The Self and The Mirror of Nature – Part 2

Click to Read: The Self and The Mirror of Nature – Part 1

Click to Read: The Self and The Mirror of Nature – Part 3

Chapter III| The making of the ego or the flight from responsibility

3.1 The Age of Philosophers

Now, that we have seen why there is a need for a new way of seeing reality, it’s time for us to take this new perspective, that does not differentiate between bivalent statements, and make it the default mode of our hermeneutics. Without this perspective all that is to come from here on will be impossible to grasp to the fullest of its depth and without understanding the following one loses all hope of understanding who one is and how reality is fundamentally formed.

In Spectrum of Consciousness, Ken Wilber presents how by not understanding the above conclusion the sapiens have ran from their true nature and have thus forgotten themselves. He describes 3 main levels of the spectrum of consciousness: 1) the level of mind, 2) the existential level, and 3) the ego level. The level of mind entails the realization that you are fundamentally one with the universe, the existential level contains the realization that psyche and soma are united and that they create a unified organism, and the ego level contains the realization of the role we have created for ourselves. In the previous chapter we have presented the descent from the level of mind into the existential level and have started cracking the descent into the ego level.

After the cracks created by Descartes through the separation of soma and psyche into two ontologically independent categories it came Locke’s turn to continue to set the stage for the creation of the ego. For Locke, the following were certain: there are no innate ideas and there is no innate self, thus, at the inception of life our mind is a tabula rasa, a blank slate which contained no ideas and which didn’t know that there is an “I”. Throughout our life our mind is filled with two types of ideas: 1) Ideas of sensation (these are inputted via our senses, through what we perceive and what we feel, they are the result of operations of externals on our sense organs) and 2) ideas of reflection (these are created via introspection, they are representations of what goes on in the mind, and are not delivered to us through our sense organs but through internal operations of the mind). Both types of ideas can be simple and complex, however what interests us, according to Locke, are the complex ideas of reflection, for through them Identity is born.[1]

ch 2 fig 1

Fig.1, Source: The Self and Therapy

The above structure created the necessary frame for the breeding of Identity. Through the birth of identity, the ground was now set for the development of the idea of self. The self is created through a combination of notions of particulars (man/woman, child/adult, young/old, etc.) and notions of continuity. Both sides need to be accounted for, as throughout life we experience ourselves as both continuous and discontinuous, unitary and composite, consistent and inconsistent, cohesive and fragmented. The particular experience arises in each and every moment of consciousness. Every breath we take, every smell we sense, every face we see, every tick of the clock that we hear, every time a particle vibrates, a new particular instance is created and experienced. Yet, our experience feels continuous, unbroken. We experience ourselves as one being, connected to various positions in time and space instead of a singular moment devoid of all that was before. It is hence clear that if we are to cultivate any theory of self, we cannot do so without accounting for both of these antonyms of experience, we cannot go further without reconciling the particular with the continuous.

In order to make the ever-perishing particular perceptions continuous, memory needs to come into play. By storing each and every particular moment in a narrative fashion (by storing them in accordance to space-time coordinates) memory bridges the gaps in consciousness and through memory we begin to coalesce the particulars into a single point, through memory we become the same entity. Now that we are a unitary being, the basis of the self has been created. In this process, the consciousness of the self gets connected with the body and its sensations. The identity of the self, personal identity as Locke calls it, is later created by accounting for the various stored particulars that seem all to collapse in, or to come from, the enduring organization of the organism who seems to be at the center of all action.

By adopting a narrative view, we can state that Hume proceeds from where Locke left, grasping at the idea that memories are what creates the concept of endurance. He declares that the self is thus “nothing but a bundle of different perceptions, which exceed each other with an incredible rapidity, [that] are in perpetual flux and movement…”. If memory is the catalyst for the conjunction of perceptions into a unitary being, then there is no reality to the self beyond said conjunction.

With memory playing such an important part, all experiences seem to always be outside of the subject, all experiences seem to be of externalities, for they are the only experiences that can actually be grasped and stored. If we try to achieve the same with internal experiences they seem to maintain their fleetingness. This is because an analysis of the internal or inner experiences require, according to Hume, that we grasp the experiencer, that we grasp the observer. However, we can never catch the observer while he is observing without creating a division between the observer and the observer of the observer. In the words, we have experiences, but no experience of the experiencer of these experiences.

Concluding that we lack the ability to grasp the enduring organization of the a priori organism who seems to be at the center of all action, one can state that there is no “real” connection between impressions; rather, we infer connections because in the past the impressions have always been in constant conjunction. Hume considers that what we call identity is formed by the conjunction of perceptions. There are two types of perceptions that get combined: 1) perceptions of impressions, which are sourced from our feelings and experiences and that are connected and derived from the soma; and 2) perceptions of ideas, which are sourced from our thinking and our reasoning and that are connected and derived from our psyche. The latter set of perceptions, those of ideas, seem to be the source of the construction of our self.[2]

As in the case of Lock, so too does the ground set by the complex perceptions of Hume – which are rooted in the psyche – generate our concept of the existence of a unitary source of experience, of an enduring organization of the organism that seems to be at the center of all action. But, Hume’s model goes beyond considering solely memory as sufficient for such a development and adds as paramount our ability for thought and reason which allow us to form laws of association.

For Hume, if during introspection one truly goes deep enough into one’s self there will be nothing to be found, beyond these unfounded associations (unfounded in the sense that there is no true a priori entity or structure from which the made associations can gain their truth value).

Associations can only be made by having elements that can be associate with one another. These elements are derived either a posteriori or a priori. A posteriori knowledge is knowledge of matters of fact, it is empirical knowledge and it is realized by connecting multiple facets of our experiences into one new element. For example, if we consider a red table what we are doing is to connect the redness with the table. A priori knowledge, is tautological (it contains the premise), for example saying that “the tall men are tall” is an a priori knowledge.

Kant[3], in his epistemological analysis, where he tries to show us how knowledge is gained, goes one step further and splits a priori and a posteriori into the analytic and synthetic distinction. The truth value of analytical proposition is dependent on the meaning of the proposition, while the truth value of the synthetic proposition is dependent on the relation of the proposition to the real world.  Thus, we have the following:

  1. Analytical a priori tells us nothing new. It only unveils the meaning inherent in the concept by spinning it with the aim to elucidate it.
  2. Analytic a posteriori is not considered valid by Kant as they lead to paradoxes. The paradox is generated because of the conflict that is inherent between the a posteriori and the analytical. For, if the truth can be determined purely by the concepts involved in the proposition, as the analytical category proposes, then this contradicts that the truth needs to be resolved by a reference to experience, as the a posteriori proposes.
  3. Synthetic a posteriori gives us knowledge about state of affairs in the world and requires observation.
  4. Synthetic a priori tells us something new about the world by combining language with experience to uncover that of which we were unaware of before. This is mostly used in logic, math and physics.

For synthetic a priori to function there is a need for a real, ongoing, and continuous self. The discovery made on the ground established by Hume and Locke, that conjunction is at the heart of reality and, thus, any unity of events that we want to transform into an entity is nothing more than consensual pretense (when recognized as true by the inter-subjective space), requires in this case a preexisting entity that can allow these connections to take place. This conclusion is also drawn by Sartre in ‘Being and nothingness’, when he states the need for an independent existence in order for any dependent reflection to be able to take place.

“It is not reflection which reveals the consciousness reflected-onto itself. Quite the contrary, it is the non-reflective consciousness which renders the reflection possible; there is a pre-reflective cogito which is the condition of the Cartesian cogito.”[4]

Thus, for Kant, as the romantic poet William Wordsworth put it, “the world is half created and half perceived”. We are not mere blank slates, but we are constituted of both experience and knowledge. “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind… These two powers or capacities cannot exchange their functions. The understanding can intuit nothing, the intuition can think nothing, only through their union can knowledge arise”.  The unity that in each case we consider too possess (that you and I are, when we perceive ourselves or perceiving one another) is generated by our manifold senses which are filtered by categories of understanding.

We have the following process when we perceive knowledge. First, the information we gather from our senses is placed in a specific order relative to our processing of said information. Secondly, the information is placed relative to one another. For these to be achieved what is required is for cause and relation to exist. The cause gives us the source of the information we perceive through our sense, for cause to be stable in our perception we need a temporal line on which we can store the order in which information was generated. Relation explains how interaction can now take place between the various sources of information, and it manifests itself primarily through spatial coordinates. As each of us recognizes that which he calls himself as the enduring organization of the organism who seems to be at the center of all action, we all look at reality distorted through our frame of causal and relational interpretation based on our position in time, in relation to the information our senses provide, and to our location in space, relative to the localization of the information we are perceiving.

The theory of relativity, which was developed by Albert Einstein[5][6], supports the exact same worldview. Namely that, there is no distinct fact and distinct observer, but that one depends on the other. Space, time and objects are all continuous. Space is the surrounding function, and it cannot exist without the object as the objects create the delimitations which we call space. Objects are required to be enclosed by space. Thus, object and space are one. For objects to exists, they need to endure, indifferent of the duration of their endurance there can still be said that they were present in a certain form for x instances of time. By measuring the rate of change of objects relative to one another we measure time. Time could not exist without object and object could not exist without time. Objects and time are interchangeable. Hence, space, time and objects are mutually inseparable and actually one.

However, given the process of knowledge described above it is easy to see that there seems to be a problem. This problem is generated by our inability to comprehend the noumenal world, the world as it is. We seem to only be capable of perceiving the world phenomenally, only under time and space, given our dependence on the senses.

The Kantian frame of observing reality is as follows:

ch-2-fig-2.png Fig. 2

The three filters of the mental apparatus:

  1. Senses – contribute pure intentions of space and time
  2. Understanding – contributes the categories through which any experience is organized
  3. Reason – integration and capacity for self-awareness and self-criticism

Perceiving reality phenomenologically means that we are perceiving it from a limited point of view and, thus, in a limited amount. Each and every member of the intersubjective space only has access to a filtered and condensed part of reality. Entering the world with these limitations we start to see otherness. Given the capacities stipulated before of memory, perceiving and imagining we need to start defining ourselves in relation to otherness. Thus, we define ourselves through action. All action is a form of violence, a form of conflict, for, as long as the Self/Other divide persists the object has no will of its own and, thus I, the subject, must impose myself upon it and subdue it to my will in order to make it act. Hence, we develop the self epigenetically, through alterations of expression rather than alteration of the core, the essence.

Conflict as expression in dualistic relationship is impossible without subduing the other. But how can we subdue something without will? Must there not be a will, something that wants to be in some way in order for us to use the word subdue? Must not the object actually be a willing subject in order for it to have will? As obvious as it might seem now, that the answer is that the object must be a subject itself, it was not that obvious in the time of Hegel.

Hegel stated that in order to realize itself, the self needs to externalize through praxis/action. Action generates outcome, and the results get embedded into the self. John M. Culkin, inspired by the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s work, used to say that “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us”[7]. After having externalized ourselves these so-called objects of our creation seem to have an effect upon us. It is as if they subject us to their will. We are designed by what we have designed. There are these feedback loops of subject and object that help each of the bivalent elements continuously develop themselves. In order to be self-conscious, in Hegel’s view, one must create. However, as we can see, the border between what creates and what is created is very fuzzy.

Each self has a Weltanschauung, a worldview, through which it experiences and creates the world. As we have stated previously, this Weltanschauung depends on the relative position is space and time through which the self is perceiving the world, storing its perception, and imagining what is beyond his limited sensory capacities. Each and every Weltanschauung is valid and at the same time false, as all are created out of a limited capacity and are, thus, bias. In order to understand a self, we need to use empathy, we need to enter into the limited, biased perspective of the other and look at the world through those eyes. But then, if each self is biased, even if we do adapt the perspective of the other it still won’t have any value, for how can we derive truth out of false perspectives? The simple answer is that there is indeed no holder of truth, but there are methods of arriving at truths.

Let us dive again into epistemology from the vantage points of the two fundamental elements of our phenomenal being: space, the here, and time, the now. If we write a true statement down it does not change the truth verified, but if we read it in a situation that does not accord with the written truth statement both the written and the now observed are false for we are experiencing two undeniable but contradictory truths. That which can contain both situations, that which if concomitantly true would contradict each other and is indifferent to whether or not it is “This or That” or “Not-This or Not-That” is called a universal. This universal is that which is contained in what Hegel calls sense-certainty. Sense-certainty is a way of acquiring knowledge that only tells you that there is an object ‒ in case it is immediate sense certainty ‒ and by confirming your perception of something you also confirm your being, as there has to be someone doing the perceiving. As long as we stay in the realm of immediate sense-certainty the only universal truth is our being on the basis of our capacity to sense. We cannot yet state that we sense something, we can only recognize this capacity of observation within us. This is quite similar to the point Descartes has gotten to with I think therefore I am, the sense that was used was thought as a means of perceiving the self. We can thus say, the immediate sense-certainty has its universal in the I, thus, it is self-contained. As sense-certainty becomes mediate, the object is recognized as a universal. The essential in this moment is seen not within the sense-certain being but outside of it. The universal moves from the I to the It. [8]

At this point all that we can actually say about a thing is that it is ‘an actual thing’, an ‘external object’. This has no actual value. In order to proceed with the development of our understanding we need to look how we can use the relative position of the I and the It to one another. Since the object, the It, when perceived is the universal, for Hegel, the It becomes the apprehended togetherness and the I which is emptied of its universal, as it sets it outside of itself, becomes the unfolder and differentiator. The closer the differentiator tries to get towards apprehending the togetherness the more it will divide and segment it. Thus, as our view of the object in question becomes clearer we generate a stronger and stronger separation between the observed and the rest, as determination requires differentiation. In the process of differentiation each property negates the other. The “One” is created in the moment of negation by excluding the other views. The sensuous universality or the immediate unity of being and the negative, is, hence, a property only when the One and the Pure Universality are developed from it and differentiated from each other.

As the I, the self, the subject explores the categorical depth, it constantly creates through the process of exploring. Thus, as the ‘I’ explores the world in greater and greater detail, the question at hand is what happens to all the elements that are not at the center of observation. Let’s imagine that we are looking at an empty room. When perceiving it we should only conceptualize an enclosed space, for this is more than sufficient to define a room. But what happens if in our room there is a chair and a table? Will we perceive only the chair, only the table, or only the room? As we well know from observation all three of these elements will be perceived. But then, do we have to redefine the concept of room so that it contains a chair and a table? What happens if we come into an enclosed space with no chairs or no tables, what do we call that enclosed space then?

We first need to acknowledge the fact that we can perceive multiple differentiations at once. This means that when we perceive reality we are not only perceiving ourselves and the “One” but we are perceiving ourselves, and multiple the “One”. But how is this realized, for we know that our sense-certainty is insufficient for this as it only takes in sensory information and gives us a bare minimum of differentiation, which is only and at the existential level of consciousness, namely I and It.  Is it memory? No, for memory only stores each moment of perception and nothing more, plus we are not experiencing any of the elements that belong to the room as memories, we are experiencing them all as present, immediate, we are experiencing each element as strong as the other (memory does not generate the same perceptual strength as sense-certainty). Hence, it also cannot be imagination, for imagination has the same problem as memory, comparatively to sense-certainty imagination is too mild of an experience. Then, what is this that has the ability to hold the differentiation of multiple objects, of multiple Its, of multiple “Ones”? This is consciousness. It functions like a running memory that sits between perception and the phenomenal world. Here multiple levels of differentiation are being processed all at once, following which they are consolidated into one object of perception which we call reality that then is perceived.

Model of experiencing reality when combining the epistemology of Kant and Hegel:

ch 2 fig 3

Fig. 3

At this point we can see two elements of reality, Being-in-itself, thingness which is self-identical and not self-aware. And Being-for-itself which is self-aware. Being-in-itself exists only from the perception of Being-for-itself, from the standpoint of the Phenomenal Reality. When two Being-for-itself meet they try to turn the other in Being-in-itself. As the only thing we can confirm as a subject is ourselves we tend to sell all others as objects. As Descartes who has arrived at one single assurance, once we rid ourselves of all the intermediate layers we also arrive at only one certainty; namely that, only the universal within the sense-certain exists. As the universal is placed outwards when we try to perceive reality we have to also acknowledge that all being can be said to be conscious to a certain degree, for all being is part of that universal which lays at the core of sense certainty. The more conscious a Being-for-itself is, the more that being can transform other elements of the universal in Being-in-itself. Thus, in the process of development we differentiate and integrate within higher level consciousnesses lower level consciousnesses.

What arises out of the structure presented by Kant and Hegel is that the self only arises based on its relationship to the universal. There is no lived self beyond that, no deeper dimension that does not accord with the relationship to the universal. Kierkegaard, voices his disconcert to such a concept for he thinks that the self is rather lived than related. For him, truth is subjectivity, it is lived, it is a personal held belief based on nothing more than our idea of perceiving something true, even though the “Object” that is presented to our consciousness is nothing more than an imperfect, condensed feedback of the noumenal reality. In the end, there seems to him to be nothing to truth except our commitment, our belief. Even Newton’s Law, is true only due to the passionate commitment of all the Beings-for-itself at various levels of consciousness.

Kierkegaard sees three essential stages in consciousness development[9]:

  1. The Aesthetic stage which is based in the enjoyment of the senses, of art, nature and the good life. This leads one to satiation and boredom, aka to unsatisfactoriness.
  2. The Ethical stage where boredom and satiation are synthesized and morality arises. At this point one lives, acts and thinks out of duty.
  3. The Religious stage where neither pleasure seeking nor duty are sufficient to drive the self any more, it’s driven by pure belief.

After the self has reached the end of a certain stage of development it sees itself completely accomplished and, thus, it sees itself completely unaccomplished. This arises given the dialectical manner in which reality is created. As Hegel identified, every time a certain element in reality is completely expressed it transforms into its opposite. The same is true for the self, every time it has reached its aim, stepped into its transcendental state, every time it has become that which it wished to be, satiation does not last long and the desire for new, higher realizations appear concomitantly with the emerges of a new stage of development. In order for an entity to be able to manifest these drives that lift it through the various stages of consciousness, it has to be able to decide and to act upon its decision. It has to be free. Only then can action be used for the development of the self.

Action for Kierkegaard is at the center of selfhood:

“The self is a relation which relates itself to it own self, or it is that in the relation [which accounts for it] that the relation relates itself to its own self; the self is not the relation but [consists in the fact] that the relation relates itself to its own self”.[10]

The self is reflective by itself to itself. The action of relating is salient, not the relation itself, as the latter requires substance – this position is counter to the dualistic view of the self as the permanent substance to which things happen.

The self, in Hegelian terms, is the act of referring its contents to the unity of the self”. Consciousness of this operation is the self. “The being of mind [here the self] is its act and its act is to be aware of itself”. If we look closely, we can see that Kierkegaard salients the act of unifying, instead of the unification, hence he emphasizes that the self is activity. The activity being self-reflection, which can find expression both within and without.

As we end the age of philosophers we have come to a conclusion that will be essential in the age of psychologists, namely that the self is action. In the process of arriving to this conclusion, we have gone through the reinterpretation of 300 years of thoughts and discussions that have been focused towards a single perspective that of the self.

3.2 The Age of Psychologists

Towards the end of the 19th century, the preeminent figure of psychological thought leveraged all the knowledge that the philosophers before him had to offer and combined it with his own personal experience of altered states of consciousness to create a broader, more inclusive understanding of the self. For William James, selfhood was the essential element which allowed being to have experience and it was composed out of multiple categories of experience that when coalescing allow us to perceive ourselves as the enduring organization of the organism who seems to be at the center of all action. We can concentrate James’ realization into a simple formula[11]:

Self = {Empirical Self, The Pure Ego, Self-feelings, Self-seeking, Self-preservation}

Where: Empirical Self = {Social Self, Material Self, Spiritual Self}

When we analyze the above and try to imagine how it applies to ourselves we seem to hit upon a dilemma: we become unsure as to where the boundaries between the possessor and the possessed, the me and the mine should be set. Our identity seems to escape outside of our body, given that our environment and our loved ones seem to strangely become part of us. There seems to be a key element that allows us to differentiate between us and other, namely emotions. James saw emotional investment and involvement as key in constituting the self. All things, including our body, seems to become ‘me’ through emotional investment. This bestows upon the self a fluctuating structure, as self-experiences will differ in their salience and centrality given that salience and centrality is determined by our affective relationship to the experience.

Let us look deeper into the components of the empirical self:

  1. The easiest to understand of the three is the material self. It consists of everything animate and inanimate that we invest with emotions (i.e. phones, cats, dogs, cars, other humans, etc.).
  2. The social self consists of the object-relational notions of self. We define ourselves not only based on how we perceive ourselves but also on how others perceive us. The social self is both what I am to others and what I am for others.
  3. The spiritual self, the hardest to explain of the three, is our inner subjective being, that which we seem to be.

I will continue discussing the spiritual self here, as it deserves at least one paragraph. The spiritual self includes our ability to argue and discriminate, our moral sensibility, our conscience, and our will. These enduring attributes are that to which we seem to be most attached to and that which seems to be at the core of who we are. Thus, we can say that they are what make me, me. Though, our high degree of attachment to these attributes does not presume that there is an identifiable substance that contains them. They arise out of action. The consciousness that we have so deer is not owned by anything. It is, to James, the succession of thoughts, which allows us to understand the fleetingness of reality. Having realized the perishability of thought, we can go as far as to say that we have realized an inner time, one independent of all externalities one which we can create out of the pure conceptualization of the perpetual perishment of thoughts. This is what creates the “entire stream of our personal consciousness”, Kant’s inner space.

As many others before him, James also tried to reach the core self, the self of all other selves, that which is at the innermost center of our being. The core self is included in the category of the spiritual self and is that which stays at the root of subjective life and which seems to be that which glues together all seemingly discrete elements into the unity of organisms that considers itself the center of the world. The core self, is the active element in consciousness. It is what welcomes and rejects, that to which pain and pleasure speak and the source of will. This is the point from which we take that which we consider to be our essence, extract it and transform it, so that our essence can be placed in the inter-subjective reality.

Beyond the empirical self, there are the other composites which are equally important. Self-seeking is engendered by our desire to be recognized and Self-preservation results from our strong positive emotion to that which we recognize as ourselves which then drives us to fight against the entropic nature of our constituents. Self-feeling presumes that the self is not merely a rational machine, nor that it is the sum of our memories, but par contra something directly experienced.

The Pure Ego is the abstract cogito ‘I’ or Kant’s transcendental ego which must accompany every thought. It is the source of our personal identity. We can state that it is a subjective synthesis that brings together the ever perishing and varying stream of thoughts, that contains a different perception at each instance; yet, about which can be said that each instance of it is appropriated from the preceding thought.

The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century represented a revolutionary period in the understanding of the self. The realizations of this thinker can be added abve the multi-faceted, breadth based perspective of the composite self. Freud in his earlier days, unlike James, looked at the self in a depth approach instead of breadth approach. His first model of the self, the topographic model, stated that the self is build out of three realms: consciousness, preconsciousness and dynamic unconsciousness. The difference between preconsciousness and dynamic unconsciousness is that while both are out of awareness the former can be accessed by attention, or an act of will, while the latter is blocked by what Freud calls the censor. Going beyond their difference, the two can be merged together into the descriptive unconsciousness which contains everything that is outside of our awareness at any given moment.

Freud views consciousness as the self’s point of contact with the external world. For him, the epistemological trajectory between the world and the self is outside-in, in the sense that our senses gather information from the exterior material world and send them to our consciousness, which has two modes of operating:

  1. Primary which is not bound by the rules of logic, allowing for the existence of contradictory propositions without conflict.
  2. Secondary, also known as aware consciousness, which is organized temporarily and logical, with thoughts being connected orderly and lawfully. [12]

The dynamic unconscious, together with the primary operating mode of consciousness share a strong resemblance to Kant’s self-in-itself, also known as the noumenal self. The difference is that for Freud unlike Kant, the noumenal self is not the source of morality but of the egoic drive. Thus, Freud considers that the noumenal self can be known through the analysis of its derivatives, while Kant thinks that it can be observed through moral actions.

Freud also pondered a psychic energy which he saw as the driving force of the psyche. This psychic energy was, for him, the mental equivalent of the physical energy, just that instead of driving the manifestation of matter, it drove the manifestation of the two instinctual forces: the libido and the ego. The libido is that which seeks to join and preserve the species while the ego is that which seeks self-preservation. Later, after the first world war, Freud moved from the libido and ego drives to the Eros and Thanatos drives. Eros is the part in us that seeks reproduction and self-preservation, while Thanatos seeks the destruction of the self. They can be seen as life drive and death drive. The death drive was the result of the horrors Freud saw man bestow upon both his own kind and the whole earth. After seeing such atrocities he concluded that all organic matter has a desire to return to the quietness of the inorganic.

His second model, known as the structural model of the mind[13] was an improvement upon the former. If we look closely we can see that in this model Freud brings breadth and depth. He realizes that the self is constituted of multiple collaborating elements, but he also maintains the depth of the topographic model, thus, creating the most holistic understanding of the self, till that date. In this new model, the mental structure develops from an undifferentiated state ‘das Es’ or Id. The Id always strives to discharge the primitive or instinctual impulses and it operates through the primary process of consciousness.

‘Das Ich’ or the Ego, arises at the surface of the ID, at the point where the ID intersects with the external reality. The Ego is a complex entity, it can’t exist from the beginning, it comes into being from “islands of experience”. The ego develops a separate agency in the mental apparatus, defined by its functions of perception, memory and judgement. An instinct of preserving these elements in seeming unity arises giving birth to defense and self-preservation. Freud saw the ego as a weak executive that had no energy of its own, he thought of it as having to borrow energy from the Id. In order to be able to extract energy from the Id, the Ego has to help the ID manifests its desires in a socially acceptable way.

Thus, the Ego mediates between the Id’s demand for instant gratification and the restrictions put in place by the Super-Ego and the natural world. The Super-Ego, or “das über Ich”, reflects internalizations of cultural rules and, on the basis of that, it creates the ideal picture which we strive to embody. The Super-Ego is constructed on the model of the most dominant and influential representatives of the socio-cultural manifestations from our environment. It strives for perfection, it organizes the self, it forms goals and criticizes and prohibits drives, fantasies, feelings and actions. It is our Inner-Critic, our inner Woody Allen.

In both Freud and James, we can see that the self is a complex, multifaceted structure. We can see that they start to diverge from the pure epistemological model of understanding the self which has driven philosophical thought up until that point. They understand needs and desires, the relationship between the ‘I’ and society, senses and thoughts, and of course the importance of our personal history. These same realizations and more are present in Jung. For Jung, there are two root explanatory principals who share equal weight and validity when trying to frame the self: causality and teleology (explanation by purpose). We are determined both by the past as actuality and by the future as potentiality. Our actuality, that which represents the cause of how we got here, is represented by our personal history, our cultural history, the history of our species, and I would add to Jung’s view the history of the whole of reality. These though, compose only part of what we are, for we also have the power to imagine, to hope, to dream, to desire, we have the capacity of aspiration, which is teleological – this makes up for the other part of our being.[14]

Jung sees ourselves as expressed through activities which are in turn shaped by our aims and causes. He sees the self, in a Kantian fashion, as both determined and free. For him, the self is characterized by constant and creative development and by the search for wholeness and rebirth. The core Jungian self is archaic, primitive innate unconscious, and both universal and racial. Each being that contains selfhood has the same structural elements, which are inborn and phylogenetically inherited (inherited as result of evolutionary development) as a result of the experience of the human race.

The self is constructed by the constant interaction of the ego, the personal unconsciousness, the collective unconsciousness, the fight between introversion and extroversion and the master archetype or the core self. The ego here is similar to the one in Freud, it handles the functions of perception, memory, thought and feeling. It generates identity and continuity and is responsible for consciousness. We can even call it the conscious mind. Personal unconscious, is again similar to one of Freud’s ideas, but in this case not from the structural model – as in the case of the ego – but from the topographic model, namely the dynamic unconscious. The personal unconscious contains all that is repressed, forgotten, unnoticed, and ignored. It contains all that which we choose to set aside and all that with which we can’t deal with. The complex personal unconscious is that always present core self the nuclide that organizes experiences. It takes the ever-perishing perceptions and arranges them stereotypically, splitting them into primitive categories, based on significant historic events.[15]

Going one step further than his predecessors, Jung also poised the collective or transpersonal unconscious, which he thought of as the repository of the experience of the species. It represents the heritability of experience that comes just from our existence in the environment of our species. It also reincarnates the doctrine of innate ideas, which states that there are some things that we are born knowing. This knowledge that we are conferred by our simple existence within the intersubjective space is the composite of all our species experiences, demonic and archaic, as well as sublime and wise. The repository is object-relational, for it gathers how the self with which we identify relates with its surroundings, be they objects or other selves. Within the transpersonal unconscious we have at our disposal the forgotten and overlooked wisdom of uncounted generations, though in order to gain access to it we need to dissolve our individuality, we need to kill our ego.

Within the transpersonal unconscious we find the archetypes, the structural components of the collective unconscious, a metaphoric lens through which a given experience is refracted. The experiences that define the archetypes are constructed by our interactions with the ideal. If we make a parallel to Kant we can say that they are modes of understanding through which we try to grasp and interact with the noumenal, but they go beyond this as the archetypes contain more than just pure cognition they also have affect. The archetypes, like Plato’s forms, double the world, by taking the experienced world and adding over it the world as eternal pattern. The world becomes the eternal rebirth of the same in different forms. Aristotle and the conceptualists postulated and were correct when stating that we shape and are shaped by our experience. Hence, we see again that which we already emphasized in chapter 2, there is a clear impossibility of an absolute delimitation between creation and creator, between action and actor, between subject and object, between self and other.[16]

The self, even though not separable from the rest of reality seems to function as a catalyst for the metamorphosis of reality into something that can be read. Lacan thinks that the self defines itself through language and that it signifies reality. In the process of signifying the world, the self, bestows it with the ability of being read. Language, Saussure adds, should not be seen as mere encodings of our surroundings, but as an everchanging manifestation of relationships build around the difference of the signifiers and the arbitrary relationship between the signifier and the signified.[17]

Language permeates reality in this view and it has been here before we have. As a result, we are thrown, from the moment of our birth, into a field of language that permeates the whole of the intersubjective world.

As children, growing up, only once we first understand ourselves as separate from the world around us do we awaken a conscious sense of selfhood. At this point, we split ourselves from the rest of reality and view all that which we do not perceive as ourselves as elements of interaction that are physically distinct from us. As we can recognize ourselves as distinct, as separate, as independent, an inner assurance of our wholeness arises. The unification takes place in what Lacan calls the ‘mirror stage’, a stage in consciousness development that allows for the unified identification of the whole of our body.[18]

The subject does not define itself. Instead it is defined by something other than itself, put in Lacanian terms, the subject is the discourse of the other. It becomes unified once the image of its unity is provided, once the image of its unity is returned to it from the external world. Our selfhood, our very center of gravity is, thus, not rooted within us but outside of us. It is rooted in the field of images from which we have first gained a sense of separation. The mirror stage ends in “the assumption of the armor of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject’s entire mental development”[19]. Together with the realization of the self comes the realization of our instability. As we realize our wholeness through the image of the external world we also realize our dependence on the image that the external world provides and our inability to fully control the external world.

We have to realize that the self arises in the interplay between the imaginary and the symbolic. For the unity is imagined, interpreted as a result of the perception-reality feedback process, following which it is symbolized through the ‘I’. Beyond the domain of the imaginary and the symbolic lies the real, the noumenal, that which no matter how much we try to approach it with imagination and symbolism, will forever stay out of reach. The subject is, hence, always problematic as it results out of the interplay between imaginary and symbolic, which tries to relate reality. Given this, the self is merely a fragment of a dynamic field of endless incompletions and disjunctions in the perpetual pursuit of grasping the real, the irreducible separate, in the pursuit of grasping its own unsignifiable asymptote, in pursuit of grasping itself.

The pursuit of establishing a full realization can be recognized as a longing for self-completion or desire as Lacan names it. Each element, each separate thing that we desire, that we pursue is called a demand. Having realized the impossibility of fully attaining the real we come to the most malignant observation of self-nature, that of insatiability. All religions and meditative traditions would counter this Lacanian realization and would say that the real can be experience as long as we do not seek to have a self that experiences the real, for, the non-dual realization which is said to have within it the whole of reality can only be obtained if the self dissolves in it. I disagree with the need for the dissolving of the self as I consider there to be a misunderstanding of what the self is. This I will clarify in the later chapters.

For now, though, there is one thing with which I agree undoubtedly that the self, the subject is for sure a construct. Foucault is of the same mind as Lacan and myself on this, namely that the self-arises within the intersubjective context. Foucault sees these relationships, that exist in all societies and that give rise to the self, as centered on power and subordination. The birth of said relationships is driven by our epistemological discourse, by our transmission of knowledge and truth in the intersubjective space. The intersubjective acceptance of epistemological reality will then influence our being, our self, as it is based in language, the ever-fluctuating codification of our perpetual drive towards the full grasp of reality.

We can see in Foucault as in all the previous thinkers an attack on the colloquially accepted model of the whole, independent, discrete self. He writes:

“The individual is not to be conceived as a as a sort of elementary nucleus, a primitive atom, a multiple and inert material on which power comes to fasten or against which it happens to strike, and in so doing subdues or crushes individuals. In fact, it is already one of the prime effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires, come to be identified and constituted as individuals. The individual, that is, is not the vis-a-vis of power it is, I believe, one of its prime effects. The individual is an effect of power, and at the same time, or precisely to the extent to which it is that effect, it is the element of its articulation. The individual which power has constituted is at the same time it’s vehicle.”[20]

I will here use the words of Nick Mansfield to interpret the above writing as not only does he do Foucault justice, but his thoughts on the matter are well aligned with my own.

“Power comes first, [Foucault] argues, and the individual – and all the things we identify as making up our individuality (our separate body, its idiosyncratic gestures, its specific way of using language, its secret desires) – are really effects of power, designed for us rather than by us. As a result, we are not antagonists of power, standing opposite (or vis-a-vis) it. We are the very material of power, the thing through which it finds its expression.”[21]

Here, the actor is but secondary whilst the action claim primacy. We as physical beings are nothing more than means through which power expresses itself. Much aligned with Nietzsche’s thought from On the Genealogy of Morals, 1887, where he states: “there is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming; ‘the doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed – the deed is everything.” The self is a minor piece in a much larger game that it cannot ever grasp. The intersubjective realm, which voices and spreads the opinions of the most powerful and lets their truth and their knowledge permeate society, directs us towards what deeds we should realize. The reality we encounter is structured in such a way that it prompts these actions, transforming us into material, self-aware and cognizant replicators of the spread epistemology. Though a macabre view of reality, for one such as myself that strongly believes in freedom, his view is still important as it contains one imperative take away, namely the non-differentiation between action and actor which dialectical cannot be denied.

I will close both narratives (the age of philosophers and the age of psychologists) with Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. As with all the other names I have mentioned thus far there is no need for a formal introduction of the rebellious duo. They are well known for using a transdisciplinary analysis that goes from the abstract realm of philosophy and linguistics to the precise world of mathematics and computer science in order to demolish the sacred cow of Western Academia and the back-looking logic which permeates it even today. To them, the self is the center which collects the “infinite and random impulses and flows (to use their terms, line of flights and machinic assemblages) that overlap and intercut with one another but that never form any but the most transitory and dynamic correspondences”[22]

The duo’s understanding of reality is a process based one. They do not view reality as a still, substance like entity that has certain qualities and quantities, which we can analyze, measure, categorize and then use to predict the full breath of reality. In truth, while we measure and categorize reality, which is sure to have been helping us in our daily affairs as it is the ground on which we build the tool and develop the techniques to fulfill our physiological requirement; reality as a whole is forever out of reach given it evolves together with us. We cannot eliminate the subject from the world as we have done till now and hope to be able to grasp reality in this way. Thus, for Deleuze and Guattari, as for Hegel, the self develops through the collective enterprise of the intersubjective whose ultimate goal is to achieve self-consciousness, analogous to the awareness of God. [23]

This understanding strikes at the concept of a world divided into coordinated parts. The two do not accept simple representations and fixed truths.

“There is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author). Rather, an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from these orders, so that a book has no sequel nor the world as its object nor one of the several authorities as its subject. In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of the outside”[24]

In most of our actions we seem to either be trying to extract the essence from the world, so that we can integrate it in us, or to be trying to extract our essence so that we may be able to place it within the world. We consider that by transforming essence into knowledge we become free, though only free to move into our next analysis. The self though should not be seen as a simple extractor or forager of essence. The self is more than an essentialist junky. In truth, the self is to be conceptualized in terms of the endless involvements that enwrap it in inevitable, albeit dynamic and transitory interrelationships, it is to be seen as the assemblage that establishes connections between multiplicities.

The self is like the rhizome, which is a “type of stem that expands underground horizontally, sending down roots and pushing up shoots that arise and proliferate not from a single core or track, but from a network which expands endlessly from any of its points.”[25] The self is not a mere substance and its multiplicity is not a byproduct. Its multiplicity is that which makes the self that what it is, we can say – as a word play – that it is its essence. It’s our inability to move away from the old, eleatic-dualistic-mechanistic view of reality, which is powered by our limited understanding and our desire for simple clear structures and identities that hinder us to embody our realization. Our realization that nothing is ever in a state of permanent immovability, that everything is constantly exchanging part of itself for parts of the ‘other’. The self is a process of constant becoming that manifest itself through the many and mobile relationships, interconnections and assemblages which mirror nature itself.


[1]Locke, John; Essay Concerning Human Understanding; 2nd Ed, Project Gutenberg; Ch. 27: Of Identity and Diversity

[2] Hume, David; A Treatise of Human Nature; 1896, Oxford, Clarendon Press; Book 1: Of the Understanding

[3] Kant, Immanuel; Critique of Pure Reason; 1998, Edinburgh, Cambridge University Press; A6–7/B10–11

[4]Sartre, J.P.; Being and Nothingness; 1993, Washington Square Press; p. liii

[5]Einstein, Albert; Relativity: The Special and General Theory – 100th Anniversary Edition; 2015, Princeton University Press

[6]Einstein, Albert; The Theory of Relativity: And Other Essays; 2015, Philosophical Library/Open Road

[7]Culkin, J.M.; A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan; March 1967; The Saturday Review

[8]Hegel, G. W. F.; Phenomenology of Spirit; 1977; Oxford University Press

[9]Kierkegaard, S; Stages on life’s way; 1940, Princeton, NJ:Princeton University Press

[10]Kierkegaard, S; The Sickness Unto Death; 1941, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; pp. 9

[11]James, W; The principles of psychology; 1983, Cambridge; MA: Harvard University Press; Ch. 10 The Consciousness of the Self

[12]Freud, S.; Interpretation of dreams; 1953, London; Hogarth Press; Ch. 7 The Psychology of the Dream Processes

[13]Freud, S.; The ego and the id; 1956, London; Hogarth Press

[14] Jung, C.G.; Symbols of Transformation; Bollingen Series XX; 1956, New York; Princeton

University Press; Part 1

[15] Jung, C. G; The relations between the ego and the unconscious; In Collected works (Vol. 17); 1945 Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[16]Jung, C.G.; The archetypes and the collective unconscious; 1968, London; Routledge; Ch. 5 The archetypes and the collective unconscious

[17]Saussure, Ferdinand; Course in General Linguistics; 1983, London; Duckworth

[18]Lacan, Jacques; 1977, Ecrits: A Selection; 1977, London; Tavistock

[19]Ibid., pp. 4

[20]Foucault, Michel; Power/Knowledge; 1980, New York; Pantheon Books; p. 98

[21]Mansfield, Nick; Subjectivity: Theories of the self from Freud to Haraway; 2000; Allen & Unwin; p. 55

[22]Ibid., p. 136

[23]Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix; Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Volume 2: A Thousand Plateaus; 1987, Minneapolis; University of Minnesota Press

[24]Ibid., p. 23

[25]Mansfield, Nick; Subjectivity: Theories of the self from Freud to Haraway; 2000; Allen & Unwin; p. 143

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