In “How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis,” Alison Gopnik explores fascinating links among Hume’s “bundle of perceptions” theory of self-identity, the European Enlightenment, Buddha, Tibetan monks, Siamese kings, Jesuit missionaries … and her own midlife crisis.
Philosophies such as Stoicism and Epircureanism promise that you can render yourself invulnerable to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But in “Against Invulnerability” Todd May asks whether we really want to be invulnerable. “But for those who choose to remain vulnerable, life is not and cannot be undergone as anything other than a fraught trajectory, one hedged about by an inescapable contingency, and one that is likely to leave scars alongside its joys. And for most of us, most of the time, we would not want it to be any other way.”
The vanishing self
In an interview with Gary Gutting, Sam Harris explains that there is no self. “Consciousness exists (whatever its relationship to the physical world happens to be), and it is the experiential basis of both the examined and the unexamined life. If you turn consciousness upon itself in this moment, you will discover that your mind tends to wander into thought. If you look closely at thoughts themselves, you will notice that they continually arise and pass away. If you look for the thinker of these thoughts, you will not find one. And the sense that you have — ‘What the hell is Harris talking about? I’m the thinker!’— is just another thought, arising in consciousness.