.D., a pioneer in the development of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Achieve rapid and lasting recovery with all your anxious clients, just as Dr. Burns has done in over 35,000 therapy sessions with severely troubled clients. Become skilled at treating every type of anxiety without drugs.
In this unique 2-day certificate course you’ll master more than 20 treatment techniques to help your clients eliminate the symptoms of anxiety quickly – even your most challenging, resistant clients.
Dr. Burns will illustrate concrete strategies that provide rapid, complete recovery and lasting change for your patients. You’ll learn…
- How to integrate four powerful treatment models to eliminate symptoms.
- How to enhance your client’s engagement in therapy.
- How to develop a treatment plan that specifically targets each client’s unique problems and needs.
- …and so much more!
David will provide you with guided instruction and share powerful video sessions that capture the actual moment of recovery. You will take away practical strategies to use immediately with any anxious client. Leave this certificate course armed with tools you can use in your very next session!
Don’t miss this opportunity to learn from one of America’s most highly acclaimed psychiatrists and teachers!
Hi David and Fabrice,
Thanks a lot for doing a podcast on this topic. It is really fascinating to me. I was a Christian all my life and I think for me, religion was not very healthy. I believed of course I had a self, it was called my soul and my body was just a temporary house for it. I also learned that my worth depended entirely on God. If I accepted Jesus as my savior, He redeemed me from my sin and made me a worthwhile person. That is all fine and good, but what about all the people that don’t accept Jesus? The fact that they were apparently worthless always bothered me. And then when I started to lose my faith, I thought that since God did not seem to be there any more, I had lost the only thing that gave me worth. Luckily, I found your book Feeling Good, which taught me that we are all worthwhile – or all worthless, it doesn’t really matter! It is still hard for me to cast off that lifetime of indoctrination, especially because I still go to church regularly because it is so important to my family. I am sure not all Christians feel the way I do and maybe I misunderstood everything, but the things you and Fabrice had to say about the self and self-worth are very healing for me. Also, thanks for addressing my relationship question in your recent podcast. My wife and I are doing a lot better and I am trying to break the ice and generate discussion by taking the first step and sharing my feelings.
Thanks, TJ. I appreciate your thoughtful comment and believe me, I get it! I totally grasp what you’re saying, and see things in much the same way. i think that this kind of dialogue might be rather threatening or disturbing to some religious individuals. I think it can be so hard, at first, to have our cherished beliefs challenged. My Dad, a minister, did not seem especially open to challenges of his thinking, although he was very successful and I think did a lot of good for may people. But it just boggles my mind how people want to look down on others in the name of this or that religion! But feelings of moral superiority (and hatred, too) can be incredibly addictive, maybe like a drug. I’ll forward your kind comments to Fabrice. I appreciated your note, also, because I was not sure we’d done a very good job in the podcast, especially in the “no self” segment. probably will do a bit more in the future, and also a good bit on this in one of the sections in my new book. Warmly, david
Great Poscast guys! I listened to it twice and will probably listen a few more times to let it sink in more. It’s funny how we think if we have all the status and material things then we are ‘better’ than others. Baloney!
Also, loved Fabman’s story about the transporter to Mars. Heavy stuff!!
Thanks, Phil, will forward to FabMan. Glad you liked it! d
There is a video game called SOMA which deals with that concept of the transporter (although in this case it was a digitized “consciousness” that was being transferred first from human to computer, and then from robot body to robot body in a postapocalyptic world. It was really engaging but also quite terrifying.
Sounds like a great game. And when the human mind can be digitized, look out! Things may get pretty weird! d
Hi David and Fabrice,
Thank you for all your hard work on the podcast. I listen faithfully to each one and even after many years of learning from your work and using TEAM as a therapist, I still pick up useful tidbits.
I wanted to give some feedback on the “no self” podcast. For me, the clearest explanation came from David’s comment to the effect of “I’m not a psychiatrist, because there’s no such thing. I’m a person trained in psychiatry” (not an exact quote but captures the gist of it).
My take on the “no self” is that there is no “self” because “self” is a concept, not a thing. Just like in TEAM where we need a concrete moment in time to work from – because that is REAL – rather than working from a concept like “depression” or “low self-esteem”. Our brains can easily get fooled by concepts, thinking they are real things when they are just communication shortcuts. That’s my take, anyway!
Warm thoughts to you both,
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Hi Karin, That seems like a clear and elegant way to put it! Very cool! Thanks. david, the “non-shrink!”
Still, does the fact that it’s a concept mean that it doesn’t refer to anything real? I am a real person, a physical body with a brain that produces a consciousness. I have experiences, thoughts and memories and relations with other people, all of which are changing yes, but they tend to do so gradually. If this is what we mean by the concept “self”, in what way is it not real or even nonsensical?
Great question. I agree and understand what you say when you say you have thoughts, feelings, memories, and so forth, and that they all change from moment to moment. When you say, “in addition, I have a “self,” then I’m lost again, and have no idea what you’re talking about. But again, there’s no reason for you to want or need me to grasp what you’re saying, especially if you’re happy with your understanding of things. d
I guess “self” as I see it is simply an umbrella term for that collection of things (thoughts, feelings, memories). It is not something that is in addition to those things. Like the word “house” refers to a collection of stones and other materials arranged in a certain way. The house does not exist in addition to those stones and materials, simply a shorter way of describing it.
I’m not sure if I’m happy with my understanding as I think what you are pointing at, and what Buddha is pointing at, is that this idea/understanding of self is a source of suffering. And somehow I can feel the truth in that, and I would like to suffer less, but trying to grapple the idea of “no self” in an intellectual way is obviously not the way to go for me. So I would like to come to the same understanding that you seem to have if that means less mental suffering and more feelings of peace and acceptance 🙂 (I wish I lived in the US so I could come to one of your groups or hikes, it sounds awesome).
I hope to not take more of your time. Thank you for the discussion anyway even if it has not produced understanding in me yet, your thoughts are appreciated.
You said: “I guess “self” as I see it is simply an umbrella term for that collection of things (thoughts, feelings, memories). It is not something that is in addition to those things. Like the word “house” refers to a collection of stones and other materials arranged in a certain way. The house does not exist in addition to those stones and materials, simply a shorter way of describing it.”
That is an excellent way of putting it! The word, “house,” is just a convenient way to refer to the physical arrangement of bricks, glass and so forth where we live. It is not some metaphysical “essence” that exists on its own somewhere within the structure.
The same is true of the word, “self,” or “personality.” These things are not metaphysical “essences” that could “exist” or “not exist.” So if I invite you to come for a Sunday hike this coming Sunday, and you say you are coming, I have all the information I need. I do not need to ask, “Will you also be brining your “self”? That question has no meaning.
For the relief of suffering, this is, as you say, not the best way to go about it. Suffering exists because of the distorted negative messages we give ourselves at specific moments in the real world. That’s why I always insist on focusing on one specific moment when you, or any person, was upset. All of your suffering, and all of the solutions, will be embodied in that one brief moment. d
The background on all of this is that Aristotle thought that nouns referred to pure concepts that could exist in some alternate reality. So, to him, the word table had a perfect pure meaning, of “tableness,” and all “real” tables were just imperfect versions of that pure perfect concept. This was, of course, nonsensical thinking, but apparently he did “get it,” so he got carried away, and many or even nearly all philosophers who followed got similarly confused, or “hypnotized” by this type of enchanted thinking. Words like “soul” or “self” or “character” or “personality” are just place-holders, or “umbrellas” as you put it, and they are a kind of short-hand for certain accumulations of similar behaviors, for example. So, when we say, “she has a bubbly, outgoing pesonality,” we are not saying that she “has” something, simply that she tends to behave a certain way, on average, in social situations.
But because we don’t know the real causes of most behaviors, we comfort ourselves with fake causal theories. For example we say, “she acts really bubbly and friendly because of her outgoing personality.” But that is not a real explanation; its more like being redundant, saying the same thing in two different ways, thus pretending to “know” something. But if fact, we don’t know the factors that influence our behaviors and feelings of self-confidence in social situations. Genetics may play a role, experiences may play a role, and so forth. d
Thank you once again, and I’m happy to see we have gotten to more of an understanding. I definitely would agree that looking at the self as some kind of metaphysical essence is/seems nonsensical (and as I am an atheist I do not believe in a metaphysical “soul” either).
I guess the point is that our actions, memories and behaviours do not define us, at least not fully. It’s perhaps a grey area. A single or relatively few negative behaviours or traits don’t have to define “who we are”. But when we engage in negative or hurtful behaviours too regularly, this will start to shape how we are perceived as a person, and also how we perceive ourselves and it will start to influence other aspects of our being. Or perhaps I should say, our negative thoughts about our actions influence how we perceive ourselves!
Personally I know I tell myself way too often that I’m “not good enough”, or that “I’m an idiot” when I make a mistake even though rationally thinking and looking at my actions and behaviours, they are on balance not particularly worse than any other random person. But I find there is still a difference between rationally knowing something and believing/feeling it.
If I may give a specific example, I recently broke up with my girlfriend of 1.5 years. Now that it has happened and I’m looking back, I regret it and I feel that “I’m an idiot” for letting her go and also feeling guilty and like a “bad person” for hurting her by leaving her and doubting my feelings for her. I also engage in catastrophising about the future like “now I will never meet someone as good again” or “I will never have a family”. I was never “good with women” when I was younger (I am 41 now) and somehow I feel that I have made myself believe that “that is who I am” which then in turn makes me rather anxious about my dating prospects.
I wish I took action against that when I was younger as I feel it has caused me a lot of suffering in my life. As you say, probably all of my suffering would be encapsuled in this moment of regretting my breakup.
I heard you talk about when you were younger you basically got yourself coached by a guy who knew what he was doing with women. That was very smart of you! I think many young men just don’t know what they are doing in that aspect, they don’t really get taught by their parents or wider culture anymore either (just nonsense Hollywood/Disney depictions of romance which have little to nothing to do with reality) and it leaves many of them really in a bad spot when it comes to relationships (and actually leaves young women in a bad spot too when looking for suitable partners).
Apologies for going off on a tangent there, but it’s something I feel strongly about.
Many thanks again for your thoughtful responses and all the best!
Thanks, you’re making great progress in understanding this! You write: “Personally I know I tell myself way too often that I’m “not good enough”, or that “I’m an idiot” when I make a mistake even though rationally thinking and looking at my actions and behaviors, they are on balance not particularly worse than any other random person. But I find there is still a difference between rationally knowing something and believing/feeling it.”
I am not totally in agreement on what you said here. You don’t “rationally know” that the negative thought is distorted and not valid when you are feeling upset. The moment your belief in these thoughts drops to zero, your feelings will instantly change. What we believe and feel are 100% in sync 100% of the time. But it often takes a while to learn how to crush the thoughts that trigger our negative feelings. And I describe many of these techniques in my books and podcasts, like the two podcast on 50 techniques in 50 minutes. There are well over 100 techniques, like the Double Standard Technique. Would you talk the same way to a loved one or friend who goofs up? Would you say, “you’re an idiot”? If not, why not? What WOULD you say, and would you be willing to talk to yourself in the same way you’d talk to a beloved friend.
Of course, youi’d have to do Positive Reframing first, and see all the really GREAT reasons to belittle yourself with bullying and mean-spirited self-criticisms.
By the way, your mistakes and shortcoming could NEVER upset you. Only your distorted thoughts can cause feelings of inadequacy, depression, and so forth. And it is ONLY when you generalize to your (non-existent) “self” that you feel upset. I made a mistake–that thought cannot upset you in the same way, because you’re not imagining you have some “self” that is second-rate. But when you say, “I’m an idiot” or hatever, now you are attacking your “self.” And that’s the long and short of it.
You write: “I guess the point is that our actions, memories and behaviors do not define us, at least not fully. It’s perhaps a grey area.” To my way of thinking this is not a gray area. Our actions reflect what we DO and not what we ARE, and we are 100% accountable, not 100% defined, or any percent defined, by our ACTIONS. For example, homicide investigators, and the courts as well, focus on what the man who committed the murderer DID and not what she or he WAS or IS.
When you tell yourself that “I’m “not good enough,” you are imagining you have some ideal “self” that is the same as what you SHOULD be. To me, that is all nonsensical, and almost a kind of escape from responsibility. I screw up constantly, and try to learn, as it’s all good, useful information.
“If I may give a specific example, I recently broke up with my girlfriend of 1.5 years. Now that it has happened and I’m looking back, I regret it and I feel that “I’m an idiot” for letting her go and also feeling guilty and like a “bad person” for hurting her by leaving her and doubting my feelings for her. I also engage in catastrophising about the future like “now I will never meet someone as good again” or “I will never have a family”. I was never “good with women” when I was younger (I am 41 now) and somehow I feel that I have made myself believe that “that is who I am” which then in turn makes me rather anxious about my dating prospects. I wish I took action against that when I was younger as I feel it has caused me a lot of suffering in my life. As you say, probably all of my suffering would be encapsuled in this moment of regretting my breakup.”
David’s Comment: I’m sorry you’re struggling like this. To be honest, I think these are things that most people go through on the journey to finding someone to love and partner with. But it can hurt along the way. Perhaps you can see, too, that the breakup did NOT affect you at all. ALL of your pain results from you distorted thoughts, and the belief that you have a self which is not good enough, and which must be punished by your powerful negative inner self. This is actually good, because, if you want, you can learn how to crush those negative thoughts, but first you have to decide if you’d be WILLING to talk to yourself in the same loving way that you’d talk to a dear friend who broke up with someone he or she cared about.
“I heard you talk about when you were younger you basically got yourself coached by a guy who knew what he was doing with women. That was very smart of you! I think many young men just don’t know what they are doing in that aspect, they don’t really get taught by their parents or wider culture anymore either (just nonsense Hollywood/Disney depictions of romance which have little to nothing to do with reality) and it leaves many of them really in a bad spot when it comes to relationships (and actually leaves young women in a bad spot too when looking for suitable partners).
Apologies for going off on a tangent there, but it’s something I feel strongly about.
Many thanks again for your thoughtful responses and all the best!”
Thanks, yes, that did help a lot, and I agree that an awful lot of people, men and women, never learned about dating and flirting and how to handle things when you are trying to find someone to love and care about. I had to learn to “play the game” a little more, and that really helped. I was a total nurd, always trying to be “nice” and “sincere,” and it never worked! When I learned to become a little bit more of a “bad boy,” women oddly suddenly got way more interested. It was quite an interesting journey, and that’s why I wrote my book, Intimate Connections, to try to pass along what I learned.
One problem with beating up on yourself–and you’re entitled to do it if that’s what you want–is that you kind of waste a lot of energy spinning your wheels, instead of learning and growing and having more wonderful adventures with women who interest you. But your relentless self-criticisms show you have high standards, and won’t settle for letting yourself screw up, and on and on and on. So I would totally understand if you decided to keep up the negative chatter, telling yourself negative things that are actually the positive expression of your core values.
Thanks so much, we kind of graduated to a rather less metaphysical topic! All the best to you! David
Many thanks for your insightful reply. All of it rings true of course, from what I have learned from listening to the podcast. Now it is on me to apply it, and work to change my thinking and the way I talk to myself. I have your book Feeling Great which I’ve just started working through and I’m sure that will help me along the way.
You are welcome. And one more thing is that all the pain of rejection comes from thinking you have a “self” that can be rejected. People can reject us for all sorts of specific reasons, and we reject others for specific reasons, soo. But never due to the “self.” From a practical perspective, ruminations about someone you dated or were attracted to in the past can simply be a way of avoiding ongoing dating. d
I loved the podcast on “self.” It may be the key to curing my low self-esteem. However, I find the concept of all humans being equally worthwhile very challenging. For example, how can someone who is kind and generous, invents useful products or cures diseases be judged as worthy as someone who is a murder, rapist or plain lazy bum? How do you judge someone’s action differently from their self? Please continue to discuss this topic on your podcast. I appreciate the excellent work you do and can’t wait to read David’s new book!
Thanks Pilar, You can judge someones’ actions as being more or less worthwhile, or more or less skillful, but I would have no idea how to judge a “self.” I have no idea what a “self” is! There is no such “thing” as a “self,” in my opinion. I used to have a self but was lucky to get rid of it years ago. david
I wanted to share this about the term “be yourself”. A few days after listening to your podcast, I listened to an episode of another podcast I follow called Lexicon Valley. It is a podcast about language and linguistics. But by an amazing coincidence the host talked about the term “be yourself”, which apparently had a much different meaning in the 1920’s and 1930’s than it does today. I thought you might find it as interesting as I did. I was near the end of the episode titled “Happy Birthday OED”, but I went ahead and transcribed the relevant part so you wouldn’t have to go to the trouble of listening to the podcast:
… The movie was called “Be Yourself”. Now what’s interesting about the movie “Be Yourself”, which survives and therefore of course is in my house, is that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with self expression or being genuine. The plot is something like Fanny is in love with this boxer who keeps taking dives. It doesn’t have anything to do with confidence, or anything like that, so it’s just one of those things that kinda stuck in my mind. … Then there’s a musical called “Be Yourself”, … once again, why “Be Yourself”? I started to suspect that be yourself meant something different to the people back in the 1920’s than it does for us and finally I found out that it did. There was a silent film comedienne from 1924 … one of her late silent films was recently restored and on one of the dialogue frames someone says “Ah, be yourself, blah blah”. And what the “be yourself” means is “come off it’ – it doesn’t mean “find what you actually are inside, Freud, etc.” And I thought, “There it goes, that’s what they meant by be yourself”. Be yourself basically just meant “ah, go on, come of it” it was just one of those colloquialisms. … Hemingway’s short story, “Fifty Grand”, it’s got fighters, and you find him using it in this same way: “He pushed the rope down for Jack to go through into the ring. The crowd thought that was wonderful. Walker put his hand on Jack’s shoulder and stood there for a second. “So, you’re going to be one of these popular champions?” “Take your hand off my shoulder – be yourself.” So there’s another one of those usages of be yourself. He doesn’t mean find your inner self, he’s saying come off it, go on. …
Other examples – “Here Comes Mr. Jordon” from 1945. Here’s some dialogue from the movie: “Hey Max, be yourself pal, look …. “ “Will you please remember, he can’t see you and can’t hear you” That clearly has nothing to do with getting in touch with your inner self, it just means relax.
Hi TJ, you are right, “be yourself” is just an expression with various meanings, like stop acting so phony. It does not mean, “find some essential self inside of you somewhere”! Thanks! david
Hello, Dr. Burns!
Thank you for this podcast. I have a few questions. The related question is to ask whether you think the notion of the self is necessary for personal responsibility and strong ethics. Traditional Buddhism, as far as I know, usually puts enlightenment before ethics. I find ethics to be a major source of meaning in my life, and I do not know if I like this emphasis. I get that ethics is often in the way of getting close or resolving an issue, but I feel like saying we have no self is a bit of black and white thinking
Can TEAM address problems that aren’t clearly depression, habits, anxiety, or relationship problems?
For example, I have a patient with very violent sexual fantasies towards strangers. He also cannot seem to be attracted to his wife. He has had some success using behavioral techniques to lessen this desire–one of which you mention in Intimate Connections for increasing heterosexual fantasies and then ones for his wife–I’m also curious whether you still stand behind this?
He is doing it very reluctantly. Will this affect outcome? How would you deal with resistance in this case? Is it like a habit because he finds it pleasurable? Is there nothing to explore in terms of any depth psychology with these types of patients?
Thanks, Alan. To me, ethics is all about actions, not “selves.” To me, “self” is just a nonsensical notion. I can act responsibly (or irresponsibly) without invoking “self.” For example, it is considered unethical for a mental health professional to go into business with a patient, or to date a patient.
The idea that there is no self is not, to my way of thinking, an “all or nothing” problem. It is more the problem of using language in a nonsensical way. Of course, you can say, “Hey can you come to the hike on Sunday?” And you might respond, “Sure, I’d love to!” Then I might ask, “Can you bring your “self” as well?” What does that mean? It is just nonsense. But this is hard for folks to grasp. The Buddha tried to teach in 2500 years ago, and the philosopher, Wittgenstein, tried to teach similar concepts about how language works in the 1900. But only seven people, it is rumored, understood his teaching when he was alive.
The material on sexual impulse in Intimate Connections was hopeful, but kind of misguided in retrospect. I am not an expert is the treatment of sexual problems, for the most part, so will leave that the the experts who focus on that type of problem. But yes, these problems are in the category of addictions, habits, and so forth. Sometimes change and control are need, and sometimes acceptance is the better solution. It all depends.
Thanks for the thoughtful questions! david
As a person who was a school teacher we would often discuss children with behavioral problems. We would say it was caused by low self-esteem resulting from the impoverished neighborhood and until we addressed single parenting and poverty it was hopeless. I always had an issue with that and argued that if the child could be given a positive learning experience rather than focusing on emotional and contextual issues, (however much I knew depression was real), there was a chance of turning the behavior around with engaging lessons. It sometimes worked but school bureaucrats saw it differently and wanted strict behavior. Too bad I wasn’t versed in your “no-self” concept philosophy because administrators were determined that the “self” was fixed by the environment and we had to accept it. Seems like low self-esteem in school were really mood disorders that were conveniently blamed for the child’s permanent failure rather than a lack of creativity by the teacher to engage a child in a meaningful learning experience. Does this make sense?
Hi mighti, Thanks, yes this DOES make sense! The Buddha taught all of this, I suspect, 2500 years ago, but sometimes I still feel that I’m way ahead of our time in my thinking. I also get frustrated by the mainstream thinking, in my world it has to do with therapy rather than teaching, but the issues and the resistance to innovation can be equally strong. I am babbling in an overly general way, and almost on a rant, so I will stop. But thanks a ton for your cool note! David
First off I want to say thank you. Your work has been helping me through my anxiety. However, I really struggled with this podcast. The concept of no self shot my anxiety way up and made me feel hopeless. It made me feel almost as if I was not real or that there is nothing worth striving for. I love helping people. But I feel like I dont have a purpose if I dont have a self. It makes me feel worse than before
Will address this in an Ask David. Thanks! d
I find this such a challenging concept. If even only 3 of the Buddha’s disciples could “get it”, and nobody could understand Wittgenstein, what hope do I have? That’s what my self is telling me I guess. At the same time, I can sense the truth behind these words and I feel like I would really like to experience this loss of self. It feels like a weight I’m carrying around. But I don’t know how to get rid of it. I still feel like, even if our minds that create our “self” are constantly changing, they are not changing so radically from moment to moment that we could not think of having a continuous “self”. Sure it’s not an unchanging self, but a self nonetheless, an evolving one made up of our memories and thoughts and our physical form. Our body is also changing every moment but we don’t spontaneously change form from second to second. We still have “our body” that slowly changes right? Doesn’t the fact that the person with amnesia still experiences a “self” prove that there is indeed a self? His sense of who he is will simply be less clear but it doesn’t mean he has no self. I don’t quite get how that disproves the self. But as you say, it’s probably impossible to really explain it.
Thanks Michiel, The goal is NOT to “prove” that you “don’t have a self.” The goal, to my way of thinking, is to see that the concept is nonsensical. These are radically different. A word has to have a meaning before we can ask questions about it. and the only meanings of any word are the ways we use that word in our conversations with others. So, when I say, “you’re not being yourself,” I am not referring to some metaphysical “self,” I am just telling you that you are sounding kind of fake, or phony, or forced.
You say you have a “self” which is “changing slowly.” I am trying to understand what you mean, because I cannot grasp what you are trying to tell me. What would it be like if you did NOT have this slowly-changing “self?” If you cannot answer this question in a way that I can understand, then you’re speaking a language that I’m not familiar with.
As I say, this is SO basic and obvious, kind of aa the fourth grade level, or the kindergarten level, and that may be why it is hard to understand. However, getting it is not, perhaps, a matter of intelligence, but simply “seeing” something that’s super-obvious once you “see” it. Sometimes it is really hard for me, too, to see something that is right in front of my eyes. It is almost like being partially blind. david
Can you tell me what it would look like if you DIDN’T have this hypothetical self? If you could tell me what it would look like, it would be super easy to get on the same page. david
Thanks. Yes, we all do things a bit differently, and have different experiences, different personality characteristics to some extent. For example, you might be good at one skill, like singing, and my singing voices is pretty poor. I understand descriptions of what we do. I do not understand descriptions of what we ARE, for the most part.
For example, when we say “he (or she) has an outgoing personality,” we are not really referring to something they “have.” There’s is really no such “thing” as a “personality.” But we’re different. We think, feel, and behave in our own unique ways. You see, I still have not heard from you what it would be like if we did “not” have a self. You are trying to figure it out, but the concept is nonsensical. There’s nothing to “figure out.” I am rejecting (for my purposes) language that doesn’t make any sense to me.
Let’s say that person A had a “self,” and person B does not have a “self.” Can you tell me how I could tell the difference? Would they look or behave differently? If you can give me a hint as to the answer to this question, it would help me understand what you mean when you refer to something called a “self.” Do you think we have a “selg” as well? Or a “selt?”
Sorry I’m failing to influence your thinking! d
Hello David, and may I say it’s always so amazing to get an answer from you. Here I am writing from the Netherlands, and you are answering almost immediately from the USA 🙂 Amazing.
So if I had to explain what (to my mind) I mean by “self”, it would be that self is a shorthand word for describing me as a person, which is made up of my physical form, my memories and thoughts, my “place in the world” (what I do, my relationships etc). Basically what makes me to be me and not you. I am Michiel, I am not David even though we are in a way connected. I am a distinct person and though the “form” of this self may change from moment to moment, it does not change so rapidly as to be unrecognisable as “me” from moment to moment (I do not suddenly turn into David). I have learned behaviours I cannot suddenly drop, nor can I suddenly learn a complex skill from one moment to the next. That would take me slowly changing my brain which would also slowly change my “self” (as I see it).
So I guess self (in my mind) refers to my unique experience as an individual being, seperate from another. I can be described by another person and someone who knows me would be able to recognise that that description points to me. But perhaps in 10 years I could have changed many things about myself, my behaviour, my job, my relations that I would not be so easily recognisable as the me from this current moment. But from my experience it would still feel like there was a self that was continuous from moment to moment even if it is slowly changing as well.
I can not “not have” my self (at least I feel like I can’t) so I also can not tell you what it would look like if I didn’t have this “self”. But it sounds pretty cool nonetheless 🙂 It just seems I cannot yet grasp it, despite it being kindergarten level 😉
Well perhaps it would feel like I wasn’t so burdened with past experiences, or limited by current behaviour patterns or (lack of) certain skills, it would feel like I could just be what I wanted to be or feel more at peace just being what and who I am or something.
I understand “self” is not a physical object or part of my body that I can point at and it is a “concept” that refers to a collection of things/aspects of things that are not completely static, but does that make it nonsensical? I think you can still understand what I have written above though I’m sure I am missing the point and it isn’t easy to put into words for me.
Thank you for reading my rambling and all the best. I’m slowly going through all the podcasts and it’s great.