Looking into the brain and trying to find “the self” is like looking into the brain and trying to find “the importance”.
Almost nobody’s self is unified but your self becomes unified as you struggle to get clear about what is important to you and what isn’t, and then you make (or allow stuff) to fall into line. In other words it’s not something you find, it’s something you make happen (if you’re lucky and you want to). A person who hasn’t decided or experienced what’s important and what isn’t would not have a self — there would just be a bunch of feelings and jingles and social roles and expectations and emotions knocking into each other.
The answer to the question “what is my self” and the answer to the question “what is most important to me” are answers we make together. Neither answer can be provided by looking into the brain because whatever sort of thing happened in my brain I could still say “Yeah that’s not me, that’s not important, I don’t care about that.”
So f I had a phobia of dogs I could say “dogs give me this panicky sensation but they’re not actually bad — I don’ think they should be destroyed” and I could seek a pill or a therapy that would cure me of this phobia. If I did that I would not think the fearsomeness of dogs was important and I would not view my panicky reaction in the presence of a dog to be part of my self. I would view it as a problem that my self has to deal with.
On the other hand if whenever I saw a dog I went crazy with hatred, and then when I wasn’t in the presence of a dog I didn’t know what I thought about that, then I would be so dissociated my self would be in trouble.
[photo by Jan Lakota]