Here's a big question, one of the biggest when it comes to understanding reality and how religions typically view what it means to be human:
Do we have a self? Or adding an (important) capital letter, Do we have a Self?
To kick off my discussion of these questions, here's some recent right-on comment observations from "JB."
Brian: "there is nobody having an experience. There is just experience, which usually includes an experience of being, or having, a self." Rather than no-body having an experience, I would argue that there is a body having an experience. More precisely, I would argue that the conscious brain is having the experience. That also seems obvious and rational.
Harding: "All you are is consciousness and its contents." Brian: "his insight also can be framed as a realization that there is no self..." If I am consciousness, then consciousness certainly seems like a good candidate for the self. Proclaiming no-self would be tantamount to proclaim no-consciousness, or no-conscious-being.
l agree with JB. And I also still hold that we don't have a self as it is commonly understood. It all comes down to what is meant by self.
JB correctly observes that conscious beings have experiences. These experiences occur within a body. That could be a human body, a dog body, a whale body, a bird body, a bat body.
Most neuroscientists and philosophers interested in consciousness say that the borderline between a conscious and unconscious being is that there is something like to be a conscious being. Thomas Nagel kicked off this train of thought with his famous, "What is it like to be a bat?" question.
It sure seems like there is some answer to that question. It also seems like we will never know what the answer is, because only a bat can be a bat. Further, only a particular bat can know what it is like to be that particular bat.
Maybe all bats have the same sort of conscious experience. But I doubt it. I'm virtually 100% certain that dogs have different conscious experiences, having been close friends with several of them. And I'm even more certain, basically 100%, that we human have different conscious experiences.
And when it comes to myself, I know for a fact that moment by moment, minute by minute, day by day, year by year, I have different conscious experiences. Sometimes -- as in deep sleep or under anesthesia -- I don't have any conscious experiences at all.
So it seems clear that if consciousness produces, or is, what we mean by "self," this self is changeable. It isn't anything constant, unchanging, imperturbable. That's why I suggested in the title of this post that we call it "selfhood," which has a more flexible and dynamic connotation than "self."
Yet, many, if not most, people have a very different idea of what "self" means.
We often hear statements like, "I'm trying to find my true self," which implies that the self is like a buried treasure lurking somewhere under the obvious surface of consciousness. And religions look upon soul as being the spiritual or supernatural equivalent of a true self.
Meaning, soul is viewed as our eternal essence, while the body is viewed as temporary. (Christianity is ambiguous on this point, since bodily resurrection is part of Christian teaching; but ordinary Christians speak all of the time about soul and seem to believe that the soul survives bodily death.)
This certainly is the teaching of Hinduism and other Eastern forms of religion such as Sant Mat, since the soul (Atma) is supposed to be able to merge with God (Parmatma).
However, there is no evidence of a soul or Self -- with a capital "S" to indicate it's supposedly divine nature.
Further, there isn't even any evidence of an ordinary self, if "self" is construed to mean a permanent essence of ourselves that doesn't change. As JB indicated, the closest thing to something permanent in our psyche is consciousness, but this isn't what is generally considered to be a self.
The main reason we consider ourselves to be an enduring entity deserving of the title, "self," is memory. We have memories going back to early childhood. So when we think about ourselves, those memories are triggered, leading us to say things such as "It wasn't like me to have done something like that."
But if we had no memory of what we'd done in the past, we wouldn't be surprised at anything we did in the present, since that would simply be what we're doing now.
So along with JB, I do believe that each of us is a self. (Note: is, not has.) Again, though, I think selfhood might be a better term, since this means individuality. Every person is undeniably unique. We just lack a permanent self, or Self/Soul.