Do We Have a Self? (Part 1)
Deepak Chopra - September 01, 2006
We have to use the same words to communicate, and one of the terms we share is "self." Myself, yourself, himself, herself. This everyday word has leaked into spirituality as the Self or higher self, and people have become comfortable with it. "God is really your higher self." There's a fairly acceptable sentence among many kinds of seekers.
It comes as a surprise to realize that in neurology no one has ever found this "self." There is no part of the brain where it resides, and even though current thinking holds that more than one area of the brain often interacts with another , this observation doesn't mean (so far) that any pattern inside the brain gives rise to the self.
After all, you feel like yourself in almost any situation. When your brain is processing a memory, having an emotion, reacting to a sensation, or doing anything at all but sleeping, you feel like yourself. So where is this self if not in the brain? You can answer that question in two ways. 1. Everything has to be in the brain, so it's just a matter of time before we find the self. 2. There is a self organized by the brain but not exactly in it, the way a sock is in a drawer.
At the quantum level all subatomic particles exist in a shadowland between time and the timeless, between matter and energy. The universe winks in and out of existence millions of times per second, and the fundamental vibrations that underlie matter have "virtual" equivalents that have no fixed location the way matter does.
In a very basic way, this means that the universe is discontinuous, that it gives the illusion of being a real, solid, verifiable, sensual world while at a deeper level none of these qualities exist. Now let's jump to the self. You feel just as real as the universe you live in. Why? Because your brain and your senses create a "self at the center," a person who remembers a continuous life from the past, has certain preferences, and identifies with all kinds of labels: you know implicitly where you live, what your job is, how much you make, the names of your family, etc. This entire collection of "facts" about the self make you feel real.
One of the big problems in neurology today is the binding problem, which centers on the way different areas of the brain light up simultaneously to create a memory or a feeling or a thought. Quite often the related areas are far apart, yet they interact instantaneously. What binds them? There seems to be physical apparatus, no trunk telephone line to alert a clump of neurons that another clump of neurons on the other side of the brain is about to fire. In fact, such a telephone system makes no sense, because these firings really are simultaneous. One part of the cortex doesn't send out a message saying, "Be on the lookout. This guy's about to say the word hamburger and begin to get hungry." Things happen all at once, then disappear to make way for a new set of things that happen all at once.
This is precisely how the quantum world acts. Some kind of "binding" holds together billions of local events, and whatever it is that makes paired electrons spin in sync even though they are light years apart must be "nonlocal."
Posted by Deepak Chopra at September 1, 2006 09:18 AM