My favorite science podcast, Ginger Brown's Brain Science Podcast (my favorite because Brown asks great questions, gives her guests room to explain their complicated ideas or books, and she doesn't spice her programs with those silly sound effects and bursts of geek humor that Radiolab has popularized), has an interview with Bruce Hood, the author of The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity.
Basically, and rather uninterestingly, Hood tells us something that Morpheus tells Neo in the movie The Matrix: Reality is actually an illusion. We get that. What we don't get, and the truly profound thing that Hood points out, is this:
And there's a real shift in this sense of identity in children. Below about two years of age few of us have any memory of identity—or personal memories, for that matter. This is a common phenomenon known as infantile amnesia. And it used to be thought that this was somehow an immaturity of the brain to store memories. But we know that's not the case; we know that much younger babies can store memories for quite considerable periods of time.
But they don't have a sense of self identity. And I think that's what's going on. I think without a sense of who you are as a character, then it's very difficult to integrate information into meaningful memories that become stored as your personal identity.
Even as a child is developing, their emerging sense of self is changing quite radically. So initially, in very general terms, the child is fairly egocentric, if you like; so they don't really fully appreciate that others have different mental states, different opinions, or different perspectives.
Even as a child is developing, their emerging sense of self is changing quite radically. So initially, in very general terms, the child is fairly egocentric, if you like; so they don't really fully appreciate that others have different mental states, different opinions, or different perspectives. But as they reach their second to third birthday, they start to shift to a growing awareness that they're surrounded by others who have different opinions and expectations.
Can you see the stunning implications of this view of things, view of child development, human mental development? A child is self-centered (or ego-centric) because they lack a sense of self. Meaning, a child is not self-centered because they have too much self—me, me, me absolute me and this nipple. It is because of an absence of self. The self is a profoundly social construction. There is no sense of it without a sense of others. Others and self can not be separated. You only become self-decentered when there is a self.