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Search for Self: The Ghost in the Ghost

For many of us, there’s no greater fear than loss of self. But is the idea of ‘self’ just an illusion? Are we in control, or just along for the ride?

A word of warning to the reader: this article could be upsetting, confusing or both.

Most of us have said, “I like this, I don’t like that,” and so on and so forth. Many of us feel like there is a phantom self living within our bodies. This formless specter is us, and we are it. Or are we?

Lately I’ve been thinking about the self and losing a sense of self.

I’ve been thinking a lot about statements like the one I just made. Who is this I and why is he talking through my mouth. Is this my mouth? Does any part of my body constitute as me? Would I be less myself if I lost an ear, or would I be someone else? The self may be an illusion, but the illusion of self is very real. There is something that we think is inside of us. It thinks our thoughts, and we perceive these thoughts as our own.

Losing a sense of self is often one of the first steps towards ‘enlightenment’ in many religions and philosophies. But as horror fans, we all know enlightenment can also mean fear — fear elicited from questions. The biggest question in this case, the loss of self, would be who is driving the car? And if no one is driving the car, why do I think someone is driving the car?

Is the reality of a self dependent on us thinking that the self is a reality, and if so does that constitute that this ghostly driver of our cognitive processes is ‘real’ if ‘we’ believe in it? Is there something living inside of us between or within our neurons that makes ‘us’ us? Is there something beyond the wiring?

We’ve covered ghosts a lot in this column. We’ve discussed their importance in getting people interested in regional history, as well as their importance in the cultivation of imagination. We’ve discussed and reviewed them in numerous forms of media— and we have even spent the night with one of them in an old cobblestone house.

Maybe ghosts resonate with so many of us because we feel that our bodies are haunted.

We feel the tugging and pulling on hands within our hands, in the blinking of eyes within our eyes. We feel ourselves speak someone else’s words verbatim. Maybe, somewhere deep down, we realize that we are ghosts. Not quite real, not quite there, lacking a definite shape or purpose, ‘we’ walk this earth trapped by ‘our own’ circumstances.

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