Day #303:The Nature of the Self:How We Know Who We Are

Yesterday I wrote about the concept of the ‘looking glass self‘. On how what we think of ourselves is not about who we are but a result of perception of people around us. While exploring this topic further, I came across a very interesting article on Maria Popova’s

The article talks about the body of work done in the area of experimental philosophy — a discipline that pursues inquiries about the human condition traditionally from the realm of philosophy with the empirical methods of psychology.  Taking excerpts from video from the 2013 HeadCon seminar shot by TED Talks film director Jason Wishnow, Yale University professor and experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe, editor of the anthology Experimental Philosophy , takes us through some mind-bending, soul-deconstructing thought experiments that push our notions of the self to the limit and past it, into a new understanding of our basic existential anchor.

Though the full talk is remarkable in its entirety and is well worth the watch, here is what I find to be Knobe’s most poignant pause-giver:

One specific thing [has] really been exploding in the past couple of years and this is experimental philosophy work on the notion of the self. This is work on questions about what is the self, how does the self extend over time, is there a kind of essence of the self, how do we know what falls inside or outside the self?…

Philosophers have called [this] the “question of personal identity.” It’s a question in philosophy that goes back, at least, to the time of John Locke. It’s one that philosophers are still talking about up until the present day. You can get a sense for the question pretty easily just by thinking about a certain kind of initial question, and it’s this:

Imagine how the world is going to be a year from now. A year from now there are going to be all these people in this world, and one of those people is going to have a very special property. That person is going to be you. So, with any luck a year from now, there’ll be someone out there who’s you. But what is it about that person that makes that person you?

At this moment you have a certain kind of body, you have a certain kind of goals, and beliefs, and values, you have certain emotions. In the future there are going to be all these other people that are going to have certain bodies, they’re going to have certain goals, certain beliefs, certain emotions. Some of them are going to be, to varying degrees, similar and, to varying degrees, different from yours; and one of those people is going to be you. So, what makes that person you?


Imagine what things are going to be like in 30 years. In 30 years, there’s going to be a person around who you might normally think of as you — but that person is actually going to be really, really different from you in a lot of ways. Chances are, a lot of the values you have, a lot of the emotions, a lot of the beliefs, a lot of the goals are not going to be shared by that person. So, in some sense you might think that person is you, but is that person really you? That person is like you in certain respects, but … you might think that person is kind of not me anymore.

Once you start to reflect on that, you might start to have a really different feeling about that person — the person you’re going to turn into. You might even start to feel a little bit competitive with that person. Suppose you start saving money right now. You are losing money and he or she is the one gaining the money. The money is being taken away from the person who has the values, the emotions, and the goals that you really care about and going to this other person.

Day #302:Who is Shaping Your ‘Self’?

In 1902 Charles Horton Cooley had an idea that greatly influenced the landscape of sociology. His idea is quite simple: it is impossible to think of yourself without accounting for how other people think of you. Cooley argued that our notion of “self” is actually a constructed “social self” —

“we perceive in another’s mind some thought of our appearance, manners, aims, deeds, character, friends, and so on, and we are variously affected by it.”

Cooley´s concept of the looking glass self, states that a person’s self grows out of a person´s social interactions with others. The view of ourselves comes from the contemplation of personal qualities and impressions of how others perceive us. Actually, how we see ourselves does not come from who we really are, but rather from how we believe others see us.

The main point is that people shape their self-concepts based on their understanding of how others perceive them. We form our self-image as the reflections of the response and evaluations of others in our environment. As children we were treated in a variety of ways. If parents, relatives and other important people look at a child as smart, they will tend to raise him with certain types of expectations. As a consequence the child will eventually believe that he is a smart person. This is a process that continues when we grow up. For instance, if you believe that your closest friends look at you as some kind of superhero, you are likely to project that self-image, regardless of whether this has anything to do with reality.

Most of us would not to admit how much of an influence this is on how we have come to see ourselves and who we believe we are. As a child growing up, we may not have had the opportunity to chose who surrounds us and how they perceive us-thus how their perception shape what we have come to believe about ourselves. However, as we grow up, it is important to take note of this influence.More importantly, we may want to actively and not passively select the people we hang out with and how their perception is shaping what we think of ourselves.

Think of the 5 most important people whose opinions and ideas shape what you think of yourself and how you behave, it might give you a good idea of how the ‘self’ you call ‘you’ today has come to be and might also help you going forward in determining whose influence you allow to shape the future you.(We will talk about this tomorrow).

Bonne weekend.

Day #301: We Have Crossed the 300 Days Mark

Yesterday marked 300 days of this blog. If some one ever asked me 300 days ago if I would like to write a blog post everyday for 300 days, I will probably say it’s not possible.

Now I remember the  Thomas Edison quote:

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.

Now I can’t stop thinking how many things I might has achieved if I started 300 days ago and stuck to it.Let’s do the next 699 days together.

Bonne weekend!

Day #298:Should you live for your résumé … or your eulogy?

I haven’t watched a TED talk in a long time. Due to bad internet mostly. Today, feeling a little unproductive, I decided to watch a TEd talk. What I found was both relaxing and inspiring, just what I needed to give my day a kick. If you have time (it’s just 5 minutes) and good internet, I recommend you watch David Brook’s TED talk on the question:’Should you live for your résumé … or your eulogy?  

David argues that within each of us are two selves: the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, and the self who seeks connection, community, love — the values that make for a great eulogy. (Joseph Soloveitchik has called these selves “Adam I” and “Adam II.”) Brooks asks: Can we balance these two selves?

The talk is a bit short but will get you thinking.It will get you thinking, maybe for a few minutes, about which self is winning out in your life — the self who craves success, builds a great résumé, and almost invariably bruises others — family, friends and strangers — along the way. Or the self “who seeks connection, community, love — the values that make for a great eulogy.” Just a little food for thought.


Day #297:The Happiness Myth!

“Once I land that long-anticipated promotion, make more money, get my kids into the right schools, lose a few pounds, or find a meaningful relationship… then I’ll be happy.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying something like that?

Most people believe that once they are successful, then they’ll be happy.

But based on recent discoveries in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience, that formula for happiness is wrong. In fact, it’s backwards.

It turns out, happiness actually fuels success, not the other way around. And when we become more positive, our brain becomes more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, healthier, resilient and productive.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, who spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University, draws on his own research—including one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard and others at companies like UBS and KPMG—to fix this broken formula. Using stories and case studies from his work with thousands of Fortune 500 executives in 42 countries, Achor explains how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work.

Bottom line : If you want to be successful, first be happy then you will be successful.

Day #296:How to Get Inspired!

Today I find myself staring at my computer looking for inspiration to come and to find something inspiring to write about. Alas! I am blank.Nothing. Nothing is coming up. I try to read up blogs and books I have read in the past to see if something from there can inspire me. Nothing came up. I am still blank even as I write these words.

Suddenly I think today’s most inspiring moment to me will be figuring out how to bring myself to do something I want to do but I can’t. In this case writing my blog post.How do you find inspiration when you are not inspired? A quick search on the internet on ‘how to get inspired’ turns up 530,000,000  results. This means a lot of people always find themselves struggling to find inspiration either to write or to get themselves to do something they badly want to do.

One of the most useful answers I found to this question is from, It advises to take a moment to breathe and reflect on your goal. What do you really want to do?Then try and write down some ideas about what you want to do. Try to recall thoughts that you have had that you found particularly interesting.

Here is a summary of 5 things I learnt from this quick search.

1.Have One Goal. Having many thing on your mind to do can be really stressful. Determine what is important to you in the here and now. Leo Babauta says: “You cannot maintain energy and focus (the two most important things in accomplishing a goal) if you are trying to do two or more goals at once…. You have to choose one goal, for now, and focus on it completely.”

2.Brainstorm first, analyze later: I find myself trying to get the perfect sentence, the right words every time I try to write a blog post. And this stops me from getting to a clear point of writing.The frustration sets in and I abandon the whole thing altogether. Adam Steltzner chief engineer and development manager for the Mars Science Laboratory at NASA advises to make brainstorming a two-step process. First, air every idea, with zero critical evaluation. Then analyze the ideas.

3.Take a break.If you find yourself in a creative rut, take a break from work. Take a walk and try not to focus on what you are trying to do for  the main time. Most creative solutions to a big problem comes when you take a step away and not doing that particular thing.

4.Commit to get things done. The only reason I don’t give up when I don;t feel inspired to write is because I have committed myself to writing a blog post everyday. So I know even if I don’t get inspired right now, I have to get inspired because I can’t afford to fail. Putting yourself under this kind of pressure can be extremely helpful in getting things done.

5.Create a system that helps you get inspired.Most renown writers and innovators carry around a writing pad to jot down their ideas and a list of things to do.Leonardo Da Vinci was reported to carry with him a notebook that had a list of things he wanted to do or learn. I bet most of his inspiration comes from the things on his list.


Day #295:Life Lessons from Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’

“Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been

Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.

You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. 
Perhaps it is everywhere – on water and land.”  told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul…”

“Resist much, obey little.” 

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up – for you the flag is flung – for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths – for you the shores
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”