‘Who we are’ is a story of our ‘self’, a constructed narrative that our brain creates. Our brain constructs models of the external world, weaving experiences into a coherent story and enables us to interpret and predict what we should do next.

Early last year, I discovered a large tumour in my neck, in my thyroid to be precise. I have since had it removed and am 100% well but in addition to the tumour confusion, I had asked my endocrinologist if he believed in the mind. His reaction was incredible, he flatly refused to engage in the discussion other than to state simply that the mind doesn’t exist; we are purely our brains. Nothing further to discuss, conversation over.

As a ‘mind over matter’ risk-taking kind of a girl, his lack of engagement troubled me but his words stuck, leaving me genuinely baffled. This in turn led to months of reading and pondering the subject of the human brain. It is the most remarkable organ and something which can be backed up by research, findings and fact. Understanding it is something I’ve barely even begun to scratch the surface of and it is highly unlikely that I will pursue a career as a brain surgeon but I’m hooked!

I’ve so far discovered that the world does exist (hooray!) but our brains have evolved to process only those aspects of the external world that are useful to us and we only sense what we are capable of detecting through our nervous system.

I studied Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) a while ago and now like to quantify the existence of things by whether or not you can carry them into a room. A bit like evidence vs. hearsay in a legal case, if I was asked to bring someone a brain, I could. If I was asked to bring someone a ‘mind’ or a ‘self’, I couldn’t. I could deliver a body which houses and transports a brain, a body which has become a ‘self’ but I couldn’t actually bring you a ‘self’ because it only exists in the brain of the human being its associated with.

Knowing that the ‘self’ is an illusion cannot stop you thinking that it exists and even if you succeed, it may be best to not try in the first place. Knowledge is power and we are all too quick to notice how others can be manipulated but how often do we appreciate how much our own self is equally under the influence and control of others. That is something worth knowing and something to watch out for when choosing the people who surround your life.

Most of us think that we are not simply our brains. In fact, we are our brains but the brain itself is surprisingly dependent on the world it processes and when it comes to generating the ‘self’, the role of others is paramount in shaping and influencing us.

Choose your friends and support networks wisely, be honest and stay inquisitive.