Circles of Women and Philosophical Practice (I)

Disclaimer: This article was first published in the academic journal Interdisciplinary Research in Counseling, Ethics and Philosophy and can be read here.

This article is based on the theoretical framework of Ramona Todor’s dissertation on the same topic: Women’s Circles and Philosophical Practice – Holding Space for Embodied, Immanent Wisdom, which explored potential bridges between two rather different approaches to cultivating wisdom – Circles of Women and Philosophical Practice (or Philosophical Counseling). The dissertation also contained a phenomenological analysis of three interviews with participants of women’s circles from Romania, and will comprise a further article on this topic published on our website.

ABSTRACT: In recent years, traditional approaches to education and development have been increasingly criticized as being predominantly oriented towards developing the mind, at the detriment of the other dimensions of human existence (i.e., body, emotion, intuition, imagination), which have been associated with secondary, less important, or feminine aspects. Such an approach understands and engages these other dimensions merely from a mental perspective, instead of allowing each dimension to develop in its own space and rhythm. This creates a bias referred to as cognicentrism. A case for the shift of cognicentric approaches towards an integrative interplay of the mind, body, emotion, imagination, and intuition is presented in this study. This shift is envisioned as happening by pursuing an embodied, immanent approach towards all dimensions of knowing in an integrative manner. As one of the steps towards this achievement, in the context of philosophical practice, the practice of Circles of Women (CWs) is presented and studied. CWs are presented as spaces where the practice is centred on embodiment and immanence, where the voice of the feminine can be heard, explored, and honoured – aspects perceived as lacking in the context of a traditional philosophical practice. Philosophical practice is presented as having a more accentuated presence on the mental, intellectual sphere, and so a more versed perspective upon matters of ethics and logic – aspects through which CWs could also potentially benefit. The direction and focus of this study is to advance the need for an embodied, immanent approach to philosophical practice, thus building bridges between already existing practices and communities while acknowledging differences and presenting possibilities of complementarity or reciprocal influence.

Key words: women circle, philosophical practice, cognicentrism, immanence, embodiment, feminine


Looking at the world and at society through feminist/feminine, embodied, integrative, or immanent perspectives can bring to light some biases in mainstream approaches to education and knowledge that still remain largely unquestioned. Through these perspectives, the present paper deconstructs some fundamental assumptions found in significant parts of Western culture, Western philosophy, and consequently in Western philosophical practice. More precisely, reason, logic, intellect, mind, cognition –in the Western world they are seen as humanity’s most precious tools. This can be observed in traditional or mainstream educational systems’ curriculum and in what is considered knowledge or science (Thayer-Bacon, 2000). This can also be seen in how traditional or mainstream philosophical practices focus mainly on conceptual, logic-argumentative reasoning tools in order to define, assess and analyze concepts or hypotheses (Barrientos, 2018).

However, to hold that reason is inherently more important than other dimensions of the human experience – or tools of knowing – such as the body, emotion, intuition, and imagination, is arguably based on a constructed assumption at best, and on patriarchal systems of power and oppression at worst. Indeed, developing and refining reason has served an important element in the development of our society in terms of science, medicine, industry, technology, infrastructure, and many other aspects. As Ferrer (2003) and Romero and Albareda (2001), researchers and practitioners of the integrative and participatory approach suggest, in the context of the Western culture, “the inhibition of the primary dimensions of the person – somatic, instinctive, sexual, and certain aspects of the emotional – may have been actually necessary at certain juncture to allow the mergence and maturation of the values of the human heart and consciousness” (Ferrer, 2003, p. 22).

Nevertheless, we have arguably reached a place in our development as a society where the repression of these “other” dimensions or tools is not necessary anymore. Today’s challenges are significantly more related to sedentary lifestyles, alienation, depression, eating disorders, body dimorphic disorders, and the increase in perceived relational and sexual dysfunctions (Simons & Carey, 2001). In this context, reason and intellectual refinement are seen as unable to address the abovementioned challenges by themselves. Thus, reassessing the weight given to the mental dimension in our individual life and society becomes increasingly important, and distributing this weight towards each tool of knowing in an integrative manner becomes meaningful.

The purpose of this article is to explore the practice of CWs as a practice of philosophy. Philosophy is seen as an endeavor towards cultivating wisdom, where wisdom is understood as described by philosopher Ran Lahav (2001, p.8) in his article “Philosophical Counselling as a Quest for Wisdom”. This view is expanded later in this article. Furthermore, whether a state of wisdom can be achieved primarily by intellectual means is questioned. This article is part of the author’s dissertation thesis, and only the theoretical framework is included due to space limit. The dissertation also included a phenomenological study focusing specifically on women’s lived experiences in CWs with respect to the tools of knowing (mind, body, emotion, imagination, intuition), embodiment, and the feminine.

CWs have been chosen as a study topic because they consciously engage precisely with those dimensions traditionally regarded as impediments towards finding wisdom, truth or virtue in the context of philosophical practice. However, through a feminine/feminist, integrative, immanent or embodied perspective, these dimensions are seen as immanent sources of truth, knowledge, and wisdom.

For more clarify, some key terms used in this work are presented below.

Mind, Critical Thinking, Cognicentrism

Throughout this work, reason, mind, and intellect are referred to as those human faculties or tools of knowing which have been used for abstract inquiry, development of objective sciences, and the strive toward impartial knowledge and truth. In this framework, knowledge is assessed and valued using critical thinking, as traditionally defined by philosophers ranging from Plato and Aristotle to 20th century thinkers such as Bertrand Russell (1956), John Dewey (1997), Max Black (1946), or Robert Ennis (1962). Critical thinking, in their view, as interpreted by researcher and philosopher Barbara Thayer-Bacon (2000) in her book Transforming Critical Thinking – Thinking Constructively, is seen as a neutral, objective, and thus unbiased method of differentiating between truth and falsehood.

This view is based on two assumptions – 1) knowers can be separated from what is known, and 2) something is inherently either true or false, with no room in the middle. These assumptions have been comprehensively criticized by Thayer-Bacon (2000). In one of her starting arguments, she shows how in Meno’s Dialogues (Plato, 1943), the main character and philosopher Socrates, although claiming to not know the right answer to Meno’s question regarding what virtue is, still relies on an important yet hidden assumption. He assumes that there will be one true answer, a universal essence, shared by all forms of virtue. Western philosophy, which has been famously referred to as consisting “of a series of footnotes to Plato” by British philosopher A.N. Whitehead (1979, p.39), is heavily influenced by this assumption found in Plato, which “has come under great scrutiny by critical theorists, feminists, womanists, third world feminists, and postmodernists” (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, p.19).

Thayer-Bacon continues to walk us through the ways in which different ideologies impact the way we understand human experiences. Marx and neo-Marxists show the important role that social class plays in the experiences of people. Feminists bring attention to how ‘mankind’ does not equally represent people, but rather subsumes ‘women’ under the category of ‘men’. Radical feminists and queer theorists highlight the category of sexual orientation and gender identity, showing how even ‘woman’ as a category raises issues in erasing differences amongst people. Womanists and third world feminists find that white, middle-class feminist scholars define ‘women’ in such a way that differences of race, ethnicity, and social class are ignored. Postmodernists undergo the philosophical task of deconstructing what counts as knowledge. With all of this in mind, returning to Meno, he is no longer able to give an answer once he agrees to Socrates’ criteria for what counts as knowledge. In this way, Socrates silences Meno, in spite of claiming to not know the answer himself. Socrates has a theory of what counts as knowledge, and so, although he claims to not know the answer to Meno’s questions, he still determines what Meno can offer as evidence, and so what can count as right or wrong. Socrates’ theory is based, in logical terms, on the theory of non-contradiction and the law of the excluded middle, thus allowing for differences to exist, and thereby for difference from truth (or falsity).

Plato envisioned critical thinking as a logical act, where logic is based on “the laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle, which force [the other participant in the dialogue] to reply and think into approved channels” (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, p.34). “Logical division […] prevents the discussion from being interrupted by contrary views or responses” (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, p.32). This way, logical division makes it possible for one party to be in complete control over the discussion. “The either/or questions that Socrates asks […] strictly limit the kind of answer Meno can give, […and] the price for deviation is ridicule” (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, p.33). Thayer-Bacon notes that if one attempts to speak on their own, they “can be accused of lack of rigor and lack of understanding of the categories of rational expression” (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, p.37). This creates power imbalances which are easily perpetuated in the context of mainstream philosophical practice today. Thayer-Bacon’s proposal is to embrace a socially constructed view of knowledge, “as something that is in process – always being constructed and reconstructed”, and only capable of being processed with the help of others, “because we are limited, fallible, contextual beings” (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, p.22). Adopting Thayer-Bacon’s insight, critical thinking, as it is traditionally understood, is seen as limited and biased, “in that vital tools of imagination, intuition and emotional feelings are diminished or ignored, while our reasoning tool is highlighted” (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, p.5). She shows how the other tools of knowing have been associated with women and indigenous peoples, in turn associated with less importance or inferiority in the pursuit of truth, knowledge, or wisdom.

The paradigm in which knowledge is predominantly associated with the mind has been referred to as cognicentrism (Ferrer, 2003). It has been shown to have its roots in the mind-body dualism usually accredited to Descartes (2008), but which has been traced back to Plato by philosopher J. Dewey (1997). In Plato’s The Republic (1943), Plato holds that our bodies are a hindrance to our knowing, depicting through his divided line model that the lower levels of the line correspond to lower levels of intelligence, which in turn correspond to our physical bodies. The higher levels of the line include truth and knowledge, which are associated by Plato with the mind (Dewey, 1997). Thayer-Bacon (2000) holds that “this mind-body dualism has followed us to the present day” (p.27).

Philosopher Michelle Maiese (2011) presents a further criticism against this mind-body split, this time in the fields of contemporary cognition theories, which, through this perspective, incorrectly hold that the central nervous system is solely sufficient and responsible for consciousness. Thus, she argues for the essentially embodied nature of human consciousness (Maiese, 2011, p.11). This embodiment thesis, in Maiese’s view, holds that “conscious minds are necessary biologically alive and completely embodied in all the vital systems and organs of our living bodies” (Maiese, 2011, p.2). In her view, “emotional consciousness is the place where the heart, the brain, and the rest of the living body all come together, and from which action, perception, and cognition originate” (Maiese, 2011, p.56). She argues that emotions are not explicitly cognitive in the sense portrayed by many popular theories of emotion; however, she thinks that emotion cannot be separated from cognition. In this light, the argument for an integrative, embodied view upon the human experience and the necessity of an integrative practice in philosophy starts to take shape.

Integrative, immanence and embodiment

An integrative philosophical practice is envisioned as a practice that engages into the immanent, embodied tools of knowing (body, emotion, intuition, imagination) without placing mental tools such as logic, reason and intellect on a pedestal (Thayer-Bacon, 2000, Ch.2). This means that although reason is ‘dethroned’ form being the most important tool of knowing, as it was traditionally held, its value remains acknowledged. In order to do this, space needs to be held for each tool of knowing to develop in its own dimension, in its own rhythm, using its own language to express itself. This is seen as opposed to a traditional approach in which the other tools of knowing are inquired into and understood through the perspective of the mind. Immanence refers to that aspect of knowledge or truth that is personal and deep, and emerges from within (Ferrer, 2003). It can be tapped into through intuition, introspection, and spiritual or contemplative practices such as prayer or meditation, and forms of art such as shamanic painting or intuitive dancing (Todor, 2021a).

Another problem that Ferrer (2003) discusses in his article is that because “not much attention is given to the maturation of the somatic, instinctive, sexual and emotional worlds, […] even spiritual leaders and teachers across traditions display an uneven development” (Ferrer, 2003, p.21). He exemplifies this uneven development through cases of practitioners who have high level cognitive and spiritual functioning, yet who experience dysfunctions at the interpersonal, emotional, or sexual behavior. Ferrer speaks of spiritual teachers and practitioners, but arguably the same could be said about philosophical practitioners.

Circles of Women

An overview based on existing literature

CWs are said to have existed across different cultures of the globe (Leidenfrost, 2012b; Longman, 2018), and they are known under diverse names, such as Red Tents, Circles of Women, and Moon Circles (Castro, 2020). According to Longman (2018), women’s circles are “women-only spaces that celebrate sisterhood and the ‘feminine’” (p.1), being “non-institutionalized, often monthly gatherings, for women to come together and relax, meditate, share stories, partake in rituals, heal, nourish, and empower themselves” (Longman, 2018, p.1). Her study shows how CWs offer a space to women from diverse backgrounds that is found to be lacking in the secular-liberal society, a space where women come to “’re/connect’ with each other, their bodies, their inner selves, and sometimes with the sacred”, transcending “boundaries between the religious, the spiritual, and the secular” (Longman, 2018, p.1). Castro (2020) in her study refers to Red Tents as “places of acceptance (of self and others)” (Castro, 2020, p.1) where repressed negative emotions and experiences can be shared, and where women can bond and witness each other outside of the roles they were playing in a patriarchal context.

In Longman’s perspective, CWs are seen as a response to “the perceived failure of neoliberal gender ideology to empower women and transform society within secular modernity” (Longman, 2018, p.2), providing a “refuge from contemporary existence” (Castro, 2020, p. 12). This refuge might be seen as allowing women to discover themselves, womanhood and femininity in a new light, from their own perspective and experience, and not as it has been defined by patriarchal societies. This allows them to question contemporary society, its challenges and their own circumstances from a new perspective, one which honors their personal truth and experience.

The aforementioned researchers address several concerns about CWs, holding that they could be expressive of harmful gender essentialism (Longman, 2018) or perpetuating “hegemonic power relations, systemic inequalities and privilege, particularly regarding biological essentialism and whiteness” (Castro, 2020, p.1).  Other concerns have been criticizing CWs as merely expressing neoliberal, individualist consumer values, referred to as the ‘neoliberal spiritual self’, topic raised by Longman and built upon by Castro.  Although CWs are usually accompanied by open statements regarding inclusivity and diversity of womanhood, in some cases with “explicit mentions of trans women and intersectionality” (Castro, 2020, p.4), another concern lies with the potentially predominant identification of participants as white, cis-gendered, and heterosexual, and their background regarding women’s feminist orientation, high educational level and socioeconomic class (Castro, 2020). In this light, hegemonic norms are considered likely to be reproduced and entrenched. A further criticism lies with the “neoliberal spiritual subject who unwittingly maintains the hegemonic status quo in a quest for personal growth” (Castro, 2020, p4). In this view, the individual is distracted from material and structural inequities, and any residual problems women experience are repackaged as “their individual responsibility” (Castro, 2020, p.5). Critics continue to argue that the practice of CWs is characterized by consumption and affluence, thus limiting access and strengthening contemporary capitalism (Carrette and King, 2005). Other critical views underpinning CWs under the wider umbrella of well-being sphere and self-help practices hold that they “reproduce normative femininities […] with a postfeminist version of the neo-liberal self” (Longman, 2018, p.4).

A further ‘red flag’, as Castro (2020) shows, revolves around the biological aspect of women in reference to “historical and contemporary threads of essentialism in different feminisms” (Castro, 2020, p13), by which womanhood is seen as strictly tied to the binary female sex assigned a birth. This view is based on assumptions regarding what constitutes a biological sex, which aren’t always clearly defined (Buttler, 1993), thus potentially leading to further assumptions about the universality of women’s physiological processes, since not all experiences of womanhood are related to breasts, wombs and menstruation (Castro, 2020, p.13).

Gill (2007) argues that the celebration of “women’s individual capacities to resist patriarchal scripts” accept without questioning neoliberal values while relying upon a “depoliticized mindset” (Gill, 2007, p.611), perpetuating political apathy. This is a common criticism addressed to holistic spiritualities (Finley, 1991).

These arguments lay the foundation for this work’s aim of building bridges between the practice of CWs and the practice of philosophy, seeing that there exists potential for mutual improvement. Traditional philosophical practice could benefit from the embodied, immanent approach from CWs, and CWs could benefit from the philosophical insights into political structures and issues of identity and privilege.

Thus, CWs are vulnerable of being seen as engaging into “cultural or radical feminist principles that in some contexts are seen as retrograde today” (Hollows, 2000, p.10). However, in CWs, “a complete women-centred culture is rejected, and a complete counter-culture based on identity politics for women is not promoted” (Hollows, 2000, p.10). In fact, femininity is re-evaluated in a more “nomadic, affective, and affirmative sense, where agency regarding gender identity and sexual difference emerges through explorative, imaginative, and experiential processes. Femininity is described both in reference to ‘traditional’ feminine characteristics, for example ‘softness’ and ‘gentleness’, and also in abstract, wider terms ranging from “experiencing through the senses, going inwards, receptivity, flowing instead of achieving, and organically connecting” (Hollows, 2000, p.10).

Womanhood, Feminine, Feminism

The term feminine appears mostly in the literature on CWs in the context of a conscious pursuit of rediscovering or returning to a forgotten or hidden feminine in patriarchal societies. Last century’s feminist and postmodern philosophers and thinkers have started to shed light upon the implications that patriarchal societies have been imposing on their people, and since then, feminist thought is said to have undergone four turns, known as ‘the four waves of feminism’ (Rampton ,2008; Rodak, 2020).

CWs are seen as belonging to the now-emerging fourth wave of feminism. One important characteristic of CWs as a fourth wave manifestation is that the insights and seeming contradictions of the previous waves of feminism are deconstructed and integrated.

According to Rampton (2008) and Rodak (2020), the first wave of feminism was known primarily for the women’s suffrage and achieving legal aspects of gender equality in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, the second wave expanded to touch more areas of women’s lives such as politics, domesticity, work, family, and sexuality and opened the discussion about domestic violence and martial rape (Pierceson, 2016). Second-wave feminists placed themselves critically against the first wave’s fully essentialist perspective, noting that women have also been exploiting each other, and so questioned the first-wave opinion that being a woman is sufficient for being a feminist.

The third wave in the 1990s started to oppose itself to the very notion of femininity, which was seen as having been defined by men, and was considered sexist. During the third wave, women “internalized male supremacist values” (Rodak, 2020, p.121) and engaged into degenerative, competitive behaviour amongst each other. Having achieved the right to equal opportunities in the workplace, they entered the competitive corporate environments and started playing the game inherently designed by men, for men.

The fourth wave, starting to take shape in the 2010s, is now able to look back on these iterations and cultivate a more conscious feminine/feminist identity. It further deconstructs essentialist perspectives acknowledging the existence of non-traditional, non-hegemonic gender identities, sexual orientations and cultural backgrounds. Intersectional feminism and queer theory lay the foundations of these perspectives. Fourth wave feminists note that all people have been affected by patriarchal structures, including cis-gendered men, in that feminine aspects have been suppressed, oppressed, exploited or objectified in everyone alive, not just in women, creating an imbalance in social expectations and roles for everyone. The fourth wave is also characterized by a strong online presence and trans-national influence (Rodak, 2020).

The fight for women’s empowerment by demanding access to equal rights still is an important process towards a just society, taking place at a political level. However, there is great need for subjective, individual, embodied empowerment, too, which has to take place through individual, personal processes. Political and personal activism and empowerment should arguably take place at the same time, in the spirit of Carol Hanisch’s famous slogan – The Personal is Political, published in her 1969 essay under the same name (Hanisch, 2000). In CWs, empowerment starts with the personal, through the creation of ‘safe spaces’, where each woman can share, explore, and/or find her own truth, her own voice, her own inner strength rooted in her own experience of womanhood and femininity – and explore these experiences outside of patriarchal expectations and definitions. This, in turn, creates a different kind of collective experience, which, in turn, can influence the political level.

The Place of Women Circles in Philosophical Practice

A common definition of philosophical practice is increasingly difficult to be found and agreed upon amongst philosophical practitioners (Raabe, 2001). With this in mind, the practice of CWs will now be mapped amongst existing philosophical practices in order to explore the differences and the potential of complementarity between them. Oscar Brenifier’s Via Negativa, and Ran Lahav’s Deep Philosophy are used as references. As already pointed out by Barrientos (2018), the mainstream or traditional practice of philosophy uses a conceptual, logic-argumentative kind of reason in order to conceptualize, define, assess and analyze concepts or hypotheses. This prevailing philosophical tradition, although practiced through diverse methods, is based on: 1) examining arguments and justifications of counselees, 2) clarifying, analysing and defining important terms and concepts used, 3) exposing and assessing underlying assumptions and finding logical implications, 4) highlighting inconsistencies, and 5) exploring traditional theories of philosophy. According to Barrientos, this approach is considered anti-philosophical, because it narrows the ways in which reality can be seen and thus narrowing the broader scope of philosophy of cultivating wisdom in all its forms. Barrientos (2018) gives three examples of philosophical practitioners who engage into a practice of philosophy based on critical thinking – Brenifier, Lebon, and Kreimer’s. For this study’s purpose, Brenifier’s approach will be analyzed. According to Barrientos (2018), Brenifier’s approach to philosophical practice is based on three main activities: identify, problematize, conceptualize. He uses skills such as designing hypotheses, defining and contrasting ideas, and minding questions and answers, all based on critical thinking. Barrientos presents two models in philosophical practice outlined by Ran Lahav – the ‘Grand’ and ‘Small’ model. In this context, the philosophical practice based on critical thinking belongs to the small model, because it does not seek to transform the foundations of life (as would the grand model do), rather it addresses specific needs or difficulties and aims to fix problems, thus becoming a ‘normalizer’ and a ‘satisfaction-provider’ (Barrientos, 2018, p.2). In this regard, critical thinking seems to be more about smartness than about wisdom, which raises the question if this is indeed what the practice of philosophy seeks to be.

The negative way uses a process through which “the mental process tries to reach truth about its object through negation of what it is not” (Brenifier, 2006, p.29). In the practice of philosophy, as envisioned by Brenifier, there is a tradition concerned with the interruption of mental process and so obtaining silence, thus in this context philosophy is related more to an “ascetic conception of ‘being’” (Brenifier, 2006, p.29) than to a kind of science, aiming to show the absurdity of speech. He asserts that “knowledge is in itself immoral, for its pretensions and hypocrisy, its fundamental negligence of virtue, its disdain for the good, and moreover its ignorance of being, its absence of being” (Brenifier, 2006, p.33). In his view, the rational and moral speech is “merely the discourse of convenience and convention” (Brenifier, 2006, p.33). Up until this point, Brenifier’s depiction of the practice of Via Negativa seems to actually strengthen the arguments in favour of this paper’s values. However, at a closer look, in the context of this study’s purpose of holding space of embodied, immanent wisdom, some differences start to take shape.

 Inferring from the way in which Brienifier comments fragments from tales with the famous character Nasruddin, he approves of behaviours of teachers who let students “figure it out, because he trusts them, even though he treats them in an apparently ‘rude’ way, which can hurt their ‘feelings’” (Brenifier, 2006, p.41). In light of this study’s purpose of holding space for emotion, intuition, and the feminine, an approach to philosophical practice, which only ‘bullies’ the participants into realizations, is seen as limited, and could actually perpetuate misogynistic views, be insensitive to trauma-related experiences, and promote unhealthy student-teacher dynamics. Arguably, in the perspective taken in CWs, which is also backed by insights from person-centred approaches to therapy and counseling and positive psychology (Corey, 2014), individual ‘opinions’ shouldn’t be provoked or ridiculed, but honored. By trusting that if given the space to safely share these opinions, benefitting from the unconditional acceptance and listening of others, participants will come to deep realizations about their opinions, or rather, their inner truth and themselves, without the need to be bullied into these realizations.

Ran Lahav’s (2001) Deep Philosophy (DP), on the other hand, has more in common with the practice of CWs. In his view, “unlike in most psychotherapies, the counselling session focuses on philosophizing between the counsellor and counselee, while an open dialogue takes place within the session” (2001, p.8). Sharing the concerns raised throughout this paper, in his article, he views the life of the individual in contemporary Western culture as being “to a large extent, devoid of what can be called wisdom” (Lahav, 2001, p.8). In the book that he co-authored, “What is Deep Philosophy?” (Lahav et. al., 2018), he presents DP as a contemplative way of practicing philosophy, as a group practice. This contemplative method uses more tools than just abstract thinking, by tapping into “a deeper dimension of ourselves” (p.1). As part of the Western tradition, groups reflect on fundamental issues of life, however, unlike the “intellectual discourses of mainstream academic philosophy, in Deep Philosophy we reflect from our inner depth” (Lahav, 2001, p.8). While describing the structure of a DP session, Francesca D’Uva, another co-author of the book, shows how traditional academic philosophical discussions “are often discursive and analytic, not enough to satisfy our yearning for meaning. Discursive philosophy can only think ‘about’ reality and inspect it from a distance, like an external observer” (Lahav, 2001, p.23). DP seeks to build a bridge between theory and reality, and participants seek to ‘reconnect’ with their own reality by tapping into their inner depth (Lahav, 2001, p.24). Until now, the purpose and method of DP is similar with methods used in CWs, however, some differences can be observed in what is used as the object of inquiry or contemplation. In DP, mostly philosophical texts typical to the Western tradition are used, and a contemplative attitude towards them is cultivated in order to guide the mind towards going “beyond the words, into a deeper dimension from which the words themselves originate” (Lahav, 2001, p.25).

CWs do not use philosophical texts in order to tap into this deeper dimension, but the participant’s own person, their own life experiences, their truth, voice, emotions, body, and intuition in themselves. In DP, while reading the texts, participants try not to analyze or criticize them, ”but rather to resonate with the voices of the text, as well as with the voices of our fellow contemplator, in a polyphonic and contemplative dialogue that takes place within the group” (Lahav, 2001, p.24). Similarly, in CWs, participants try not to criticize or analyze what the other participants are sharing, but rather to resonate with their voices and with their truth.

Lahav outlines the skeleton of a Deep Philosophy session, which, although flexible, remains similar and consists of “a centring exercise, an exercise for understanding of the text, contemplative activity, a quiet exercise, closure, and meta-conversation” (Lahav, 2001, p.25). Different kinds of sessions are presented, including “sessions focused on contemplation, sessions focused on understanding the text, sessions focused on sharing personal experiences, and voicing sessions, each containing the basic elements of contemplation, understanding, and sharing of personal experiences. Participants are asked not to talk ‘about’ their experience, […], but rather ‘from’ their experience, as if the words are emerging from the experience while it is happening” (p.32).

Similarly, CWs also share a flexible structure, presented as found in materials from the Global Sisterhood course about CWs (Global Sisterhood circle facilitator course, 2020): 1) Opening and ‘presencing’ (meditation, or centering exercise); 2) Welcome and introductions; 3) Practice/ritual and sharing experience; 4) Intention setting; 5) Meditation; 6) Closing shares and closing. In CWs, a technique called ‘breakthrough-centred sharing’ and sharing while speaking in first person is employed. Participants are invited to share about their own direct experiences, emotions and states in the present moment, avoiding theoretical dialogue and polemics. This way, participants cultivate vulnerability when sharing about their inner worlds, while at the same time remaining centred in their internal, immanent wisdom, and optionally asking for understanding or insights from the group (Global Sisterhood circle facilitator course, 2020).

This immanent, personal experience is celebrated in CWs by allowing it to be ‘seen and heard’ by the other participants through active listening, act which is seen as being therapeutic and liberating in itself. Most circles use the ‘talking stick’ as a form of mediating conversation, so that everyone can have the change to speak and be heard without interruptions (Longman, 2018, p.6). The principle behind talking stick circles is that in turn, a stick is passed to each person (or they can take the stick if they want), and while having the stick, they have the space to ‘bring in’ or share and express what they want, or ‘what is alive in them now’ (Longman, 2018, p.6), without any pressure, meaning that silence is also welcome.

Another key-element in CWs is the co-creation of the practice as a ‘safe-space’. A safe space is nurtured by “[refraining] from giving advice or judgment after one speaks – act which is referred to as ‘holding space’ for another” (Longman, 2018, p.7). CWs are practiced as egalitarian spaces in essence, where there is “respect for the opinion, expression, experience, wisdom, and knowledge of all, regardless of age, education, or background” (Longman, 2018, p.7). In such spaces, nothing has to be done, achieved, or performed, and participants can take a break from ‘doing’ and explore purely ‘being’ in the here and now (Todor, 2021b). These spaces usually contain moments of rest and relaxation, achieved through “simply breathing and slowing down […] what many interviewees perceived as the hectic, high-pressured, and exhausting lives of many women today” (Longman, 2018, p.7). The interviewees in Longman’s study claimed that in circle, “you can ‘be yourself’, and ‘let down masks’; ‘you don’t have to impress and compete with others’, but can simply be ‘seen, acknowledged, nourished and loved’” (Longman, 2018, p.7). By doing this, the space is opened up so that the often repressed dimensions of somatic experience, emotion, intuition, and imagination can come to light. Sensitive topics such as sexuality, menstruation, pain, pleasure, pregnancy, birth, loss of pregnancy, personal identity, feminine spirituality are amongst the common topics in CWs, as described in the author’s dissertation (Todor, 2021a).


Due to the potentially fruitful space between philosophical practice and circles of women, the space is opened for further research. As already argued, the practice of philosophy could find inspiration in the embodied, immanent approach found in CWs, and CWs could benefit from philosophical insights regarding political perspectives and issues of identity and privilege. It is worth mentioning that similar circles exist also for men, and also in non-gendered or ‘mixed’ constellations.

CWs are safe spaces for self-exploration, deep human connection, and engagement with aspects that are largely still hidden or taboo in our society, where women’s raw life experiences can be witnessed. Through the creation of safe spaces and the focus on individual, embodied, immanent experience, CWs create a rare to find space in which subjectivity, the voice of the feminine, and women’s experiences can be expressed and celebrated without being judged, criticized, or attempted to be ‘fixed’ according to norms imposed by patriarchal societies. By witnessing and being witnessed through these processed, participants can observe their own internal judgments that might include internalized misogyny, manifested as unconscious judgments towards oneself or other women. They can engage with the largely repressed somatic, instinctual, sexual or sensual dimensions, which are likely to remain hidden, avoided, or merely observed through an exclusively cognitive approach.

Thus, the case for a more integrative, embodied, immanent and feminine approach to the practice of philosophy is made, and CWs are presented as a practice where the traditionally left out tools of knowing of body, intuition, imagination, and emotion are intentionally engaged with and honored, together with feminine/feminist insights and perspectives. The scope of this paper was also to propose a potential bridge between traditional philosophical practice and the practice of CWs, while recognizing that these approaches can potentially complement each other.


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Women’s Circles – An introduction based on existing literature

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This article explores several writings from the still scarce existing literature on the topic of Circles of Women (CWs), addressing both descriptive introductory elements and critical attitudes and shortcomings. Most insights are drawn from Chia Longman’s (2018) article “Women’s circles and the rise of the New Feminine – Reclaiming Sisterhood, Spirituality and Wellbeing”, while my perspective or interpretation as a researcher, participant and young facilitator in the world of CWs is sometimes shared.

Key words: women’s circles, fourth wave feminism, spirituality, post-secularism, neoliberalism

Women’s Circles, circles of women, women’s temples, moon circles, or Red Tents are spaces where women from diverse backgrounds gather to celebrate sisterhood and the ‘feminine’ (Longman, 2018). In her 2018 article, the author Chia Longman defines women’s circles as “non-institutionalized, often monthly gatherings, for women to come together and relax, meditate, share stories, partake in rituals, heal, nourish, and empower themselves” (p.1). These spaces offer women from diverse backgrounds a space that they find lacking in the secular-liberal society – a space where they can “’re/connect’ with each other, their bodies, their inner selves, and sometimes with the sacred” (p.1).

Longman explores how CWs are sometimes seen as an indicative of the strong presence that women have in the subjective well-being culture, comprised of elements ranging from spiritual endeavors such as Yoga and Tantra, to more secular personal growth activities. Critics often correlate CWs as being “merely expressive of  [a] neo-liberal individualist consumer culture or retrograde gender essentialism” (p.1), aspect which will be explored in more detail later on and in following articles and commentaries. Aware of this criticism, Longman’s article argues that in spite of this, CWs can be seen as “sites of sisterhood, solidarity, and dissent, cultivating a new type of femininity” (p.1), sometimes referred to as ‘conscious femininity’. The author shows how in CWs, femininity and sisterhood are practiced in new ways – ways that transcend boundaries between the spiritual, the religious, and the secular. Circles are presented as exemplifying “women’s post-secular agency and subjectivity” (p.1) and as spaces allowing women can explore, share and celebrate themselves.

Most often, circles are held with the occasion of the new moon, a way of honoring a cyclical way of living and the symbolic connection between the lunar calendar and the menstruation cycle. Women-only circles, although rooted in the practice of the circle as a “recurrent format within the context of therapy, and ceremonial and community gathering (e.g., taking circles, family circles, dance circles, prayer circles, drumming circles…)” (p.2), are usually traced back to the feminist spiritual movement of the 1970s and can be encountered in gatherings and rituals within Goddess and Pagan movements (Longman, 2018).

Such circles are found to be especially appealing to women due to their non-linear and non-hierarchical nature, where the ancestral, the ancient, and the cross-cultural aspects of human experience are emphasized and welcomed. Some researchers pin them under the broader umbrella of fourth wave feminism, characterized through trans-national values and a strong online presence. To better understand this, the four waves of feminism are shortly presented in the following paragraphs.

1st wave feminism was fully essentialist, in the sense that women united with other women to feel stronger, while referencing themselves to the position of men and emphasizing being equal to them. Feminism (and sisterhood amongst women, in this sense) was understood as “a common front to compete with men”, and what feminists have in common is “a shared experience of oppression caused by male patriarchy” (Rodak, 2020, p.120S). According to this approach, a proper feminist had to be female. The women’s suffrage movement and their fight for the right to vote during the late 19th century primarily characterize this wave. However, as noted by second-wave feminist and beyond, this movement largely excluded and discriminated against women of color (Delao, 2021).

During 2nd wave feminism, roughly between the 1960s and 1990s, non-hierarchical relations between women start to become important. Realizing the oppression and exploitation of women by other women, questions regarding what it really means to be a feminist start to arise (Rodak, 2020). Issues such as pay equality, reproductive rights, female sexuality, and domestic violence are addressed during this wave. A common feature between the first two waves is that most of these goals were achieved through legislation. Still, although efforts were made to address racial injustice, race and class remained less important than gender equality. Thus, “disparities between white women and white men narrowed, but the inequity between women of color and white men or even between women of color and white women remained the same” (Delao, 2021).

During the 3rd wave of feminism, which emerged from the 1990s, the influence that the patriarchal society has had on women and sisterhood is noted. bell hooks is often quoted as representing the values of this wave, and claims that “femininity, as defined by men, is sexist” (Rodak, 2020 quoting hooks, 1986). From this perspective, women have internalized male supremacist values, such as degenerative, competitive behavior, and were competing with each other, ending up perpetuating the very behavior feminism initially set up against. The third wave “challenged female heteronormativity, sought to redefine femininity and celebrate differences across race, class, and sexual orientations” (Delao, 2021). Sometimes, the word ‘feminism’ is rejected altogether, as are many of the stereotypes enforcing a feminine ideal. ‘Intersectionality’ started to develop here, term coined to “describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics ‘intersect’ with one another and overlap” (Delao, 2021). hooks holds a critical position towards sisterhood, emphasizing [this is my interpretation] that it should not be taken for granted that sisters are identical ideologically or in terms of background and needs, nor even similar. “In order to revitalize sisterhood, differences amongst women should be confronted. To achieve this goal, female consciousness should be transformed” (Rodak, 2020 quoting hooks, 1986).

4th wave feminism is new and still emerging, being still difficult to define, especially scientifically, despite enjoying a high reach in the media and social networks (Rodak, 2020). It can, however, be defined through its anti-essentialist approach including all people, regardless of gender, in the discourse of feminism and sisterhood. In this light, the question transforms from “what women or individuals of all genders have in common, [to] what the conditions to build the bonds between each other are, taking into account the diversity of the members of the group” (Rodak, 2020). The 4th wave is characterized by “action-based viral campaigns, protests, and movements like #MeToo, advancing from the fringes of society into the headlines of our everyday news. […] It has also been characterized as “queer, sex-positive, trans-inclusive, body-positive, and digitally driven” (Delao, 2021), seeking to continue deconstructing gender norms. White male supremacy is mainly confronted, and it is believed that “there is no feminism without an understanding of comprehensive justice that deconstructs systems of power and includes emphasis on racial justice as well as examinations of class, disability, and other issues” (Delao, 2021). Online environments play a crucial role in spreading ideas and bringing together individuals which otherwise would probably not have met.

Returning to the topic of CWs, the possibilities offered by online environments have enabled the women’s circle movement to expand to a broad trans-national audience (Longman, 2018). Longman has empirically researched CWs in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, noting that at the time of her writing very few empirical studies have been done on CWs. She found that the circles were mostly autonomous or loosely affiliated or inspired by transnational circle movements (some examples are The Red Tent or Global Sisterhood).

The circles that she studied do not promote “any particular feminist and/or religious movement or spiritual tradition” (Longman, 2018, p.2). Nevertheless, they do contain features that in common perception and scholarly literature are considered spiritual – “meditation, bodywork, presence of altars, oracle cards, blessings, and sometimes references to the divine or sacred feminine or goddesses” (p.2). However, when the author interviewed CWs participants, they shared that they saw spirituality more as a “personal issue, rather than a pre-requisite of the circle ethos and experience” (p.2). The term ‘spirituality’, although lacking an academic consensus regarding its meaning, is used by Longman to differentiate from established religious practices, as seen in “‘spiritualities of the self’, ‘holistic spiritualities’, and/or ‘Mind Body Spirit’ (MBS) practices” (p.2). The term ‘subjective well-being culture’ is used with the purpose of including what is “referred to as the more secular (non-religious, worldly, or immanent) character of some of the circles […] studied” (p.2). The term ‘post-secular’ is used to describe the “paradoxical present-day condition in which currents of ongoing secularization and religious revival, of disenchantment and re-enchantment, seem to co-exist” (p.2). It also employs the deep entanglements between the religious, the spiritual, and the secular, bringing into light how they can only exist in relation to one another and are therefore influenced by one another.

Through a feminist perspective upon the religious, the spiritual, and the secular, employing a gendered nature in the secular narrative, it becomes visible how the religious realm has assigned an inferior position to the ‘feminine’ – term used here to refer to the private, the emotional, the irrational, the bodily, immanent spheres – as opposed to the ‘masculine’ realms of reason, mind, rationality, transcendence and other Enlightenment ideals (Longman, 2018 quoting Jakobsen and Pellegrini, 2008; Graham, 2012; Aune et al., 2008). Through CWs, women are reclaiming these relegated spheres of the feminine as important, valuable, therapeutic, nurturing, and/or sacred. In this light, Longman argues that CWs are seen as a response to the “perceived failure of (neo-) liberal gender ideology to empower women and transform society within secular modernity” (p.2). This means that from this perspective, women’s empowerment, although visible, has only occurred within a man’s world, where women were allowed to play the ‘game’ design by men for men – where the so-called masculine principles (competition, efficiency, and linearity) are praised and desired for financial, political, and economical success, while feminine principles (such as cooperation, care, cyclicality) are still inferior, invisible, or simply unfruitful in this context. Thus, for the ‘new feminine’ cultivated through women’s circles, achieving success as a woman in a man’s world is not seen as fulfilling, desirable, or enough for creating a world where both masculine and feminine principles are honored and remunerated. To achieve such a world, given the patriarchal history and Euro-Western privilege furthering a masculine structure and benefiting white, cis-gendered men above all other identities (Thayer-Bacon, 2000), a conscious effort in holding space for feminine or non-hegemonic structures is necessary in order to create balance. This statement is not meant as derogatory towards these men, since patriarchy in the context of women circles is understood as hurting not only women and non-traditional gender identities or sexual orientations, but men too. This is because every being is seen as possessing both feminine and a masculine aspects, so if only half of these aspects are valued, imbalances are created on both the individual and collective sphere for everyone involved (Global Sisterhood post, 2020).

Spirituality, Wellbeing and Agency

According to Longman’s (2018) analysis of recent literature on the topic, in much of secular feminism, “religion was seen as an impediment to women’s liberation” (p.3). However, today, in what is referred to as ‘the post-secular turn in feminism’ (Braidotti, 2008), “the assumption that religion would simply always be oppressive to women, and the axiom that secularization accompanies gender equality and sexual liberty, are increasingly called into question” (Longman, 2018, p.3 quoting Butler, 2008; Scott, 2009). On the spiritual side, however, drawing on an analysis of the empirical research done on women’s spirituality in the West, Longman (2018) shows how “longer established counter-cultural and new religious movements and spiritualities such as Wicca, Goddess spirituality, Neo-paganism, and New Age might offer women empowerment lacking in more traditional, patriarchal, and institutionalized religious traditions. [… These movements] might promote gender quality, hold a more positive view towards the female body, and engage in validations of ‘feminine’ values related to practices of healing, care and female solidarity” (p.3, quoting Crowley 2011; Eller 1995; Puttick 1997; Rountree 2004; Salomonsen 2002; Fedele 2012; Fedele and Knibbe 2013; Sointu and Woodhead 2008).

However, criticism towards these movements stresses that in practice, they might not lead to the desired change against gender hierarchies, since “gender and power relations are complex, entangled within their social context and cannot be reduced to a dualistic model of female dominating or female empowering” (Longman, 2018, p.3 quoting Fedele and Knibbe, 2013). Longman, however, views CWs as “a separate phenomenon from these longer-standing movements, communities, and traditions” (p.4). CWs also seem to be more ‘post-secular’ in nature, and can be aligned with “the much broader realm of women’s agency within subjective well-being culture” (p.4). Regarding this topic, social and cultural theorists hold “a far more critical view of the well-being sphere and self-help culture’s tendency to reproduce normative femininities and what it sees as its complicity with a postfeminist version of the neo-liberal self (Longman, 2018, p.4 quoting Salmenniemi and Adamson 2015; Hochschild 1994; Kenny and Bell 2014; Blackman 2004).

The emergence of spirituality and well-being movements for women has been attributed to a ‘subjective turn’ from traditional religion towards “an immanent, reflexive, and expressive selfhood and personal empowerment in a post-traditional society” (Longman, 2018, p.4 quoting Heelas et al. 2005; Houtman and Aupers 2007). This view is contrasted by more critical takes, which see a “rise of the spiritual marketplace which is seen to represent ‘secular consumer culture’” (Longman, 2018, p.4 quoting Lau 2000; Carette and King 2005). A broader critical literature inspired by Foucault extends against the broader sphere of well-being, touching “the realms of popular psychology, self-help, therapy, life-coaching, and personal growth”, depicting these “‘technologies of the self’ as the product of a form of neo-liberal and secular governmentality that forecloses political critique and social change” (p.4 quoting Rose 1998, Wood 2007). Other critics of ‘therapy culture’ and ‘wellness industry’ challenge the way “the new moral imperative towards body and/or mind is directed at the cultivation and management of the happier, healthier, entrepreneurial, and even ‘narcissistic self’, where individual responsibility and self-expression are morphed with the mindset of a free-market economist, and are hence suited to, rather than disruptive of, the demands of neo-liberalism and late-capitalism” (Longman, 2018 quoting Cederström and Spicer 2015).

These debates are relevant from a feminist and gendered perspective. Longman asks: “Do spaces such as women’s circles offer alternative experiences of the self, body, and spirituality that challenge dominant representations of the female – commodified and sexualized – body? Or, conversely, are these ‘new’ femininities perhaps more expressive of a postfeminist neo-liberal governmentality of consumer culture in which individuals are falsely construed [or interpreted] as self-interested economic actors with agency and control over their lives? (quoting Gill and Scharff 2013; Phipps 2014). In her article, she sets out to explore how the femininities cultivated through CWs can be critically analyzed and assessed.

The organizational structure of women’s circles

Through her field study that took place between 2014 and 2017, Longman (2018, p.6) found the following information about the way CWs take place by participating in 20 women’s circles.

Outer structure: Most circles take place in the evening, often around the new moon, and last for about 2.5h. Some circles are self-directed without any affiliation or leadership, while others are offered by women who are involved in other well-being or spiritual practices such as workshops, retreats, yoga, or festivals on a regular basis. Participants usually come in numbers ranging between 6-12 women; however, this number can be smaller or larger. Location-wise, they happen in places ranging from a woman’s home (living room, spare room, attic or barn converted into a ‘temple’) to rented spaces usually use for activities such as yoga, workshops, dance and even in the open air. Before a circle starts, cushion are places in a circle often surrounding an altar in the middle, where flowers, oracle cards, small statues, candles or other decorative or ritual objects can be placed. These objects might also be used to decorate the room, together with shawls and drapes. Incense might be burned and delicate music might be played to create a soft, welcoming atmosphere.

Inner structure: Most circles start with a few welcoming words from the host, after which each participant introduces themselves and/or shares their intention for being present, or something about how they are feeling. One circle facilitator explained how women circles or Red Tents are an ancient phenomenon found in many cultures around the globe. Although nothing extraordinary takes place, “it gives women renewed energy, as it offers a form of support for women to be able to cope better with daily life in a ‘man’s world’. Activities serving as the body of a CW include sharing based on proposed themes (which can include more specific “‘women’s topics’ such as birth, menstruation, sexuality, motherhood, and sisterhood”, or more general topics such as “‘making yourself visible, vulnerability, shame, thankfulness, letting go, the ‘power of the heart’, how to actualize yourself, how to make time and space for yourself within relationships, family, and work, etc.” (p.6). Other activities can be guided meditations or visualizations, “which are referred to as ‘grounding’ or ‘re/connecting with your bodily self and the earth’” (p.6). Activities can also be spontaneous and include personal stories, or craftwork and art such as dancing, singing, chanting, or drumming usually guided by a common theme, ritual, or meditation. Most circles used the ‘talking stick’ as a form of mediating conversation, so that everyone can have the change to speak and be heard without interruptions. The principle behind talking stick circles is that in turn, a stick is passed to each person (or they can take the stick if they want), and while having the stick, they have the space to ‘bring in’ or share and express what they want, or ‘what is alive in them now’ (p.6) without any pressure, meaning that silence is also welcome. A noteworthy remark is that excepting the circles that have been started amongst friends or acquaintances, most participants who attend start out as strangers to each other, and usually interact with each other only inside their circle bond.

Safe Spaces

To create what is referred to as a ‘safe space’, first and foremost, “that which is told in the circle must stay in the circle” (Longman, 2018, p.7). Another element nurturing a safe space is “to refrain from giving advice or judgment after one speaks – act which is referred to as ‘holding space’ for another” (p.7). “The circle is seen as an essentially egalitarian space, where there is respect for the opinion, expression, experience, wisdom, and knowledge of all, regardless of age, education, or background” (p.7). During a circle, nothing has to be done, achieved, or performed. They are space where participants can take a break from ‘doing’ and explore purely ‘being’ in the here and now. They are usually contain moments of rest and relaxation, achieved through “simply breathing and slowing down […] what many interviewees perceived as the hectic, high-pressured, and exhausting lives of many women today” (p.7). In the circle, the interviewees claimed that “you can ‘be yourself’, and ‘let down masks’; ‘you don’t have to impress and compete with others’, but can simply be ‘seen, acknowledged, nourished and loved’” (p.7).

The New Feminine?

In this section of her article, Longman (2018) analyzes the women who are attending women circles and how they experience themselves, womanhood, femininity throughout their lives and careers.

She found that “a substantial number of [her] interviewees who became involved in well-being culture had been professionally active in demanding and/or competitive careers. Some had suffered burnouts and opted out of their former jobs; others had become increasingly frustrated or disillusioned with the neo-liberal ethos in the workplace that stresses competitiveness, shallowness, individualism, rationality, profit, and gain” (p.7). She notes that such traits were often associated with ‘masculinity’. Many women shared that they developed a strong masculine side during their lives and careers (often related with patriarchal values and living in ‘a man’s world’), but found that something was missing. By attending or facilitating spaces where the feminine can be consciously cultivated, they claim to have connected to a part of themselves that was hidden or hurting.

Analytically, Longman (2018) notes that “despite of its centrality in the social constructionist approach to gender, the concept of ‘femininity’ remains somewhat under-theorized” (p.7 quoting Gill and Scharff, 2013). As noted somewhere above, “second-wave feminists saw constructions of femininity as the grounds for women’s oppression” (p.7). From this perspective, females were seen as having been “socialized into feminine behavior and values ‘associated with passivity, submissiveness and dependency’” (p.7). Because of this, during this wave a rejection of feminine identities was propagated as “crucial in producing a feminist identity and consciousness” (p.7 quoting Hollows, 2000, p.10). In this context, “female empowerment sits uneasily with dominant constructions of femininity that have positioned women as ‘other’, ‘irrational, over-sensitive, destined to be wife and mother’, and associated with ‘the body, sex, and sin’” (p.7 quoting Braidotti, 1994, p.235). Longman notes that this negative view of femininity is still dominant in feminist activism and thought, and more positive approaches to second-wave feminism have come to be recently referred to as postfeminism. This kind of radical, cultural feminist thought is often seen as having “re-inscribed stereotypical femininity by simply reversing the values traditionally accorded to gender differences” (p.7). My interpretation of this statement is that by rejecting feminine identities in order “to achieve the autonomy, individuality, and subjectivity that has historically only been accorded to men” (p.7), the proponents of this view accept and reinforce misogynistic values oppressing feminine aspects while cultivating masculine ones. This kind of thought often seen in second-wave feminism has been accused of “biological essentialism” by perpetuating the idea of a ‘unique female nature’, and it is often viewed as exclusionary in it disregard for racial, ethnic, and class differences” (p.8 quoting Alcoff, 1988; Bulgeon, 2011; Rudy 2001) [I would add here sexual orientation and gender identity].

Recently, ‘femininity’ has enjoyed fresh attention regarding the way women (mostly white and middle class) have been represented in popular literature, media, beauty, and body politics, this time influenced by a ‘postfeminist sensibility’. These studies show how “global consumer capitalism and neo-liberalism has incited the emergence of ‘empowered’ female subjectivities’ as ‘entrepreneurs of the self’” (p.8). The worry is that “although these ‘new femininities’ might have displaced earlier constructions of femininity highlighting women’s mothering and caring roles, and they might offer women today more individual agency, freedom, and pleasure, they are also disciplinary in their emphasis on consumerism and self-laboring, and often reproduce dominant forms of (hetero-)sexual attractiveness” (p.8). From today’s gender theory’s perspective, both the regulative and the potentially empowering elements of these representations can be noted. However, Ulrike Dahl (p.36) remarks in her recent work on queer femininity that  “to date, feminist theory still has trouble with the question of femininity” (Longman, 2018, p.8 quoting Dahl, 2017, p.26).

In the next article on the topic, women’s circles will be analyzed in terms of gender identity and intersectional feminism.


Delao, M. (2021). A brief look at the four waves o feminism. The Humanist website,rights%2C%20and%20social%20justice%20movements. (accessed on 22.11.2021)

Global Sisterhood quote from December 8, 2020    (accessed on May 14th 2021)

Longman, C. (2018). Women’s circles and the rise of the new feminine: Reclaiming sisterhood, spirituality, and wellbeing. Religions 9(1): 1–17.

Rodak, L. (2020) “Sisterhood and the 4th wave of feminism: An analysis of circles of women in Poland”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 10(1S), p. 116S–134S. (cccessed: June 24th 2021).

Thayer-Bacon, B. (2000). Transforming critical thinking: Thinking constructively. Teachers College Press, Columbia University

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Reflecting with the Right Mindset and Tools

As the year nears its end and we are approaching the moment of the new year’s resolutions we also enter a period of reflection on what has been, what is almost guaranteed to come given the rippling of causality and what we desire to realize given our remaining degrees of freedom. It is important to engage in this practice with the correct mindset and tools if we want it to be a helpful exercise. We suffer from systemic errors in evaluating reality.

               Looking at humanity as a whole, we seem to have a tendency to under evaluate the progress that we make. We tend to be significantly more pessimistic about where the world actually is today in comparison to the reality with which we are dealing with. In his book Factfulness, Hans Rosling & co. show that we suffer from a systemic evaluation problem which affect us across all education levels. What Rosling discovered is that the process through which we evaluate the world is so devastatingly wrong that a chimp which makes random choices can outperform us on a multiple-choice questionnaire about the state of the world.  At the end of the day, highly educated people who take an interest in the world got on average 16% of the test correctly while the chimp picking randomly got 33% correctly.               Given that 12,000 people from 14 countries and from most walk of life suffer from a systemic problem in their evaluation of reality, we must consider that we ourselves will very likely be affected by the same errors in judgement that affect the studied group. While we may blame access to data as a cause for these errors in judgment, we would be wrong in doing so. When applying some of these questions to world leader that have access to the best information in the world at the annual World Economic Forum conference at Davos, still only 61% of the audience got the correct answer to the questions. Thus, the problem is not access to data, but it is our mindsetEasy access to negative news is skewing our view towards pessimism

               Our minds are constantly bombarded with an overflow of negativity, we read and hear on a daily basis about inequality, climate disasters, possible recessions, trade and normal war, terrorism, we hear of new dictators, of democracy decreasing and the rule of law crumbling. Fear and hopelessness are being seeded and watered in the process. As a result of this, in many places in the world, the past 3 to 4 years have each been proclaimed as the worst year ever, one after another of course. On the back of this, our reflex to look for an Edenic past is triggered. We are thinking that as we move forward, we certainly only getting closer to an apocalyptic end. But as Franklin P. Adams pointed out: “Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory”. It becomes much easier to see declines if we compare negative events of the present with rose tinted images of the past. Having a mindset of criticism also doesn’t improve our situation and sadly there seems to be a tendency to become ever more catastrophical the more intellectual you are.               One of the reasons that we have such a big problem with appreciating progress is due to the availability heuristic. The easier it is to recall something from memory the more probable we judge it to be. Social media plays a big role in what we see, and generally we are give access to two things: 1) mostly photos and videos of how awesome people we know are doing, because almost no one wishes to post realistic documentation of their life events on such websites, and 2) ever more pessimistic news, as no news report will start with: “I’m here in China where for the past 30 years extreme poverty has decreased by 87.3 percentage points.” As a result of this we see people we know leading a seemingly better life than us and a world with no redeeming qualities that seems to only be getting worse. As a result, it is not surprising we can get stuck in a state of anxiety, pessimism, depression and catastrophically inclined thinking. Some tips on how to overcome our biases

               Now, I am not proposing that we should reverse our view of the world by 180 degrees and paint what is going on around us as completely rosy. However, I do think that we need to look at the world and at ourselves in a different way. Doing so requires that we start becoming aware of the biases that we have. As such, here are some quick tips from Hans Roseling’s book on how to make sure that you are judging your reality as it is and not as your biases consider it to be. I hope that these tips will help you generate a better reflection of the past and allow you to see more of the possibilities that are in front of you.

  1. Information about bad events is more likely to reach us. Progress can generally be found behind a wall of negativity noise. Becoming aware that the amount of times we hear the same bad or good news has no impact on the suffering of happiness it generates is a must. Aka, more bad news does not mean a worse world. It is the aggregate of the number and impact of unique positive and negative events that really matter.When we compare what is happening, we have a tendency to look at the extremes and evaluate based on that. This is a big error because most things tend to happen around the median. Thus, ask yourself if what you are thinking is in fact a generality and not just an extreme that was better printed in your memory.Seeing a momentary increase or decrease does not tell us much about what is really going on. We need to abandon the heuristic that reality moves in a straight line. Very often trends have S-bends, humps and pullbacks. Thus, if we look furthered back and recognize that things are a bit more complicated can we actually succeed in making a proper evaluation.Evaluating the world from a position of fear will make the world seem dangerous. Calm yourself before reflecting on anythingNothing has any value in and by itself. An elephant taken alone is neither big nor small. But if compared to a human he is large, while if compared to a blue whale he is small. Thus, try to think in amounts or rates, as absolutes can easily be misleading.Don’t let yourself think that nothing is happening just because progress or decline in a certain domain of your life or of the world is slow. Big things move slower so make sure that when you are looking at rates of change you are comparing apples with apples before you evaluate. If not sure ask a wise grandpa or grandma. They have been around longer and have a better understanding of how big things evolve and decay.Every single perspective has a narrow and limited view on reality no matter how broad it may seem. Thus, make sure you analyses the same thing from multiple perspectives before you come to a conclusion. Many surprising opportunities await you behind this practice.If you think you have found the fault, or the villain please think again. In reality, almost no effect has a single cause. The more complex the system within which you are searching for a cause the less likely the possibility of a single cause becomes.Finally, remember that there is almost always time. While our high speed, instant access and instant delivery society seems to be pushing us to think that it is now or never, in actuality, very few things will bring about the end of the world if you don’t solve it in the next minute. Thus, remember to take the time to evaluate the situation before you take any action or decision.

               Having personally applied these changes in my own reflection process has been highly empowering. Because once I saw that the world while in a state of constant struggle is getting better over time it allowed me to feel that my efforts are not in vain and that positive change is possible. It also allowed me to see better where I really am and how to evaluate what I am building. Thus, I encourage you to try this out and you might have the same shock that I had when you realize that your current state is much better than you expected and that you have more power than you think.                I hope that this will empower you to drive more positive change in your personal life, at work, and in the larger world in the year that is to come.

How to Set New Foundations for the Dawn of a New, Quantum Civilization?

Moral discourse has suffered greatly within the past 300 years. Due to the schools of thought that popped up during this period we have ended up in a place that has no more true north. One of the main justifications for relativism, is that: the arguments of the various traditions posses what can be called a conceptual incommensurability. This means that the arguments may be internally valid but that there is no rational way of weighing the premises that are employed to set the ground for what is to become an internally valid argument.

Given this conceptual incommensurability it has been proposed that there is no valid reason for any arguments beyond personal choice or, in other words, beyond appeal to irrationality, or whim. Thus, the good ceases to be anything else than what one considers to be good based on completely arbitrary choices. The problem with this attitude is that the ground beneath our feet has been taken away and that currently even those deeds or actions which in the past might have been considered horrendous can be argued for as being good from this hipper relativistic perspective. While there are for sure actions which almost none of the adherents to a relativist position would declare as being permitted, they do this not by following through with their primary concept, ‘may each and everyone’s whim be moral law’, but, based on the remaining remnants of traditional values that are still permeating the intersubjective space.

But, for how long can these remnants keep us safe from a world of utter chaos? The answer is not for too long, if we don’t act to stop the continues decay into absolute ungroundedness. Stopping this process requires us to first understand what went wrong with our understanding of morality and second what we need to do in order to rebuild a meaningful moral backbone for society. These principles, if followed through, need to be so structured as to ensure that they will not lead to a state of utter social deconsolidation and fragmentation (something which the absolute relativist position does not do).

If we look at what morality is, we will find out that it aims to tell us what we have to do in order to reach the good. It aims to move us from a state of lack towards a state of fulfilment. It aims to change our current nature, which is seen as the chief cause for us finding ourselves in the unbearable present and to guide us towards the ideal future. In this sense, it builds within us the elements that are necessary for leading the good life. Or, at least, that is what it should be doing without any recourse to dogma and interests.

As we left the middle ages, one of the main lines of thought in Europe was that there is an unbridgeable gap between what is and what ought to be. And, thus, any ought cannot be grounded in reason. Due to this it is not wrong to make the leap that all hierarchies and rules that have been imposed upon us until this time were imposed in order to ensure the flourishing of some individuals and their close group of acquaintances and to guarantee the maintenance of their power. While it can be stated that this is at least partially true, it doesn’t mean that it is the whole truth. However, due to the realization that these sorts of patriarchal impositions had no valid basis, one cannot blame our ancestors for trying to get out from under their guise. Problems started appearing due to the fact that the only thing that we actually managed to destroy, was the teleological element of the old moral system. Meaning that we were left with the following two elements: the existence of a traditionalistic human nature and moral injections that are antagonistic to human nature because, supposedly, they are good, but with no means that would explain why they truly are good.

The step of obliterating the old teleological foundations was and will be seen as a very important one in further evolution. However, it will also be seen as a painful one. Because once people were left without their ultimate question, all that remained was meaningless. Thus, they jumped on any ideology that could provide them with something equivalent to what they lost, an ideal or a meaning. Hence, we entered the age of ideology that started around the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century and that hopefully is about to end in the near future.

The age of ideology is problematic because it gave us new ends that could replace the old ones. However, it didn’t do much to vanquish the preexisting power hierarchies (the people placed in the hierarchies changed but the hierarchies themselves mostly remained the same). Thus, we used old structures upon which we placed new ideals that were not compatible with the old structures. This led to a state of chaos and to the generation of conflicts so grand and of dictators so veil that they will indefinitely have left scars upon the history of humanity.

Seeing the fail of the exercise of creating just a new ideal we need to do more than this and we need to change all 3 elements of the 3-fold scheme: 1) we need to redefine human nature, 2) we need to create new moral injunctions, and 3) we need to create a new ideal. We need to do all of these in such a way that our statements will not be given a static shape, but that they will be given dynamism.

Our moment in history is uniquely suited for something like this. Due to the change that has taken place over the last 2 generations, our society is in a state of significant chaos. Former limits are being forced to disappear at higher speeds than ever before due to technology that makes them senseless. With every exercise of the imposition of traditional limits, economic well-being diminishes, because the current technologies can only reach peak capacity if they are utilized by humanity, not by nation states, not by religious groups, not by cultural or sub-cultural groups. The forms of the past that relied on this sort of heavy segmentation of humanity in multiple groups are slowly vanishing as they become less and less reliable modes of interaction within a non-segmented world and depends on non-discriminatory technology. Thus, marking the perfect moment for us to engage the restructuring of culture and civilization. However, not on a national, or regional scale as has been done before, but on a transnational and transcultural scale. We are given the opportunity for the first time in human history to truly think and disseminate a new global, human culture and civilization. And for this we need to start from that which I have mentioned in the above paragraph.

Being Human in the Age of Technology

As we are entering full swing into the new industrial revolution, into industry 4.0, we need to ask ourselves where humans fit into this whole equation. To do so, we need once again to reestablish what is it that makes us humans, from where does our essence come from and how can we express it within the current world. As this will be a short article I will not aim to offer a comprehensive approach to this question, but only to point out some of my current thoughts on this subject.

First of all, what is it within us that is essentially human? Some say that it is our comprehension and logic, some say that it is our ability to interact and form deep bonds and connection between ourselves and with the natural and technical world, others think that it is our ability to create, some that it is our selfishness, others say that we were made in the image of god, some see us as coarising together with the rest of reality, etc. Each of these views offer their relative truth, from their limited perspectives (some wider, some narrower). What I think needs to be stressed is that the human sine qua non is not stable. I see human uniqueness as evolving together with the world, as a constantly changing and unfolding spark.

This constant transformation of the human sine qua non comes from the fact that we are not independent, isolated, self-enclosed, discrete, enduring, and immutable things. We are part of a living, ever changing world and we are defined by it and through it, while at the same time it is defined by us and through us. As we take our place within this reality, with each and every conscious instance, that which we are is constantly being redefined. This can at first sound absurd, but it is not.

Our incapacity to perceive something cannot be used as proof of the non-existence of said manifestation, of course it also cannot be used as proof for its existence, but we can use deduction in order to affirm the above claim of perpetual change. While it is not simple to see this, please imagine each and every element within the world as a nod within a network. Any action that takes place at any point within the network sends out a certain information. All the nods that are directly connected to that one that engaged in said action receive the information that results and react to it. These reactions, in turn, get sent to the nods that were in direct contact with those that reacted to the initial responders, and they react as well. Now this goes on in perpetuity. Hence, with each and every instance that passes, a new structure, a new world is formed and thus a new us.

In our daily life we use heuristics to ignore minor changes as we would otherwise be in a constant state of rediscovering the world, which while exhilarating on the one hand can be nerve wracking and anxiety creating on the other.

How does technology come into play in all of this? While at first, we accept the impossibility of defining ourselves without the natural and technical world and our deep seeded interdependence, we at the same time accept that some differentiation can be drawn between these three elements. In this case I will focus on the difference between humans and technology.

As the latter evolved, what were at one point considered uniquely human and even highly praised actions are now transformed into technological ones that no human would practice outside of a sacred ritual. Let us take the copying of texts as an illustration of this. In ancient times, scholars had been employed to copy texts. Now we do not see any scholars doing this, we see printers, or Scanners handling the process of copying (that in those cases where the text is not by default written in a digital format). In the case of some very rare and ancient texts you may have scholars that are taking part in the copying process to ensure that the original is safely and carefully handled, but the copying itself is still being done by a machine. On the other hand, the interpretation of these ancient texts and even of modern ones are not being given to machines but still remain a purely human endeavor. But, within the process of interpretation, machines do have their role as assistants. Instead of going through libraries of physical books we can now use natural language processing to help us find mentions of the book we are interpreting within the whole wealth of human knowledge that has been digitized, and this in a matter of minutes. This, too was once part of human action. We would go search through multiple books in the look out for references. Being limited by our processing capacity, we had to apply heuristics in order to select the books through which to search. Now, that age has passed for those that have synchronized themselves with technology.

Those that still apply the old way of working, will for sure be delivering subpar results. For, machines can reach a standard in search and recovery out of the library of humanities wealth of knowledge that none of us could hope to equal. They can go through more information in a couple of minutes than we could hope to go through in our life time, making competing with them in this a rather futile endeavor. Beyond the futility of this endeavor and the subprime results that it would generate, we need to think: is this something that humans should do? Is the action we are currently considering engaging that part of us which can be considered the sine qua non of humanity? And, how can we evaluate that?

First, we need to define as precisely as possible the action that needs to be done. This needs to be a critical definition that looks at the impact of said action within the desired outcome. Second, after having clearly defined the action and its implication within the process that leads to the desired outcome, we need to find out if it can be done by a machine, be it mechanical or digital. If yes, then humans should not continue to do this action, again, except if this action would be part of a sacred ritual. Outside of the exception, performing such actions only serve in moving us away from our human essence and can be said to be dehumanizing for by performing them we become more similar to the machines that have been made to realize said actions.

Now, I did say that there is an exception, that of the sacred ritual. A sacred ritual is done in and for itself with no other objective in mind. Through its realization we are connected to another dimension of reality that is not material in nature and that allows us to connect with the divine. We go back in history and rediscover ourselves by reuniting with the wave of co-emergence that has characterized reality since its inception. We are lead back to a time when a certain action, that we now consider a given, that we now see as profane, was something to be revered or when it was an essential element of human existence. Thus, we travel to a more ancient version of ourselves and come to peace with the elements that we have left behind.

These having been said, I consider that it is our duty to ensure that humans, in a teleological environment, in an environment where one does not do certain actions just for themselves but with a goal in mind, will never not have to perform actions that machines can perform. Performing such actions outside of a sacred ritual does nothing but move us away from our human essence and thus leads to our dehumanization.

The word of the article:

“Dehumanization or an act thereof can describe a behavior or process that undermines individuality of and in others. A practical definition refers to it as the view and treatment of another person as if they lack mental capacities that we enjoy as human beings.” (source Wikipedia, 1.30.2019)

Was Lenin a Marxist?

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Looking at history it is hard to find a man whose ideas and personality had a more significant impact on eastern Europe than Lenin. For, without his charisma and intellect, which allowed him to take hold of the chaotic state in which Russia found itself at the beginning of the 20th century and to push it into what he viewed as a communist state, it is now hard to fathom what could have replaced the Soviet system which after the Second World War grasped the eastern bloc. While one cannot deny that there were many other relevant actors in Russia’s transition, at the same time one needs to acknowledge that the ideas which set the ground for the revolutionary state, were based on Lenin’s interpretation of Marx’s thoughts. This can easily lead one to believe that Lenin’s ideas were Marx’s ideas and, via the principle of transitivity, those that have come out of the eastern bloc can then be led to ultimately consider that they owe the suffering endured during the latter half of the 20th century to Marx. But, just because this conclusion is easy to draw doesn’t make it true.

Long before the revolution, Lenin decided to transform himself into the evangelist of Marxism. is aim was to promote himself as the sole source of an orthodox understanding of Marx. From his perspective, he was to become the second coming of Marx, the one who would manage to transform Marx’s ideal into reality. Throughout his writings Lenin often attributes either his own ideas or Engels’ ideas (as they were more closely related to his own) to Marx. Thus, he creates a new frame, a new reality, a new anchor for Marxism, an anchor that is pivoted in anything else but not in Marx’s ideas.

Though, there are times where one could consider that Marx was leaning more in the direction of Lenin, those passages that can be said to do this appear in books or articles that Marx wrote together with Engels. Following an analysis of the philosophical differences between Marx and Engels I support the hypothesis that the passages in question are more likely Engels’ part of the work than they are Marx’s. Other parts that were used by the Soviets have unspecified preconditions under which they can be true, preconditions that require an understanding some earlier writings of Marx to which they didn’t have access.  Without having these preconditions in the background of the mind while reading some paragraphs it becomes very easy to use them in a sophist manner that would allow for a complete denature of their meaning.

Even so, what Lenin did was a feat of genius, for he managed to take populist and autarchic ideas which are incompatible with the work of Marx and seemingly appease them with Marx’s thoughts. In this essay, I aim to show what the main differences are between Marx and Lenin. Engels will also be looked at in passing in order to provide support for the statement that I made regarding the philosophical dissonance between Marx and Engels. Hegel will also be an important anchor in this work.

I will not aim at any point to defend Marx for that is not the scope of this work. The only scope I have is to answer the following question: Was Lenin a Marxist[1]?

We will start the inquiry by looking at the metaphysical grounds of Marxism. While Marx has never written a text on metaphysics we will use deduction in order to arrive at his metaphysical position. In order to help us in the process, Hegel will be used as reference, for as Plekhanov and others later tried to argue Marx’s dialectic materialism is nothing more than an inversion of Hegelian idealism (statement which I believe to be wrong). For those that are not interested in what is sure to be a philosophical segment I recommend skipping this part. However, I do consider this segment to be essential in understanding the foundation of Marx’s beliefs. At the same time, one can read everything except this and if certain unclarities pop up a later, a reading of this part with those questions in mind might help clarify uncertainties.

Given that both Marx and Lenin were trying to present a vision of how a healthy prosperous world should look like and how one can arrive at it, we next need to explore whether or not there actually is any choice in the matter. Can we as individuals do anything in order to speed up the arrival of such a utopic world or to deter it, if not ensure the fail of its arrival? Do we have the capacity to leave behind us the current world order? Can we choose of our own will to create a new world? In other words, we need to understand where the two stand on the question of freedom and free will. We will be exploring this from both a historic and an anthropologic perspective.

Their view of freedom and free will, is going to lead each of them towards the development of two different revolutionary models. We are going to explore how Marx with his model which is based in the dialectic development of history would not have endorsed the Russian revolution in the fashion and conditions in which it took place, while Lenin who build the revolutionary model on voluntarism saw revolution as an imperative. We will also see that voluntarism in Lenin’s view is something of which only a few, the ruling elite are truly capable.

Finally, we will look at the different views that Marx and Lenin had on the state. We will start again from Hegel as Marx developed what can be deduced as his view on this subject while criticizing him. We will also see another striking difference between the Marx and Lenin, namely that the former was against the institution of the political state while the latter was an avid supporter of it.

In the end, I hope that you shall be convinced that there is an astonishing divergence to be found between these two historic figures and hence conclude, as did I, that the Russian revolution was not a Marxist revolution and that all so called communist countries were anything but communists in the Marxian meaning of that word. And, that the mutated version of communism that spread from Russia was actually nothing more than an autarchy veiled under populist ideology.

[1] By Marxist I do not mean what has today come to be known as Marxist philosophy, social theory, political theory or economic theory. All I mean is Marx’s thoughts.

Touching upon Marx’s metaphysical foundations

To understand Marx’s position, one needs to start at its foundation, at the presuppositions that underline his theory. As Marxism is quite often placed in debate with liberalism I will use liberalism here as a helpful anchor in contrast to which I will introduce the beliefs that ground Marx’s model. I do not aim by any means to offer a comprehensive presentation of the distinctions between these two schools of thought nor do I intend to go into how and where they synthesize[1]. I will only concentrate on one specific point and that is on the stories of creation that were accepted by Lock and by Hegel (as Marx’s metaphysics is based on a critical analysis of Hegel we are introducing Hegel first and then proceeding to Marx).

The liberal view is rooted in the classic Christian story which states that humans were made by god (this is not to state that they consider the biblical writing to be objective truth). Given this, Lock had to choose sides in a theological dilemma that started in the 15th century and continued in the 16th century, namely: “Can god change the laws of nature or are the laws of nature fixed?”. The problems that arise here are quite staggering. On the one hand, if god does not have the ability to change natural law then he cannot maintain his omnipotence. On the other hand, if he can change natural law then those forces cannot be called laws anymore for they may become null and void at some point. Lock decided to acknowledge god’s omnipotence, which led to the creation of the Workmanship ideal. According to the Workmanship ideal, god has maker’s knowledge of his creation, which means: he owns his creation and has the capacity to do whatever he wants with it. Thus, the workmanship ideal grounds the liberal world view, for if god created humans and human belong to god no other human has a right to harm, destroy or possess god’s property. Thus, all humans all god’s property and there is no hierarchy between humans, from where the well-known liberal manta that all humans are created equal. “God, as king David says, Psal exv. 16, has given the earth to the children of men, given it to mankind in common.”[2] Thus, each individual is sovereign because true and saving religion consists of inward persuasion of the mind and it is your belief that is necessary to make it be the right answer. Freedom and free will are guaranteed and they cannot be taken without going against godly order. The only way that someone can legitimately rule in accordance to liberal guidelines is if conscious individuals transfer their power to a representative. In exchange for this transfer the reprezentative will have to guarantee protection of life, property and freedom under the rule of law. And property of something can only be achieved through creation, meaning that only if one labored on something can he state that that belongs to them.

Hegel’s model is different, because in his model there is a different story which explains the emergence of existence. In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel proposes that existence emerges out of Geist. Geist is an unconscious universality, meaning that it comprises all of existence but is not aware of what that existence is. At this point Geist is nothing, because for Hegel Geist becomes what it knows. The only way for the Geist to know itself is by dividing itself through a dialectic process which allows knowledge to arise. In this process, Geist becomes alienated from itself and its ultimate goal is eliminating the alienation and becoming a conscious universality. This can only be achieved by overcoming all contradictions, all polarities, all dualistic splits that are at first necessary for knowledge to become manifest through the thesis, antithesis and synthesis[3] process that is inherent to dialectics and ultimately to recreate self-subsistent consciousness. We will see that Marx utilizes Hegelian dialectic on materialism which allows him to move from capitalism, the thesis, to socialism, the antithesis, to communism the synthesis.

While in the liberal view individual freedom is absolute and it is granted through the workmanship ideal, in the Hegelian view the realization of Absolute Geist is the ideal and it can only be achieved by relinquishing individual freedom to the group. In this view the individual is free through the group. Thus, institutions such as NGO, Companies, Administrative Institutions, syndicates and other forms of organized groups are those that have free will and the singular individuals only follow. From the Hegelian perspective this make sense because: “Our self-consciousness is really Geist’s self-consciousness. Geist is conscious of himself through our self-consciousness. If Geist’s is the all-inclusive being, then my consciousness is a finite moment of Geist’s consciousness. And, my self-consciousness is a finite moment of Geist’s self-consciousness. So, Geist’s knowledge of himself is a knowledge of himself in and through our self-consciousness”[4]. Based on this argument, a gathering of conscious individuals is closer to the embodied realization of Geist than a single individual. Here property belongs to the group and not to the individual, the individual can maintain voting rights inside of his group as a means through which to decide the position of the group and to enhance the consciousness of the group, but then the group is the one which should cast the final vote. In this sense, we could imagine that Hegel would have preferred a state governed by representatives of the various institutions that make up the state (some examples of such institutions were enumerated above).

Hegel’s absolute spirit, even though it was presented as a process and did not presuppose the existence of any atemporal substance which was the creator of the world, was still not satisfactory to many enlightenment thinkers, who had as part of their scope the grounding of political economics and of morality in science instead of theology. Thus, various philosophers such as Feuerbach[5] transposed Hegel’s dialectics into a materialistic instead of an idealistic conception of reality. In ‘The Essence of Christianity’, Feuerbach used Hegel’s idea that Geist’s knowledge is objectified in the emerging world through the process of historical unfolding of the universe, to allows him to interpret that Geist’s knowledge and self-consciousness are equivalent to the sum total of knowledge and self-consciousnes of all individuals. Thus, men’s god consciousness and men’s consciousness are the self-consciousness of men. In Feuerbach’s view, the essence of religion is in the relationship of man to man, and that through this we project god. “Religion at least the Christian is the relation of men to himself, to his own nature. The divine thing is nothing else than the human being, the human being freed from the limits of the individual and made objective, contemplated and revered in the form of a distinct being. All the attributes of divine nature are therefore attributes of human nature.”[6]

For Feuerbach, the Absolute Spirit is not the basis of reality, but the medium of human alienation, for it is the abstracted essence of Man which is estranged from the subject and granted an external appearance as an infinite being. Thus, what is most essential to Man is transformed into an external object that confronts man as an inhuman absolute, as God. Feuerbach considers that this religious behavior is driven by the realization of the finitude of man, for once man is confronted with his limit he will project that which is dearest to him, he’s own infinite, qualities onto Heaven. He will objectify these and transform them into the focal point of religious reverence. Thus, although as mentioned in the above quote one can objectively state that god’s consciousness is man’s consciousness we cannot conclude  that one is also aware of their identity with God. “Man first of all sees his nature as if out of himself, before he finds it in himself. His own nature is in the first instance contemplated by him as that of another being.”[7]

While Feuerbach disregards Hegel’s idea of Absolute Spirit, he is not against his conception of the dialectic nature of history. However, instead of seeing history as a means through which the Absolute Mind transcends the divides that it has created in order to obtain knowledge and returns to itself as a unalienated and conscious universal, he sees it as the process through which human being reintegrate their essence into themselves by reclaiming it from their self-made idols. “[History] is the process by which humankind unmasks and abolishes the many religious and ideological forms which appear to men initially as external necessities, but which are revealed to be manifestations of human mental activity. History, as such, is not the daydream of Absolute Mind but the protracted struggle of real human beings to abolish illusory gods.”[8]

With this, Feuerbach has identified that Hegel inversed subject and predicate in his metaphysics. This discovery and the transformation on which Feuerbach has worked, represented a significant stepping stone in helping Marx release Hegelian philosophy from its dependence on the ideal. However, it is important to note that Marx’s critique of Hegel goes beyond a simple inversion of the Hegelian predicate with the Hegelian subject. For what Marx truly wanted to accomplish in his critique of Hegel was a demystification of Hegelian philosophy. “The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell”[9] Thus, Marx agrees with Feuerbach and dismisses the placement of Geist as the foundation of reality as being nothing more than a subject predicate inversion. “These are its sin qua non; and yet the condition is posited as the conditioned, the determinator as the determined, the producer as the product.”[10] In Marx’s view one cannot abnegate, as Hegel did, that material reality is the starting point. It is thus, material reality that generates Absolute Mind and not the other way around. Thus, as Feuerbach, Marx also considers that what men needs to do is to reconcile with their ‘species-essence’ which they have extracted and relinquished onto heaven.

[1] You will see, as we move on, that it can be said that Marx has synthesized the Workmanship ideal with process philosophy, thus, transcending both the limitations of a substantive creator, aka God, and allowing for a frame that also considers equality as essential because it has eliminated the source of all hierarchies, namely a divine substantive creator

[2] J. Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government John Locke (1690), Chap. V, Sec. 25

[3] Thesis stands for a proposition or theory that is widely believed in. Antithesis is a negation or refutation of this theory. Synthesis is a new theory that reconciles these two opposing viewpoints. Innovation example: “Thesis: People need to go the bank to draw cash. Antithesis: It’s not necessary to go to the bank to draw money. Synthesis: Develop ATMs that can dispense cash at convenient locations.” Life cycle example: “Take a grain seed, which is the Thesis. Out of the grain seed grows the plant, which is the Antithesis, and which ‘negates’ the grain seed. Then, out of the plant grows new grain seeds, which is the Synthesis, which then again forms the new Thesis and the process starts again.”

[4] Arthur Holmes, A History of Philosophy at Wheaton College, 59 Hegel on Absolute Spirit

[5] Feuerbach was in his youth a Hegelian and later on turned into a materialist. It is generally accepted that Feuerbach applied a transformational critique to Hegel’s philosophy, which moved it from idealism to materialism.

[6] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, p. 239

[7] Ibid. p. 13

[8] Mark Edward Knackstedt, State And Revolution: Hegel, Marx, And Lenin, p. 78

[9] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I, p. 29

[10] Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’, p. 63

On Freedom and Free will

          For Marx, history is the process through which mankind achieves progressive liberation. Hence, freedom and free will can be said to be one of the core themes of Marx’s thought. The first time he addresses the question of freedom is in his doctoral thesis entitled “On the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature”, completed in 1841, where he supports Epicurus’s position for it transcends the contradictory aspects of atomistic philosophy by conceiving atoms as being in possession of freedom and self-consciousness. Physical determinism is completely rejected and the independence of man from any absolute divine or earthly being is argued for: “The maxim of Prometheus, ‘In a word, I have each and every god’, is its [philosophy’s] own maxim, its own motto against all heavenly and earthly gods which do not recognize human self-consciousness as the highest deity. There should be none other beside it.”[1]

After his PhD, during his early years at the Rheinische Zeitung (1842-1843) Marx took a strong liberal stand of which both Locke and Mill would have approved. He proclaimed in his articles that the essence of man is only realized when freedom becomes reality, because man is a spiritual being and is essentially free[2]. At this stage Marx seems to have an idealistic rather than a materialistic or naturalistic foundation for his thought. He completely rejects this foundation later on, when – after having been influenced by Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity – he starts his own inquiry into a critique of Hegel. Within the critique, Marx rejected Hegelian ontological idealism and monism, but maintained the Hegelian process view of reality. In addition, he develops a thesis which he never surrendered: “the foundation of all human thought, history and institutions is the daily concrete existence of empirical human beings”[3]. The individual, not some larger whole, is for Marx the real subject. In this view the individual has ontological autonomy.

This move away from idealism does not eliminate the liberal within Marx. In later years, he still inclines towards the Workmanship ideal as support for his labor theory of value and as a way to argue against the exploitation of the working class, especially in Capital Vol. 1. However, Marx does see one major flaw in Liberalism, a flaw that nowadays is seen by many political economists, namely that the liberal view mistook the negative tendency of man, his egoism, for his true essence. Marx, insists that this is not the true essence of man and that man’s real essence is to be found in the social character of mankind. It might be underlined here that when Marx defines man as a social being, this does not imply that the individual is ontologically subordinate to society. The process by which man becomes a species-being is founded upon his concrete individuality: “Only when the real, individual man has taken back into himself the abstract citizen and as an individual, in his empirical life, his individual work and his individual relationships, has become a species-being, … , only then is human emancipation achieved”[4]

In German Ideology, Marx roots humanity’s freedom in its activity, in its praxis. Through his activity, the individual can transform both physical nature and society. Here emerges what I would call the true monistic allegiance that Marx holds, naturalism. I call him a naturalist because he sees man as part of nature. For him, there is no transcendent or other worldly essence within man. Thus, human activity is freeing because it metabolizes nature transforming it in such a fashion that it may suite the individual and society’s will.[5]

Praxis that is true to the essence of man is unalienated praxis. He protests against the capitalist society that is rooted in classical economic theory on the ground that it generates alienation across four aspects:

1.      The Worker is alienated from the product because his wealth seems to be indirectly corelated to the amounts of goods he produces

2.      The aim, the reason or the meaning of the worker’s production is alienated from him. He is left only with the physical robotic activity and with the indirect aim of securing his subsistence, thus he is alienated from his work

3.      The worker becomes a means for the capitalist and inverse (this goes against Kantian ethics), thus, generating alienation from fellow human beings

4.      Movement from a world in which other humans were ends in themselves to a world in which they are means. This allows egoism and individualism to reign and generate alienation from species-life

Marx believes that communism will allow humanity to negate the alienation that was produced by the classical economic system and in the process free humanity from its enslavement. The main idea is to move to a platform defined by Kantian morality, to move away from the current world, where each individual sees the rest of humanity as a means towards his ends, to a world in which each individual sees all others as ends in themselves. By taking a critical perspective, we have to admit that what Marx seems to be proposing is actually a system rooted in Kant’s vision of “Eternal Peace”, but that transcends and includes it by recognizing that humans requires more than just the fulfilment of physical necessities and the assurance of security in order to prosper. What he hopes to realize through the abolition of alienation on the basis of the division of labor is to eliminate praxis as a means and in the process to free man so that he may develop his capacities unconstrained by the capitalist system. In Marx’s communism man becomes a multi-faceted creature who can “do one thing today and another tomorrow, hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner […] without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic”[6] and who performs all of these different activities for their own sake. Humankind, thus becomes what it was always meant to be, it becomes a creator.

Now the question that begs is: why, given all of the above, is Marx still seen by many commentators as a determinist? I would have to say that it is his dialectical approach towards history which leaves behind the flavor of determinism. What first needs to be noted is that Marx sees history as advancing. In the process of this advance freedom develops and permeates more facets of human life. If left unexamined and out of the context of his complete work we can easily be tempted to consider that history is an abstract subject which moves itself, making everything that can be said to be part of history mere predicates and, thus, helplessly bound to the course of history (i.e. humans). In truth, what Marx proclaims is that the domination of circumstances differed from epoch to epoch and that this fact can be seen from the perspective of historical materialism. In addition, he considers there to be an advance, a development, and as a result an end goal to history because freedom has widened throughout the millennia. Hence, if history is left to proceed as it has till now it is not absurd to state that the domination of circumstances is transitory and will completely disappear in what he sees as the end of history, communism. Communism has “the task of replacing the domination of circumstances and of chance over individuals by the domination of individuals over chance and circumstances”[7]

The Marxian view is that freedom is power and that for communism to have been realized and for the essence of humanity to have been fully reappropriated, humankind will have to achieve domination over both nature and social existence. In this sense, the continuous development of productive forces through technology should be able to free all of humanity from their basic wants and eliminate the need for exploitation. The communist revolution, which will be a consciously driven revolution, a revolution in which each individual is aware of his state and of the laws of history, will allow humanity to free itself from the domination of both nature and society. We have to conclude that for Marx the world is not an immovable reality, it is not the subject for which we are just predicates, but a raw material which humanity can process through each individual’s self-oriented activity. Thus, the famous Marxist idea that freedom is essentially bound with insight into necessity is anything but Marxists, conditioned that we use Marxism as a term that denotes Marx’s thoughts. However, if we use it to denote Marx and Engel’s thoughts then I would say it is half right because the later of the two is the one who developed this idea.

While both Marx and Engels openly considered that freedom consists of the individual’s mastery over his social and natural surroundings, with the latter affirming this in German ideology, Anti-Duhring and Dialectics of Nature, there is a difference in approach and emphasis that creates a significant gap between their views. Engels position finds its clearest expression in the first part of Anti-Duhring, in the chapter of Freedom and Necessity. This chapter will become a corner stone for Lenin’s understanding of freedom. Here, Engels is heading down the Hegelian path and is equivalating freedom with knowledge. Plekhanov, one of the Russian ‘Marxists’ that has heavily influenced Lenin, interprets this equivalence as a statement that awareness of necessity removes the characterization of necessity as fate and bestowing upon cognitive recognition the ability to transform necessity into freedom.

From Engels’s perspective, the greater the role left to free choice the lesser the freedom, for freedom is the acknowledgement of necessity and the greater that acknowledgement is the greater the freedom. Judgment should be driven by understanding the laws of society, it should be arrived at through the use of rationality, because ‘necessity’ is the approximate equivalent of ‘necessary laws’ or ‘occurrence in conformity with law’. Hence, choice must be guided by reason.

Engels seeks to define the manner in which freedom is accomplished with particular reference to the laws of nature and society. “Freedom does not consist in the imagined independence from the laws of nature, but in the knowledge of these laws and in the possibility this gives of making them work according to a plan towards definite ends”[8]. Here we can see a second divergence from Marx who did not hold that freedom was achieved through conscious application of the laws of society. Engels conceives of both mental and physical laws but sees that former deriving from the latter. He also considers that by understanding these mental laws we can gain control over ourselves. At this point we cannot prescribe a strict fatalist position to Engels’ thoughts because what he means is that mental laws seem to be laws that determine how mental activities precede. In other words, they allow us to know which mental activity comes first: a before b, b before c, etc.

Looking at a third difference, Marx analyzed the influence of history upon the individual while Engels analyzed how an individual’s actions fit into a historical process which is determined by necessary laws. Engels considers that humans cannot calculate the full impact of their actions nor can they always ensure that what they are doing will end up as planned, hence humans do not consciously intend most of what happens, one therefore must conclude that there are historical laws which explain that which humans did not consciously intend. The total scheme in his analysis of history would include four elements: (a) the driving forces, (b) the motives of human actions conditioned by these forces, (c) the actions themselves, and (d) the resultant historical event. The statement that history is governed by laws can be taken to mean that there is a regular co-ordination between a and d, and that a is somehow the ultimate cause of d. However, Engels still seems to be allowing some room for free will, given that he also considered the existence of other elements except driving forces. In this case point b) plays a very important role.

However, in a different writing Engels ensures the impossibility of the existence of free will, by ensuring psychological determinism. In “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy” he presents will as functioning in the following way: “The will is determined by passion or deliberation. But the levers which immediately determine passion or deliberation are of very different kinds. Partly they may be external objects, partly ideal motives, ambition, ‘enthusiasm for truth and justice’, personal hatred or even purely individual whims of all kinds”[9]. Later in the book he goes on to say, “we simply cannot get away from the fact that everything which sets men acting must find its way through their brains …”[10]. Here Engels is a neurological reductionist for whom all mental activity is the result of cerebral activity, placing this within the wider field of his materialist foundation we need to conclude that there is no free will and that all mental activities are nothing more than the result of a chain of causality whose primary factors are the physical constitution of the individual and the external world in which he find himself. Thus, we have the last difference between Engels and Marx. While the latter is an advocate of free will the former is a determinist.

Lenin held Anti-Duhring in great esteem, especially the passages describing the relation between freedom and necessity. He supported that all human actions are necessary and under the influence of Plekhanov he assumed historical materialism. What is interesting is that Lenin actually tried to defend Marx against claims that the philosophy he constructed was a deterministic one. However, in the process he actually developed a tighter determinism than Marx ever proposed. “The idea of determinism, which establishes the necessity of human actions and rejects the absurd tale of free will, does not in the least do away with either the intelligence or conscience of man, or the appraisal of his actions. Quite the contrary, only on the basis of a determinist view is it possible to make a strict and correct appraisal, instead of attributing everything you want to free Will.”[11]

Lenin completely rejects free will by not recognizing it as a real experience, free will is nothing more than the product of idealism which has nothing to do with reality. For him, historical conditions provide the sum total of all causes and criterions of judging actions. The external world gains total domination over the individual as his actions become nothing more than means for his goals which themselves are derived from the external world, even if in appearance it may seem that they are not.

At this point we can say that Lenin is in complete opposition with Marx. For him, human actions are determined by necessity, free will is fiction and morality should be judged on consequentialist principles instead of deontological principles. Because of this, Lenin enters into a cognitive dissonance with himself, for he is against ontological voluntarism, as will is not constitutive of reality, and against psychological voluntarism, as will does not precede the intellect. Will in Lenin’s view does not even have any moral value, because as an imaginary existence it has no impact on goodness. But, at the same time he promotes a voluntarist political model. Lenin’s historical voluntarism presumes that there is a part in human actions that is not determined by historical laws. However, this does not mean that there are no other laws, that are not historic which impact human action.

By taking Lenin personality into account and with the bias of hindsight, I cannot help but consider that in the process of leaving a loophole in his philosophy of voluntarism he aimed to place himself in that small room that finds itself outside the grasp of the laws of history, thus positioning himself and the party as the only mechanism that could go beyond these laws as their knowledge allowed them to utilize laws of which the proletariat where not aware of. This then provides significant support to authoritarians that have control over the government and over the propaganda machines for they can now dissipate the laws of history that the common have to follow while, while, at the same time, creating a space were the few that are meant to lead the country on the path towards dealienation are exempt from the laws of history. Through this, Lenin once again comes in opposition with Marx by rejecting the Workmanship ideal which seas all humans as equal and grants no human the right to claim superiority of access to god. In this case god is, by analogy, represented by the laws which govern the space that is not affected by the laws of history and in which Lenin and his close followers have placed themselves.

[1] Karl Marx, On the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature, 304

[2] For Marx man is free in the way in which he realizes himself, his potentiality within the rules set forth by reality. For Marx man doesn’t have absolute freedom. Man is only bound by the laws of human essence, by laws that are implicit in his being, thus any external authority that wishes to place laws upon men is disregarded by Marx, such as an autocratic government or positive. By submitting to these forms of authority man submits to forces that stand outside of himself and thus fails to realize himself according to his internal laws. This is not to be interpreted as many anarchies have done that Marx is against the state for this is not true, he is against authoritarian states, states that function on the basis of a divinely preordained hierarchy which undermines human essence by undermining the principle of freedom.

[3] James J. O‘ Rourke, The Problem of Freedom in Marxist Thought, p. 18

[4] Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question, p. 370

[5] Productive activity is social activity, it always involves other humans

[6] Karl Marx, German Ideology p.33

[7] Ibid p.424

[8] Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring, p 157

[9] Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, p 28

[10] Ibid p. 16

[11] Z. A. Jordan, in The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism, London, 157

Revolutionary Models

         While we have seen some significant difference in Marx’s and Engels’s view of freedom there are also a significant number of things that they do agree on. One of them is that: “No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself.”[1] Also, both consider that once the material conditions of the capitalist age have reached maturity, it will be the working class that will play the key role in the transition towards the next step in historical materialism and in the emancipation of mankind.

I have to insist here that for capitalism and liberalism to reach their zenith, the accomplishment of the Kantian utopia is a must. Under this view, states are founded on such rights as equality before the law, free speech and elected representation. A society that has reached this state of development has abandoned the concept of zero sum games and has understood that reality is a positive sum game and that the gain of one does not have to come at the cost of another. The majority of society will have reached the rational level of development, understanding the importance of third person perspective, of experimentation and will have ceased to believe in unfounded myths or propaganda. The individual will have developed his consciousness and will have become able to be ‘stand-alone’ (will not need the guidance of anyone in order to act). Democracy will undoubtedly have prevailed at this point. “Republican representation and separation of powers are produced because they are the means by which the state is ‘organized well’ to prepare for and meet foreign threats (by unity) and to tame the ambitions of selfish and aggressive individuals. […] States that are not organized in this fashion fail. [Governments] thus encourage commerce and private property in order to increase national wealth. They cede rights of representation to their subjects in order to strengthen their political support or to obtain willing grants of tax revenue”[2]. Society has accepted materialistic monism through its behavior and has placed economic objectives as central stage for everything it does. Only once this is reached can we state the capitalism has reached maturity.

Global capitalist maturity, in the absolute sense, as presented above, would be required for an instant transformation as is desired through the concept of permanent revolution that Marx introduced in 1850 through the Address of the Central Authority of the Communist League (ACACL). In this, and in The Class Struggles in France Marx stresses political voluntarism as opposed to historical materialism, at least seemingly if one does not take into account the whole body of Marx’s work.

In ACACL, when addressing the German peasantry Marx called for the confiscation of feudal estates by the peasantry which should then be transformed into collectivized socialist agricultural colonies. Thus, driven us to think that a bourgeois democracy that would facilitate capitalist development is skipped. “While the democratic petty bourgeois wish to bring the revolution to a conclusion as quickly as possible, and with the achievement, at most, of the above demands, [petty bourgeois welfare reforms] it is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, the proletariat has conquered state power, and the association of proletarians, not only in one country but in all the dominant countries of the world, has advanced so far that competition among the proletarians in these countries has ceased and that at least the decisive productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletarians. For us the issue cannot be the alteration of private property but only its annihilation, not the smoothing over of class antagonisms but the abolition of classes, not the improvement of the existing society but the foundation of a new one.”[3]  One is not to be blamed if they are confused when reading this passage and ends up thinking that there are two Marx, an intellectual one that has dived deep into philosophy and has developed the concept of historical materialism and the one here which seems to have lost his mind to hubris. Though, once we consider that ACACL was addressed to the Germans and look a bit into Germany’s economic situation, the perspective changes. This happens because even though Germany did not have the bourgeois democracy that France and the UK enjoyed it still managed to develop a strong industry and materially it was easily on par with the latter two. Thus, if we are true to material monism and accept the concept of equifinality (different open systems – such as a state – can start in different places, head in different directions and still end up in the same place, in this case in a mature capitalist state from Marx’s perspective), then Marx in no way diverged from historical materialism.

This should be further underlined by the Preface to the Second Russian Edition of the Manifesto as well as in his writing in Capital Vol.1. Marx argued in both that Russia, taken by itself, had not yet reached the necessary level of development that would allow it to start moving towards a communist revolution and that if it wanted to do such a thing by itself it first had to develop a strong capitalist foundation. The exception to this would be: “If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that the two complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for communist development”[4]

The general structure of Marx’s movement towards communism is through the interlude of the socialist society. The interlude is a necessity because after the revolution we would be dealing with communist society “not as it has developed on its own foundations, but on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society, which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth-marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”[5] Because of the division of labor, an antithesis was created between physical and mental labor, transforming workers into mindless robots that labored for subsistence and nothing more. Work cannot be seen as something meaningful in itself by the society that has just said no to the capitalist system. Thus, in this stage people still need to be convinced to work. Marx envisioned that in the initial phase of the transition workers should receive certificates (money) that would allow them to draw from the social stock the same amount of work as they put in. The moto for this initial phase would be “From each according to his ability to each according to his labor”.

In the socialist phase the promise of liberal capitalism, of the workmanship ideal, is realized and every individual becomes the owner of his own creation. “…Hence, equal right here is still in principle bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case…”[6]. There are of course some down sides to this intermediate step that Marx highlights in the Critique of the Gotha Program.  “In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor”[7]. Even if you reward people equally for their work there is going to be inequality in society, because for labor “to serve as a measure, [it] must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement”[8]. Given then that some are stronger, wittier, faster, etc than others and that payment is given in return to the amount of work delivered on the basis of socially necessary labor time, some will still get more than others. “It tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is therefore a right of inequality”[9].

In the second phase labor is expected to have become a prime want and not something practiced from survival need. Only once society has recognized labor as a means can it transition the communist system and to the new moto “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”. Until labor becomes “life’s prime want,” socialism as the first phase of communism requires the enforcement of bourgeois right. In Russia, labor was not a prim want. Because of that, in Marx’s opinion, it had to maintain bourgeois rights following the revolution.

Marxism emerged in Russia under the lead of Plekhanov, in the 1880s, and can be referred to as critical Marxist. The movement had two heads, one in Switzerland which was driven by Plekhanov and another in Russia which was driven by his ‘disciple’[10], Lenin. During its formative years, the Marxist movement in Russia focused on distinguishing Marxist orthodox socialism, based on historical materialism, from Russian Populism[11] and on arguing against the Bernsteinian model of trade-union reforms[12]. In addition to trade reforms, Bernstein held that the capitalist class must lead the democratic revolution because in order for them to flourish history demanded the fall of autarchy.

Plekhanov and Lenin disagreed with the Bernsteinian model, giving Bonapartist France as example for a failed revolution because the autarchs managed to reach a deal with the capitalists because of the meager number of the latter. Lenin argued that the only real revolutionary force would be the peasantry as they could be counted on to follow-through till the end with the overthrow of the Tsarist rule. Given that in the process they would also be eliminating the landlord rule. In “What the Friends of the People Are”, Lenin emphasized that this should not be a populist revolution and described Russian populism as simple-minded, underlining that populism didn’t understand the importance of developing a movement within the industrial working class.

 You will see though that there seems to be a trend with Lenin, whereby he adopts that which he critics. As we saw in the case of his critique on determinism in Marxist thought, after writing against it he actually ended up supporting it. Here with Populism, after writing against the simple-mindedness of such an approach he adopts two populist elements that become pivotal to his revolutionary model: 1) a revolutionary party formed out of social elites, and 2) confiscation of everything owned by the landlord class.

At the end of the 19th century one thing could have been said to have been quite clear with regards to Russia, namely that it was far from being a developed or mature capitalist economy. And that under the model of historical materialism it either had to develop a capitalist infrastructure and grow it to maturity or unite in an international communist revolution with other developed capitalist countries that could make up for its retard. In 1899, while in captivity in Siberia, Lenin decided that it is time to change this perspective of Russia as an underdeveloped economy. Thus, he argued in “The Development of Capitalism in Russia” that his country was in the capitalist phase of production.

I am driven here to consider that this is one of the first times that Lenin realizes that he can exploit the Marxist model for his own use as long as he can implant in the mind of the populous the idea that what they are aligned with is Marxian thought. Reality mattered little to Lenin, for he believed himself and his elite group to be situated outside of the normal laws of reality that bounded the rest of humanity (as we saw in the previous chapter). Hence, in his revolutionary structure, he differentiated between two roles: the elites and the working class. The elites where the ones that had to create an ideology, for they were the ones that had the cognitive ability to understand the overall Marxist theory, while the rest had to be agitated to act spontaneously for they were not considered to have the ability to plan and to do cognition driven acts. If you are thinking that looks like the age-old aristocrat or absolutistic model, where a handful of people believe themselves to be superior by nature (cognition is replacing god) – while in fact, abilities are distributed normally throughout all social classes and it is access which defined how far someone reaches – then you are right.

Bernstein, even though in his time a critic of early Marx (or what was known to be early Marx as his Critique of Hegel was not published at that time) and a strong critique of Marxist perspectives that were heavily rooted in Hegelian Metaphysics or dialectics was still closer to the amalgam of Marx’s thought than Lenin and his cohort ever were. He believed in the ability of the working class to develop a revolutionary socialist political consciousness on their own, saw trade-unions as key in the process of this development and was aiming at incremental gains through what was called “tactics-as-process”. The problem with this method was that it would have made the elites that Lenin was talking about far less powerful than he would have wanted and would have ruined all the work that Lenin had put into developing his special room outside of the grasp of the ordinary laws of reality.

Of course, Lenin and other critical Marxist deeply disagreed with this approach arguing that via such an approach they would end up supporting the capitalists and bettering their system by falling pray to the capitalist frame work. Now we have two choices, we could either say that: 1) the Russian Critical Marxists were completely ignorant of Marx’s Historical Materialism, as Marx requires for revolution under historical materialism that the problem, the antithesis, awaken within the system that is to be changed, the thesis, and then create the new system by solving the problem, the synthesis. Under this view we could excuse them as many of Marx’s texts, such as his critique on Hegel, were not published at that time; or 2) go with the initial proposition with which I started this paragraph and see this as part of their tactic to take control over the Russian state. I would underline this possibility by making a distinction between two Marx, as Bernstein did, and deciding then which to support. Here the choice would lay between a young man full of hubris or an old man summarizing his life’s work on the basis of the totality of wisdom he has absorbed through experience and knowledge. If we were to make the choice on good faith and rationality, of which I consider Lenin to have been perfectly capable, instead of conviction or desire we would have to go with the latter Marx instead of the former as Lenin did[13].

Getting back to the revolutionary model, what Lenin was selling the people, was a revolution that would end with the decisive victory of the people over the tsarist regime and the creation of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. “And such a victory will be precisely a dictatorship, i.e., it must inevitably rely on military force, on the arming of the masses, on an insurrection, and not on institutions of one kind or another established in a ‘lawful’ or ‘peaceful’ way. It can only be a dictatorship, for the realization of the changes urgently and absolutely indispensable to the proletariat and the peasantry will evoke desperate resistance from the landlords, the big bourgeoisie, and tsarism. Without a dictatorship it is impossible to break down that resistance and repel counter-revolutionary attempts.”[14]

In addition, he writes “that all worship of the spontaneity of the working-class movement, all belittling of the role of ‘the conscious element’, of the role of Social-Democracy, means, quite independently of whether he who belittles that role desires it or not, a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the workers”[15]. Through this he makes an enemy of everyone who does not agree with him. It is very important for his model that he be the only real prophet of Marxist thought and revolutionary theory. Thus, he would gain the ability to designate anyone that would go against him as a counterrevolutionary and transform them into the enemy of the people.

Here comes some more of the irony I mentioned in footnote 29: “But of course it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will be unable (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism. At best, it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favor of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy, including the formation of a republic, eradicate all the oppressive features of Asiatic bondage, not only in rural but also in factory life, lay the foundation for a thorough improvement in the conditions of the workers and for a rise in their standard of living, and—last but not least—carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe. Such a victory will not yet, by any means transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution; the democratic revolution will not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships; nevertheless, the significance of such a victory for the future development of Russia and of the whole world will be immense. Nothing will raise the revolutionary energy of the world proletariat so much, nothing will shorten the path leading to its complete victory to such an extent, as this decisive victory of the revolution that has now started in Russia”[16]. The irony comes of course from the fact that while stating this what Lenin is actually proposing is a centralized government that owns all the land and that represents the peasantry and thus he calls it the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. This is like saying that aristocracy or absolute monarchy is the dictatorship of the peasants and that at the same time it also provides social justice.

Even with all these absurdities and contradictions, Lenin succeeded in imposing his centralized approach and developed a new party status that called for a group known as the Iskra to become the controlling ideological organ of the party doctrine. Thus, agitation replaced development of the forces of production as the key to the revolution, or in other words voluntarism replace historical materialism, and Lenin’s thoughts replaced Marx’s thoughts, though he still maintained the same brand.

[1] Karl Marx, Preface to a Critique of Political Economy, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Selected Works, vol. 1, p. 363–364.

[2] Liberalism and World Politics – Michael W. Doyle, p 11

[3] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Address of the Central Authority to the League, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, p. 281

[4] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Preface to the Second Russian Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, p. 426.

[5] Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, p. 85.

[6] Ibid. p. 59

[7] Ibid. p. 59

[8] Ibid. p. 84

[9] Ibid. p. 84

[10] I’m using disciple in the sense that Lenin followed on the path first paved by Plekhanov. In addition, as other disciples in European history (thinking about the relationship between Husserl and Heidegger in this case) Lenin also diverged from the path paved by his ‘mentor’ and went on building an antagonistic road.

[11] I have to mention here a note of irony, created by the fact that while Russian Marxists first started their journey by contrasting themselves with populism they ended up being a populist movement hidden behind cherry picked Marxist slogans.

[12] Bernstein was a German social-democrat, who supported that immediate objective of improving the lives of the working-class through trade-union reforms had to take precedence to the so called ultimate goal of Marxism, which was the nationalization of the means of production. For Bernstein economic reform was everything while that which was generally considered the ultimate aim of socialism was nothing.

[13] He did not go with the former, as should have become clear by now. But, under the veil of information asymmetry he was able to pretend to have gone with the former.

[14] Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy, p. 56

[15] Lenin, What is to be Done, p. 382-383

[16] Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy, p. 56-57

The State

           As we enter the last segment before the conclusion, I think it is only fitting that we wrap things up as we started them and once again take on the discussion from the point of Hegel’s writings as it will help us to better accentuate the subtle differences between Marx’s and Lenin’s view of the state.

In his Philosophy of Right, Hegel supported that we should look at the state from the perspective of the universal’s historical movement. For him, the state was an expression of the dialectics of the universal consciousness and an ethical community in which human freedom reaches perfection. This view is conflicting with the contractarian view of the state because from this perspective the state is not just an apparatus to which free man consent to protect their freedom and interests, but, rather, the sin qua non of freedom. The Hegelian view holds that it is not the individual who should be guiding himself, but the state who should be guiding the individual, as only with the help of the state can humans achieve liberation and freedom.

Hegel ethics underlines his consideration of the state as the essence of freedom. Hegel differentiates between 3 normative orders:

1)     The abstract right where individuals act on the basis of reciprocity. This is the liberal view of rights where I can do whatever I want so long as I do not hinder others from doing the same. Under this view, property is essential and so is freedom as only free-living being can possess property. The will and freedom are both focused and dependent on an external object.

2)     Morality, looks at individuals as being capable of conscious action. Here the will is directed upon the individual not upon external objects. The individual sees himself as a moral agent can shift his actions away from his immediate self-interest. Here, the will is free to reject what is coming from the outside, in the sense that he can reject tit-for-tat behavior that is object driven, but it cannot create.

3)     Ethical Life, represents the highest normative order and is equivalent to freedom made existent or the universal pulled down to earth. Here individual and universal interests converge. Freedom becomes positive, unlike in the case of morality, and is equivalent to the ability to act in accordance to consciously accepted universal interests.

In the normative order of ethical life, the individual interprets state rules as being made of his own design as he has bridged the gap between self and other. Hegel provides a tripartite division of ethical life, but we will not go to deep into it as the focus of this paper is not a discussion of Hegelian ethics. All we will say is that the family and civil society which are both a form of ethical life do not cover a broad enough spectrum of humanity in order to afford the universality that the state affords and thus the latter becomes the essence towards the union with the absolute.

               Under this metaphysical view, the state allows humans to take their place in the historic development of the universal mind by allowing human beings to acquire universal consciousness and facilitating self-knowledge through the Geist.

               Marx, who as we have shown in the first segment, is critical of this whole endeavor of a world contingent upon absolute mind considers the above Hegelian structure to be an inversion of subject and predicate, same as he does with the rest of the Hegelian metaphysics[1]. For Marx, “the political state cannot exist without the natural basis of the family and the artificial basis of civil society. These are its sine qua non; and yet the condition is posited as the conditioned, the determinator as the determined, the producer as the product.”[2]

               Marx sees significant problems emerging out of this denatured position. He considers that all it does is to propagate particular interests through bureaucrats, political institutions and military force rather instead of engendering universal thinking in civil society, goal which Hegel claims to be perusing.

Marx insists that the liberals and contractarians were right and that this universality of the state that Hegel alleges is merely cloaked individualism. In this case, it would be the individualism of the bureaucratic class. For the bureaucrat, under the Hegelian system, would become a cleavage within society, thus falling to the level of a civil society and not of a state and being unacceptable as universal under Hegel’s own philosophy of rights.

However, both see the crowning achievement of history in the reconciliation of human beings with the universal, in bridging the subjective/individualistic experience with the objective/universal experience. For Marx, this is to be achieved by bridging the alienation between man and his work which he views as achievable in what he calls communism. His communism is the total transformation of human existence, the recuperation of human essence. “human emancipation will only be complete when the real, individual man has absorbed into himself the abstract citizen; when as an individual man, in everyday life, in his work, and in his relationships, he has become a species-being; and when he has recognized and organized his own powers (forces propres) as social powers so that he no longer separates this social power from himself as political power”[3]

Hegel’s model of the state maintains a clear duality between civil society and state, between private life and political life, this in Marx’s opinion is unacceptable if one wishes to transcend towards a middle way that bridges the two ends of the polarity. For true freedom do be achieved, in Marx’s view, the state needs to be stripped of its appearance that it had a world-historical purpose aside from serving the desires of the individuals that ruled it. Just as the alienation between work and personal life is eliminated so too must the alienation from community life and from ruling the state be eliminated. A reintegration between the private and the political and between the individual and the communal needs to be achieved.

In his Critique of Hegel, Marx states that democracy is the political form of organization that would allow for the overcoming of this alienation. He writes: “Democracy is the solution to the riddle of every constitution. In it we find the constitution founded on its true ground: real human beings and the real people; not merely implicitly and in essence, but in existence and in reality. The constitution is thus posited as the people’s own creation. The constitution is in appearance what it is in reality: the free creation of man”[4]

The political state is dissolved in the Marxian democratic model[5], because as long as there are representatives, indifferent of the way in which they are elected, it is impossible for them not to be cut off from the people who they are supposed to represent.

Sadly, it’s hard to draw any more conclusions with regards to Marx’s view of the state as he never went on to characterize in much detail how such a society would function beyond the idealistic sphere, which is in part ironical given that he considered himself to be a materialist. Though, if he truly imagined a world without a state, without governing institutions, it is hard to actually go into the details of how such a world should look like without by mistake placing emphasis on various form of collaboration that would later on not face the risk of being transformed by fans of his ideology into future institutions. Thus, Marx has only touched upon the description of the communist society and the communist style of administration in his writing on the Paris commune. There he states: ”the reabsorption of the State power by society as its own living forces instead of as forces controlling and subduing it, by the popular masses themselves, forming their own force instead of the organized force of their suppression – the political form of their social emancipation, instead of the artificial force … of society wielded for their oppression by their enemies”[6]

Like Marx, Lenin viewed the state as an alienated mirror of human consciousness and as a mindless subordinate to class and property interests. His reservations about the state lead him to the similar conclusion, that human beings can lead authentic lives only in a society in which the state has been transcended. But, as we have seen in the previous two chapters, Lenin will once again go in the poral opposite direction to his realization, he will create a more alienated state, a state where there is a bigger gap between the political life and the private life than ever before.

As we have seen in the previous chapter, Lenin did not consider that the workers could develop an independent ideology by taking their fate out of the hands of their leaders and considered that this view, which was supported by the Social Democrat party was profoundly mistaken. Lenin sees socialist consciousness as something only the bourgeois could develop as it requires specialized knowledge, knowledge which can be attained only with a high level of education, which is only available to the bourgeois intelligentsia. Thus, in Lenin’s version we have a retreat to a sort of Hegelian bureaucrats, but in the form of the bourgeois intelligentsia, who has adopted the true Marxist view as proclaimed by Lenin, who represent the state and hand down directives on its behalf. The proletariat under this model were supposed to give up on their spontaneity for it was part of a lower normative order and concede authority to the representatives of the state, in this case the party who were part of the higher normative order.

The above view which is strongly supported in “What is to be done” seems at first to be in counter with the view from Lenin’s “State and Revolution”. For in the latter Lenin argues for the dictatorship of the proletariat, for a state that will only last until the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois resistance is obliterated and all property has been equally distributed to the whole of the population, following which it will dissolve.

But, if we go with the interpretation proposed by Alfred B. Evans who suggests that the book had tactical value in positioning the Bolshevik Party, we will find that there are no real contradiction between “State and Revolution” and “What is to be done”, as might appear at first sight. Evans’ position gets additional support when we consider that Lenin denies in the former the Hegelian notion that the state can stand above civil society or that it can dissolve the schism between class interest and ethical community. In addition, we see in “State and Revolution” a strong emphasis that is being placed on the need to reestablish a pure Marxism. The title of the book was in truth nothing more than a veil under which Lenin could infect through very refined propaganda the minds of his readers with the idea that he was the one true source of Marxist thought. Like a religious cult leader, he took the ‘bible’ into his hand (the citations from Marx in this case) and while holding it he said that he was the only one who had clear and unobstructed access to the knowledge left behind by the Messiah of communism. And, of course like all religious cult leaders, his will was never to actually reestablish what his Messiah, Marx, really thought, but just to use the ‘lord’s name’ in order to achieve his goals. I here strongly second Evans view that this book is nothing more than a very well applied means of propaganda. It is a masterpiece of sophism that uses straw man, cherry picking and appeal to authority – just to name a few of what we now consider logical fallacies – in order to support a point.

Lenin, in actuality saw that the state had a leading role in orchestrating social change, in truth he didn’t support dissolving the state, but it’s expansion on the Hegelian model. The state here does not represent any sort of class antagonism on the contrary the state is highly necessary in order to ‘guide’ a society of ‘lost beings’ that are disconnected from the absolute and to ‘help’ these ‘lost beings’ bridge their individual perception with that of universal consciousness, to ‘help them escape’ the clutches of the hedonic treadmill that they have been placed on by liberal and contractarian views. And let us not talk about ‘escaping the alienation and exploitation that they have underwent’.

I do hope that you have read parts of the above with an ironical tone in mind because with the bias of hindsight I cannot truly support the above statements even though they may have been what Lenin was trying to get across. I have to consider them as weapons of propaganda designed to help him build his authoritarian empire. This does not mean that I consider that he would have wanted to engage in imperialism later on, nor that he wouldn’t. On this point I am agnostic. All this means is that all the action that Lenin took were there to prepare Russia for an absolute Ruler of the secular age, one that does not need the justification of God, for as we were made aware by the liberals everybody has equal right of interpretation to the words of God as none is closer to him than the other. Thus, he created a ruler that is there because of laws to which not all beings have equal access, laws to which only a few can get access as it requires them to be of the intelligentsia. In truth, Lenin designed the best authoritarian system seen up till his day for it rests on nothing more than someone’s sophistic talent and everyone seems to accept the right to rule by sophism instead of the right to rule on the grounds of truth

[1] Note that this is a gross oversimplification of both Hegelian metaphysics and Marx’s critique to it. The first segment of the essay provides a more nuanced critique.

[2] Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I, p. 29

[3] Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question” in Early Wrilings (Bottomore, trans: New York. Toronto. London: McGraw-Hili Book Company, 1964 [1963]). P. 31.

[4] Marx. “Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State”, p. 87

[5] “it is scarcely possible to avoid perceiving that Marx goes well beyond the intellectual bounds of liberal constitutionalism”. In fact, by ‘democracy’, Marx means something quite different from the contemporary understanding of the word. For Marx, democracy does not imply a representative government characterized by a division between the public and private realm; rather, it signifies “the organic community typified by the city-states of Antiquity (communities not yet split into ‘civil society’ versus ‘political society’)” || Lucio CoIletti Introduction to Karl Marx: Early Writings, p. 40-41.

[6] Karl Marx, Civil War in France, p. 168


          As we have seen there are significant differences between Marx and Lenin, so significant that it is hard to say that they ever had anything in common except for a propensity towards using the same words. I hope that at this point there is none left that would argue that both ever wanted the same thing. Because we can clearly see that while Marx wanted to free and empower the whole humanity, Lenin wanted to do that only for a hand full of people while binding the rest to this group. While Marx wanted to enable all people to develop their consciousness, Lenin considered that some were just beyond help and that it makes no sense to actually try and that, given this, they should just be ruled. While Marx made all of his statements from the critical position of a philosopher, social scientist and political-economics theorist, Lenin made them from the position of a charismatic leader, a sophist who only cared about achieving a certain outcome…  I could go on further, but I think that the point is rather clear.

               Before I close, there is still an appeal I need to make to all my fellow comrades from the ex-populist-autarchic-mercantilist countries that were part of the Soviet bloc and that currently are facing a new wave of this sort of mentality. While we must understand that people were ravaged by the events that took place in 2007/8 because of the financial crisis and the events that followed it does not mean that all capitalism should be discarded because as we have seen in this inquiry the abundance that capitalism can generate is necessary for the development of the communist utopia that Marx proposed. While it is true that a classless world with the homogeneity that Marx presented (where one can be whatever one wants whenever one wants) is to be desired, we must ask ourselves if we have really reached that state of technological development where this can be achieved. Currently, I consider that this sort of super abundance and the rapid learning that would be necessary to allow for such a fast transmutation between varied roles would require near singularity level development (singularity as used by Ray Kurzweil). To the liberals from these countries, I say, when you see young people that are supporting socialist agendas do not think by default that they are supporting the doctrine that killed over 100 million people and that ruined the lives of over a billion, for that is based on a different doctrine, on the doctrine represented by Lenin. While I accept that the terms are charged by the many memories of the past, we can apply our critical thinking and realize that what most of them will be referring to will have nothing to do with that forsaken past.

               I hope that this essay will have been of help in moving the debate between these two factions, liberals and socialists, to a higher level where they will see their communalities and where they can work together to block the advance of the illiberal agenda.


1.      Andrew White, Lenin on Democracy: January 1916 to October 1917 [Ezra’s Archives]

2.      Arthur Holmes, A History of Philosophy, Wheaton College

3.      Brian Aarons, Marxist theories of revolution [Australian Left Review, 1972]

4.      Esther Kingston-Mann, Lenin and the Problem of Marxist Peasant Revolution [Oxford University Press, 1983]

5.      E. Ree, Marxism as permanent revolution [History of Political Thought, 2013]

6.      Friedrich Engels, Anti-Duhring [CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015]

7.      Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy [Foreign Languages Press, 1976]

8.      Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit [Cambridge University Press, 2018]

9.      Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of Right [Oxford University Press, 1952]

10.   Ian Shapiro, The Moral Foundations of Politics, Yale University 2010

11.   Ivan Szelenyi, Foundations of Modern Social Theory, Yale University 2009

12.   Immanuel Kant, Eternal Peace: A Philosophical Sketch [Jonathan Bennett, 2002]

13.   Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals [Yale University Press, 2017]

14.   Jacob W. Kipp, Lenin and Clausewitz: The militarization of Marxism 1914-1921 [Kansas State University, 1985]

15.   James J. O‘ Rourke, The Problem of Freedom in Marxist Thought [Springer Netherlands, 1974]

16.   John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (1690) [Jonathan Bennett, 2017]

17.   Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Address of the Central Authority to the League, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 10 [New York: International, 1978]

18.   Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I [Penguin Classics, 1992]

19.   Karl Marx, Civil War in France: The Paris Commune [Martino Fine Books, 2014]

20.   Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’ [Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics, 1977]

21.   Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 24 [New York: International, 1989]

22.   Karl Marx, On the Jewish Question [McGraw-Hili Book Company, 1963]

23.   Karl Marx, On the Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature

24.   Karl Marx, Preface to a Critique of Political Economy, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Selected Works, vol. 1 [Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1958]

25.   Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Preface to the Second Russian Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Karl Marx Frederick Engels Collected Works, vol. 24 [New York: International, 1989]

26.   Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto [International Publishers Co., 2014]

27.   Karl Wittfogel, The Marxists View of Russian Society and Revolution [World Politics, 1960]

28.   Kevin B. Anderson, Marx’s Late writings on Russia re-examined [Theory/Practice News& Letters, 2017]

29.   Lucian Boia, Mitologia stintifica a comunismului [Humanitas, 1993]

30.   Lucio CoIletti, Introduction to Karl Marx, in Early Writings Marx [London: Penguin Marx Library, 1975]

31.   Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity [Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989]

32.   Michael W. Doyle, Liberalism and World Politics, The American Political Science Review Vol. 80 [The American Political Science Association, 2011]

33.   Mark Edward Knackstedt, State and Revolution: Hegel, Marx and Lenin [McMaster University, 1994]

34.   Patricia Springborg, Karl Marx on Democracy, Participation, Voting, and Equality, Political Theory Vol. 12 [Sage Publication, 2013]

35.   Paresh Chattopadhyay, Two approaches to socialist Revolution: Marx Versus Lenin–Trotsky Russia 1917

36.   Simon Clarke, Was Lenin a Marxist? The Populist Roots of Marxism-Leninism [1998]

37.   V.I. Lenin, Two Tactics of Social-Democracy [Intl Pub, 1989]

38.   V.I. Lenin, What is to be Done, in Essential Works of Lenin: “What Is to Be Done?” and Other Writings [Dover Publications, 1987]

39.   V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, in Essential Works of Lenin: “What Is to Be Done?” and Other Writings [Dover Publications, 1987]

40.   William J. Davidshofer, Marxism and the Leninist Revolutionary Model [Palgrave Macmillan, 2014]

41.   Wolfgang Kuttler, Lenin’s Marxism, Berlin Institut fur krtische Theorie

42.   Z. A. Jordan, The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism [Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung, 1973]

The Self and The Mirror of Nature – Part 3

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

Click to Read: The Self and The Mirror of Nature – Part 2

Chapter IV | The transdisciplinary process map of the self

In the previous chapter, we have considered the evolution of our understanding of the self. We have seen that the self is an epistemological creation that results from the filtration of the noumenal reality which is then stored in memory, we have seen it described as the emotional attachment that gets embedded into our surrounding making them part of the unity, we have seen that there were thoughts on how the self is that which emerges between the interaction of our primal needs and society, and we have seen how it is difficult to state that the self is not the creation of external reality. What do we do now with all of these synthesized ideas? What is their value? Why did we go through the before chapter? That, for me, is quite obvious. Remember, at the beginning I promised a non-contradictory reinterpretation and revelation of the history of thought regarding our subject. This is where that will emerge, for, if taken alone the above ideas do seem to be at war with one another, yet none of them seems to be sufficient if left to stand alone. Hence, in this chapter I will start from the above ideas and others not mentioned in our short gaze over the history of though on the subject[1].  At first, I will map each idea in as narrow a context as possible, later I will add together all of the separate representations to create a unified model of the self, which will be a functional end-to-end dynamic process[2].

4.1 Ontological Presuppositions

What are we actually addressing here, is it the self or is it its emergence? We are talking about the self as an ever-emerging process, that co-arises together with the rest of reality. Are we then equivalating the self with the process? If so, should we really be talking about a self or should we be talking about the process that is birthing it? At this point, before we proceed with modeling the self, I need to give you a glimpse into the ontological presuppositions that have been keep undisclosed and that drive my thinking. I will be brief, as the current format, to which I have decided to confine myself too, does not allow me to go into too much detail, thus I will present only sufficiently so that we may be on the same page. In the following pages I will take you through a short argumentative process where I expose why I believe that reality is founded in action that generates a positive feedback loop, thus, allowing me to state that reality is an ongoing process and that there cannot be made any valid and sane argument that will support the existence of a difference between the process that gives birth to the self and the self itself.

All the methods through which we have ever tried to describe reality find their inception with something that was, be it God, Allah, Brahma, The Big Bang, you name it. The idea is that we can state: ‘X was’. Yet, how can there be something? What is required for something to be? We could state that something is if it participates in the action of being. But, this answer is tautological and, thus, by far not satisfying. There has to be another better approach we can take to explain being. Let us look at it this way, we can state that something is if we can compare it to something that is not, in which case it emerges dialectically, at the same time we can state that something is if we can observe it, or if that something can know itself and thus declare its ‘Being’. ‘Being’ can be confirmed through one or more of the three above mentioned actions: comparing, observing, knowing. But does that mean that if we are not able to confirm ‘Being’ it doesn’t exist? While it might exist, if it is something which is isolated from any outside interaction and self-realization of its being, we have to state that it is of no significance to us as it is neither subject, nor object, nor both. As, the whole of our reality can be manifested as either subject-object interaction or non-dual realization (non-differentiation between subject and object) this leads us to the impossibility of ever interacting with such a thing, hence making it insignificant.

Given the insignificance of the non-realizable-being, we have to fall back to our three modes of realization: comparing, observing and/or knowing. If we decide to acknowledge being by comparing, non-being also emerges in order for the act to be realizable, yet at the same time that which realizes the comparison has to emerge as well. In order for the comparison to be realizable that which compares need to be able to observe both ‘Being’ and ‘Not-Being’. However, observation is insufficient if it does not come with awareness. Knowing, thus, becomes key as awareness without it is impossible. Let us now switch to observation, in order to observe something, we have to be aware of its existence and in order to be aware of its existence we have to know what existence is. Beyond knowing we also confront ourselves with the fact that there must be at least another ‘Being’ except for ‘X’ namely us, the observer that is performing an action. But what if we instead go with self-observation, which is actually part of the action of knowing, would there then be only one ‘Being’ that exists, namely ‘X’, and two actions observing and knowing that would be performed by the same being? We seem to have come at the minimum necessity to confirm ‘X’, to confirm being.

Yet, we cannot accept this. To make it clear why this is unacceptable let us run again only through the last realization of ‘X’, the one done through knowing. In this case we are X, we are aware of ourselves, in order to be aware of ourselves we need to observe ourselves. Thus, we are fulfilling two actions. Now that we can confirm that this is us, we can also confirm that that is not us. Hence, even in this case we have at least two elements ‘Being’ and ‘Not-Being’ whose existence is being brought forth through the interplay of three actions: comparing[3], observing and knowing. Still, we cannot say at which point these actions can take place one without the other, thus, we cannot truly differentiate between them, hence, we will consider them equivalent and for ease of use and to mitigate further linguistic diversity we will replace all of them with knowing. Proceeding form this decision we can state that: ontology and epistemology cannot be divided for we cannot have being without knowing nor knowing without being. Yet, both are actually actions and not substances as existing is an activity. We need thus, to imagine reality different, we need a different method than the one we colloquially use when we refer to it through a substance based approach as this is incompatible with the realization of action as that which stays at the foundation of reality.

As of now it might still be hard to see how everything connects. To make up for the gaps, I will continue to present the manifestation of the process by going through a couple more stages in the formation of reality from the standpoint of self-knowing. As I’ve said, we now know who we are and who we are not. Thus, a separation emerges that creates being ‘X1’ and ‘X2’ – the former we will consider as ‘us’ the latter as ‘the other’. The definition of what we are is becoming ever more problematic for you see, before this point, the point when we defined ‘us’, we had nothing to relate ‘us’ to, given that ‘the other’ emerged together with ‘us’. Now though, as ‘the other’ is also present, we have to define our being in relationship to it. We can look at the other and compare where we are in relationship to it and when we are in relationship to it. But, in order for this to have any sense there needs to be a way to store all of this information as otherwise there will be no way to state if we are still us if the other engages in any other action. Here, memory will become essential. In this case, memory is nothing more than a way of storing the awareness of our intersubjective relationship that emerges between ‘us’ and ‘the other’. Why intersubjective? What gives us the right to state that ‘the other’ has the capacity to proceed willfully with action as we can – I’m  presupposing that action took place for actions sake as otherwise there would have had to be something that enforced it, which would have been impossible without having that certain something not go through the same action as we did[4]. Why do we have to presuppose that ‘X1’ and ‘X2’ are co-arising? That’s because they emerged without there being a possibility to differentiate which one was the owner of the action without applying the action. Thus, as we are indifferent to which one started it, we also need to be indifferent if both proceeded in the action. If the action would be the only differentiator and action requires an actor and an acted upon, both ‘X1’ and ‘X2’ would be non-dual. And, as they are non-dual, they can both be subjects allowing us to use the term intersubjectivity.

We now have, two subjects that interact with one another and who store the knowledge of their interaction in memory. Though, let us not forget what the main action was, namely an onto-epistemological one. Hence, both ‘X1’ and ‘X2’ dive into questioning who they are and, as memory exists, we will now have stored within reality who they were initially which will allow the former to exist together with the current, for the who-we-were to exist in tandem with who-we-are now. So, we can say that we have ‘X1.1’, ‘X1.2’, ‘X2.1’ and ‘X2.2’. If the same process repeats itself one more time, and we apply the same process of argumentation as before and acknowledge that every ‘Xn.m’ is a subject that goes through the same basic action of self-definition we come out with the following. ‘X1.1.1’, ‘X1.1.2’, ‘X1.2.1’, ‘X1.2.2’, ‘X2.1.1’, ‘X2.1.2’, ‘X2.2.1’ and ‘X2.2.2’. We can see here that in striving to realize its onto-epistemological action, reality grows exponentially following this simple formula: reality = 2x, where x is the number of times knowing was repeated (if you want to repeat the process you should end up with 16 elements, repeat it again and you should end up with 32, etc).

We can now agree that reality is action driven, yet what is the process? Can we call a single action, that of knowing, a process? As we have acknowledged that there are multiple concomitantly manifesting actions of course we cannot call them a process as we cannot differentiate between them and they are, thus, only one action. Though if you don’t see how the process emerges let me elucidate it. We established before that once the two elements co-arose, in order for us to maintain our continuity – to be sure that our being, as ourselves, continues – memory had to become manifest. At this point a looping process emerges between action and memory (here action should be seen as the set of all possible actions that can transpire given the number of elements present at a certain time and the capabilities granted by their network relationships and their holarchic structure[5]). Every time an action transpires that action is stored within reality allowing for the continual assurance that we are still us that we are still subjects that can engage in action.

Of course, there are still a lot of points that would require clarification within this description. Though, as stated, this is not a paper on my views over ontology and epistemology, they are here present only tangentially as means to clarify various points that I think would not be understood without a minimum of information on my view of reality.


4.2 The Hypothalamic model, a neurological derived approach to Freud’s Structural model

Based on the onto-epistemological model that I’ve just presented we can go on accepting the following, which was also accepted by other great thinkers, such as Hegel and Alan Watts: reality exists in order to know itself. The default mode of any being seems to be exploration, in that sense memory serves as a mechanism that help ensure that we do not explore the same thing twice. We require as such a constant recognition of what is in order to proceed further into the exploration of the new.

Let us move to lower, more empiric level of analysis first, following which we will transform the above statement into a model. Based on experiments that have been done on both humans and animals, the hypothalamus seems to be the core revealer of desires. To discover this, scientists have looked at animals and humans whose nervous system were severed at the spinal level, leaving them with a clear separation between their spine and their brain following which the only thing that could still be observed would be them laying there, paralyzed, unable to move. Yet, both animals and people, if they are hoisted up and placed on a treadmill, their limbs will move and they will move in a coordinated fashion. So, it seems that the system as a whole is functional. Thus, it is not that it’s not capable to move as all the necessary mechanisms are in place, it’s just that it has no driver that can dictate the movements. Now, if we look at experiments done on animals whose nervous system were sectioned at the level of the hypothalamus – meaning that we maintain the connection between the spine and the hypothalamus but we disconnect the rest of the cortex, the memory systems and most of the emotional systems, to the point where we can state that the animal almost has no brain at all – the animal can still act spontaneously, unlike in the case presented before with separation at the spinal level.[6]

Such an experiment has been run with cats, if you have a female cat, that is in a cage and it’s only a hypothalamic animal it can manage to survive. It can eat, maintain its body temperature, it can use defensive aggression, though, it cannot learn as it’s memory system is disconnected, which as a result makes it hyper exploratory. Keeping in mind that the hypothalamus is one of the oldest parts of the brain we inadvertently come up with the realization that, the rest of the brain is there to tell the difference between what is new and what is not by utilizing memory and to censor us by turning off the hypothalamic exploratory drive.

The hypothalamus, as stated before, is the revealer of drives, it is a drive machine. Imagine that you are hungry, as the hypothalamus is responsible for survival and exploration it will instantly bolt you into movement. Not only that, but it will restructure your perception of reality so that when you are looking at the world it looks like one in which you could and should find food. Based on what your hypothalamus determines that you are lacking your perception immediately reacts and it tunes out everything which does not help you attain your need. Here, we can see a clear manifestation of the Id in the process undergone by our hypothalamus, it makes out of the whole of reality a playing field for the fulfilling of our needs and out of us a machine which cannot do anything else except behave in such a way that we attain that which we are lacking.[7]

Now, let us conceptualize a bit, we have realized that within our biological system there exists a part whose sole purpose is to drive our exploration. Our exploration is driven by our need which structures our perception of reality and the spectrum of our action so that all which is not linked with the fulfillment of our need disappears. Yet, given our technological advances and our mastery over our environment, we, very often, do not have any survival need. Truth be told, given a willing mate that wants to reproduce with us and an IV bag we could stay in bed all day. But, boredom kicks in and we start exploring beyond our basic physiological necessities, in the process climbing Maslow’s ladder of needs, though, in doing so the same still happens, namely our perception of reality and our actions are still limited to a spectrum that would help us fulfill our conceptual needs. Here is a basic model that explains the above:


Fig 4. Source: Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning

Reality for sure is a bit more complicated. As we start the set of behaviors, based on the perception of reality that was generated by our needs, we inadvertently encounter various objects within the world. These objects can have a positive or a negative effect on our ability to pursue our desire. If positive we see them as tools and our affect, with regards to them, will also positive, if negative we see them as obstacles and our affect, with regards to them, will also negative. In case we encounter tools, we can state that the world and its relationship to us is at least as good as we envisioned it if not better, in any case no change of perspective in necessary. However, if we encounter an obstacle we need to change our perspective about the world, about ourselves, and about our relationship to the world and we need to change our actions. We need to do so as that which we have encountered is a hindrance in the before planned sequence of event, it puts the sequence if not totally at least partially out of play. Here is how this model should look like:

fig 5

Fig 5. Source: Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning

Proceeding to an even deeper level of analysis, we observe that as we plan our action we calculate that which may come in our way. These threats once mapped out become predicted outcomes. On the other end we can encounter unpredicted outcomes, be they negative or positive. Here is an interesting fact, the predicted outcomes that we encounter, be they positive or negative, can engender hope, pleasure and promise within us while the unpredicted once, be they positive or negative, will engender threat or anxiety in us. Why does encountering a negative prediction still generate a positive affect, while encountering a positive unpredicted outcome will generate anxiety? Encountering something negative that we saw before will have a positive affect because we were beforehand aware of the possibility, meaning that we would have a preestablished plan b allowing us to maintain our perception of the world as it is and to continue acting within the preestablished sequence of events.  If, however, something unexpected comes out of nowhere, even if it is not negative, anxiety still kicks in for we do not have a set sequence that we preestablished on how to deal with it.  Even beyond the set sequence, that which we do not have any more is a valid perception of the world, a perception that can include such a positive surprise. The negative affect is as a result generated by the requirement that the acceptance of the unknown demands, namely the reestablishment of our model of the world and the adjustment of the adjacent behavioral sequence set that results from the model. I propose we use this as the full model of the driving force within us:

fig 6

Fig 6. Source: Jordan Peterson, Maps of Meaning

One of the elements that I have left out the current models is reality, the world within which we take our stance, which we chose to perceive in a certain way, based on our needs, and whose model drives our spectrum of possible action sequences. The world, however, will be described later as for now it is too early and there are other more pressing avenues that we need to go through.

We can see ‘what is’ as the realization of the current reality; while, we see ‘what will be’ as the point of our satiation. From this perspective the above model relates solely to the Id. Though, we have to be aware that the ideal, once we go beyond the simple physiological drives is created through a more complex process. In order to create the ideal, we access memory in whatever shape we find it available so that we can reconcile with the intersubjective. The reconciled intersubjective that determines the ideal towards which we strive is not only our ideal but the ideal of the whole intersubjective reality. This pressures our Id, for it is not just that we want the satiation of a certain need but we want it satiated in a certain way. What we see here in the end is the interaction and emergence of the Id and the Superego. Then, the sequence of behavior that we engage in so that we can realize the ideal is our Ego.

At this point, given what was hitherto presented you have surly realized that the ego is by far not the self, that it is but a process which helps the self become complete. In this model the self can only become complete when it realizes what it has and uses that to attain what it lacks. Does that mean that the self vanishes once it has given up striving for what it lacks (I’m presupposing here that the only way to delay the entropic process is to fulfill that which you are lacking)? Par contra, what actually happens is that the self realizes the true nature of reality. Namely that reality has co-arisen together with it and that its need comes from forgetting that the other is there to confirm its existence and not to deny it.

4.3 The Epistemological Model and Its Connection to the Hypothalamic model

Reality is everywhere and everywhen. It is boundless, limitless, infinite. Within this all-encompassing and all permeating manifestation, we awaken and we try to understand and to express what we are understanding from the whole. Though, unlike reality, we seem to be limited. What I mean by this is that our capacity to grasp the world is limited. We can only see up to a certain distance, we can only perceive visually and audibly a limited range of wave lengths from the whole of the existing spectrum. Of course, we can use various machinery to extend our reach, but those machineries in turn are troubled by the same, they are also troubled by the existence of limitations. Yet, within this reality we need to be able to function given the great disadvantage of our inability to completely grasp it in our awareness. Within our struggle to grasp reality, through the process of understanding, we are beset by a paradox as by synthesizing reality we are actually diluting it.

I will first go through the process step by step and then present the graphic.[8] As explained at the beginning of chapter three, in our pursuit to understand reality we have gone through multiple dualistic divisions. These dualistic divisions are nothing more than ways of understanding our relationship to reality. We first identify with the universe, as I have presented in my short ontology, point at which initially there can be no self, and no other, there is just the universal which can be imagined as a spectrum of possibility. The problem with identifying with the universal is that it is the equivalent of trying to define ourselves in a void. We have no way of stating anything as all statements and definitions are referential. Thus, being one with the universe seems equivalent to non-being. In order for a clear self to become manifest, we need to enter into the initial separation. We need to break reality onto-epistemologically apart, only then do we manifest.

The first realization or level attained in the process of self-manifestation can be called the trans-subjective level. As explained in chapter 4.1, all other elements that are present in reality are subjective, not only the elements that we consider ourselves to be. It is in this stage that we have attained observation and awareness of ourselves though we have not gone to the point of comparison. We can imagine this as the point at which there is another and at which we might have an idea of the existence of the other, though we do not know when and where that other starts and when and where we end.[9]The trans-subjective level can also be seen as archetypical; for, here we can imagine the primordial relational forms that will become manifest within reality.

Once the self has fully emerged it identifies totally with a psychosomatic organism as it exists in space-time. The limits have now been clearly drawn, we are separated from the other and from our environment. Comparison has been fully realized. As such, the self is aware off all the relational fields it has with the rest of reality. Thus, even though we do not see a non-delimited connection between us and others we can follow lines of comparison or, better said, lines of relationship to determine how each of us adds to the full picture. This can be called as the existential level.

Diving further into the divide, we come to the Ego level. Here, man places a clear divide between the somatic and the psychic. The self “identifies solely with a more-or-less accurate mental representational picture of his total organism. In other words, he is identified with his Ego, his self-image.” (Wilber, 1975) The self becomes disembodied and transforms itself into a ‘floating brain’ unbound by anything else. Theories that evolved at this level, as stated earlier, were able to declare such non-sense as that there are two ontologically distinct substances that do not interact with one another, but which unexplainably manage to be perfectly synchronized. This makes as much sense as the tooth fairy, for anyone who has actually reached a rational level of development. Though this is very secondary to the subject at hand I’m accentuating it again from a deep wish that such mistakes not continue to take place.

The final divide we are currently aware of is that which manifests with the emergence of the Shadow level. Now, that we have already stated that the self is confined to the mind the only thing that remains is to split up the mind into various categories, into various aspects. Here, the self becomes strictly that which it values as the most desirable concepts repressing or eliminating from its identification anything that would not have a positive impact.

Now, let us see how we can merge these dualistic divisions that emerge out of the dilution that is realized through the synthetization of reality with the combined model of understanding of Kant and Hegel. In all three cases reality is described in the beginning as something beyond the grasp of any conceptual tool that we have. In the case of both Hegel and Kant there is nothing directly described that could match the trans-subjective divide. Though, even if it was not mentioned directly we can presuppose that in both cases something, such as thought, would more than facilitate the manifestation as presented above. This would not require anything else except that the concept of the self be something very vague, nothing above the recognition of the possibility that one exists, in order for it to be able to proceed only with imagination where it would then develop the archetypal map of reality. Sense-Filter or I-It separation, Consciousness or the running memory necessary to process and compress multiple ‘Its’ into an Object and Perception, which Recognizes the Object which is made out of the set of multiple processed ‘Its’ would be integrated in the existential level. This would allow for the establishment of relationships to the multiplicity of objects we perceive and the understanding of the self in relationship to them. Hence, it would also include the understanding of the self in relation to space and time.

Understanding, namely that which labels the Objects, and Reason, that which allocates properties to the newly labeled object, are part of the ego level. Understanding moves away from the somatic part of reality and results in the transformation of soma into code. We are not dealing here anymore with psychosomatic entities, but only with signifiers that exist in the psyche. Because, at this moment, we have transformed the whole world into signifiers to which we have given weight through reason we start to believe that we ourselves, at our core, are nothing more than mental, disembodied beings, which is only natural given that we have moved the whole of reality within our mind. For the shadow level, though, no synchronic epistemological model is sufficient to explain it, we will need to move to a diachronic consideration of the realization of selfhood.

fig 7

Fig. 7

Something is synchronic if it exists at a given time, while a diachronic element is something that persists through time. It can be argued that each instance of the first four levels mentioned can function in a synchronic fashion. There is no need for self-continuity to be formed. Though, in order to determine which of the mental elements that we have imbedded in us is to be most desirable we need to be able to understand in what way the evaluation of desirability is made, so that we can see why it can only emerge in diachronicity. We stated that up until now we have formed an understanding about our relationship to the rest of the world, we have also moved the world within our mind and have defined ourselves conceptually in relationship to the existing psychosomatic elements of reality that have been metamorphosed in concept, or symbols in the psychic realm.

If we want to evaluate which actionalized concept sits well with our imagined ideal world, we need to have an understanding of what is not ideal, namely ‘what was’[10], and the ideal ‘what will be’, and how to get there, the now in which action can be manifest. Of course, one can state that the present, momentary, synchronic self contains within each of its disconnected and separate particular incarnations all the events that can be said to have led to its current manifestation, the whole environment and relationships that allows it to exist as it is, and all the dreams of the future that it has. Yet, you see, for me doing word plays like this to conceive that the self can be fully manifest without diachronicity are nonsensical, all that I’m doing here is to say that in any particular moment we have access to the full history of our exitance and the ideal of the future. The how is called memory, for memory is that which stores all of the past circumstances that allows for the current manifestation to be born. The present, for sure, is all that which can be transformed into the Object and the imagination, is the ideal, the archetypical level at which the future is created, the realm of the trans-subjective, which is manifest at the sheet of thought. Hence, for the Shadow to manifest, we require the complete manifestation of the trans-subjective, existential and ego level to which we add the function of memory as that which ensures continuity. Now, that we have remembered the past and anticipated the future, and that we have realized the diachronic structure of the self and of nature, we can also combine the two models of self-realization into one single representation.

fig 8

Fig. 8

4.3.1 Merging the models

To be able to understand how the shadow level emerges we would have to combine the two existing models, namely the Hypothalamic with the Epistemological. This is necessary as the shadow level requires affective responses to events in order to manifest. What we will be dealing with now will be the normal epistemological process up until the sheet of reason is reached, following which we will go through process flow 1 from Fig. 8, where we see the existing memories. In the initial state there are no memories, hence, no need to have any affective and event values. After loading the memories in our consciousness and going through the processes up till reason one more time we go through process 2 where we input the event as a new element in the memory stack. At the same time the event gests transferred to the hypothalamic process, where it is seen as an action item that manifests between ‘what is’ and ‘what should be’. After going through an expected/unexpected analysis followed by a tool/obstacle analysis affective values are attributed to the event.

We will now look at a simpler version of this process that is applied in the creation of artificial selves. In Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, the self, as in our case, is viewed as an open, dynamic structure, that is goal-oriented. The instability of the system comes not from its psyche, in this case from its software, but from the need of having an embodies psyche that can function within the material reality. As long as the system within which the psychosomatic being finds itself, functions as expected, there can be no realization of a functional, aware, self.

An existing self, once placed in a situation where it’s being, as it is known to itself, comes under question will come into awareness. Thus, in AI and Robotics – as in our case – we can truly understand what the self is if we solve the mutual relationships that are born among all the elements that manifest themselves at the level of the ego, aka within our cognition. But it’s not enough to understand the symbolic relationship that takes place in the realm of the concepts we also need to understand the somatic ones, and then the non-dual nature of said relationships in order to truly grasp what is happening.

fig 9

Fig. 9

In order to create an artificial self that can navigate the real world there are two levels of processing that need to communicate. There are the lower level processes that transforms the real-world signals that the receptors gather into machine code and the higher level process that deals with the symbolic manipulation of abstract world models. The dynamic system we mentioned emerge out of the interplay of the two perceptual levels as they seek to reach a stable state. Thus, the dynamic structure is self-generated by the system. The neural net architecture, which is one of the basic models used in artificial intelligence, has the following structure: there is a perception layer, an association layer and a prediction layer. Within the first layer, the perception layer, the information is taken in and sent into the association layer so a representation of what is perceived can be generated. At the same time the information from the first layer is sent into the prediction layer where a top-down prediction is generated with regards to who the machine should expect to encounter in reality. The generated prediction is sent to the association layer where it is compared with the generated representation. The machine will use the association part each and every time it encounters anything; while, the prediction part will be conducted only incrementally when the existing prediction does not align with what is to be expected. If our predictions are correct there is no need for us to invest any psychic energy, thus, this seems to confirm Heidegger’s idea that self-consciousness is diminished substantially in moments of peace.

4.4 A narrative, meaning oriented model of self and reality[11]


Our ­world is dependent on a perceived order. We expect certain places to look in a certain way, certain beings to fit into predefined roles and to stick to them. If any of the above stop functioning we lose our calm, our world starts to crumble, if it is something small we can readjust quickly, but there is always the possibility that we will encounter something of a greater magnitude that will completely destroy all that we know. In such cases fear and dread overtake use and we rush to pick up the pieces and to rebuild. Though, we can never rebuild the same.

This world, as we have seen is built out of other selves, out of other subjects. At least those subject that an everyday understanding of reality allows us to consider as “true selves”, namely animals and humans, behave in accordance to a dominance hierarchy which sets order in the intersubjective world. These hierarchies are born out of psychosocial systems of belief. We do not simply have a theory in our head and it becomes our main theory of explaining reality just to make us feel better, but because the way it explains the world coincides with the way other people explain the world allowing us to work hand in hand without causing unexpected interaction to manifest between one another which would require the both of us to reset our view of reality. Thus, both ‘us’ and ‘the other’ is released from the fear of losing one’s self. Culture is the result of these functionally interacting world views. What culture does is to tell us how we should perceive given the spectrum of possible ways of perceiving known to it and, of course, it also tells us how we should act within it. As Francisco Varela said: “What we do and what we see is not separate”. Culture informs us towards what we should be orienting ourselves, helping us in the process deal with one of our most dauting questions, ‘what should we be?’.

Going back to what we have described in chapter 3.2, ‘The Age of Psychologists’, we can say that once selfhood arises it starts to assimilate the signs that are permeating our culture through a semiotic process. The self in this sense is cultural, it manifests as a center of awareness that caries identity between the situations, between the relational settings of reality that the self interacts with. Thus, the self takes from culture and gives back to culture, in the process enriching the spectrum of possible interactions that can be had. As a result, culture is in constant transition, driven by the self-perpetuating cycle of psychosomatic causality. That which has been mentioned many time before comes up again, the self has to be seen as an open process in order for this to function. Only processes can allow for constant development, only they can allow for identities to be in permanent fluctuations and for new depths of meaning to emerge. And only processes can be indifferent to their content, to the form they take, all that matters to processes is the underlying action, or narration.

Culture, giving us what to believe in, thus, helping us regulate our emotions. As we have seen in the Hypothalamic model our acts in the world are belief driven. Looking back at history we can observe that humanity has created metaphysical beliefs that we transformed in religions upon which we founded our societies. Every time a subject of society would be considering what to look at, where to go, what to do, they would look towards the divine and they would ask them what is the right course of action. While the fundamentalist belief in the scriptures of said divine being have caused great pains, an understanding of the metaphorically coded wisdom that is contained within the cross-cultural religious scriptures is what stays at the roots of current days human rights and of our concepts of equality in front of the law. Belief itself is fundamental in order for action to transpire, though we need to be aware that belief needs to be reoriented inwards.


Fig. 9, Source:

This is nothing new, the idea of inward belief, of belief in the self has been around for eons in all mystical understandings of mythologies and religions. If we look at the Christian faith, we can find, at its core, the idea that what we believe in is within us. The idea is materialized in the Vatican, the center of Christian belief, by means of Michelangelo’s painting, “The creation of Adam”, Fig. 9. Within the painting we see Adam, with his hand stretched towards god that is in the sky, while god, who sits within a folded burgundy red veil with his Angels, stretches his hand towards Adam. At first sight we might think of this image as Adam having been created by God. Though, if we account for the fact that Michelangelo had in depth understanding of the human anatomy, including the human brain, and that the outlines of the veil are identical to the outlines of a fontal-dorsal cross section of the human brain we need to rethink our position with regards to this. What the painting is actually telling us, is that God the creator is in our mind and that, while he may be creating us, we are creating him. At the same time, we can view it as symbolizing that the Axis Mundi of Christian values is located in our mind, and while it may shape our way of perceiving and acting in the world, it is still us who are creating that Axis Mundi. It is important to grasp this realization, so that we may reattribute the power of creating meaning to ourselves.

As meaning is one of the core elements in the conceptualization of the self, we need to accept that the self is nested within systems of meaning, or moral systems. The moral systems are what orient us in life and they are predicated on narratives. For us what matters is the why and the what, the how becomes secondary. All subjective being bears the pain and suffering of reality because they have a why and a what, even if they are not conscious of that. Through the education system society aims to address questions of morality, such as: ‘To what end should you devote your life?’, ‘Does life matter?’, ‘Is there something you should be aiming at?’, etc. As subjects grow within their culture they get information with regards to these questions which they are trying to put together into a comprehensible picture. This works until they meet the post-modern, pluralistic university professors, that teach them only that everything can be deconstructed, that we cannot be sure of anything, that the whole of reality is a game of probability, and while in part true, if these teachings are not presented within an integral model that also constructs something, the poor souls that are being exposed to such nonsense will be left there as pray for nihilism and ideology.

I think, I’ve jumped a bit far with my stream of consciousness and that I need to connect some dots for you to be able to make sense of the before. As we have discovered through the fusion of the hypothalamic and epistemic models that we inhabit a story: we are somewhere and are going somewhere. We are in a constant state of insufficiency, every time we satisfy an insufficiency another one emerges which we will then try to rectify. We constantly presume that our current state is not optimal and we are choosing and acting towards another, ideal state that we hope to reach. On our way to the ideal we have to risk ourselves, for the ideal is not here, it is there, a there for which we can only imagine a blurred incomplete image. Thus, we will have to face novel events on our way to the ‘promise land’. Interacting with the novel, as stated before, sets us into high alert, our awareness is in overdrive, our senses become sharper, our reactions quicker, the whole of what we consider ourselves to be is ready, is attentive to all the details around it. In the process of facing the new we are expanding ourselves.

Though, can an expansion of self be done without a renouncing of the old self? Within the knowledge I have encountered thus far, I have to say that such a feat is not possible. The only way towards self expansion is through a cycle of death and rebirth, through an experience that allows one to shed their old self, their old presuppositions and replace them with new ones, that are higher in the holarchy, thus becoming the new expanded self, by incorporating the new presuppositions through embodied action. In this process, we include and transcend, all that which was of essence in our former state is maintained, while all that which was redundant is thrown away.

Let us look at another symbolic image from the Christian tradition, Jonah and the Whale which was painted by Pieter Lastman in 1621, Fig. 10. The paining is based on the biblical story from the Book of Jonah, who tells us the story of Jonah, a seaman, who was out on sea during a rough ocean storm, and he had been commanded by god to do something which he was ignoring. The storm was sufficiently rough that he was tossed into the ocean, where a whale swallowed him up, following which, a couple of days later, the whale cast him up on shore. The idea of the story is that the self will inadvertently face elements of reality that will terrify it into paralysis and that will break through all of its assumptions – because when the normal sets of assumptions are functioning it’s impossible to be terrified enough to be frozen. This also symbolizes that the only way for the self to transcend is by being swallowed by the unknown (the whale in this case).


Fig. 10, Source:

After a dive into the unknown has ripped apart the assumptions that stay at the ground of the self, retrogressive restoration usually kicks in. At first, given the traumatizing nature of the experience, we are drawn to the safety of our home. In this case the home is the former hypothalamic higher level model and the memories stack of events and affects that were generated by it. The former hypothalamic model though cannot be rebuilt as the assumptions, the ‘what is’, has been changed. We still have access to the same memories but we start entering dissonance with them for the existing event affect associations have proven insufficient to explain how we ended up in chaos. A new stable state is required in order for us to know who we are, and for that stable state to be created what is required is for us to look for the new spirit that is going to enable that stable state to be generated. The awakening of the new spirit will ask of the self to reevaluate each event and to give it a new affect, it will have to reinterpret all that has happened considering the plunge into the unknown, the seismic event it just went through. After that has been done, a new ideal can be created, and a new stable self can emerge, one that knows what is, what is lacking, how the ideal world looks like and what is the sequence of events that is required for the ideal to become manifest.

In the onto-epistemological model we realized that we can state the world is created through and for self-knowledge. And, in the above pages of this subchapter we saw that the self is created through the confrontation with the unknown and the transforming of the unknown into the known. This fundamental realization has been transferred spread throughout human culture since time immemorial, since the age of the Mesopotamians, who have also left us with the oldest stories known to humankind.  Between the mythologies that have perpetuated from that regions and that have been written down in the bronze age, the story of Marduk was seen as one of highest importance. Here, Tiamat and Abzu were locked in embrace at the beginning of time, in a marriage between chaos and respectively order. Their embrace gave rise to the world of the elder gods that represent our primordial motivational forces, our most basic needs, drives and emotions. These deities were acting out unencumbered in the world, up to the point where they had slain their father, Abzu. Tiamat, the mother of all things, the representation of chaos is very unpleased by the fact that its creations have destroyed structure itself. Tiamat decides that things have gone too far and that the elder gods need to be eliminated. To fulfill her purpose Tiamat spawned a battalion of monsters and leads them to battel. The gods, go and face her one after another, but they do so hopelessly, never returning after their encounters. One day, Marduk[12] is born and he offers to fight Tiamat on the condition that if he wins he should become their leader and that he should be given the power to determine destiny. It is important to note that this story was created during a period when the Mesopotamians were assembling themselves into one of the world’s first great civilizations. Thus, all the gods, which represent the highest ideal, of all the tribes were coming together to organize themselves into a hierarchy in order to determine what should be the highest value that rules everything. The gods agree to Marduk’s proposition and he goes off to face Tiamat, he goes to face chaos. He takes a net with him in battle which he uses to confront Tiamat. He uses the net to catch Tiamat, in the process he encapsulates chaos in a conceptual model by putting her in a net. He then cuts her into pieces creating the world. The Mesopotamians saw their king as the avatar of Marduk and each year they had a ritual that acted out the story of Marduk, through which the emperor had to show that he is able to be a good Marduk, that he is still able to confront chaos and create order out of it.

We have a tripartite structure of the narrative, meaning model of self and reality that is composed of chaos, order and the self. Chaos needs to be split into two: the dragon of chaos and mother nature. Mother nature is the chaos that is defined in relationship to what we already know. It is manageable in some sense and if its combined with what we already know it will bring something forth. The Dragon of Chaos is that which we can’t fathom that we don’t know it. It is so overwhelming that it demolishes everything. It is the ultimate source of what’s known and unknown. It is the most primordial symbol. Chaos is that which is outside of our existing cognitive structures, it is latent information, or better yet it is a domain of latent information. This latent information contains the spectrum of potentiality that I described as preceding being. Order, or The Great Father is culture and society, it is the dominance hierarchy that is utilized within the holarchical structure. It is that which is created to protect us from the surrounding chaos as it is the structure that was created out of it, a stable ground upon which we can rest. The part of reality which we have an active role in modifying tends to be oppressive and authoritarian, it oppresses the individuals within them to fit into the predefined orders and paths, while at the same time they sustain their development. Anything that manifest itself in a complex environment takes with one hand and gives with the other, anybody that points out one of the two is nothing more than an ideolog. Rousseau and Hobbes are great examples of such ideologs. The former believed that people were basically good in their state of nature, so he considered nature to be basically good and culture to be what corrupted people (an idea shared by many post-modernists). Hobbes, on the other hand, believed exactly the opposite, he believed that in the state of nature, people were warmongers, that they were violent beast like beings that could not be stopped from killing one another. For him, the only thing that managed to hinge the chaos and establish order was the imposition of a collective agreement that governed how people should conduct themselves through the state. Of course, both are wrong if taken alone but together, if considered through a non-dualistic frame they don’t lay in contradiction, but they complete one another. This goes against one of the basic propositions of formal logic, namely that something cannot be itself and its opposite at the same time. But, as argued for in the second chapter, this is true only in the narrow frames of reference set forth by colloquial understanding. To conquer the Dragon of Chaos, to conquer Tiamat, we need to acknowledge that we are both the good and the bad, that within us lies a non-dual seed that gives us the option at each point in our lives to be Hero or Adversary, in the same fashion that Mother Nature can be destruction or creation, and The Great Father can be benevolent order or tyrant.

fig 10

Fig. 11, Source: Jordan Peterson Maps of Meaning

4.5 The transdisciplinary process map of the self

Now that we have an understanding of the narrative, meaning oriented model of self and reality, we can move to the next and final step, fusing together all three models.

Let us start from the top. We have the noumenal reality, which, if interpreted from the perspective of the narrative, meaning oriented model, is composed out of the Dragon of Chaos, that which we are not aware that we do not know, and Mother Nature, that which we are aware that we do not know. As we are in the non-dual state, there is no real difference between the two, the difference appears only once we descend into the trans-subjective dualistic split, in which we have the thought of there being something as an ‘I’, though we do not understand what that I is per say. At this moment we are aware of the fact that we do not know what exactly we are, yet we are unaware that there has to be another for us to know that. Once we have entered the existential realm, we generate a clear I, It separation. In order for that to happen our sense send information about our environment to our consciousness, the running memory of the self, which then – as there can be multiple ‘It’ depending on the sequence in the repetition of action, that stays at the foundation of the onto-epistemological process, that we are in – compress reality together into one Object that will get passed to perception. Once we have the object in mind, once we have recognized it, we start labeling it using our understanding and defining it, giving it characteristics, through the use of knowledge. This completes the ego level, following which we have the emergence of the shadow. To make manifest the shadow we go through our memories, that have event and affect coordinates, and we check which high level concepts we consider having the highest positive value for us and we plug these into consciousness as a representation of our current self, while the rest gets repressed or eliminated.

With the shadow version of the self plugged in, we go again down the epistemological sheets from consciousness down until we are left with the Phenomenal Reality version of the event. The event gets plugged into two parts simultaneously, first it gets plugged into the memory stack and second it gets plugged into the Hypothalamic Model where, after going through an expected/unexpected analysis followed by a tool/obstacle analysis, affective values get attributed to the event. The ‘What Is’ element of the Hypothalamic Model is formed based on memories. The what should be are then formed based on the inputs of culture. While we did state before that the ‘What is’ is the ‘Id’ and that the ‘What should be’ is the Super Ego, here I find myself to add an extra layer to Freuds theory for, while we may be able to call something the engine of desire, we need to always think that desire is manifest together with the idea for the solution (indifferent of who vague that solution might be) leading me to state that without the pleasure of the idea there is no intrinsic desire. This also makes sense given the epistemological sheet sequence which manifests reality as is once we imagine possibilities. From ‘The Unbearable Present’ to ‘The Ideal Future’ actions need to be take. The sequence of action that we take on the way feed into Culture, thus driving it towards constant transformation. Our Memories also feed into Culture, where we transform those that we consider to be the most positive our those that are of greatest necessity even if they do not incite a positive affect into rites of passage.

final process map

Fig. 12


Chapter V | Conclusion

We have seen the open-ended, positive feedback looping, dynamic process that stays at the base of the self. But, what value does it bring us? Having structured the above process we are now aware of the fact that we inhabit a frame of reference or a story or are occupied by what can be psychologically called sequential subpersonalities that come about given the hypothalamic model that underlines our acting. These frames of reference and subpersonalities each have their own point of view and each salienates different thoughts and different memories with different emotional values in directing our behavior and structuring our epistemological filtration of the world. Through the process of epistemological filtration, the world manifest itself, hence, we have an indeterminate roll to play as a consequence of our value based choices (or value is the ideal). Given that culture also partakes in the creation of our value based choice and as it is impossible to say what is motivating us, given the feedback loop that takes place between culture and self, who is more responsible for the values that we manifest and having acknowledged that our physiological drives are a product of nature. All we can state is that we cause to an indeterminate degree the manner in which the world manifests. The self is thus, at the least, a cocreator of being.

As biologically living selves, we come into the world embodied, with a set of subpersonalities predetermined by the evolution of our species, which are regulated by very archaic parts of our brains and over which we gain more control with each new layer of our cortex that evolved.

Stories are of particular importance for us, but more than the story itself what is of even higher value for us has to be the stories about how stories transform themselves, as mastering this process would allow us to attain mastery over the processes of the manifestation of the self and thus of the manifestation of the world.

As we can’t integrate all of reality into our frame of reference we usually ignore parts of it. We ignore everything that we cannot predict beforehand as being either a tool or an obstacle in the achievement of our ideal. Though these things do not go away, for as we have seen they are subjects in themselves and thus they possess the same capacities as we do which allows them to develop uninterruptedly out of sight and out of mind. Thus, if we do not know how to search for them and tend to them in time we may end up being faced with a plethora of unpredicted elements that pop out of nowhere at once. This will then mess up our current model of the world, destroying our current structure and forcing us to either fall apart or rebuild ourselves. As the unknown might come out when we less want it to, we need to actively search for it so that we may confront it and integrate allowing us to replace the old models at our choosing and to transcend our old state at our choosing. The willingness to go from order to chaos is the ultimate order we can hope to attain. We will thus be equal to the legendary phoenix as we will have come to terms with that within us that is present across all transformation, action itself.


[1]I only mentioned sufficient ideas so that you can start to grasp the complexity and difficulty of the quest at hand, that of presenting the self in a process fashion and of creating a graphic process map of the emergence of the self

[2]If not clear what an end-to-end process is please check foot note 2 chapter one

[3]If not clear, the only way to know that we are is and what another is, is by using comparison

[4]Due to the fact that we can go on and one at-infinitum with this, I’m also presupposing that we are that final entity that went through the before discussed action

[5]A holarchy is a hierarchy of whole, where that which is seen as hierarchically above requires and contains the below in order to manifest, while that which is below can never contain the above. I.e. a proton is contained in an atom but an atom cannot be contained in a proton, a molecule is contained in DNA but DNA cannot contain a molecule, a country contains a person but a person cannot contain a country, etc

[6] Swanson, L.W; Cerebral hemisphere regulation of motivated behavior; 2000; Brain Research; 886, 113-164

[7] Ibid.

[8]This will be mostly in line with the graphic shown in chapter 3 when unifying Kant with Hegel.

[9] The difference between this state and the previous is that at the previous we could not even conceptualize otherness

[10]The ‘what is’ phrasing, if applied here would be more confusing thus I’ve rephrased it to better fit this line of thought

[11]Largely based on Jordan Peterson’s Maps of meaning – lectures and book

[12]Marduk is described as heaving eyes all around his head, he sees everything (and since seeing in that age was equivalated to knowing he also know everything) and he speaks magic words, he can articulate all his knowledge in a way that reality responds to his demands.

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

The Self and The Mirror of Nature – Part 1

Click to Read: The Self and The Mirror of Nature – Part 2

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

Chapter I | Introduction

What you will proceed to read is my first attempt at synthesizing the fundamental nature of reality. The beyond writing represents the foundation of all my future thought as it structures the most fundamental element, the self – without whose structured understanding one should have no right to proceed in any further thinking, for, how dare anybody ponder another thought before one has clarified to the full extent of their capabilities who it is that questions and who it is that states – and the relationship between the self and the world. Without a clear analysis of the self and its standing in reality our statements are but means of escape in our perpetual striving towards the banishment of all responsibility and the deliverance of it to another, to the object, to the observation, to the formula, to logic, to god or to however you wish to call that imagined entity upon which we bestow the weight of our thoughts.

When we state that we are engaging in what is known as objective analysis, we seem to be elude by the fact that we are still the one that is tasting, smelling, touching, hearing, seeing, the one that is perceiving, the one that is observing through whatever means we have at hand and thus the one stating and questioning that which is perceived. The more we try to detach from this fact the more we lose sight of what truly transpires within reality. While I understand humanity’s desire for undoubtable and easy answers, I think that this one-sided method of scientific inquiry, while very useful for the day to day, leaves a lot to be desired when posing fundamental questions with regards to reality.

Being a Darwinian through and through everything I shall present will be looked at through a narrative-evolutionary lens. I will show how the thoughts of the great thinkers build upon one another, because what they have in common is more vital than the points upon which they disagree; for, the only way we can move forward is by creating bridges. The unification process will be realized by looking at the thoughts of the great minds of the past and interpreting their thoughts in such a way that the latter add to the former, creating an aggregate that is greater than the sum of its parts.

While doing this, I will try to avoid, to the best of my ability, stating the hermeneutics of any of the writers that I’m presenting. I will either quote them (if I consider that they can express what I’m thinking better than I’m able to) or present the ground of their argument. I will avoid discussions over the interpretations of the great writers and over the debates that they have been engaging in through the timeless platform of the written word because my hope is to move the domain of philosophy away from the practice of debating the validity of someone’s interpretation of someone’s writing, as it bears little to no additional value to the evolutionary propulsion of knowledge and reality. The field needs to become revolutionized so that it can be true to the meaning inherent in its name: ‘love of knowledge’.

My methodology will be simple: I shall synthesize the fundamental ideas with regards to the self of the various authors, then I will interpret them based on present day knowledge and a non-dual mindset, following which I will look at how one idea connects with another and at how one author connects with another. I will not be looking for differences but for unity. In the process, I will transition through multiple disciplines for nothing can be looked at from a single, limited perspective. Some arguments will be very abrupt and will require the reader to dive into himself and connect the dots on the basis of their own experience. I would rather lose some explanatory depth and trust in the readers ability to connect the dots, given the limited format that I chose to confine myself to, than not be able to express my vision (indifferent of level of depth) as I consider that it is far more valuable to see a full but blurry picture of reality than to see a perfectly painted door that leads nowhere. As such, the below writing will pose difficulties to people that are not versed in trans-disciplinary understanding and that are not high in openness (as per the OCEAN[1] model).

The way in which I will unite the thoughts is by synthesizing them into high level conceptual maps that I will present in as narrow a context as possible, later I will add together all of the separate representations to create a unified model of the self, which will be a functional end-to-end[2] dynamic process.

Let us glance over the structure of the paper. In chapter 2, I will present the mindset with which the text has to be read. I do that by presenting two different mindsets, the dualistic one and the non-dual one, and explaining why the latter is better than the former and why we must thus use it. In the process, I present a brief, fast paced history of the evolution of the dualistic mindset followed by the scientific discoveries which destroyed the illusion of separation that permeated or view of the world up until the 20th century (with small exceptions). After having clarified the correct way of looking at reality[3], I will move, in chapter 3, into exposing my meta-theoretical considerations with regards to the elements of the history of philosophy that are pertinent to the subject of the self. Instead of concentrating on specific writers, as per the standard model, I will concentrate on the subject. I will look throughout the history of thought with regard to the subject and from a narrative-evolutionary point of view and I will bring forth the elements which were salient for every period, together with the author that saw those elements as core to their philosophy. Chapter 3, should present the broad spectrum of elements, and views that need to be united in the chapter that will follow it. It will also provide a clear understanding of the difficulty of the current project, namely of creating a united transdisciplinary end-to-end dynamic process of the self. In Chapter 4, we will be addressing the creation of this model in multiple steps. Step one will have us go through my ontological considerations. I will be presenting my personal view[4] of ontology which you shall see leads me to arrive to the same conclusion as many other great thinkers, such as Hegel and Alan Watts, who considered, as do I, that reality exists in order to know itself. With this realization in mind, I will continue in chapter 4.2 to present the Hypothalamic model of the self, which in short can be described as the driver of the self and the main element that manipulates our perception of reality, then, in chapter 4.3, I will look into the Epistemological model of the self, which looks at how our knowledge filters create our relational standing to the world, and I will unite the Epistemological model with the Hypothalamic one, while in chapter 4.4, I will look at the Narrative-Meaning model of the self which describes, from a narrative standpoint, the relationship between self, nature and culture, and also presents a narrative model of self-development. In Chapter 4.5, I will unite all three models, the Hypothalamic, the Epistemological and the Narrative-Meaning Model, into the final product of this paper, a model of the self which is identical to a united transdisciplinary end-to-end dynamic process.

While my way of going about this project may be very peculiar, I want you to note that I go about it in such a fashion because I see myself as more than a waiter at a restaurant from whom you expect to receive exactly what you ordered and preferably the way you expect it to be prepared. I do this because you have not accessed a computer that runs an algorithm that is dispensing outputs based on the variables others put in out of lack of personal thoughts, and because no endeavor into knowledge can be detached from the one that is exposing said knowledge. Some may think that I have no right to go against the pre-established and by many revered order and processes of academia in the field that I work in. I am here to say that this argument if fallible, as all rules (except for the laws of nature) were created by fallible humans, as myself. They, all the rules, were created by a unity of organisms that considered itself the center of the world, by a subject, something which I also consider myself to be.

As every free thinker that has come before me, I too shall endeavor not to follow a given path but to create my own path. If you wander what allows me to call myself a free thinker and claim that any of the statements that I shall make below should hold any truth whatsoever, the answer is: I’m a philosopher, a man who loves knowledge beyond all else and whose main aim in life is to help knowledge evolve, to drive it forward, to help it transcend itself. And, evolution, in Schumpeterian terms[5], can only be achieved through “the gale of creative destruction”.

In the process of disrupting the standard academic model, I aim to reinterpret the history of thought and present it in a new light, to show another side of it. Reinterpretations are vital within any cultures as they bring back to life the codification of the absolute, noumenal, non-dual, ultimate reality that our ancestors have tried to convey into posteriority. Thus, I will at no point aim to do justice to the writing of the person I am quoting, I will only aim to do justice to the subject itself, to knowledge and to the fundamental nature of reality.

As the way I phrased this till now might sound a bit harsh let me barrow the words of Ken Wilber who has elegantly articulate the attitude with which I shall address this work:

“The integral claim is simply this: we accept ALL of [Ferrer’s] type of pluralistic approach, as far as it goes. Of course, you start with a caring hermeneutic within the horizons of that which is acceptable to the Other. Of course, you do not attempt to impose meta-narratives on the Other that the Other would not impose on itself. Of course, caring dialogue is the beginning of any sort of dialogical understanding. Of course, there are a series of multifocal, heterogeneous discourses that cannot be meta-narrated. Of course, hermeneutic enactments are grounded in participatory intersubjectivity and not intra-personal empiricism. In this academic day and age, all that truly, goes without saying.”[6]

The above is a lightly more distilled explanation of the as of yet unstated meta-method, namely:

“The research drive and methodology are inspired by Integral Theory and Research and will be based on – a post-metaphysical and transdisciplinary perspective that is dedicated to articulating the ways ontology, epistemology, and methodology interact and co-arise across various scales of time and space.”[7]

This work represents the beginning of the quest towards the complete extinguishment of all detachment from responsibility in the pursuit of knowledge which beforehand was achieved by excluding the subject form the process of knowledge seeking. To complete this all knowledge will need to be restructured from the vantage point of the structured and acknowledged self, with open recognition of its implication in all knowledge statements. Thus, what we have set out to achieve in this paper – the structuring of the self to the extent of what we perceive to be our current limits – is imperative.

Chapter II | Setting the mindset: Non-duality and its importance in understanding the nature of reality

Permeating the full catalogue of our species’ endeavors is one truth which can be acknowledged without need for any further justification: all human effort is directed towards the attainment of knowledge and mastery over reality. We seek to understand reality as a whole, yet we seem to be attempting this in a very counterintuitive way. We take our stance, our place in reality, within the immediate references that get transferred to us through our sensors; and, processed and stored through our thought and memory. From here we start to cut. We look for patterns that allow us to split the world into as many different entities as possible. Like a mad doctor we are chopping reality, tearing it apart piece by piece, mutilating it until it is unrecognizable to us. We have sunk so low that we believe we can unify reality by proceeding further with this misguided methodology. A truly tragic belief! For, how can any being that considers itself to be sentient, rational and aware, proclaim that one can sew the pieces together with the knife that was used to cut them. An instrument that is made for cutting will never allow us to bind all the experience and knowledge we have gained of the particulars (the cut pieces of reality) and, hence, it will never allow us to see the unity and to discover reality in its fullest.[8]

This attitude towards reality comes from the misunderstanding of dualistic segmentation. We can trace the roots of this segmentation back to Ancient Greece, with the foundations of the Eleatic School that tried to reconcile the conflicting ideas of Parmenides and Heraclitus. Heraclitus believed that the world is in constant flux, that it is ever changing, with the changes arising from the dynamic and cyclical interplay of opposites as unity. He called this unity that transcends and contain all opposites, the Logos. Parmenides, on the other hand, considered change to be impossible, to be an illusion, and that the only reason we are perceiving change is due to the limited capabilities of our senses. He saw reality as an indestructible substance, as a subject of varying properties. Heraclitus’ view was named by the Eleatic School matter and Parmenides’ view was named spirit.[9] Two millennials after being proclaimed by the Eleatic School, spirit-matter dualism was formulated to its extreme by Descartes. Proceeding from a skeptical position in which he eliminated (to the best of his capacity) all uncertainties, Descartes concluded that he for sure existed as a res cogitas (a thinking thing) that experiences res extensa (material things). He set the mind in control of the body and defined the latter as a tool for interaction with the rest of the material world.[10] Thus, spirit-matter dualism, which for the Greeks represented the two halves of a ball (where one is still dependent upon the other), was transformed, to its extreme, into the mind-body dualism, or the subject-object dualism, where the mind is the subject that governs and interacts with the bodies that are its objects.

The Eleatic worldview, which was further developed by Descartes, whose thoughts gave way to the possibility of an objectively definable reality, found its zenith with Newton, who wrote the most astonishing description of the dualistic world through his mechanical model of reality. For Newton, as it has been for more than two millennia, reality was a solid framework, like a rock, a stable unmovable foundation. It played itself out in a three-dimensional stage, an absolute space, always at rest and unchangeable, where all phenomenal activity took place. Any change one observed was prescribed to a separate dimension, which again was absolute and disconnected from the material world. This dimension flowed from the past, through the present and to the future, and it was called time. The elements that produced the phenomenal activity and that were moving through absolute space and time were small, solid and indestructible as per the vision of the Greek atomists. The single deviation from that vision was gravity, a force acting between these fundamental elements.[11][12]

The eleatic-dualistic-mechanical model of reality would soon be proven to have been a failure. Two centuries after the death of Newton a whole new reality stood before us, one that demolished all the foundations of the old model. As the old model was developed through the use of the intellect, the possessor of the knife that mutilates reality, it becomes a very difficult task to uproot, especially if we are trying to achieve this uprooting with the same instrument that put it in place (dualism). To succeed in this endeavor, we need to go beyond the categorizing intellect into a deeper and more profound form of understanding, we need to go to the pure intellect, to the citta, that operates on the basis of the ontological process with which we will become acquainted with in the 4th chapter. For now, all that needs to be known about the pure intellect, in order to be able to proceed, is that unlike the intellect, the pure intellect does not require memory, a.k.a. it does not require any pre-processed and stored patterns, nor is it influenced by any categorical relationships that emerge together with understanding. By lacking these foundations that are required for the functioning of the intellect, the pure intellect observes reality unobstructed, unseparated, unified, making it the perfect perspective from which to view and understand reality in its whole and thus, to understand the new empirical evidences that demolished the eleatic-dualistic-mechanical model.[13]

The concept of unity between subject and object, knower and known, observer and observed, self and other, from the vantage point of the old models, seems difficult to accept, especially as this segmentation has helped us overcome multiple hurdles throughout history and it represents the fundamental colloquial perspective of reality. Though, what must be known is that the evidence we have discovered in the last century points to the incompatibility between the old perspective and reality, requiring us to engage in a new paradigm of thinking.

While analyzing the most fundamental elements known to man, Heisenberg, a theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum mechanics, noted the impossibility of the dualistic separation between subject and object, in the symbolic encryption which we, humanity, perceive as most objective, mathematics. Through what is now known as the Uncertainty Principle, Heisenberg stated that the more precise our measurement of either the electron’s position or its speed, the more uncertain our knowledge becomes of the remaining property. In choosing to learn one we inadvertently exclude the other. This is since, at the quantum scale each element of reality is so little, that even a photon would impact the act of measuring. This proves empirically that the observer becomes a participant in the observed reality and that there is no way of interacting with reality, even if it is pure observation, through the act of measurement that will not move it from the beaten path. At its most fundamental level, reality cannot be divided from the system of measurement used by the observer, therefore it cannot be said to be objective. We see here an empirical unification between subject and object, leading to the realization that there is no objectively verifiable reality beyond consensual pretense.

“It had not been possible to see what could be wrong with the fundamental concept like matter space, time and causality that had been so extremely successful in the history of science. Only experimental research itself, carried out with all the refined equipment that technical science could offer… provided the basis for a critical analysis – or, one may say enforced the critical analysis of the concepts, and finally resulted in the dissolution of the rigid frame”[14]

Here, Heisenberg is referring to the dissolution of our most fundamental illusion, that of separation, he is referring to the illusion of the eleatic-dualistic-mechanical worldview. And, he’s not the only renowned scientist of the 20th century to point out this fact, many more have come to the same conclusion. Schrödinger, a Nobel prize winning physicist and pioneer in the field of quantum theory, stated the following:

“Subject and object are only one. The barrier between them cannot be said to have been broken downs as a result of the recent experience in the physical sciences, for this barrier does not exist”[15]

Even though the classical edifice of the old worldview fitted so well with common sense and provided a seemingly magnificent, all encompassing, stable descriptions of reality; it was, actually, just minimizing the complexities that were actually intrinsic to reality. The discovery of quantum mechanics and relativity brought to the forefront the strange behavior of the fundamental structure of reality. With these realizations we must now abolish the principles of duality, for they are not coherent with nature and not doing so would mean reverting to the dark ages where blind faith in tradition undermined empirical data. Thus, it is our obligation as seekers of knowledge to root this idea as the new foundation of reality until it in turn will be replaced by a more encompassing perspective. As hard as it is, we need to go back and reevaluate all the statements made in the last two and a half millennia for most of them have been made under the mistaken guise of the dualistic assumption and thus they were not dealing with the world itself, but just with a symbolic manifestation of it.[16]

In 1931, it was time to hear the conclusions of physics from what had till then been the cornerstone of dualistic thinking, mathematics. The then 25-year-old Gödel, a renowned logician, mathematician and philosopher, proved during the same period as the development of quantum mechanics and quantum theory that:

“it is impossible to establish the logical consistency of any complex deductive system except by assuming principles of reasoning whose own internal consistency is as open to question as that of the system itself”.[17]

His incompleteness theorem is a rigorous mathematical demonstration that states: any dualistic system, which aims to prove or disprove something within a given frame of reference, must have at least on premise that cannot be verified without contradicting itself. Before this, we held the belief that the language of mathematics was consistent, that it could not give rise to contradictions, and that any true statement could be proven within a mathematical system. With Gödel’s testimony and his proof, we have to acknowledge that even mathematics – the science that excels in proving and defining what is false and what is true – has no infallible method upon which it abides when it generates its results. We are, thus, forced to accept the fact that, there will always be something that is outside dualistic understanding.

Two centuries before the era of the modern worldview in science, a German idealist managed to come to the same conclusion as these modern scientists. The only difference was the name and the very complicated linguistic manner in which he presented his thesis. Hegel’s dialectic presented the instability of any true statement if it would be left to fully manifest itself. He argued, that once any truth reaches its absolute it would ultimately turn into its opposite. Given this, we are forced to stop differentiating between dualistic, polarized positions; for, when fully expressed, plus turns into minus and minus into plus, the observer becomes the observed and the observed transforms in the observer. Subject is object.[18] Wittgenstein shows us the same realization and, also, presents us with the process of said transformation in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by the use of his truth-function table which contains all elementary propositions for a set of 4 bivalent variables. He states that Tautology, or absolute truth, and contradiction, or absolute false, carry within them the same value. Beyond this, both tautology and contradiction are nonsensical for taken individually they do not have the ability to express reality, for all actionable reality, in accordance with his table, is manifested in varied degrees of intertwining of the two extreme positions. Thus, while dualistic expressions are symbolically possible they make no sense at all when we try to utilize them. Beyond this, they are a hindrance in the process of obtaining knowledge and mastery of reality.[19]

As long as we see reality at the extremes we are symbolically supporting an unsustainable system, for we presume that it is possible to have an act without an actor, a known without a knower, a subject without an object, an us without another. For this to be so, reality would have to be composed of independent, self-enclosed, discrete, enduring, and immutable things and events. Thus, these phenomena must be complete in themselves, they must be entirely self-contained. This would ultimately lead to the incapability of inter-phenomena interaction, making intrinsic independent existence incompatible with causation

This false concept of reality also gets enforced by our language, for we take structures of reality that are composed of various patterns, identified by the intellect, and attribute to these entities inherent properties through an Aristotelian subject and predicate approach. This means that everything is constituted of discrete, immutable and self-contained parts that are identified through names, functions and concepts that are then attached to said entities. These entities can be grouped as being part of larger categories where the enveloping category is the subject and the elements contained in it are the predicates, or the descriptors that are dependent upon the existence of the larger category. This leads to the realization that language is a symbolic, inferential, and a dualistic map of the world. As we explore the world at the quantum level this symbolic map becomes harder and harder to use as a means of defining reality, as the seaming separation dissolves and we are required to describe a level of reality that is everywhere and everywhen identical. We need to use a new way of seeing and identifying said reality with language. Thus, we need to develop a new way of expressing ourselves and a new structure, we need to develop a new set of glasses through which to look at reality.[20]


[1] The OCEAN model, also known as the Big Five personality traits or five factor model, is a taxonomy for personality traits that was discovered through a statistical technique known as factor analysis which determined the essential dimensions of human personality by looking at patterns of covariation. Each letter represents one of the five factors that define a broad dimension of the human personality and psyche: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

[2] An end-to-end process is a process that comprises all of the work that needs to be done to achieve a certain outcome, in our case the manifestation of the self

[3] I am well aware that statements such as ‘a correct way of looking’ or ‘a right point of view’ are seen with strong disdain in this day and age. However, the post-truth world that was created through this disdain for fundamental truths cannot be allowed to go on. Thus, I will insist, especially in chapter 2, that there are indeed ways that are better than others of seeing and understanding reality and while, for sure, everyone is right from their perspective, some perspectives are more encompassing and must thus be looked to as references.

[4] Another element that differs from the standard model of a dissertation is the pronounced personal character. While I am aware of the risk that I am exposing myself to, I consider it imperative for a thinker to write his own thoughts and about his own thoughts. I also think that the commission is wise and that they will thus be happy to see a paper of intrinsic value, one which is not just a standard exercise in research but which also pushes the field forward.

[5] Joseph Schumpeter was an Austrian political economist that thought at Harvard University. He is most known for the popularization of the term of creative destruction, which is also known as Schumpeter’s gale. The gale of creative destruction describes the “process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” (Schumpeter, Joseph A. (1994) Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. London: Routledge. pp. 82–83)

[6] Wilbe, Ken; sidebar F response to Ferrer, Revisioning Transpersonal Theory p. 162

[7]Nutas, Andrei & Jivanescu, Victor & Todor, Ramona; A Sincere Call to Action; May, 2018;

[8] Esoteric Audio; “The Cosmic Network – Alan Watts”; Youtube video, 3:32:30; Published [November 2016];

[9] Kirk, G.S; Heraclitus: The Cosmic Fragments; 2010; Cambridge University Press

[10]Descartes, Rene; Meditations of First Philosophy; 1911; Cambridge University Press

[11]Newton, Isaac; Principia: Vol. 1 The Motion of Bodies; 1966; University of California Press

[12]Newton, Isaac; Principia: Vol. 2 The System of the World; 1966; University of California Press

[13]Ken Wilber; The Spectrum of Consciousness; 1993; Theosophical Publishing House

[14] Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy: the Revolution in Modern Science; 1958; Harper; p. 198.

[15] Erwin Schroedinger; What is Life? and Mind and Matter; 1969; London: Cambridge University Press, 1969, p. 137.

[16] Ken Wilber; The Spectrum of Consciousness; 1993; Theosophical Publishing House

[17]“Gödel’s Proof”; June, 1965; Scientific American, CXCVI.6; p. 71-86

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

[19]Wittgenstein, Ludwig; 1922; New York; Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc.

[20] Capra, F.; The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism; 2010; Shambhala