The following imagined series of events in this exercise might be disturbing to some persons. Caution is advised. It turns out well in the end, but the process may be too graphic for some.
Imagine that some fantastic genie appears before you and says, “I’m going to gradually reduce you to nothing.” The genie snaps his (her?) fingers and suddenly your arms disappear. No bleeding–they’re just gone! With a wicked grin, the genie says, “That’s just for starters! I bet you feel a lot less like a full human being now!”
Next the genie magically snaps again and suddenly your legs, nose, hair, tongue, teeth, tonsils, appendix, gall bladder, spleen, one lung, one kidney, one ear, one eye and many other parts have been shed.
“There. Now we’re getting somewhere,” says the genie. “I’ll bet NOW you feel like you’re not a full human being! I’ll just read your mind from this point on. Now do you feel less deserving of the right to use the word ‘me’?”
“Wait!” says the genie. “I know you think you are still there, enough. Well, I’m just getting started.” Next the genie snaps and suddenly (you’re certain it is true but you don’t know how it happened) you find that you no longer can do even simple arithmetic.
“How’s that? Now you’re numerically challenged, too!”
While you’re considering a response, the genie starts snapping again, and in quick succession, you find yourself without 90% of your vocabulary, the chronological order of the events of your life is missing (you have no idea what came when,) and 99% of your creativity is missing.
Now I’ve got you running scared, eh? Not much left of you there.”
Before you can start speaking, the genie snaps again, and all memories of your life disappear except for the last few minutes with the genie.
“How’s that? Do you still think you’re ‘real’? What are you pointing to when you think the word ‘me’? And here’s the bad news, I am a very clever genie. Now, I’m going to remove the rest of your body, and by my powerful magic you will only be a thinker.” The genie snaps, and instantly you are without memory of anything. You have no body to sense anything of any sort whatsoever, and all you can experience is the mental sound of the genie telepathically laughing at you.
“Now you’re really gone! All I’ve left you is the ability to be aware of my words,” says the genie. “Why would you possibly have any use for the word ‘me’ now? But wait, don’t bother answering. Now, for the next thirty seconds, you won’t even be able to think a single thought or have an emotion or any kind of sensation whatsoever. I’ll even stop talking!”
For thirty seconds (the genie keeps track of time for you with his Rolex), you experience no bodily sensations, no thoughts, no emotions, no desires, no memories, nothing. All that remains is a “readiness,” an awareness that could receive something if anything was to be presented to it.
Suddenly, you’re back with your entire body and all mental faculties intact.
The genie says, “That last one got you, right? You human beings, so dependent on physical and mental possessions. Take them away and you are nothing.”
Before you respond to the genie,
What is it that I mean by the word “me”? If I am reduced to mere awareness without any experience being registered, am I still me? In the purest sense, what is “me”?
Would “me” be unaffected by these kinds of changes?
What is the minimum required amount of body that I would have to have to consider myself to be a human being? If I were a living brain in a jar would I be a person?
What accumulated knowledge and intellectual skills must I minimally possess to feel like I can call myself a person? If I am in a dreamless coma–a coma from which I will someday fully recover–am I a person? Do I have a spirit? Am I “there”?
When did I first become “someone” with a “me”?
Given that most humans gradually experience a loss of various faculties and bodily functioning throughout a lifetime, is ordinary life any different from the genie’s machinations?
What is the relationship between “me” and my experiences? Why would something (me) that is so intangible have any reason to associate with experiences? When an experience has happened, how is any benefit to “me” accrued? Where’s the profit to “me” in this association? Does anything physical or mental change “me” or “add to me”? How are my possessions “attached” to “me?”
What is the difference between having my thoughts and emotions reflecting or describing the existence of “me” and the actual experience of “me” without any descriptive experiences happening? Are thoughts about “me” necessary for “me” to exist?
How does the word “me” evolve as I grow older? When I was three years old I spoke this sentence: “Give that to me.” How would the word “me” differ in meaning if I said this sentence today?
Why do I need a body, a personality, a life? What’s in it for “me”?