Photos Reveal the Illusion of Self

The mind creates a cognitive illusion of self for all of us — it creates the “me” or “self” illusion. But “self” is a very useful illusion.

Part of what helps create the illusion of self is the illusion of “continuity of self” — we feel that we are the same person that we have always been. And part of that illusion is due to an illusion of memory — we feel we are who we’ve always been because we have memories to prove it. We feel we are the same person (the same identity, the same self) because we can remember always being this person.

Looking at very old pictures of ourselves can reveal this illusion. When we look at old photographs, we can be startled because we do not remember that particular scene and often can not remember the feeling of who we were and what we thought about in those days. But this should not surprise us. The reason we are startled, or surprised at this is because of the strength of the illusion of self that our mind creates for us.

Can we see through this illusion of self? Rarely, if at all. Just like the arrow illusion below. Here the two line segments appear to be different lengths — longer on the bottom figure than on the arrow figure above it. No matter how hard we try, these lines will look like they have different lengths. Likewise, no matter how clearly we understand the illusion of self, it is rare that a person can actually stop being fooled by it.

So what are we to do? Well, as I said in the beginning, the illusion is useful. The illusion of self evolved in the human brain for a reason: probably to help us plan long-term and operate in groups effectively over long periods of time. Therefore we should not be disappointed that we are tricked by this and other mind illusions, they usually serve us well. However, there are rare times when seeing through this illusion that can be useful. Understanding the illusion (even if not seeing through it) can help soften some disappointments in our lives, and allow us to use softer approaches to others — to help us escape occasional mechanical reflexes.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

2 responses to “Photos Reveal the Illusion of Self

  1. thriveni mys

    The image you are talking about doesn’t open sir.

  2. Thank you, Thriveni, I fixed it (hopefully).

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