Updated: Dec 2, 2020
A sense of self is the experience of living in a stable reality. The self I am or said another way, the self I know myself to be, is a product of that stable realty. It's stability, is something we construct in our history of development starting as a newborn and continuing throughout life as long as we live.
Consequently, our sense of self is a product of our social engagement with others. This begins with the love and care we receive from our mother, and other family members As we move through natural stages of development, our character progressively forms as we move through age-dependent stages of development. In the resolution of these critical passages, we crystallize aspects of personality and the stable reality of our self-hood that decides who we will later be as adults. In this way, identity and self are not born into us by our genetics alone. They are also programmed into us by personal experience and social conditioning in our family, schools, and other institutions as we become subject to them.
To create a stable reality one needs to find themselves belonging to a community in which the self can be given stability. A child who grows up in self-isolation or a controlled dependency is rarely a stable personality as an adult. Self-identity is a social construction which is a relationship between one's autonomous ways of being and acting, and the social environment in which that being and acting are expressed.
Against this background, identity is a self-assessment created in language by self-referential statements that establish identity. For example, when one is saying “I am this, or I am not this” one establishes boundaries of identity with lasting consequences. It is essential to realize that these are statements of identity created in language. They are self-assessments that construct the full elaboration of who one is for them-self. They follow the same mechanics of our mental processes, such as labeling and comparing them as objects in language relative to other objects.
Such comparison is for example following the categories for thinking and knowing described by Emmanuel Kant (a subject for a future blog), that establish what one already knows in order to make further assessments through logical reasoning. The assessments thus formed, about both the self and the world that individual perceives and inhabits are built based on the knowledge one already has. Usually, these are either facts, or at least certainties, but often are only unproven beliefs about people, places, or things, which one considers to be true, even if they are not.
Understood in this way, it is clear that the sense of self is virtual. It has no anatomical or physical existence in the body. Rather, it is the result of processes in consciousness that occur in the body, through in the brain and nervous system by various processes that science still has no adequate explanation for. We know it as our first-person subjective experience, which is sensed, felt, and known through self-referential awareness in body emotion and language. One can say, that human beings are inhabited by a consciousness that arises together with us in our life, which can best be described as a virtual reality.
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