I recall as a young child that I didn't quite recognize that the "me" of tomorrow and the "me" of yesterday was quite the same as myself today. Once a punishment for a misdeed got delayed until tomorrow, which made me very happy; the next day the mere suggestion of implementing the punishment seemed grossly unfair to me: I didn't do it! it was done yesterday! what does it have to do with me today?!

I think other kids have this waking-time-limited self awareness: they are generally bad at accepting delayed gratification beyond the same day, and they sometimes dislike going to sleep to the extent that seems almost similar to the fear of death for grown-ups: the self of today disappears, and what does it matter that another being tomorrow would inherit most of the self-of-today memories?

Thus the first question to those more versed in psychology than I am: does the above make any sense?

Sometimes I think that there is a time span of self-awareness for grown-ups as well. A teenager often doesn't consider the 30-something that he will become as someone worth too much consideration; self-of-this year is what matters most. A 20-something, and often 30-something pays little attention to the retired self of 70-something. It seems that time span of self awareness has increased, from one day to a few months to a few years, but for most people didn't quite disappear.

Thus the second question: is there any truth to the above?

Next, I would like to look at the above from the viewpoint of philosophy rather than psychology. Does it make sense to consider a self not as one person, but as a distribution of self-awarenesses that varies with time?

  • 4
    I'm not sure what you're asking, but the idea of the "self" has been written on at great lengths in philosophy. Search Wikipedia or SEP for "self", "personhood", "personal identity", or simply "identity" and you'll find lots of reading to start with.
    – stoicfury
    Dec 30 '13 at 7:06
  • Yes everything you said make sense. TO be honest EVERYTHING always makes sense because it is a first step from the point the speaker is standing on. I would say it is not about being aware of self but being aware of the OTHER, the world, the space/time around you; your global presence in the universe - weather you are just a guy in front of the screen or BEING who will change the world tomorrow. It is about feeling of the connection with universe and flow of events.
    – Asphir Dom
    Apr 22 '14 at 0:36
  • This is a really great question, but I can't find a way to answer it. I've tried. It makes me tired.
    – dgo
    May 15 '14 at 3:27
  • Also, the last sentence is awesome.
    – dgo
    May 15 '14 at 3:28

Your question is an interesting one -- but there's a second issue that compounds it which mixes a question of empirical psychology with a question that doesn't greatly interest me. The philosophically interesting question is

how does personal identity work over time?

The largely non-philosophical question that's mixed in there and seems to dominate the question is:

does anyone have the experience of not identifying with the self of their past or their future?

The second could be a phenomenological question or merely a question about empirical psychology. I'm going ignore this second question.

There are two very interesting discussions about the first question in philosophy. One discussion has to do with how selfhood works generically. Here, the question is related to the Ship of Theseus paradox. The ship of Theseus is a thought experiment in which a boat has its parts replaced one by one until no original part remains. The question is whether it is the same boat? If so, how? If not, why? The majority view on the boat is that it's still the same boat in part because what unifies the boat is a story from the boat as it was to the boat as it is now.

Applied to the human case, the question gets even more complex because we are conscious and self-conscious entities. For conscious entities, there's (at least) a second sense of self at work that muddies this solution. As far as I'm aware, the views are kind of split between perdurance (the belief we are entities stretched in the physical dimensions + time = 4-dimensional time worm), endurance (the belief there is some unifying feature that makes my existence mine and enables me to last through time), and pseudo-Buddhism that denies there is a self (Derek Parfit -- bundle theory). I know at least a couple of the people on philosophy.se can tell you more if that's what you want.he

The second version of the problem is a moral version called the Russian Nobleman offered by Derek Parfit and considered by among others Christine Korsgaard. The problem as I understand it is that a rich Russian nobleman as a youth is smitten by liberal ideas about society and wants to free his serfs -- but he simultaneously knows that when he gets old, he will regret this decision. So he makes a decision binding himself to free his serfs when he turns older. The question is who has bound whom and is the old man bound by this young man? Is it the same person or a different person?

The issue here relates to your concern about punishment tomorrow for today's crimes. For those who deny that the self is the same, they don't want this to be something that happens instantly, so they have accounts of the self that are degreed. Meaning, the self tomorrow is pretty much 99% you. But the self 40 years from now may not be.

  • "Russian Nobleman" problem addresses exactly what I was asking for. Thanks.
    – Michael
    May 23 '14 at 15:53

i will try to answer your last question: from a hindu philosophical standpoint the 'you' what you perceive is subject to change with the passage of time and so, yes it makes sense. however, the real 'you' is which is not what you perceive and is not subject to change.

  • 1
    There's no such thing as "an eastern philosophical standpoint." Be more specific! At a minimum, indicate if you mean say a Buddhist one or something of the sort.
    – virmaior
    May 23 '14 at 2:13

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