I guess it depends on your perspective on the matter.
Is the self a rigid thing or does it have plasticity? When we try to define ourself, do we have a very well defined object in mind, or perhaps imagine that the self is such a well defined object, even if we have not noticed all the details yet? Can it be altered at all, and still remain itself? Where is the limit? For instance, if memories are part of the self, then do we turn into a different person if we forget something? If yes, then we must also turn into a different person if we learn something. If we accept that, we have to set a limit to the importance of the memories. Otherwise it is possible that we are not ourselves after learning simply that we have no milk in the fridge or, perhaps more on topic, that we are currently dreaming.
What about mental states then? Is it not part of the definition of a person that they have different behaviours in different mental states? A person can be a mean drunk, for example. It is then not that they are not themselves, it is that the person thinks and behaves different when he or she is drunk. That change in thought patterns and behaviour can be part of what and who you are. So if you think and behave different in a lucid dream, it is simply because you are in a dream state. And how big is this difference anyway? Is it so big that “you” are missing, and someone else is dreaming?
If we include the fact that we are human, in our definition of ourselves, then is it not expected that a human would be different while dreaming? The brain functions differently at the time and it is entirely expected that the mind would be affected. Just like you would expect that you would think and act different when you are afraid, or angry, as opposed to some other mental state, which you would consider your “default” state. Such a state, ofcourse, is a rather strange idea. And it highlights the fact that we have to consider the “self” IN RELATION TO certain mental states. That is, we have to think, when considering if we are ourselves in a lucid dream, “is this how I would act and think if I were in a lucid dream?” Much like how we would consider how we act and think when we are mad, or sad, or tired, or drunk, to name a few. This means that you can think and behave any old way you want and still be yourself.
Yes, conventionally, it is thought that if someone is in a certain mental state then they are still themselves. If you are drunk you might be very forgetful and a bit agressive for example, but you may still argue that it is still yourself. However, there is obviously a limit. If you radically alter someone’s chemical balance then they will be severely mentally changed. To say that they are still ‘theirself’ just because it is still their physical body completely undermines the whole sense of the term ‘self’.
You say that we have to set a limit on the importance of memories because “otherwise it is possible that we are not ourselves after learning simply that we have no milk in the fridge”. Well, that is true to a very minor degree. Whenever we take on any new memory or belief we do become very slightly different. Of course, learning some information about your posessing milk does not alter you enough to say that you are not yourself but having an accident that results in you losing all of your memories arguably does result in you losing your self.
Of course your point that we have to expect a certain altered mental state when we are dreaming is completely valid but there is a limit to how changed I can feel that I start to wonder if it is still the person I believe I am, from day to day.
Personally I’m not sure I see dreams in such a way that I might not be myself. I frequently dream of being completely different people, with different lives and stories. I see this as being a sandboxed situation where I am evaluating something to do with my; self, real life, or situation whatever that may be.
Perhaps I can explain better through example, if I am stressed about work, and have anxiety dreams where I am a different person who kills somebody and is being hunted by the police. Then I would say that dream came from my fear of making a mistake and being held accountable for that. I am seeing my anxiety manifesting in my dreams. So given that it came from a real life thought, and what I was currently worried about, I would still see that as being myself, just expressed in a different way.
One thing I want to state clearly is that I see my sub-concious as me, it is part of me, not some separate entity, it is not self aware in my eyes. Its a product of the patterns I am operating with. If I hold the pattern that bad acts are punished, then the reaction in a dream, lucid or not, of police trying to arrest me; isn’t because I have upset my sub-concious, it’s because its a pattern in my beliefs. Perhaps a subconscious thought, is a good description, but not in the sense that my subconscious thinks, its something I think, I just am not always aware of thinking this, or that I can change it, its a pattern I follow, a program perhaps which I have written for myself.
In response to those who say losing memories means loss of self, I would say we don’t remember every memory we have had at all times, often we have reactions that can come from past events we don’t even remember. I don’t see why temporary isolation from a memory in a dream changes us any more than forgetting some event that happened to us. Even if that isolation is from the parts of ourselves we hold sacred. I see it as a function of a healthy mind, that is looking at things from different angles, and without other perquisites on our thoughts.
GOB- Since you mention the TERM self, the issue of definition comes into view again. It depends on your definition of the self if the sense of it is undermined or not. It is not a clear and obvious thing what the self is. I don’t see any obvious reason why a person cannot change and still be themselves. They would change, obviously, but that does not necessarily mean that “the self they were” is dead. I am not sure either if it makes sense to me that you can be one self, and when your personality changes, be some other self which is not you. Then WHO is it that is being these selves? It seems likely to me that this would be the real self. And in that case the contents of your personality are not so important.
Try thinking of it this way. Your memories, are simply things you possess. If you accept that, then no amount of forgetting or learning changes who you are. Because it is still YOU who are forgetting and learning. And if your physical body is not who you are, then your brain is just a possession as well. So if the brain is in a state of dysfunction, it cannot provide you with the memories and abilities you once had, but it is still YOUR brain, your memories, and your abilities. Couldn’t you say that if you lose all your memories, you are still yourself, only having lost your memories, like you might lose your house or car or job? Somebody lost those memories- who?
Like GreenDragon above, I have dreamed I was somebody else. Or did I dream it? Was it I who dreamt it being someone else at the time? I had the priviledge of experiencing a shift when this character was falling asleep and WILDed, and during this I realised I was dreaming. I reflected later on that as it happened, it was like I took over. That my self appeared. I was present. Or I realised that I was the one dreaming. Something happened when that conscious awareness came in. Still, I experienced what happened before too. I did, not somebody else. I was the one who in the dream was this different person. Yet the experience was of shifting to the “real me”. If anything, the whole experience just made matters more confusing.