First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

In this month’s Big Questions Forum, we’ll be tackling what may seem like the most obvious question, but which is one of the most confounding: Who are we?

The Buddha referred to the sense of self as an illusion. But to most of us it is more real than anything else!

In other guises, the question might be asked as: Where is my self? Is it in my brain, my body, my cells? If all of the above, who or what orchestrates the synthesis of all these pieces into a personality whole? Is there such a thing as a soul, perhaps as the amalgam of all this?

Everything about us changes. Our very cells die and regenerate constantly. So it is said that there is no part of us physically that is constituted of the same cells from seven years earlier. Yet through all the changes there is in us a constancy throughout our lives. We remain the same person in spite of these changes.

The blog site Wait But Why? addresses this question in a long and engaging post called What Makes You You? Though not required reading, this would provide excellent food for thought going into the discussion. The article provides a number of thought experiments that will not clarify the question, but only confound you further!

Why engage in this question? The Wait But Why post concludes with a quote from British philosopher Derek Parfit:

“The early Buddhist view is that much or most of the misery of human life resulted from the false view of self.”

This month’s forum will be held on Tuesday, April 26th at 7:30pm in the Parlor. We hope to see you there!

Who Are You?


The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’ ‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland