Markus Stocker bio photo

Markus Stocker

Between information technology and environmental science with a flair for economics, the clarinet, and the world of soups and salads.

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A few days ago, together with a recently grown mother I wondered about the question when does a kid recognize itself in a mirror. I don’t recall how it came up but I think it is an interesting question and I don’t think we got a conclusive answer.

While my brain started to think about what one needs to know in order to recognize herself in a mirror (e.g. that a mirror does reflect, hence, if I stand in front of it, it will reflect myself) my discussion partner simply said, you need to be aware of yourself. I guess, by being aware of my self, I recognize that if, e.g. I start to smile in front of a mirror the image does the same thing and so I realize reflection and conclude that this must be me. Or something like that. She added, it is when one recognizes its own ego and starts to defend it. The short discussion ended with this note which triggered another few questions in my mind.

So, in young age we recognize our self, learn to be selfish – self-interested, self-centered, self-loving, narcissistic, enlightened, call it how you like – and then: The pursuit of maximizing it?

For some economic theories, homo economicus is a fundamental concept that describes humans, among other things, as self-interested actors. Sort of an axiom on top of which one may reason about socio-economic behaviour, including questions on environmental ethics, e.g. do unborn generations have a right on natural resources?

From theory to practice. I believe, we can all find an awful lot of examples for selfish behaviour throughout all kinds of human relationships and you can extend the idea to governments, countries, corporations.

So, are most, if not, fundamentally, all of us, whether conscious or unconscious, on a lifelong trip towards self maximization, an optimization problem that continuously maximizes individual happiness? My freedom ends where your freedom begins, so, typically, we can’t just indefinitively expand. However, how fuzzy are the boundaries? The more selfish, the more freedom, the more individual happiness?