When I was about five or six years old I plagued my parents with strange questions. One I remember in-particular was “who would I be if I wasn’t me”? Such riddles are not uncommon at this age because it is around this time that children begin to develop – or construct – a rudimentary form of identity. An embryonic Self that will grow into something resembling a final form during puberty and early adulthood. As we age, the foundations of identity sink into the subconscious, their origins lost, becoming so conflated with the notion of consciousness to the point where we can no longer tell them apart.
We talk of Self as if it is who we “really are”, like some kind of secular Soul, but there is growing evidence that the very notion of our personal identity is a fluid and ever-changing fiction that emerges through the brain’s interaction with society and the environment. A cognitive technology built from the lego blocks of language to tie together past experiences into a cohesive whole and use them as a blueprint for anticipating future events. The ultimate tool of a species of toolmakers.