The Many Lives We Live

I only took one philosophy class in college:  Introduction to Philosophy — or “Philosophy 101” as some like to call it.

I remember enjoying the class, and that I did well in it.  I remember Professor Jackson, and even some of my classmates’ faces.  What I cannot remember, however, is nearly all of the subject matter.  Fascinatingly, the one thing I do remember learning in Philosophy 101 is something I’ll never forget:

David Hume’s Bundle Theory of the Self is a theory stating that a person is nothing more than a series of perceptions.  Professor Jackson explained the concept by suggesting that a human being does not experience one continuous life, but instead experiences a series of small, individually packaged lives one after another.  I’m reminded of the bundle theory whenever I start a new chapter in my life.

For instance, I just started a new job.  Due to my decision to accept the position, my previous life — in which I spent nearly every day job hunting — ended.  In my new life, I’m working set hours in a building 20 minutes from my apartment, where I’m exposed to a work culture.  Initially, it required some adaptation because I wasn’t used to working for other people, and I’d basically forgotten what it’s like to work a challenging job in the private sector.

This is just one example of how my life changed, and consequently I felt as though I began an entirely new one.  Other examples of short lives that I’ve experienced in my lifetime would include high school, college, and my first job.  I could also title some lives (with some overlap) by my former interests, former dreams, and former girlfriends.

At one point in my life, I hoped that I’d be an airline pilot.  At another point in my life, I wanted nothing more than to own an AMC Pacer.  Another point, I imagined myself making a living as a professional gambler.  All of these are former versions of myself that have would have no connection to who I am today, except that it was always the same being experiencing the perceptions.

I find this process of “personal evolution” absolutely fascinating.  It’s not hard to tell that my interest in this topic influenced this blog — and the term “lifereboot” is simply a term I use to describe the idea of starting another life.

I believe that if you were to break down your own lifetime into the many lives you’ve experienced, many of us would start off the same way:

Life as a baby — or “the life I don’t remember.”

After that, however, we begin to branch off into our own unique lives — lives that nobody else have experienced in the exact same manner before, or ever will again.

For me, the next life was “life as a little boy.”  Interestingly, I only know specific things about this life from photographs, home videos, or stories people have shared with me.  Then followed “life as an unpopular nerd in school,” “life as an overachiever in college,” and “life as an unhappy member of the working dead.”

I don’t want this article to turn into a description of my life up until now.  I just want to make the point that I, like everyone else who has ever lived, have experienced many different lives in my lifetime.  Some of them are relevant, some of them are irrelevant, but all of them are over — with the exception of the one I’m living right now.

If you take the concept one step further, you could say that every day is a life all its own.  Waking up is like being born.  All that you decide to do in the present is your life.  Going to bed is like dying, because it marks an end to one of your many lives.

The same thing could be said about dreaming.  Experiencing a dream is like being born.  All that you experience in your dream is another life.  Waking up from your dream is like dying, because it marks an end to one of the many lives perceived from the subconscious.

This consciousness-to-sleep-to-consciousness cycle is the series of perceptions that defines your life.  The notions of self and identity arise from how you are a constant being that experiences the different perceptions.

A little over five years ago, I was sitting in a lecture hall being introduced to the bundle theory of the self.  At the time, I was mostly concerned about exams, grades, and graduation.  I was anxious to finish my education and enter “the real world” so that my life could finally begin.

I am no longer that person, because I’ve experienced countless different lives since that time.  Fascinatingly, all the things that seemed so damn important to me during my college life seem rather trivial to me in my current one.  I guess that illustrates just how different the lives you live can be.

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14 Responses to “The Many Lives We Live”

#1 Matt R. @ on 11, Aug, 2008 at 1:01 am

That’s a very cool way to look at things. I personally get bored if I’m constantly doing the same thing day in day out, month to month, year to year. I’m always looking to reinvent myself and start fresh. Where some look at this as a lack of commitment or some form of attention defincit, I think it’s more like a thirst for life and all it has to offer. I want to die without any regrets, having lived the “lives” that interested me the most.

#2 Debra Estep on 11, Aug, 2008 at 9:02 am

Wonderful post Shaun !

‘David Hume’s Bundle Theory of the Self is a theory stating that a person is nothing more than a series of perceptions.’

WOW….. and when ya stop and think about it,
it’s those PAST ~self~ perceptions that can be so limiting. !

Waking up is indeed like being born !!

Happy Birthday Shaun. 🙂


#3 Eileen on 11, Aug, 2008 at 6:55 pm

I know what you mean about all your past phases seeming like separate lives. However, when I look back on mine, I can see that they really are the same person, with fundamentally the same interests evolving as I discover more about myself and as the external circumstances change. Even my current life, which seems so different from what came before, is really just a natural evolution.

#4 Ankit on 12, Aug, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Its a refreshing way to look at life. As I went through this article, I subconsciously started splitting my own life into smaller parts.

Its always better to know that you have certain interesting lives to rescue you from the more mundane lives 🙂

#5 Lauren on 12, Aug, 2008 at 9:06 pm

I don’t remember learning about this in my intro psych class… but it makes a lot of sense. I often enjoy reflecting on what I found important many years ago and how I have changed in that way. I wish I had kept better diaries before blogging became popular, because it’s fun to revisit my past “lives” so to speak.

#6 Steve on 13, Aug, 2008 at 12:38 am

Hi Shaun,

Receiving an update from your site always feels like a lifeline to me.

Hopefully this unemployed “phase” of my life is near it’s end because as far as phases grow, it’s not a top 10 by a long shot. (Almost 2 years)

Funny enough, I’ve learned a lot during this time about myself and those who surround me. (Or sometimes lack thereof “surrounding).

Fool me once shame on me…yaddi..yaddi…ya..:-)

Keep up the great work sharing your gift with us.


#7 Jason on 13, Aug, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Hello Shaun, you ever Eckhart Tolle? You may want to check out his book (audio on iTunes) “The Power of Now.” It’s an incredible work that touches on many of the things you write about. I was actually listening to the audio book when I woke up this morning.

I just found out after seven years I’m being laid off from my current employer, at&t. I worked in graphics doing production work on the yellow pages (people actually still use it-for now) and internet banner ads. So I guess I’m beginning a new at this very moment. I’m a new member of a growing club. I have to admit, I’m in shock right now, I’m going through a roller coaster of emotions and nothing seems concrete. The challenge for me now is to take that step back and honestly assess where I’ve come from and where I want to be. I was one of the “The Working Dead.” I became so comfortable with the paycheck that I forgot about things that really mattered to me. It was like being in the second person and watching myself go through this cyclical existence that can only be described as nothing more than a component of the machine (cue the pink floyd). In a strange way I feel almost liberated yet at the same time the financial insecurity scares the hell out of me. I think I need a time out. 🙂

Thanks again for the article, good luck with your new job too.


p.s. I too began looking back at the lives I had, strange how you can forget something like that for so long then it just reappears.

#8 Dora on 13, Aug, 2008 at 9:47 pm

Hey, glad you hear to finally got a job.

However, I’d like to ask, now that you’ve come full circle, back into a type of job in a similar area to that you left in the first place, do you ever regret quitting your old job?

Your idea was to start over, pursue your passion, etc. But at the moment, it hasn’t worked out and you now end up going back to what you left in the first place – a 9-5 computer job.

Do you regret giving it up? Where do you see you’re heading right now?

#9 Cassie on 14, Aug, 2008 at 5:59 pm

In response to Lauren’s comment (#5): I have kept a journal for nearly 5 years now —which in the long run doesn’t seem like very long — but even in that short amount of time, I’ve experienced many “lives.” It’s really hard to go back and read those entries. It’s like I’m a completely different person.

It’s actually almost embarrassing to remember so vividly the things and people that used to be important to me. I always think “oh, I’ll go back and read these someday,” but when I try to read them, I don’t like to. The old notebooks just sit in a box in a closet and collect dust.

And I often worry that someday I’ll die and family member of mine will find them and read them. There’s that saying that one shouldn’t put into writing anything one doesn’t want to be read. But I really enjoy the act of journaling —not so much the act of going back and reading it.

#10 Rakesh on 15, Aug, 2008 at 7:46 am

Hello Shaun,
I am Rakesh, from germany.. for the last few mnths, I am reading ur blog.. i dono who u r, whr u live etc etc.. but i really like ur articles.. i alws feel u r wrintg wat i think.. 🙂 keep up the gud wrk..

#11 DanGTD on 20, Aug, 2008 at 7:03 am

Thanks for the great article.

It’s important to evolve, and to always aim for more. Not necessarily start a completely new life, but you can always improve and grow and get to the next level. When you are green you grow, when you are ripen, you not. You always have to be green.

#12 Pamela Merritt on 25, Aug, 2008 at 10:02 pm

I’m so happy you got a new job! Congrats on the new phase.

I always felt my “career” was the second definition in the dictionary. You know, random erratic movement…

However, at this point, I realize I accumulated a diverse bunch of skills that are turning out to be very valuable, though no one knew it at the time, including me.

So be open to what the Universe is telling you. Right now, we can only do our best.

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