In continuing my thoughts on consciousness, I want to look at the self. As I discussed in my last post on consciousness, thoughts, sensations, everything attributed to experience seems to arise and have an effect on consciousness. I think this is fairly intuitive to most people in one way or another, whether they are looking at it through a correct or incorrect lens. What I mean by this is, people seem to, at the very least, believe that things happen to themselves. There is this separation of the mind, the body, and the self. Nobody tends to feel, or believe they are, identical to their body or their brain. That is, you don’t feel identical to your hands, you believe you have hands. You don’t feel identical to your brain, you believe you have a brain. There is the body, the brain, and the self. The self is what people tend to believe is consciousness, the “I”. I look at this differently and the self will be the topic of this post.
The first thing we need to do is talk about redefining “I”. Now if you have read my earlier posts, you can see that I want to do away with the term free will. Free will really seems to be a term that carries around too much implicit baggage that really isn’t there. Intellectual supporters of the term want to use it to differentiate reactionary from intentional behaviors (What makes the term more needless is there are words we can use that are more precise and don’t carry the baggage. Terms like reactionary, intentional or unintentional, for instance. It’s really that simple.). They also boast that the term acknowledges the complexity of the mind, in many cases proclaiming that our ability to make the sane and logical choice is what free will is. But with that argument comes a dualistic perspective that is almost impossible to accept when being truly critical of who and what we are and it is why I tend to argue so fervently against it. Supporters of the term will bring with it, whether they truly realize it or not, the claim that we have the ability to step outside the mind, almost. Suggesting, implicitly, that we can go beyond the processes of the brain and use the information given to us by the brain to make our very own, self-authored decision. This is incredibly dualistic to believe. For instance, to be able to use what the brain gives us begs the question; who is this “us” that is separate from the mind and it’s processes. In their argument, there is the mind and then there is the self, the conscious ego resting behind the eyes utilizing the body and brain as a tool separate from itself. This is the only light in which a free will that people want seems to make sense. It is this personal control, or power beyond the natural order that they desire that naturally spawns the dualistic perspective. It is the only way that the term free will can be held so near and dear to one’s heart. So one might wonder, if I believe the self, or the I is an illusion as well, why I don’t want to simply rid of these terms also. Unlike the needlessness of the term free will, “I” is fully integrated into our every day language. The use of terms like “I” or “myself”, etc. are almost as reactionary as breathing. You would really have to stop and pay close attention to avoid these terms. And in many cases you wouldn’t know what to use in their place. I am also not trying to be in the business of creating new words or making new terms and it would be much more convenient to adopt a different view of the term “I” rather than abandoning it altogether. However, I wouldn’t say this is adopting a new view so much as developing a more comprehensive understanding of what it means to say “I”. Because, to this point, I think there is still a way to use these terms in a way that makes sense, while still carrying no additional baggage about the self that the critical mind can see isn’t really there.
Most of us don’t feel identical to anything that makes up “us”. You don’t feel identical to your hands, you feel like you have hands. I would also confidently say that most people don’t feel identical to their brain, they would say they have a brain. This is made especially clear when we say “my brain”, a phrase that simply does not make much sense when we think about this critically. Who is the possessor of this brain? Can we really be something that isn’t the brain? And even if you could claim that you are part of your brain, does that really give you any ownership of the brain? I digress.
Now it’s easier to look at your hands or feet and say, “these are my hands”. It is very difficult, and most likely impossible, to feel identical to our hands. If there is a self or a feeling of “I” that can reside anywhere that we can feel connected, it is in the brain where consciousness arises. That is, this experience that we are all having is completely due to the existence of consciousness. It is in the psychology that contains most of what we value about ourselves.
Something begins to happen, however, as we look at consciousness and the experience. We begin to feel like we are more than the experience itself. We believe that we are inside the brain. This separate entity, of sorts, that is calling the shots. This ego, or self, that is using the body and the brain as a tool to aid in it’s experience. For many, this is where people can place things like free will. The ego is the ultimate author and decider of our thoughts and actions. This ego is ultimately responsible for everything we do, and it is the power of this ego, self, or I, that we can judge, praise, respect, or hate and condemn. Because of the ego’s appeal on the surface, many people are reluctant to analyze the validity of this belief. What many will find when doing so, is that the ego, the self, “I”, does not exist.
There is a phrase that has been running through my head lately when I think about “I” which is; I am everything. I am nothing. If someone asked me what I call me, or, what would be “I”. So when I’ve used the term “I” without quotations, what am I referring to? This is my answer; I am the continuous psychological and physical entity correlated completely to this brain and this body. In that sense, I am everything. I am consciousness and it’s contents. I am consciousness and a body and the only consciousness and body that is correlated to this brain which, as far as we know, is the sole reason I can even conceive of the idea of an I. I know, it is convoluted, a little complex, and maybe on the forefront, it sounds ridiculous or senseless, but it is the best way I know how to explain it. The easiest, most appealing way to say it, I am consciousness and it’s contents, and in that sense, I am everything.
If you want to feel “the self” drop, there is no easier way to do it, than to introspect and try to find a self within you. If you try to find something that is separate from the brain and it’s continuous stream, you will find yourself somewhere that nothing else exists. The self will drop. When I look at this, I am nothing.
When one refers to the self or “I” in a way that means they are a conscious observer that is basically residing behind the eyes, using the brain as a tool rather than being merely a direct cause of the brain, they will never be able to truly find this self when they look for it. I came up with the analogy of a home to explain this.
Imagine the house that you live in, or perhaps a friends house if you do not live in a house. Now if you go inside this house and try to find the house, you will not find anything. You can’t point at a piece of furniture and say, “There’s the house!” You can’t point to a cupboard or a bedroom either. If you look for something within the house that you call the house or the home, you will never find it. There is nothing. You have to consider everything when you are talking about the house as a whole. The same goes for I.
What I currently like about the phrase, “I am everything. I am nothing.” is it allows you to conceptualize how you should view the “I”. If you look at the I as a means of representing everything that you are and the continuous stream that represents everything that you have been and everything that you will be, you are looking at it in a way in which a very reasonable, and very real, you, exists (I am everything.).
If, on the other hand, you begin to view the I as something that is more than everything that you are and the continuous stream that represents everything that you have been and everything that you will be, you will continually find nothing, because it just isn’t so. There is no self to pinpoint residing behind the eyes (I am nothing.).
This can be a lot to take in, and there are many emotions that this can lead to. I am still pondering this a lot and critiquing my thoughts on this often. Everything that I said above is still a rudimentary framework. You are witnessing a brainstorm of sorts, though I must say that I think I am on the right path. I’m just not sure how far down this path I have gone yet.
The next time I explore consciousness, I think I may look at more of the emotional implications, and the lens through which we should look at this. But I am not certain. I will continue to think about this and try to build off this hopefully with the feedback of others, both on this blog and in my life. I’m not sure when I will return to this topic on this blog. It may be soon, it may be a while. One thing is for certain. More to come.
Questions for the reader: If you would like to respond to this, of course say whatever you would like, but also, if you would like, I have some questions that if you could answer would help me look at other perspectives of consciousness.
1.) How would you explain consciousness?
2.) What are your views on the self? Do you believe it is an illusion? If not, where is the self?
3.) What are you referring to when you say “I”?