Your true self: Why it’s morals that make the human


Trent Parke/Magnum Photos By Dan Jones IN THE 1980s, evangelical Christian Mark Pierpont travelled the world preaching that homosexuality was a sin and promoting ways to resist gay urges. It was a deeply personal quest. He was himself wracked by the very yearnings he sought to excise from others – a contradiction he openly acknowledged. So here’s the question: which of Pierpont’s attitudes reflected his true self? Was his message about the sinfulness of homosexuality a betrayal of his essential, gay self? Or did it reflect what he was deep down, freed from the distorting influence of more primal urges? At first sight, it is a question of little scientific merit: psychologies are complex, individual things, and there’s no part of the brain, and no aspect of our personality, that stands out as being the seat of the true self, so we’re never going to discover a universally valid answer. “As a scientific concept, the idea of a ‘true self’ is not tenable,” says Nina Strohminger of Yale University. And yet she and other psychologists have set out to study it. Most of us are convinced that something like a true self lurks beneath our surface attitudes and behaviour. It might be a delusion, but it informs how we view human beings, ourselves included. If we could better understand what that delusion consists of,
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