Our self and our psyche are not identical. When we talk about self (or in another word, ego) we do not mean the whole psyche but only part of it, and when we talk about psyche we mean something wider than ego. The distinction between the two concepts is not clear-cut and most of us tend to identify ego as psyche and vice versa.
Even though there is much overlapping between ego and psyche (or in another word, consciousness), they are yet not identical. There is no specific area in the brain in which the self is located. It exists all over the brain contrary to conscious faculties that can be located and affected.
The fast paced progress in science has enabled the fine tuning of the distinction between psyche and self. In order to better understand the difference between the two concepts, let us ponder the issue in the light of modern research fields, such as computer science, brain and mental research and life sciences.
Consciousness and Ego according to Computer Science
The field of computers has come a long way in the development of artificial intelligence and the creation of humanoid robots. Yet, the development of psyche or consciousness for robots seems far-fetched. There is no doubt that computer science will be able to “instill” consciousness features into robots, such as incorporating all five human senses and teaching them to mimic human emotions, like love, hate, compassion, anger, disappointment, excitement, enthusiasm and others. It is possible to design robots that will express desires and have whims, or lend them various identities. In fact, it will be possible to implant in them almost all of the consciousness attributes and characteristics. However, such an advanced and sophisticated robot armed with all these features, will still behave artificially and will lack the most important element of consciousness that is the human ego.
We take the existence of self for granted since we do not know otherwise. We can learn from computer science that it is possible to have a case where there is a brain, that is there is a kind of consciousness, but there is no Self.
Consciousness and Ego in Brain and Mental Research
The notion that consciousness and self are one is based, inter alia, on the following phenomena:
a. Various personality disorders, such as multi personality disorder or personality collapse cases.
b. The mere fact that people can be hypnotized and can be led to believe they are not who they really are.
c. People who have lost their identity due to different causes and who are creating a new one.
d. Alzheimer and severe dementia patients with a deteriorating brain who have lost most of their conscious faculties.
e. People who had surgery that disconnected the two parts of their brain thus letting each side have independent desires and views of things.
If we look closely into all the above cases, we will find out that indeed the psyche or the consciousness in these people was seriously damaged. However, in no one of the above cases has the self been eliminated. The ego changed form or was divided but did not disappear. A person can believe he is someone else but his own ego does not stop existing. An Alzheimer patient who has lost most of his mental faculties still possesses his own ego which did not get lost. There is no human, no matter his mental and physical condition, who does not have his own self. Our self is preserved even when our brain or mind are seriously impaired as well as when consciousness is almost completely destroyed. Since the self is ubiquitous in the brain, it keeps on existing as long as there is a brain.
Consciousness and Ego in Light of Modern Sciences
According to life sciences, the body and consciousness make up a sophisticated system of biochemical algorithms. In any given second, a subjective experience elapses and another one emerges. No substance prevails from one moment to another and we only fancy having a continuous existence. In any given moment, the electro-chemical system in the brain produces a flash of experience that immediately disappears and gives room to a consecutive one and so on. This is why there is no “soul” or “self” that remains fixed from one flash to another. Man is made up of a collection of different systems similar to the layers in an onion (which were shaped by the environment). When peeled one by one nothing will be left.
A total opposite approach is presented by Raymond Kurzweil, who predicted the whole internet and cellular revolution and who owns intellectual rights to hundreds of patents. According to him, we are about to experience the golden age of nanotechnology which will enable us to reprogram biology so that our cells will remain always young and healthy. In his book “The Singularity is Near”, he predicts an imminent and exponential technological leap which will lead us to a stage of singularity whereby we can transfer our memories and personalities to a computer that will store them. We will be capable of building bodies that constitute a hybrid of biology and machine to which we can transfer our essence and thus grant us an eternal life.
The Pure Ego
If, indeed, we are able to transfer our essence into external, younger, more intelligent and healthier bodies, there is no need then to transfer all of our psyche elements. Any negative features, personality disorders, past traumas, bad personal memories can be shed since they are not useful. In this manner, we could theoretically transfer only our pure ego to another body without any other consciousness components. It could flourish and develop, accumulate new pleasurable memories and a new consciousness in a premium body and a new identity which we have chosen.
The pure ego cannot exist without a body that carries it and allows it to realize itself. Lacking unique characteristics, it may not be different from any other pure ego. However, this does not mean we can eliminate its distinct existence. The fact that a drop of water looks like other infinite numbers of drops does not nullify its existence as a drop of water.
We have come a long way in the research and in the deciphering of many scientific mysteries, however we have not yet solved the riddle of our own self.