What is selfhood?

Photography by Jorge Royan, Argentina

Photography: Jorge Royan, Argentina

“It’s natural to want contentedness for my self isn’t it?”

Our sense of well-being, of contentedness, of meaningfulness, of how we perceive our personal identity – all these relate directly to the individual’s notion of selfhood. Without that sense of self there’s nothing to which we might hope to attach, or attribute to, those same states. Yet when we look at our own sense of selfhood, we find that our understanding is somewhat shaky. We can’t quite grasp that self within which we believe somehow inhabits our mind and body, or is identical with them as an interrelation of the two.

“I experience selfhood, but why can’t I explain it in words?”

So is our self that collective manifestation of mind and body? We could say this is so in regard to the consensually agreed upon social construct – the hominidal ‘thing out there’ that wanders amidst and interacts with its neighbours and so forth. It’s fair enough to think as if saying ‘there goes a self that is Hariod, off to the shops to buy yet another bottle of sherry’. And yes, something like that does happen (frequently); yet what is that hominidal ‘thing out there’ thought of as ‘the self that is Hariod’?

“Surely selfhood is my body and mind as a fixed and independent entity isn’t it?”

In actuality – meaning that which exists beyond thought and belief – the self that is ‘me’ is nothing enduringly fixed and self-like. There is nothing stable (even when I’m off the sherry) that we can identify as the self of Hariod the blogger. My body mutates, the cells die and others generate. It’s no more than a temporary aggregation of cellular structures with an emergent capacity to think and perceive with awareness, the component parts (cells and thoughts) of which are in a constant state of dissolution, regeneration and mutation.

“I must be the same self that I was born as, how can that not be the case?”

There’s no definitive continuity of the hominidal ‘thing out there’ which we think of as ‘the self which is Hariod’. This is true from one minute to the next, let alone over the course of my six decades of supposed existence as an independently instantiated and enduring self-entity. The attribution of any ‘self’ is warranted only in so far as being a conceptual reference to this discontinuous, and sometimes rather wobbly, Hariod-ness.

“There’s a fixed and constant, truly independent self or soul within me isn’t there?”

To think of someone, or even some ‘thing’, as constituting a self or as being self-natured, implies a very large, if not total, degree of autonomy or independent existence. It also implies a certain fixedness, of unchanging stability. It’s not strictly correct or logical to think of a ‘self’ entity which always remains conditional upon external factors, or which is in a constant state of dissolution, regeneration and mutation. Loosely, we can call such things self-entities, but they’re not that in actuality, meaning beyond the world of ideas and beliefs.

“If there’s no self, how can I ever experience anything?”

Now this may come across as being picky and pedantic, but it’s necessary. Why so? Because we all believe we possess, or are, a stable and enduring self-entity. And we all believe that self can somehow attach to, or absorb into, a sense of contentedness, or meaningfulness, or happiness. This belief drives the entirety of our motivated existence, and it runs and operates daily for the whole of our adult lives. It’s rather important. So let’s be clear as to what this thing is that we take to be ‘the self that is me’.

“I’m not just imagining my self as some fiction surely?”

My sense of selfhood boils down to, is constructed and held to, by means of an internalised narrative. It’s the on-going story of ‘me’ the sometimes tipsy blogger, or ‘me’ the loving grandparent, or the ‘me’ who loves quietism, abstract paintings, Border Collies and a bit of J.S Bach. The narration of this story is endless; it builds, unfolds, revises, adapts and is held to by a continuum of mental activity – of thinking, of assumptions and beliefs, and of the representations of the mind in general.

“Selfhood determines my future; I guide my own destiny don’t I?”

Within this unfolding narration, a deep and pernicious assumption embeds as belief. That is, the narration itself and in totality is believed to constitute and reflect a self-entity with agency, meaning an entity with doer-ship, authorship and autonomy or self-determination. This entity, being a partial aspect of mind and hence sharing mental faculties, is itself aware of its own self-conception: it is egoically aware in other words. It believes in itself as the experiencer of experience, the observer of the observed, the thinker of thoughts, and so on.

“What’s so important about understanding selfhood?”

Because of this egoic belief and awareness, the self-entity erroneously imagines it can determine its own future. This is my future, it’s your future. This means it’s the future – and the present – of ‘what I am’ and ‘what you are’ beyond this fictional narrative. It’s incredibly important; it’s my life, your life. It isn’t just some philosophical talking point, some conjecture abstracted from real life and real meaning. This is why when talking about human well-being, contentedness and so forth, we absolutely must bring into the discussion the nature of the self, the unique sense of our own selfhood.

“All this no-self business; what’s in it for me anyway?”

Throughout the many blog posts and comments that will appear on this site, we’ll together expand on this theme and unpack further what it is that constitutes our sense of self. What’s been said just here in these few hundred words is no more than an overview. It gets a whole lot more interesting as we progress; yet we’ll remain grounded and readily understandable. And the more we learn, the more we become fascinated by this aspect of our being which may largely have gone unexamined amidst our busy lives. Beyond this, our understanding will increasingly grant us access to much of what was thwarted or denied in our misguided egoical pursuit of contentedness, of happiness, of fulfilment and so on.

69 thoughts on “What is selfhood?

    • Many thanks for taking the time to read the article, and for your kind words – I greatly appreciate it, truly I do.

      My intuition suggests that in asking yourself that question, you knew it was conceptually flawed to start with.

      Warmest regards and with respect, Hariod.

  1. This is a beautiful approach to a question of the deepest and most central mysteries, Hariod. I am sure you remember this wonderful admonition from Dogen: “To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of realization remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.” It is my hope that the conversation you have begun will continue endlessly.

    • I am deeply honoured by your brief visit here Professor Hanagan; truly, I am.

      Many thanks for reminding me of those exquisite words; though my training was in Vipassana Buddhism, rather than Zen, I read a little on Mahayana texts and commentaries – very beautiful.

      With metta,

      Hariod.

  2. Self and belief were JUST addressed again in the focus of the very last public interview my husband gave a few days ago 🙂 (and which I listened to for the first time this morning). How fun to return for a little more time here with your eloquent shares this afternoon and to find this umbrella post waiting, addressing your perspective on experience with the very same. Delight delight.

    Not going to be a surprise, but being invited to sit Vipassana and being drawn to purchase a little Buddha statue seen sitting in an antique store window (with what turned out to be the Mahayana Heart Sutra carved on in it’s robes) were my calls to begin looking eastward as well. How could “randomly” 😉 connecting with the divine sister H of another Sky Goddess (aka BA trolley dolly) bring the fruits of knowing in any other than a magic filled, synchronistic way?!

    The blog format I chose to hang my words on was all about just offering a bunch of images on a home page to randomly choose from, to dive into directing one to a bit of shared story. Thus, chosen without using any words, gifted from the X marks the spot “one self” place past where words really work effectively, but where visual image (as the word in living art) embed the message just the same. This format endlessly frustrates my Virgoan friends. Aquarius winks in return, encouraging the overcoming our proclivities and sends them love all the same. lol

    -x.M

    (btw, besides being hugs and kisses as the cutesy potential meaning of the sign off of ‘-x.M’, the deeper secret meaning for me in doing this has always been about visually reminding my-self and those who have eyes that are remembering to see, about the just being nature of “true” self in the x marks the same shared name spot. It is that shared foundation where any separate name, such as the M for a Maren or a H for Hariod, springs from! I started my online presence with the idea of using beingM(aren), meaning just being & Maren together creating Maren. But not being Maren at the end of the day, this tended to cause more confusion than good for others. So, the x of the known unknowable as M (or currently unknown depending on how you look at it) works at seeingM for now :). When X marks the spot, on most maps when you dig deep enough, one usually finds buried treasure.)

  3. Loved this insightful, eloquent piece of writing. The idea of ‘no self” is central to my self-help book, “Overcome Any Personal Obstacle, Including Alcoholism, By Understanding Your Ego” – http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/leewriter. The fact that it’s sold only six copies as of this moment isn’t a reflection of the publications’ quality but I believe my (the author’s) not promoting it as well as I could have. Also, fans of your blog might very enjoy my series of ‘Bad’ posts – I blogged about every single “Breaking Bad” episode and show the inherit dangers of an egocentric mindset. The blog is at http://sobrietybytamingyourego.wordpress.com.

  4. ‘. . . wobbly Hariod-ness.’ – I would never have guessed! Your writing is beautiful, also soothing to read. A real blog. I am going to pass it on to my friend in Sri Lanka. She will enjoy your writings, and your photos. I must go and look at the photos again, I have bought a new camera, a Lumix X17 – will keep me busy. . .

    Fondly, your friend Eve. x

    • Hello Eve,

      I don’t get wobbly very often at all in fact; one glass of sherry will do the trick though!

      I’m really very gratified to hear your kind thoughts about my writing. To be frank, I sometimes wonder if my style isn’t too formal, perhaps particularly so for American readers, though we can only write in accord with the nature of our thinking of course. At least, I’m pretty sure that is the case.

      Thank you also for telling your friend in Sri Lanka about this blog Eve. I hope she is able to take something from my efforts and that, like you, she enjoys the photography.

      Hope you get some great catches with the new Lumix!

      Hariod. ❤

      • 🙂 I will love the camera. . . The Americas have a very casual way of putting things across. We British, especially of an older generation, do to have that (formality). My husband is American, his English is much better than mine. Though with me, I am always in a drama when I write. . . No full stops for me! Lol, Eve.

  5. Hariod,

    It’s always interesting to see the different labels we use around the world, all trying to explain and describe the same thing. It is a marvelous wonder isn’t it, especially when you stop to think that those same questions and descriptions of ‘sense of self’ has inspired each of us, past and present, and never been satiated. Cheers my friend to the drink never satiating our thirst!

    Thanks for the drink.

    Mikey.

    • Cheers to you Mikey for letting me sip at your own offerings. [glasses chink]

      I’m not certain, though you seem to be pointing to a unicity in which the question of selfhood is largely rendered redundant – at least in terms of pinning it down conceptually or by means of the intellect. If this interpretation of your words is correct, then I agree that such efforts never quite slake the thirst of the intellect, even though, in unicity, there is no desire for that in any case. Still, the mind keeps on chuntering away in its own facile manner . . .

      Chin-chin Mikey!

      Hariod.

  6. “My sense of selfhood boils down to, is constructed and held to, by means of an internalised narrative. It’s the on-going story of ‘me’”

    Good observation, because the constancy that we have in our personalities is pretty elusive, but we don’t want to dismiss it altogether. I was just thinking today about a moment ten years ago when I should have stopped someone from making fun of another person. I hadn’t really thought about it until today, but it really bothered me that I didn’t stop her. I saw myself as I was then, a very different, shall I say, ‘insecure person’. So different, in fact, that I wondered what I had in common with that old self.

    Then I remembered my story, my internal narrative, all the events and people and choices that have changed me, cell by cell. Looking back on that moment frozen in time makes the self seem like so much aether, but there was someone – we want to say — behind all those little changes, accepting and rejecting them.

    An “I” that accompanies all my perceptions? Maybe something less empty than that?

    • Very many thanks for giving of your time to consider some of my words and for so graciously offering your observations; I truly appreciate it.

      You note that ‘. . . there was someone – we want to say — behind all those little changes, accepting and rejecting them.’ indicating that you are aware of things like the homunculus fallacy, the imagined observer of the observed and so forth. It’s very hard to escape the assumption that such an entity is ever-present isn’t it?

      If you have the time and inclination at any point, then I have a follow-on piece which you may be interested in: http://wp.me/P4wkZJ-1X That article goes on to explore the sense of separation that selfhood imparts to us.

      May I ask of you, what is your sphere of interest as regards the nature of self and so forth? I am curious because you mention the notion of emptiness in your closing remark.

      With much gratitude and respect to you.

      Hariod.

      • Hi Hariod,

        I responded to your thoughtful post. Thanks for taking the time to read mine!

        My sphere of interest is mostly Western, I’ll admit. Only because Eastern philosophy, as well as most poetry, evades my small literal mind. As far as the self goes, though, I haven’t read too much about it in either camp.

        The emptiness I mention is the idea of the self as a unifier of experience, which I talk about in my reply to your other post. I don’t know if I agree that the self can be boiled down to that which unifies experience, but even if that’s all it is, I’d say that’s a pretty important function!

        But is the self really so empty? I think we want to say it’s our personalities. There’s a sense that I am who I am, a certain number of traits don’t change. For instance, I’ve always been stubborn. When I make efforts to be not so stubborn, I can do it. But it’s always an effort for me, whereas others do it naturally. Is this personality trait a component of my self then? Well, personality can change. And my stubbornness could just be a fiction I tell myself, but I don’t think it is (but maybe I’m just being stubborn!).

        The idea of personality as self is so commonplace and intuitive that I hesitate to decimate it with arguments. I easily see how it can happen. I just think in general it’s better to take into account the things we intuit (maybe take for granted), in some way that makes more sense rather than do away with them.

        I think you were onto something in your ‘narrative as self’. I don’t know what, exactly, but I find it intriguing. Could there be a way to bridge the gap of self as an empty concept and the commonsense intuition of self as some unique personality?

        • Thank you once again for engaging in our discussion here: http://wp.me/P4wkZJ-1X We have covered the idea of ‘self’ as a ‘unifier of experience’ in that discussion of course.

          You say ‘But is the self really so empty? I think we want to say it’s our personalities.’ As you now will have gathered from our discussion linked to, then my position is that it’s not a question of the self being ‘so empty’, rather that it doesn’t exist as an actuality. Of course, we can say anything is a ‘self’, in as much as there may appear to be some independently instantiated entity with an enduring fixity as to its characteristics. Let’s keep this to the question of whether the human individual is rightly a ‘self’ by that criteria:

          What you describe as your character trait of ‘stubbornness’, I regard as no more than a habituated tendency, one that if not always volitionally exercised, then comes into being as a result of supporting circumstances. Perhaps right now it is surfacing within you as some feeling arises along with an attendant thought such as ‘this Hariod is an awkward contrarian so-and-so and I’m going to prove my point!’ Accepting this is happening (though it probably isn’t!), then why must it be attributed to any putative ‘self’? That’s an altogether unnecessary addition to the actuality of experience is it not? ‘I think I’m stubborn therefore I am’ – putting Descartes before de horse as you philosophers used to joke. What’s more, then if the necessary supporting conditions do not obtain, then where does this ‘habituated tendency’ and/or the stubbornness reside? No where. They do not exist as actualities any more than moonlight exists without a moon, a particular configuration of two planets, darkness, photons, a healthy eye and sentient system.

          You say ‘When I make efforts to be not so stubborn, I can do it.’ Here then, you are using an overt and sustained volition in order to overcome either the habituated tendency or a weak volition to indulge it. Where is the ‘self’ involvement? There is no homunculus deciding what level of volition to exercise, I know you would agree. So isn’t the volition just that – a volition? In fact, for me to state that ‘. . . you are using an overt and sustained volition. . .’ is inaccurate. A more accurate statement would be ‘volition is being sustained by supporting conditions’

          You then say ‘Is this personality trait a component of my self then? Well, personality can change.’ Again, why attach the concept of selfhood to the personality trait? As you say, personality can change, and in fact, much of the time does not exist at all. For example, where is your personality in this very moment, or when you are asleep, or peeling carrots? As with its apparent subsets of volitional or habituated tendencies, it – the personality – comes together only under certain conditions; it is not any enduring entity of fixity. Simply because a pattern of actuality repeats in your mind, it does not mean it is the same pattern of actuality that occurred yesterday or whenever.

          You go on to say ‘The idea of personality as self is so commonplace and intuitive that I hesitate to decimate it with arguments.’ I agree, that would be a pointless, futile exercise, as it is not a matter of logic or reason. Rather instead the ‘self’ (however conceived), must be – can only be – obliterated in direct and actualised experience. The ‘self’ cannot be philosophised away unfortunately. 😦 On the question of intuition, then we of course cannot presuppose its efficacy. Much of the time, our intuitions are false interpretations of feelings and hidden desires. It’s a devil of a job trying to untangle what has been usefully intuited and what was say, coincidence, luck, or the correlations of wishful thinking. It is, after all, rather scary to imagine we are not a ‘self’, is it not? o_O

          Please feel free to come back and decimate anything here!

          Hariod.

  7. Interesting post, especially in conjunction with your post on ‘conceit’. You are a philosopher through and through.

    All of this is interesting in light of listening to Mooji last night. I found him thanks to you and am very taken with him and his style. I can follow for one thing. One big thing. Marked a few of his videos and got two of his guided meditations which should keep me busy for awhile. I think you mentioned him in a comment to someone, forget now who.

    Thank you as ever, Hariod, for your profound insights.

    xx Ellen.

    • Thank you so much Ellen for reading this article and for adding a comment, which I always deeply appreciate – particularly from one such as yourself who has shown regular interest in my articles.

      I don’t know anything about Mooji myself other than that he is in the lineage of Papaji, who in turn was instructed under the great Ramana Maharshi. Ramana himself insisted that he was not part of any lineage and instructed through engaged silence and self-enquiry, as perhaps you have now discovered.

      I posted the video of Mooji laughing hysterically on Michael’s site ‘Embracing Forever’ by the way.

      For anyone interested, here it is:

      Lots of love to you dear Ellen.

      Hariod. ❤

  8. Thank you, Hariod. I couldn’t remember where I had seen it. I will have to look up Papaji because I think he is linked with Siddha Yoga. I am a follower of Yogananda whom I love deeply but whose course in meditation is, for me at least, quite demanding. Will see how Mooji works out. I like the practical approach he seems to have and loved the laughing video.

    Lots of love right back to you, Hariod! xx

  9. I like the subject of the post and had a laugh with the Mooji video. This post and the video made me wonder. Could the video question drowned out by laughter have been, “Why is it an eye cannot see itself?” It is a good post to get people thinking and pondering who do they think they are.

    • Thank you very much Jack, for casting your wise eyes over this article; your presence here is always a delight to me. I am pleased too that you enjoyed the video; it reminds us that the path of knowledge, whilst necessarily needing to be walked in all earnestness, should not ever be without humour as a companion.

      I imagine the question was rendered redundant in the encounter, and as Mooji said “The question was. . .”, as if to demonstrate to the young man as much. Your own question reminds me of the play ‘Julius Caesar’, when Brutus says to Cassius “No, Cassius, for the eye sees not itself, but by reflection, by some other things.”

    • Thankyou so much for your interest and supportive words; I appreciate both greatly. I shall of course read both of the articles which you have kindly linked to, and do so with interest.

      All best wishes,

      Hariod.

  10. Me, myself and my stranger? You have very deeply and scientifically approached this big question, dear Hariod! And what happens if we have illusory body perceptions due to health disorders? Do we need a specialist to train us?

    I wish I were an autonomous observer without being affected by external factors, and being able to find out what is objectively true with myself. An interesting article, arousing many questions which are dormant in our inner self.

    Best, Doda.

    • Thank you so very much dear Doda, for casting your wise eyes over this offering, and also for leaving such a generous and reflective comment – I greatly appreciate both, as well as your valued presence of course.

      I must apologise to you for not responding previously, but the internet has been down for several days in the rural community I live in, and we have only just come back online. I am quite snowed-under as a result.

      Sending you my very best wishes, and gratitude,

      Hariod.

      • Thank you very much for appreciating my humble thoughts and for stimulating us to delve into the unfathomable depths of the human soul. Plenty of ‘her’ unfolded and with darker sides, so persistent work is needed for her perfection.

        All the best to you, dear friend Hariod,

        Doda.

  11. I like the law of attraction view point, in that what we think of as ‘self’, is more of a perspective. That there is one source in the universe with 7 billion perspectives on this planet. I also loved your comment about sustaining the self by internal dialogue or constructs. Essentially, we are all made up of the stories, myths and beliefs we support through thinking, feeling about, and telling again and again, to ourselves and others. I enjoyed this piece.

    • Thankyou Noelle, for casting your eyes over this offering, and for your kind words of encouragement; I appreciate both greatly. I must confess I do not know what this Law of Attraction is, although I have occasionally heard the term in passing. In any case, I would agree that the ‘self’, in the sense that I discuss it here on this blog, is very much a particular perspective, a subjectively apprehended internalised model that looks out at the world, and also upon itself (i.e. egoically), based on certain conditioned proclivities and tendencies.

      This would be as distinct from the self as a social construct, which is a projection with referents in our outward behaviour, or the self as our physicality which has its referents in our morphing cellular structure. The self we are dealing with here has no referents whatsoever other than itself, because it has no independent or actual existence, and is merely a reflection of itself as that internalised model. Anyway, many thanks once again Noelle, and I must apologise for the tardiness of my response to you on this occasion.

      With very best wishes,

      Hariod.

      • All the Law of Attraction is, is that which is like to itself is drawn – meaning we attract to ourselves what we are inherently putting out into the world. Thoughts have a habit of attracting each other. One of the main reasons I’m not a fan of ‘Bitch Sessions’ in the workplace is that they only attract more ‘bitching’ and less solving. Our passions work the same. Get into that ‘zone’ and hours can go by without you even noticing, because you kept drawing in more and more of whatever it is your are so zoned in on.

        There is a ‘self’ that exists outside of time and space. In many spiritual traditions referred to as the watcher – the self that is never tainted or marred by events here, but can only expand and be more of what it is. Lovely discussion. Thanks.

        • Oh, I see; it appears to be related to communication, albeit perhaps including non-verbal communication. Yes, I can go along with it if it is something like that Noelle. I recently wrote a piece on empathy and mirror neurons which touches on this idea of putting oneself within the frame of reference of the other, whether consciously or otherwise. It can be a very draining phenomenon when we are caught up in others’ self-centricity, and I think that is akin to what you describe in those workplace scenarios, if I interpret you correctly.

          Yes, some do refer to a Self (capitalised) as being our true identity, and which concept originates in pre-Buddhistic Vedanta: the actualisation of Ātman (our inner being essence) as identical with the transcendent Self of Brahman. It can get a little confusing with the various philosophical traditions speaking of different forms of selfhood, and the way we use the term in contemporary society, as well as in academe in sociological studies. This is why I think it is important to define terms before we get too deeply into discussion on the matter.

          Lovely to talk to you too Noelle,

          Hariod.

          • Language is a curious thing; it allows us to communicate ideas and also to confuse each other. So many words have similar meanings, or totally different meanings depending on how you use them, or what culture you come from.

            I do agree, too, with your point on identification with another, which can suck you into a dynamic they are in. I think we often feel we’ll pull people out of something, when often we find ourselves being sucked into what they are experiencing. I’ve thought over the years that joy simply lacks drama; while negative situations are loaded with drama which, like moths caught to a flame, we then find we can’t look away from!

            • Yes Noelle, I find that particularly in relation to both discussion on consciousness and also on so-called ‘spiritual’ matters, that it is possible for the other to read the complete opposite meaning, in contradistinction to what one has intended, by virtue of their cultural or societal-group conditioning. I had that rather a lot in response to a recent article I wrote called ‘The Unattainability of Spiritual Freedom’. Some readers took offence in thinking that I was dismissing the great spiritual traditions, and the psychological freedom their doctrine’s elucidate, whereas in fact I was merely clarifying a commonly held misconception – I was trained in Buddhist psychology and meditation for some 25 years, so felt qualified to write on the matter. Admittedly, I chose a rather provocative title for the piece, yet at least it spurred discussion!

              With very best wishes once again,

              Hariod.

  12. Hariod, after reading your excellent post and most of the comments, I wonder if the thought I have been entertaining will appear too simplistic, not sufficiently serious. However, nothing ventured:

    It is obvious that we do not continue, over time, to attack the intruder in the mirror. That suggests (to me) an enduring self, and of little or no practical consequence (again, to me) if only a construct of our disparate and communal, on-going, internal dialogues. ☺

    • Thankyou very much Robert, for your interest and interesting response, both of which I appreciate. You may need to expand a little before I correctly grasp what you are getting at, but are you suggesting that our physical reflection alone is a signifier of an enduring entity of selfhood? If so, does it not rather in fact confirm only two things? Firstly, that we continue to misidentify the bodily form as our notional ‘self’, the same as we do in another way in our thought processes and memorised narrative constructs, and secondly that we accept the perfectly sensible – literally sensible too – idea that we are indeed in part physicalised entities. There is, quite simply, a body, whether or not we regard it as being synonymous with any enduring entity and agent of selfhood. We identify with the reflection in the mirror, precisely because the belief in a self pre-exists, and which first formed in the second and third years of our life, prior to which it was not present. Nothing happened or became evidential in those years to prove the existence of any such self, other than our particular genotype – the closest we come to any self? – following a path cast in tens of thousands of years of evolution, and in which for survival purposes the sense of a continuously stabilised object-perception of selfhood proved beneficial. Beyond this, we seem in fact to be agreeing that the self is a construct – a narrative formation – which has no ontological status other than that same mentational put-up job. Am I misunderstanding your point in some fundamental way Robert?

      Further thoughts on this matter, should you be interested my friend: http://wp.me/P4wkZJ-1X

  13. Hariod, you certainly understand all or most of my point, my question to myself, quite likely better than I. Your mention of evolution is apt, as that is core to my thought. Elephants, Dolphins, Magpies and some Apes also recognize ‘self’ yet do not question whether this representation is legitimate and complete (as far as we know). We, as Homo Sapiens, as a successful evolutionary experiment, discarded a seamless mind/body integration, which the others apparently possess. In American vernacular, is it possible that ‘we get in our own way’? I certainly have not reached any conclusion, but I have suspicions that many of our ‘advances’ in the physical world are due to this exact evolutionary discard, this apparent lack of integration.

    • As regards the notion of us ‘getting in our own way’, then an expression I often use if that we are ‘caught up in the gearbox of our own comprehension’. As I am certain you would agree Robert, the mind evolved to think only in terms of subject and object, and to even conceive of an awareness outside of this paradigm is impossible for it. That is not to say that awareness cannot exist outside of that paradigm – I and many others, yourself too possibly, would maintain that it can – but that this same awareness cannot itself be stored as a representation, a memory-percept, in the way that all other phenomena can. In short, awareness does not subsist purely within a subject/object dichotomy, though what we think of as ‘my consciousness’ does. Thankyou Robert; I am enjoying engaging and exchanging ideas with you greatly.

  14. This is great, as I just discovered your blog. I am always searching for aspirational words that allow me to reflect on personal development and change that comes from within. I look forward to reading more posts. 🙂

    • Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement, BP — sorry, I don’t know your name. Fiddling around with websites isn’t exactly a forté of mine. Come to think of it, nothing is. Anyhow, thanks for stopping by and for your kindness, both are much appreciated.

  15. Beyond appreciative for your considerable insight into my recent post. 🙂 I know that you have busied yourself with the writing of a new book and that your spare time is little. Wishing you a brilliant & peaceful day, dear friend Hariod. ❤

    With love & respect,

    Doda.

    • Thank you for stopping by and offering a kind thought, dear Doda; it is much appreciated. Yes, I am quite occupied currently with some more long-form writing, though it is always a great pleasure to peruse your wonderful offerings, including the last concerning your visit to Barcelona. Wishing you peace, good health, and contentedness as always.

      With love, respect and gratitude,

      Hariod.

    • Oh yes, ancient, me; I have hoards of granddaughters scattered all over these isles, so many I can’t even remember their names — one of the many problems of the moribund life, or what remains of it. Have a healthy and contented New Year, Julia!

  16. Why need ‘self’ or the more active ‘selfhood’ be associated with concepts like immutability or un-changing-ness? This often seems to me to be a sort of pinata set up for easy smashing with sticks of rhetoric. We say ‘I’. And only we can do this while meaning the same thing. It seems to me just as natural to suppose that the ‘I’ evolves (or is perhaps subject to devolution) than to suppose that it is must be immutable in order to justify its claim to existence. This leads me to the idea that when theoretical Buddhism (of which I am only partly acquainted) speaks about the impermanent self and concepts like no-self, it is necessary to understand (deeply and empirically) various levels of being (consciousness) in order to be in a good position to discuss them. Interesting site — will come back later to read more.

    • Thank you very much for your interest and for your response; I appreciate both. I will do my best to respond to your various points, each in turn.

      By using here the terms ‘self’ and ‘selfhood’, what is meant is an entity/phenomenon which is without causal antecedents or concurrent causation. In other words, ‘self/hood’ implies autonomy and independence; it also implies endurance. If we do not accept these premises, then those terms are mere conceptual conveniences without actual referents — because every entity/phenomenon is causally linked. You are aware of The Ship of Theseus Paradox? The wooden ship which, over the decades, has had each plank replaced, is surely not the original self-of-the-ship? A pattern has been replicated, yes, and we might call this pattern ‘selfhood’ (in the case of a human who undergoes the same transition at a cellular level), but there is no referent other than the concept and pattern of selfhood itself — nothing enduringly instantiates as a self. So we need to be clear that when we use the term, its referent is merely the pattern and whatever concept we attach to the word — not anything in or about the object referred to.

      We say ‘I’ because of course it is convenient, and also because our brains have evolved to embrace the notion of selfhood or (perhaps) soul-possession. I still refer to ‘my car’ even though 80% of the components have been replaced over time, and I refer to ‘my house’ which has had the roof replaced, an extension added, the windows and doors replaced, and so forth. We also say ‘I’ because we put Descartes before de-horse; we presuppose some enduring self-entity — we think we are possessed of selfhood, whereas it is only the thought itself that believes as much. There is no proof obtaining within the body or brain/nervous system. And the thought/presupposition is transient, so where is the self/hood when the they are absent?

      If the ‘I’ evolves as a self (as you suggest) then what are its defining parameters and referents, other than a pattern of ever-changing aggregates? This argument seems to go in the direction of the self as a social construct, which is fair enough. But we don’t think of ourselves as solely social constructs; we presuppose some enduringly instantiated essence, and yet that essence does not exist. The self-essence is a construct of the mind, a belief that the mind reiterates for survival and convenience purposes. There is no referent to the belief, no matter how convinced the thought-belief appears to itself. All that said, then we can say that some form of enactivism is going on between the environment and a particularised consciousness — it is a unique perspective that arises, and which is predicated on past conditioning as well as the environment. But again with the conscious perspective, we cannot point to anything within or about it that remains the same or is not causally linked. Is that what you mean by a self, a unique perspective?

      • Hello Hariod. I will only respond at present to your first paragraph above for the moment, because trying to do more than this will rapidly lead to unwieldy dialog. You say that endurance and independence must be attributes of self in order for it to be a worthwhile concept. Taking the endurance first, you cite The Ship of Theseus (Plutarch) as evidence of its essential-ness. Here is the first area where I would change direction. Because the wooden ship identity thought puzzle depends entirely upon the physical components of the the object, the ship, insofar as determining its identity. This, as I point out elsewhere, is materialism. And I dispute its correctness. Certainly, I would not allow it to be assumed axiomatically without scrutiny. As you pointed out, one could turn to the idea or concept of the ship a a means of more deeply capturing its identity. I am not opposed to this, because panpsychism aside, I think all ‘objects’ in the world are never understandable without considering their relations to everything around them. If the ship is moored on a sandbar for centuries and the climate changes the locale to a desert and the former edifice is now used as a shelter or home, at which point is it no longer a ship, or is it still a ship? These kinds of questions receive no elucidation from a mere inventory of the physical object’s former atoms and molecules.

        The situation immeasurably deepens when we consider living beings or consciousnesses. Following the Theseus restriction, we would be forced to insist at the outset that mind or psyche is completely identified by its mass of physical components. But there is no justification for this artifice whatsoever. I cannot even think of a possible (purely physical) scientific experiment which could ever demonstrate that a mind is exclusively a physical thing. So it is not a scientific belief to hold so, merely a philosophical opinion — and the degree of consideration people give to such opinions before holding them varies enormously.

        In order to honestly investigate what ‘self’ or ‘I’ means, one must place to the side materialism, instead being open to the nature of the phenomena under discussion themselves.

        Now, you further declare that nothing enduringly manifests or instantiates, speaking of minds or selves, after some catastrophic event. How do you know this? One event would be the piecemeal consecutive replacement of every neuron with a supposedly equivalently-functioning item, such as a logic gate in a piece of hardware. Jaron Lanier offered this thought experiment in a very humorous paper, as a way of debunking it. http://www.davidchess.com/words/poc/lanier_zombie.html
        But a further, more realistic and less flighty example of a catastrophic event would be death, physical death. In this case, the body is no longer available, nor are its molecules (eventually), and so anything resembling a persisting self would clearly not be associated with its former physical referents. Good. Agree. But on what basis do you then assume that therefore the ‘self’ or ‘I’ no longer persists? Without further discussion, this assertion can only be made on the basis of materialism, which I reject.

        It is not as though we are without indications from numerous sources that the self, in some form, may persist after physical death of the body. Nor have we been deprived of such indications for millenia. So any out-of-hand dismissal of this eventuality needs to be seriously defended — it cannot be presumed as a scientific rational starting point.

        I will discuss next your second paragraph about the word, among other things, ‘I’.

        • Hi Stolzyblog!

          Thanks for your thoughtful response. I should say at this point that I’m picking up that you’re taking me for a Hard Materialist, or perhaps a Physicalist. These are not my position, and in point of fact I (ultimately) reject the dichotomies of mind/body, subject/object, experiencer/experience — all the same, to discuss this we need to use distinctions such as ‘consciousness’ and ‘matter’.

          You say, ‘These kinds of questions receive no elucidation from a mere inventory of the physical object’s former atoms and molecules.’ Quite, and I have already referred at length to (what we call) consciousness. I said, ‘. . . we presuppose some enduring self-entity — we think we are possessed of selfhood, whereas it is only the thought itself that believes as much.’ I also said, ‘The self-essence is a construct of the mind, a belief that the mind reiterates . . . There is no referent to the belief, no matter how convinced the thought-belief appears to itself’, and further ‘But again with the conscious perspective, we cannot point to anything within or about it that remains the same or is not causally linked.’ So, you can see I’m happy to include the inventory of the so-called mind in examining this putative self or soul.

          You also say, ‘Now, you further declare that nothing enduringly manifests or instantiates, speaking of minds or selves, after some catastrophic event. How do you know this?’ I don’t do religious cosmology, but do assert that consciousness is conditioned wherever and whenever it arises. There is a lot of confusion about this in Buddhism, which posits no-self, yet also posits rebirth. What is not posited is the reincarnation of any enduring self or soul, but rather the continuation of the causal chain from one life to the next. Here, neither you nor I can speak with authority. If I were to assert there is a god, then the onus of proof is on me, not merely to say, ‘this is my fancy’. Similarly, if someone asserts that a self transmigrates to another body, then the burden of proof falls on them, not others to refute by whatever means that which is neither verifiable nor unverifiable. Is this not fair?

          Please clarify what it is that ‘may persist after physical death of the body’ if it is something other than the causal chain I have just spoken of.

          Many thanks; I enjoy such discussions!

          • Hi Hariod. 🙂 Uh-oh, as I feared, we may be entering a morass of spaghetti discussions which become increasingly hard to follow. Let me say this: I did not take you for a hard materialist. My view is that materialism is insidious within contemporary thought, precisely because it has operated as a scientific axiom, unexamined, for so long. So many lines of thought, without their bearers (experiencers?) ever dreaming of flying the flag of pure physicalism, actually conceal many implicit material biases. This was what I was getting at with your example about the cat who is 80% gone. One could only suppose this by attributing more reality, or catness, to its physical elements than to something else. In a way it is materialistic to even ask things in this way.

            Somewhere else you also raised the question as to where I stand concerning the mind/matter schism, so maybe it is helpful to comment about that here. I’m essentially monist, but I consider that it is due to our own makeup, our limitations, which by the way I consider not to be insurmountable, that we cognitively parse the cosmos out into these two seemingly incompatible phenomena. Matter is far more mysterious than mind, or thought. Because we inhabit mind, we are intimate with it, even if we have trouble verbalizing this. The questions is this: how does matter come to think about itself? (If you like read this piece of mine for more background: https://skirmisheswithreality.net/2016/02/04/nagel-summarizes-nagel/ )

            Either thinking is imaginary for the most part and not of consequence to inquire into, or thinking has arisen in entirely natural ways as a matter of emergence due to purely material and evolutionary processes, or thinking was either present at the beginning or even preceded matter. I do not think that any scientific, per se, evidence exists to uphold one of these possibilities over the other. Certainly opinions exist. I am in the last category: I think thinking preceded matter. This is basically a spiritual worldview. Concept precedes manifestation. Idea precedes created object. Humans temporarily employ, when alive, the physical human apparatus to apprehend sensory perceptions and formulate concepts about how these interconnect. It is due to the inherent nature of this bodily apparatus, our human constitution, that we fail to see the mental within the matter as an inseparable aspect of it. But we can think our way towards this realization. (But such thinking must take its correct starting point within our own thinking — we must subjectively, internally, investigate what our thinking is and how it operates — because on it alone all other judgments rest.) So, the dichotomy, as you put it, is illusory.

            In general, based upon some of your remarks, I base a higher value on our thoughts than you seem to. It is at base all we really know that we have. Descartes should have said: I think therefore I can possibly know.

            Now, you are right in saying that consciousness is conditioned by external factors. And do not worry about religion, there is no need to tread there to continue this discussion. As I said, near questions first, not far ones. Everything is epistemology; that is the fundamental puzzle to be unraveled. We must know this to go forward. You say “only thought says this” or some other thing. But thought is all we have. We must penetrate it. Self is not merely a construct, it is a perception. And further, it is a perception which can be clarified and deepened. Who thinks? Who judges this thought as too muddy and that one as clear? I do. The thought-belief does not appear convincing or real to itself, it appears so to I. Thoughts cannot believe themselves, or appear some way to themselves, as you have said. Yes thoughts and thinking — an important distinction — because one implies activity and agency, can span the spectrum of quality and sharpness and clarity. And yes, thinking can devolve into something very habitual and automatic. But real living thinking goes beyond this, and sees in the moment. Who sees?

            You have mentioned your causal chain. I have to say I do not understand it. Taking your Buddhist example, if self, or perhaps higher self, is not involved in putative reincarnations then in what sense can anyone actually be justified in speaking of a reincarnation at all? Causation operates upon other phenomena. So what is your causal chain operating upon?

            I will tell you one other thing which maybe help. (God needn’t be involved; you can simply proceed rhetorically.) Whether a self persists or not is a different question from whether a self exists. In my own case, the actual persistence of I was less made evident to me in considering the future, but rather the past. I do not find it credible that all the sum of my attributes and qualities, some of which I later have taken to be constituents of my I, simply arose within this lifetime, due to family inheritances and life experiences and molecular constructs. I do not find this belief, or theory, un-childish. I am unexplained as I existed at age 3 or 4, say, without harking back to some earlier form of manifestation. I do not consider I am unusual in this. I simply believe that I have investigated it more than most.

            • Thanks Stolzyblog. We seem to agree on certain points, and yet be wildly divergent on others. I will reply to this tomorrow as it is now evening time here and I want to escape the PC. But in short, all you seem to be saying in answer to my question (What is it that persists after death?) is that the ‘I’ does. And I want to know what the ‘I’ is, as I don’t appear to have one. 😉 I respect your many years of inquiring, having trod that path myself for 25 years, and quite intensely too. Incidentally, I made no reference to cats; it was cars — no matter.

              • P.S. I wouldn’t say that you don’t have one, an I. That would be dreadful; it’s the main thing differentiating animals from people. I would say that you cannot recognize it, or are not used to seeing it in a certain way, or perhaps have not looked for it. I don’t know. In this connection it may be of interest to know something about the aims of your longtime meditating.

                • I’m afraid I am an animal, Stolzyblog, though I prefer the term obligate aerobe. The aims of my lifelong meditating were to allow the seeker to die, a fact I only realised once it did. You wouldn’t believe the trouble that was gone to erroneously thinking a seeking self could kill itself, the number of Buddhas the crazy seeking self thought it slaughtered.

                  • You can call me Robert. 🙂 But let us see what unfolds in the discussion about introspection and truth before we condemn you to animalhood, no? Now I will go look up this obligate aerobe business.

            • Hi Robert, back again in the morning here. Okay, I want to narrow this down to your insistence on some ‘self”, ‘soul’, or ‘I’, because all our other words are dancing around this phantom. You elucidate eloquently ideas tangential to it, yet repeatedly seem reluctant to define the central conceit of the subject itself — what the ‘I’ is that endures both in this life and the next, what it actually is in terms of qualities, essence, purpose, or whatever. The closest you have got is this: You said, ‘I think thinking preceded matter. This is basically a spiritual worldview. Concept precedes manifestation. Idea precedes created object.’ You went on to say, ‘Self is not merely a construct, it is a perception. And further, it is a perception which can be clarified and deepened.’

              So, you state clearly that the ‘I’ is perceivable. More than this, you say it is a perception. There, I’m afraid I have to say, is the classic error that the spiritual seeker makes. The seeker goes in search of her/his ‘true self’ (which is your ‘I’), we could say as a generalization. The seeker believes they will, or that it is possible to, perceive in consciousness this ‘true self’, and with it become ‘self-realised’, or attain enlightnement. At some point, the seeker will realise this is not possible, and this happens once the nature of thought and perception are realised — often against a backdrop of pure awareness, which is the illuminative aspect of consciousness. It is suddenly seen that the self cannot be perceived, because all that is perceived is nought but a percept! There is no one — no self, soul or ‘I’ — standing homunculan within the cranial cavity, or outside of it, who perceives the percept. The percept simply is; it is not part of an endlessly regressive chain of witnesses, such as the 2nd homunculus who observes the 1st homunculus’ percept, and so on.

              Over to you. But again, please describe your ‘I’ in terms beyond it being a mere percept.

              Thanks Robert.

              • Howdy Hariod, I have to advise you I have much less free time today than yesterday, as many other kinds of tasks are befalling me. I may get time tonight, otherwise I have to aim for tomorrow. I want to suggest you think about something meanwhile, however.

                It is not an ancillary thing that parts of our discussion have ventured towards the edges of epistemology, because any discussion or investigation of ‘I’ must needs confront this very matter: how we know that we know things; how we justify to ourselves (and to what degree we do so i.e. how careful we are) the various pronouncements which we make. You would like to, I see, frame the discussion in a very specific way which suits the way you normally prefer to think about things. Now, if you seriously and explicitly want to avoid personal empirical epistemics as a condition of us discussing further, then I believe we will not get much further in the way of understanding one another. Also, if you insisted upon this, I would likely be able to make some parallel comment about ‘your’ classic mistake as you have implied about me. To ask someone to define ‘I’ is like asking to define sensation or consciousness or love; it is a very inapt and weakly chosen method for grappling with coming to a comprehension about it. So, you must not try to apply prosaic constraints in approaching this subject; you must be more open and less literal. Also, you have made some errant assertions or implied assertions. I will try and clarify them here, then, sorry, have to go do chores. 🙂

                I have not said whether my ‘I’ endures to the next life. This is because I merely deeply suspect it and do not yet know it. No other scenario makes sense to me, but I am not in possession of absolute certitude about it. You, in fact, have been the one more concerned to include future lives in your definition of the concept of self (which you wish to demolish). I have made a remark about the past in connection with ‘I’, and we could delve into that more if you like. I do not think future lives need be a component of the discussion because it is artificial to add so much substance when what we really need to do is flesh out the basic concept in the present moment, in the now.

                So, we should discuss that at first: what is self or I-ness and is it a legitimate idea or real or illusory? And if so, why? You have only asserted that it is illusory. Let us and all incidental readers (perhaps) recall that and bring it clearly to mind. You want me to define and prove, but you have your self only asserted your opinion, and it is not any more or less likely that ‘I’ exists, so the weight of persuasion rests equally on both sides of the seesaw.

                Also, you have classified me as a seeker of self or ‘I’. That is inaccurate. I am a “noticer” of ‘I’. The seeking I have done in this life, and continue with, has to do with deepening my grasp of truth, in general, and in all ways in which it manifests. Coloring this, of course, are the age-old questions which thoughtful persons everywhere (and every when) have concerned themselves with, such as our true nature and the nature of the world, and life, and so on. But it is too facile and misleading of you to characterize me as a seeker of deep self. For me, ‘I’ has become more manifested en-route, incidentally, so to speak.

                The last thing I want to raise as a contention rather than merely accepting it to frame ongoing conversation is this: why are percepts ‘mere’ to you, and why should they be mere to me? Percepts are one of the most intimate things we have to base anything else on, because it is our own directly known experience. Thought or thinking is another. Do you wish recommend we dispense with our percepts instead of using them as a basis for further investigations via thinking?

                I will focus mainly upon your last long paragraph when I return, but I hope you will consider thinking about and addressing some of the items I have just raised. Thanks. 🙂

                • Great discussion Robert, many thanks. With our lengthy replies to one another, the nesting may get very narrow and so I may suggest we begin a new (wider) nest. For now, I shall continue here.

                  I don’t argue with your assertion that I’m framing all this in a particular way. Rather than write in a wafty fashion about abstractions, I find it has been more useful to do so largely in terms of: 1) Consciousness & Awareness & Presence, and 2) Subjectivity & Objectivity & Selfhood. And yes, such categories would seem quite ‘literal’ (as you put it), certainly as against vague and ‘spiritual’. In this literal way, at least the discussion remains anchored within understandable terms, even though they may need qualifying, and we need not heed Wittgenstein’s words on that which cannot be spoken of.

                  That last point takes us immediately into what you are discussing, and also to what you have asserted, which is that the ‘I’ cannot be discussed, but that it exists nonetheless. You say, ‘To ask someone to define ‘I’ is like asking to define sensation or consciousness or love; it is a very inapt and weakly chosen method for grappling with coming to a comprehension about it.’ And yet you also assert that the ‘I’ is a percept, meaning it is perceivable. If it is perceivable, it must be so due to its qualities, however difficult the task may be. I could, and have many times here, described the ‘experience’ of non-self, or unicity, or non-duality, however inadequately; but have never abandoned the task at the outset, as you seem to do. That said, with such things, one perhaps has more success resorting to the via negativa in terms of elucidating traits on this most abstruse of paradoxes. So I get what you’re saying, but still maintain the onus is on yourself to at least attempt to substantiate your claim of the percept ‘I’ as being something special — whereas I maintain it is merely (yes) a percept.

                  I think you want to accumulate and substantiate knowledge, Robert, what with your references to epistemology, and how we know what we think we know. I’m perhaps more interested in phenomenology, but not as a gathering or proving (positive) exercise — I do think it’s an efficacious route to going beyond the self notion, whether by Husserlian, Buddhistic, Advaitan, Pyrrhonistic, or whatever means. We’re a bit stuck here, both of us being asked to prove a negative — me to prove there is no enduring self or soul, and you to prove a percept you cannot even begin to describe. We’re not going to make progress, I agree.

                  But to answer your last point as regards my using the words ‘mere percepts’, then I apologise if this offends. I mean ‘mere’ in the sense that they are unreliable, mostly memories in fact, and sharing memory’s unreliability. Percepts are not a good peg to hang one’s metaphysical cap on — indispensable in life, but not synonymous with the point at which all philosophies are transcended, call it what we will.

                  Back to you when you have time, my friend. 🙂

                  • Hi Hariod, I took some time off to see if another parallel avenue might suggest itself. Not sure. When I mentioned epistemology, it is because I see the process whereby we determine that we know a thing to be true to be intimately connected with the ‘I’, in fact I would suppose that only the ‘I’ can actually do this, not some other capacity or component of us. So, I was trying to invite you to gain a purchase towards my ideas in a different way. Also, by the way, it touches upon one of the possible qualities of ‘I’ which you are wanting me to provide.

                    I spent some time today reading your generic post about Presence and Contemplation, and somewhere in there you made reference to feeling of I-am-ness, or something like this. That which detects this feeling, is ‘I’. That detection is a percept. Percepts are very general and varied. But I do not see them as being entangled mostly with memories or feeling, as you have indicated. (In this respect I am quite phenomenological, and striving to be). There is just the raw unadorned percept. A percept is like the internalized correspondent to something noticed or observed. At first, to be simple, this observation is strictly sensory and external. I notice a spot of light on a glass, and inside me, in my private world, inaccessible to you, unlike the spot of light, flashed my percept. Something like what the neuro-scientists call qualia. Now, percepts can also be thoughts or feelings, and yes they can be past ones recycling. But they needn’t be. We naturally search for an explanation of a sensory percept when we receive one, and in this way we associate or find some corresponding thought which completes or deepens our comprehension of the thing perceived, which at first merely revealed of itself: the percept. Percepts can be clearer or fuzzier. When we ‘have’ a thought, a specific thought, we first perceive that thought, distinguishing it from the field of all others, and in the instant we have the percept of the thought. The thought is a percept. When I was five years old, in front of the buttercups I told you about, I had the percept of my ‘I’ for the first time. It was a distinctive experience, which gave me pause, as if a moment of recognition occurred. This percept was not like the percept of the yellowness of the buttercups. Its object was more mysterious, intangible, alive. But I knew it then to be me, my deep self if you like. And knew, in recognition, that this percept would forever be available to me from that moment on, were I to seek it. Or pay attention to it.

                    Now, let me say something about this. It is a highly phenomenological experience in nature. It is the antithesis of abstract, since it arrives, or I should say in deference to the undeniable monkey-mind condition we often labor under, can arrive, entirely independent of any thinking, or better said, having of thoughts. It is more radical than that.

                    I often think we are a little bit speaking past one another because we have become accustomed to certain jargon or terminology, though we actually ply quite similar trades. Thus, when I read your descriptions of Presence and Contemplation (though I might use different words, especially for the second one), I recognize a route towards permitting the ‘I’ to have more sway in our being than is usually the case.

                    We can also exert will. This is an ‘I’ activity. We can infuse willing into our thinking — I know you can do this, I surmise — so that it becomes more strenuous and exacting, in order to locate more flittering thought-percepts. And, we can ‘know’ when we’ve succeeded or reached our goal, and can detect the truth-ness of the result. It is ‘I’ who does this, and who knows the truth of it.

                    As I see it, the spiritual or, if you like, metaphysical task of our time period is to refine and deepen our awareness of the ‘I’, so that it can gradually consciously assume more and more responsibility over the other components of our being and over our primary inner activities, and which I take to be thinking, feeling, and willing.

                    What other nuggets can I offer? Perhaps this. Every night, almost, for I slack every now and then, I deliberately notice the clatter within my soul, my arena of inner experiences, my swirling ocean of thought-percepts, and I expressly shut them off. It is a remarkable thing at first. (I believe you have done this often.) Although there is no physically measurable noise before or after the point when we turn off the faucet, we suddenly have the percept of profound silence, inner quietness, as though the world’s greatest earmuffs have just been put on. But then we still persist. Thoughtless, for a moment at least, we are. And we observe this being, this being in silence, as a percept. In other words, we have it as a percept. We know it. (I think many never know this.) ‘I’ is in this relation, between enjoyer of silence and enforcer or creator of it. Not subjective or objective. Above that dichotomy. That is why it makes knowing of truth certain. It is the least questionable experience possible. No other knowledge would be plausible, no positions held, or beliefs intuited, if it were not the truth. Truth is a perception, not something proven.

                    I hope this all brings our worlds closer. Now, very tired. In fact, I hope what I wrote makes sense. 🙂

  17. [Continuation of discussion with Stolzyblog]

    Hi Robert,

    Yes, it all made sense my friend, and thank you for further clarifying your position.

    On percepts, then I would say they are stratified in terms of the level of conceptual integration they hold. The greater the conceptual component, the more the percept moves towards the categories of thought and memory. I wrote a post about this (No Carrots Mummy) describing the pure perception of colour — orange — form, and movement. What was absent during the apprehending was the conceptual components of ‘carrot’ and/or ‘I am about to eat this’, etc. I would call that pure perception because it’s the immediate apprehending of the sensory datum. But it’s still a percept; it’s still a mind-created object, as is the sense of I-am-ness (which is quite readily accessible to all).

    Interestingly, as with yourself, I too had a deep insight as a pre-school child (I was four years-old). What came to me was the powerful sense that the totality of conscious experience is somehow occluded, or veiled, and it is as if we peer at the world through these obstructions. I’m not a Jungian, though he did say something interesting I once read and agreed with, which is that as children we move imperceptibly into a world of concepts. Drawing these threads swiftly together, then my childhood insight was (in effect) that consciousness comes to obliterate awareness knowing itself as itself. Consciousness is Jung’s conceptual world, and what illuminates it (this, for the purposes of understanding, not granting of its own ontological category) is awareness, which itself is featureless.

    But again, awareness can know itself as itself. It does not apprehend itself as in a (mind-created) dichotomous relationship of knowing subject and object known. It knows itself as itself in a featureless pellucidity. I wonder if this is what you are referring to as the ‘I’? It sounds if it may be. If so, then I obviously would have no objection. Apart from one. And that is that awareness is neither temporally nor spatially self-referencing; it is not a thing occupying space and time here or there, and it does not exist by means of change (the standard metric of existence). It is not apprehended by consciousness, and that is because it is not a mind-created object, and consciousness only knows its own objects; it’s reflexive and re-presentational. Some have referred to this as the Self (capitalised), others as ‘I’, but I feel this is misleading because both terms imply (if not intentionally) some refinement of the sense of self (small ‘s’) and/or the sense of I-am-ness (a mind-creation). I suspect your initial rejection of the Buddhistic non-self doctrine, and my rejection of your homunculan ‘I’, may be a matter of semantics.

    Best wishes,

    Hariod.

  18. Hi Hariod. Sorry for delay, but l always intended to get back to you. Without wishing to equate your Jungian formulation precisely with ‘I’, I will admit it has some resemblance to what I am speaking about, so we can proceed.

    Awareness which knows itself as itself.

    But you then make several confusing statements about this, collapsing the concept down to mere awareness rather than AWKIAI. You say it is not mind-created. This is an intriguing distinction which bears further discussion. Perhaps that you consider it not mind-created bodes well for its independent ontogeny, I would hazard. Further, you say awareness, or more precisely AWKIAI, has no spatial or temporal relationship nor does it exist by means of change — all of which you seem to hold as evidence that its existence should be in question somehow.

    I do not have any problem with ‘I’ being exterior to space-time since it seems to be a spiritual rather than physical phenomenon. (By the way, the other terms you like as more valid or less mushy, like ‘subjective’, ‘objective’, and ‘consciousness’ as opposed to ‘spiritual’, are all equally poorly defined as I see them, and we would need rigorous discussions of them before I could concede your point. I would offer a thumbnail working definition of ‘spiritual’ as something both not merely physical or material as well as not a constituent of the ‘soul’ world where our inner mentation contends with objects — maybe what you mean by ‘mind-created’ — but something else, something true in itself, resting on its own reality.)

    You make an interesting assertion that consciousness is not the thing which apprehends AWKIAI, but you seem to accept Jung’s implication that it in fact has been perceivied, or is a percept, somehow. So how?

    Buddhist psychology, I am gathering (which may actually be neo-Buddhism since I am uncertain what Gautama asserted), seems to be set upon discrediting any notion of agency in all of these subtle perceptions. Why couldn’t AWKIAI be the faint glimpse of that agency which uniquely has the perspective of being exterior to usual consciousness pertaining to these things we are discussing? You want to concede already that it is outside of time and space. You assert it is immune to change, but I do not know why this must be so, and in any case one of your initial criteria for the straw man ‘I’ you wished to dispose of was that it be unchanging.

    Further, suppose there are exercises and meditations which aim to sharpen one’s grasping of this AWKIAI, and that at the present point in human evolution, only by assiduously doing so can one hope to get better acquainted with the phenomenon?

    Take your early quote from the article and substitute ‘yellow’ for ‘I’: ‘I experience yellow, but why can’t I explain it in words?’ Do we conclude then that yellow does not deserve existence?

    Your youthful realization about obliterating awareness (consciousness) is delightful and worthy of meditation. I think it may be correct. The veil over the ‘I’ thickens quickly.

    Also, thanks Hariod, for taking a look at my other writings lately and liking them. This is appreciated of you.

    Thankfully in kinship, Robert.

    • Hi Robert, thanks for coming back on this; I realise it all takes time and there also are severe limitations for both of us in juggling this matter in such a confined space, one might even say, ‘in words’. Let me try to respond to your main points:

      ‘. . . you then make several confusing statements about this, collapsing the concept down to mere awareness rather than AWKIAI. You say it is not mind-created. This is an intriguing distinction which bears further discussion. Perhaps that you consider it not mind-created bodes well for its independent ontogeny, I would hazard.’

      AWKIAI is synonymous with ‘awareness’ (in my terms); it isn’t a variant (some other kind) of awareness and neither is it a representation, which is what consciousness is (again, in my terms) — i.e. consciousness is a re-presentation of the sensorial and of its own constructs (thoughts, memories etc.) which is constructed in the brain (as we know). What is not known about consciousness is whether it instantiates purely as an internalised brain construct and how it (apparently) illuminates itself. As doubtless you know, Robert, panpsychist theories of consciousness are now permissible in modern theories of mind; contested by some, of course, yet not disproved by hard (scientific) materialists. But still, panpsychist theories are invariably dealing with subjectivity and the personal presentation of the world in some internalised form. AWKIAI is not doing so, because it is featureless and not a re-presentation of the world, or of anything. Moreover, it is not a product of memory, nor is it susceptible to memorising — other than as the knowledge that it obtained, just then, yet without the recall of any qualities or distinguishing marks, as again, it is featureless.

      ‘Further, you say awareness, or more precisely AWKIAI, has no spatial or temporal relationship nor does it exist by means of change — all of which you seem to hold as evidence that its existence should be in question somehow.’

      Bit confused here, Robert, as what I’m rejecting is your ‘I’ not AWKIAI and obviously not the lucid aspect of consciousness. You appear to be personalising the matter in referring to an ‘I’ as if awareness were the possession of some subject which stands (as it were) isolated and discrete from the world. And it is just that which I am rejecting as I am unable to locate this subject other than via an isolative self-consciousness — the very thing that is the putative subject i.e. an object of the mind, a percept of consciousness.

      ‘You make an interesting assertion that consciousness is not the thing which apprehends AWKIAI, but you seem to accept Jung’s implication that it in fact has been perceived, or is a percept, somehow. So how?’

      I don’t think I do accept that. What I said was this: ‘I’m not a Jungian, though he did say something interesting I once read and agreed with, which is that as children we move imperceptibly into a world of concepts. Drawing these threads swiftly together, then my childhood insight was (in effect) that consciousness comes to obliterate awareness knowing itself as itself. Consciousness is Jung’s conceptual world, and what illuminates it (this, for the purposes of understanding, not granting of its own ontological category) is awareness, which itself is featureless.’

      ‘Why couldn’t AWKIAI be the faint glimpse of that agency which uniquely has the perspective of being exterior to usual consciousness pertaining to these things we are discussing?’

      Because no matter how faint the glimpse, it would in that instance present some quality or feature. And if it did, that feature or quality wouldn’t be AWKIAI, it would be an object of consciousness, a re-presentation of the mind/brain — a memory, after a fashion.

      ‘Take your early quote from the article and substitute yellow for I: ‘I experience yellow, but why can’t I explain it in words?’ Do we conclude then that yellow does not deserve existence?’

      Firstly, I don’t know what article that comes from, Robert — was it No Carrots Mummy perhaps? But as we know, yellow is a construct of the brain. It has a certain quality (i.e. yellowness) and/or feature (i.e. a colour is perceived). It is an object of consciousness, albeit at times perhaps a pure perception as yet not represented in the enhanced form of a meta-level consciousness, meaning overt and explicit with correlative factors (i.e. ‘there is colour; there is yellowness; I as perceiver apprehend all this’). Similarly, I hold (we disagree) that your ‘I’ is an object of consciousness and exists only as such, and which (I respectfully say) you have already conceded in previously deeming it a perception — apparently connoting some further ‘I’ which perceives and apprehends the percept (infinite regression).

      I think we’re largely dancing around the semantics, though, Robert, and there are limitations on both sides in attempting to convey these subtle things and for which vocabulary generally fails in some manner or instance. You have your way of couching things, and I mine. We both feel our own words are clearer and more true to their referents. As I mentioned, then as far as possible I like to avoid allusions to the ‘spiritual’ and other terms that are not so readily accepted. It perhaps renders my offerings here rather dry and unexotic, which I fully accept.

      Many thanks for coming back here once again, and I greatly appreciate your engagement and time, Robert, as well as your sharing of such deep insights, as do other readers here, I know.

      With my very best wishes and in gratitude,

      Hariod.

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