The Ego Trick : Granta Books (3 Mar 2011)
Ideas for modern living: you
Julian Baggini, The Observer
When René Descartes tried to systematically doubt everything he believed, he succeeded – until it came to his own existence. The very act of questioning whether you exist proves you do, because you must be there for the doubt to be entertained in the first place. But Descartes missed a trick. For even if your own existence is the most certain fact in the universe, this thing called you turns out to be remarkably elusive.
Try it. Close your eyes, focus on your thoughts, feelings and sensations and try to observe the you having them. Philosophers and thinkers from the Buddha to David Hume have attempted something similar and discovered no one was home. All they found was this thought, that feeling, those sensations and so on. Where you might expect to find the pearl of the self, all they discovered was a bundle of experiences.
So does that mean there is no you after all? Not so fast. Just because you can’t catch a rainbow doesn’t mean rainbows don’t exist. It simply means they are not solid objects in space. Something similar is true of you. You exist all right. But the everyday sense that there is some thing which is you, some core of being, is what I call the Ego Trick.
It’s mostly benign, but the trick turns cruel when people fall for it completely and don’t notice they are dynamic, changing systems and believe instead they have some permanent, unique essence. If you know how the Ego Trick works, you may lose your old sense of self, but you replace it with a far richer one.
About the book
Are you still the person who lived 15, 10 or five years ago? 15, 10 or five minutes ago? Can you plan for your retirement if the you of 30 years hence is in some sense a different person? What and who is the real you? Does it remain constant over time and place, or is it something much more fragmented and fluid? Is it known to you, or are you as much a mystery to yourself as others are to you?With his usual wit,infectious curiosity and bracing scepticism, Julian Baggini sets out to answer these fundamental and unsettling questions.His fascinating quest draws on the history of philosophy, but also anthropology, sociology, psychology and neurology;he talks to theologians, priests, allegedly reincarnated Lamas , and delves into real-life cases of lost memory, personality disorders and personal transformation; and, candidly and engagingly, he describes his own experiences.After reading The Ego Trick, you will never see yourself in the same way again.