Back in the 1950s, when we were first discovering the basic fundamental principles of how the nervous system deals with signals from the outside world, philosopher and anthropologist Gregory Bateson began to think about what the implications are for the idea of “self.”
Bateson came to the startling conclusion that we are wrong to think that our self stops at the edge of our bodies at all. He found himself reasoning this way: When we use our arm to touch a wall, we think of the wall as something “outside” and our arm as part of our “self.” But the neurons in the arm are merely transmitting a signal to our brain.
If a blind man uses a stick to feel the sidewalk in front of him, that stick is serving exactly the same purpose as the neuron in your arm. So Bateson asks, “Where does the blindman’s self begin? At the tip of the stick? At the handle of the stick? Or at some point half way up the stick? These questions are nonsense.”
For Bateson, our feeling of a boundary between self and “other” is arbitrary, or at least an illusion that is created by whatever we are paying attention to. When you use your hand to feel the floor, you feel like your self stops at your skin. But when you use the floor to feel the traffic outside, your self becomes much larger.