We are not what we think we are, of that I am sure. And yet, what we think we are shapes our behavior, the quality of our relationships, our values, feelings of right and wrong, justice, and compassion. The key to personal and social transformation, which as we will see, are the same thing, is ‘identity.’
A breathtaking scientist, author and friend, Howard Bloom, writes about social biology, how independent particles, molecules, simple organisms team up to form super-organisms, how they share information, act in unison, form even bigger networks or gangs called species, on and on. Zooming back these appear as continents, oceans, planets, solar systems and galaxies, all moving, changing, forever.
Where do we draw the line that separates ‘me’ from everything else? The sieve-like membrane we call skin is so full of holes it forms no boundary at all. 30% to 40% of our body weight is bacteria and other parasite-guests hitching a ride. Without these micro-beasts we would not be. Is the bacteria living inside each of us – us? If not, we are a little more than half of what we think we are.
Perhaps we are defined by our thoughts which seem to emanate from nowhere between our ears, in the black hole just behind eyes. But thoughts just don’t happen, nor do feelings. Thoughts and feelings are shadows first cast by sensations coming from out there and then bouncing around like pinballs inside, triggering feeling and thinking bells along the way. Take away out there and in here disappears too. Inner and outer give rise to each other, and I am both.
Every now and then something new appears, a fresh perception. Musing about the reciprocal nature of what we are – suddenly, after reading a particularly explosive paragraph Howard had written, there it was. What I call me, my social-cultural identity, my personal ego or image of self-inside and the outer images that make up the culture-outside are the same. Looking through different ends of a toy telescope the inner and outer appear completely different – but they are, in fact, the same process, both are images.
Right, wrong, do this, not this, good boy, bad girl, language, the names we give things are all embodied reflections of the collective super-ego we call culture. Growing up, needing to belong, we personify these collective images as a self-image, and that’s what I think I am, but am not.