The idea of a personal self is the result of self-consciousness. Self-consciousness is simply an awareness of one's self. The self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships (see ). Is it possible that the "self" is a projection, an illusion, a belief, an imaginary concept? Somehow we mingle and mix all the different ideas of a "self" we have had. One says "I was born 25 years ago", yet the "I" at that time - the baby that was born - is certainly very different from the "I" today.
Michael Gazzaniga about the problem of the self: "You make your own decisions.. But who is 'you'? 'You' is this person with this brain that has been interacting with this environment since you were born, learning about the good and the bad, the things that work and don't work." (see ).
Daniel Dennett distinguishes in his book "Brainchildren - Essays on Designing Minds" (MIT Press 1998) in the chapter "Speaking for Our Selves" between two views of the self: the 'proper-self' and the 'fictive-self'. According to Dennett, the self can be described as the center of narrative gravity:
- "Two extreme views can be taken Ask a layman what he thinks a self is, and his unreflecting answer will probably be that a person's self is indeed some kind of real thing: a ghostly supervisor who lives inside the head, the thinker of his thoughts, the repository of his memories, the holder of his values, his conscious inner "I". Although he might be unlikely these days to use the term "soul", it would be very much the age-old conception of the sould that he would have in mind. A self (or soul) is an existent entity with executive powers over the body and its own enduring qualities. Let's call this realist picture of the self, the idea of a 'proper-self'.
- Contrast it however, with the revisionist picture of the self which has become popular among certain psychoanalysts and philosophers of mind. In this view, selves are not things at all, but explanatory fiction. Nobody really has a soul-like agency inside them: we just find it useful to imaging the existence of this conscious inner "I" when we try to account for their behavior (and in our own case, our private stream of consciousness). We might say indeed that the self is rather like the "center of narrative gravity" of a set of biographical events and tendencies; but, as with a center of physical gravity, there's really no such thing (with mass or shape). Let's call this nonrealist picture of the self, the idea of a 'fictive-self'."
The self refers in the extended sense to the identity and the personality of a person: the things that really characterize and define the person. Aristotle said "we are what we repeatedly do". A person's self-concept may change with time. The identity of a person who is constantly trying new things an open one - for examples kids - is changing, and can always include new ingredients. The identity of a person who is always doing the same things crystallizes in the course of time.