TedEd: Why are we so attached to our things? (External Self)

I found this cool video from TedEd about why we are so attached to our possessions. It seems that we literally take the things that we possess to a part of ourselves on a neural level. So it appears that the Buddha’s teaching on not taking anything external to be our selves is based on measurable science.

“So you should truly see any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’ SN 22.59

So taking any external object to be a part of our self, or identifying an essence with an external object as a part of our (or someone else’s) self is a very real thing that we do. Even if it’s not something that is superstitious sounding like a horcrux or voodoo doll. Your favorite coffee mug might be something that you consider a part of you! It’s really neat, and slightly alarming, to consider.

If you would like to watch the video the link is below. Video length is around 4.34 minutes.

After witnessing the “violent rage” shown by babies whenever deprived of an item they considered their own, Jean Piaget – a founding father of child psychology – observed something profound about human nature: Our sense of ownership emerges incredibly early. But why do we become so attached to things? Christian Jarrett details the psychology of ownership.

There is more information and papers cited on how we identify objects as our self here from TedEd.


This is very much so. We form this process when we are babies, and we have still a deep confusion about where our body starts, and our body finish. This same process of identification then becomes part of the feeling of possession. Losing things we attach to it is indeed a trauma e it does not need to be a person. Complex neurochemical synapsis exchanges dictate the process of grief and loss.

The teaching of the Buddha is spotted on. It shows how much he knew about how things are. The Buddha suggests in his teaching towards liberation to act on our neuroplasticity to reshape how our neutrons form the connection. It means to reshape the brain and how it functions. Meditation and level of absorption are not just for peace but to help the processes.

By entering a state of mind where thoughts and other processes are suspended, the brain achieves a unique status that helps to reform new synapsis and pathway. Then the observation, reflection, and wisdom can use such new pathways to help develop a new vision of reality, bringing liberation to the end of suffering by stopping grasping and wanting to be included desiring the sense of self.
It is fascinating to connect neuroscience to Buddhism. Yet, we must remember that what is essential is the practice. This type of knowledge may be captivating, but it does not lead to liberation and, as I experience myself, can even slow down what is the crucial part of the path.