Part Five: The Evolutionary Origins of Self
The dualistic ego-mind is essentially a survival mechanism, on a par with the fangs, claws, stingers, scales, shells, and quills that other animals use to protect themselves. By maintaining a separate self-sense, it attempts to provide a haven of security . . . Yet the very boundaries that create a sense of safety also leave us feeling cut off and disconnected. – John Welwood
To help ourselves – and others, perhaps – to transcend the self, it helps to understand why the self arises in the brain – in other words, to understand the survival functions of the self and their evolutionary origins.
By addressing those needs of the organism through ways other than self, we can, in effect, thank self for its vigilance and its labors throughout the years, and then say, “Goodnight sweet prince,” and put self to bed, at least for a time – and, perhaps with liberation, forever.
So, where did this self come from, anyway?
Origins of Rudimentary Self
Our account of the development of self in evolution – and its related architecture in the brain – is straightforward, but it can get a little thorny, so we are going to take it step by step, with numbers, no less.
The key question we will try to answer is:
How does the brain construct the two fundamental properties of self: identity and agency?
- As Damasio and others have noted, with rudimentary core consciousness – imagine that of a worm or a fly – there are basic representations of the state of an organism’s body. Those representations comprise the experience of the organism.