Trigger’s Broom

Here’s a clip from the classic comedy series, Only Fools and Horses, in which Trigger talks about his old broom.

Yes, it’s funny, but it raises an important point. In what sense can a broom that has had seventeen new heads and fourteen new handles be said to be the same broom?

Well, there’s a kind of continuity. The head and handle were clearly not both replaced at the same time, so to the casual observer it was the same broom as it was before. The fact of the matter, though, is that all the parts of the broom have been replaced many times, so that there is no trace of the original broom left. Trigger may think of it as the same broom, but physically it is not. Trigger’s broom exists only as an ongoing narrative.

We are the same. The cells in our body constantly wear out, die and are replaced. Eventually, there comes a point where every cell has been replaced. How, then, can we possibly be the same person as before?

The entity that I call “I”, “me” or “myself” (the ego) does not actually exist as an unchanging, solid, objective thing. It is simply a narrative used to describe the ongoing similarity between the many different versions of “me” that have existed. So in a sense, I can be said to exist as an ongoing narrative, but my “self” has no objective reality.

Deep stuff, but as it turns out, this is nothing new to Buddhism. It’s amazing what you can find out with a little reading and reflection!

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2 thoughts on “Trigger’s Broom

  1. I went through a phase of reading Buddhist books (mostly ones pertaining to Soto Zen). Then I went through a phase of reading popular science books about neurology because I also found these useful to my practice. Through meditation I could clearly observe Susan Blackmore’s claim that our minds are modular, with different parts thinking & doing different things. Like when I say to myself ‘it’s cold today’ – who is saying that & to whom? Which of them is my self? Neither – it’s just my subconscious brain telling the conscious part.

    I got a new t-shirt recently. It features the Carl Sagan quote “you are the universe expressing itself as a human for a little while.” Because once I accept that ‘I’ am merely an ongoing & constantly changing narrative with no objective reality, it becomes clear that the narrative does not begin & end with ‘my’ awareness of it during my human lifetime. That my body (and therefore my mind) previously comprised of other forms of matter which had yet to coalesce into ‘me’ & once it decays will once again comprise of other forms – like nutrients in the soil they bury me in, perhaps, before becoming part of more complex forms. We have all come from stars in a very literal sense.

    Liked by 1 person

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