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The You Delusion: Why Your Sense of Self is Just a Trick of the Mind

By Jacob Andreae

Who are you? Really ponder that question. I bet you come up with your name. But who is that strange combination of letters, which are just sounds that come from the way you push air out of your mouth and manipulate your cheeks, tongue and lips?


Your brain makes sense of the world through interpreting your senses. Sensory information reaches your brain at different speeds, although this is happening so fast it appears to occur simultaneously. Sensory information travels along neural pathways and your brain then needs to process it. This takes time. What happens when an event occurs in less time than your system takes to process it?


"Perception does not equal reality."


It’s history! It’s already happened. We are constantly living in the past. There is a lag time between when something occurs and when we process it. So if conscious perception is not truly “live”, what is the brain doing when it processes events that occur in less time than it can process?


It makes it up!


In the same way TV lag time makes last minute censorship possible, your brain, rather than showing you what happened a moment ago, sometimes constructs a present that never happened.


The brain is constantly filling in the gaps to make sense of the world.


Take the famous rubber hand experiment.


In the rubber hand experiment, if you hide a persons hand from view by a screen while a rubber hand is placed on a table in front of them, and then stroke their hand while they see the rubber hand being stroked, you can make them feel as though the rubber hand is theirs. The brain is processing touch, vision and proprioception. It takes ownership and creates its own reality.

The You Delusion: Why Your Sense of Self is Just a Trick of the Mind


Conscious perception is not “live”. Sensory information takes time to travel from sense (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) to the brain, and to be processed by the brain. This happens extremely quickly, but it is not instant. This leaves the brain filling in the gaps, and that is with an imagined experience.


The brain integrates various senses to create aspects of our bodily self. Through processing sensory information, the brain draws and redraws aspects of your bodily self to create meaning. If given conflicting information, or information is missing, the brain resolves this dilemma by taking ownership and creating its own information.


Your sense of self may be a consequence of your relationships with others. Baby’s start drawing a sense of self from the first moment they start mimicking their parents. You can’t have a relationship without having a sense of self. In order to interact with someone, you have to know certain things about them, and to know certain things about them, you have to know certain things about yourself.


Your perception of self is like free will. Everything in your mind is an illusion. You may think your experiences are concrete, but everything you experience, the whole world around you, is an elaborate construct of your mind. Your experience of the world is as unique as you are. Free will, like every other experience, is another one of these illusions elaborately constructed by your mind.


Your sense of self is an illusion constructed by your mind. If information is missing or conflicting, your brain creates its own information to fill in the gaps or “fix up” what it believes to be incorrect based on its many experiences.

Who are you?


Leave your answer to that question in the comments section below. 


Photo by Rachel Ruquet on Unsplash

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