“And if various parts of her body began to grow and shrink and Tereza no longer looked like herself, would she still be Tereza? Of course. Even if Tereza were completely unlike Tereza her soul inside her would be the same and look in amazement at what was happening to her body. Then what is the relationship between Tereza and her body? Had her body the right to call itself Tereza? And if not what did the name refer to? Merely something incorporeal, intangible?…”
Two different conceptions of selfhood are Private and Public. The Private Self defines itself in relation to inner mental episodes. It is only accessible to us. Others cannot dispute reports about our mental states, as only we know what we think and feel. The Public Self, in contrast, exists within our interactions with other people. It is the self as assessed on the basis of what we do and say. Everyone has access to this self. But which one is really us?
Descartes believes the self is fundamentally private. He believes in something similar to a ‘Soul’, in that our true selves are immaterial. The union between mind and body is merely functional. He conceives of the body as more or less of a ‘machine’ – the body experiences, and the brain then facilitates the thinking. The body can function without the Soul, responding to different stimuli instinctually, and likewise the Soul can function without the body (think: spirit realm). But if we are not our body, how do we know we actually exist? We can’t see our soul, so how do we know it’s there?
The Cartesian Dream Sequence employs the philosophical method of skepticism to arrive at truth. It asks: If everything taken to be reality is part of an eternal dream controlled by an evil demon, how do we know we exist (basically the plot of The Matrix)? Descartes’ solution is that, even if there is an evil deceiver, “he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something…this proposition, I am, I exist, is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived in my mind” This is an example of the Private Self. It shows that Descartes believes that our own mental processes constitute personhood.
If we are our Private Selves, what then, is our relationship with the body? Why do we have a body? Descartes believes that embodiment is how we actualise as a Self. We have a Soul, but we need a body in order to have something more specific – something that can embed itself in the events unfolding around us. The Soul and body are connected via agency – an intention is formed by a rational decision (Soul/brain) and manifests in action (body). Thus our Private Self (the thing making the decision) becomes accessible in the public domain (others can see our actions).
To live as a Self and interact with the world around us, we become embodied agents; Souls attached to bodies that assist us in navigating the tangible realm. I am not my body. My body is merely my (temporary) connection to this Earth.