How many selves are there?


One of our fearless leaders wrote:

Although I’m using the multiple selves terminology, I view it as no more than a rhetorical device. There are not multiple selves in any real sense. Rather, as I will argue, there’s in fact just one true you whose decision-making is sometimes distorted in the presence of immediate consequences, which act like a drug. Which is to say (as an empirical fact) that when a decision involves some consequences that are immediate and some that are distant, humans irrationally (no amount of future discounting can account for it) over-weight the immediate consequences. So I refer to multiple selves but I believe there is one true self: the one not under the influence of immediate consequences.

I agree that decision-making is sometimes distorted by overemphasizing the short-term at the expense of the long-term. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there is only one true self, though.

It can work the other way as well. Sometimes people get overly ambitious and set an extreme goal that they later realize they don’t want to actually live up to. In that situation, the long-term is being overemphasized!

As far as immediate consequences acting like a drug - isn’t the point of beeminder to bring the long-term close? So it’s not clear that your choices with beeminder are the “true self” choices - you’re distorting your choices by bringing in immediate consequences, in such a way that one of your selves (or if you like, one part of yourself) gets what it wants.

Do you think there are multiple selves in a real sense? I think it’s clear that there are. Any time there’s some kind of inner conflict, where one part of you wants something and the other part of you wants something else, you’re seeing multiple selves in action. And the conflict is not always resolvable by removing or adding near-term consequences.

On the other hand, I see the self as no more than a rhetorical device anyway. Try sitting down and concentrating on one thing for an hour and see just how in control of your thoughts you are!


I rather like the sub-selves model of self, there’s a lot to them, so introspection seems to say. Douglas Kendrick has a model with seven sub-selves, each responsible for different facets, such as self protection (the Night Watchman), affiliation (Team Player), status (Go-getter), and so forth.

Or should that be we rather like this model? no, we are a committee,going by the name of I, or so we think…