The Me in My Brain

I’ve been reading Descartes’ Error, a book about the neurobiology of emotion and reason, and it’s made me think about how who we are is inextricable from the brain. Obviously. Yet our sense of self isn’t so brain-centered. It’s weird to ponder that I could exist before and after a head injury, but that who I am would change. I still would be, but that being is of a different nature.

The “self” boils down to a network of neuronal connections. Neuronal connections that strengthen and multiply merely by being used. The more they are used the more they are used, and the more I affiliate their outcome with my self.

That’s how you can know something for a long time but not actually behave or feel in a way that reflects that knowledge. The pathways surrounding that knowledge haven’t been used often enough to be your default pathway. You have to will yourself into new behaviors, as your brain has been wired for years to do something else. And the more you will yourself, the more you’re strengthening your neurons so that eventually you won’t have to try so hard.

It takes a lot of work to be yourself.

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