Am I me? Are You you? ?
> I am going to stop now before I start sounding like the amateur philosopher I have no claim to be.
Last week I commented to a friend that philosophy is too important to leave it to philosophers, especially not the the academic ones.
“we are in danger of deliberately creating the largest and deadliest epidemic of mental illness in history.”
Hasn’t that happened already?
I have taken sensible precautions to preserve the continuity of my 'self' by spending much of my day in the company of an ever-watchful chameleon named Frederic, who fulfils the role of Berkeley's God and ensures that I do not blink out of existence. That said, I have just glanced over my shoulder to the right, where his vivarium is located, and he is sound asleep on the job, so all bets are off.
I don't really study philosophy and so I cannot say with certainty whether ontologists have identified a likely kernel of our conscious being, or if reductionists have had any success in chipping away at the seemingly multi-faceted entity that it is the self.
Socially it's tied up in how we perceive ourselves, how we would like to be perceived, and how others perceive us. That can be anything between a mannered negotiation and an all-out battle.
Then there is the self that is tied-up in body chemistry, though Cartesians and those who believe in the existence of the soul might object to this on the grounds of either scepticism or faith.
Even the physical self is fragile and changeable. I occasionally took psychedelic drugs when I was younger. Of course, I met god, or at least some part of my subconscious that identified itself as god. Everybody does. It's practically a cliché, like going up the Eiffel Tower the first time you visit Paris.
Under the influence of these exotic compounds, my perception of 'me' was very different. The borders separating myself from what I would ordinarily regard as being external to me were much less defined. It is hard to go back to the way that you ordinarily perceive the world when you know that a micro-dose of chemicals can completely alter your reality.
"CERTAINLY, Nietzsche was not a philosopher in the strict sense of the word. He is essentially a poet and sociologist, and above all, a mystic. He stands in the direct line of European mysticism, and though less profound, speaks with the same voice as Blake and Whitman. These three might, indeed, be said to voice the religion of modern Europe — the religion of Idealistic Individualism. If it were realised that his originality does not consist in an incomprehensible and unnatural novelty, but in a poetic restatement of a very old position, it might be less needful to waste our breath in the refutation of theses he never upheld.
It is true that we find in his work a certain violence and exaggeration: but its very nature is that of passionate protest against unworthy values, Pharisaic virtue, and snobisme, and the fact that this protest was received with so much execration suggests that he may be a true prophet. The stone which the builders rejected: Blessed are ye when men shall revile you. Of special significance is the beautiful doctrine of the Superman — so like the Chinese concept, of the Superior Man, and the Indian Maha Purusha, Bodhisattva and Jivan-mukta.
Amongst the chief marks of the mystic are a constant sense of the unity and interdependence of all life, and of the interpenetration of the spiritual and material — opposed to Puritanism, which distinguishes the sacred from the secular. So too is the sense of being everywhere at home — unlike the religions of reward and punishment, which speak of a future paradise and hell, and attach an absolute and eternal value to good and evil. "
Nice. BTW, the neti exercise procedure is not just "not this." It is "not this but also . . . ." Maimonides referenced this exercise procedure with his phrase "via negativa." Nicholas of Cusa with the phrase "docta ignorantia."
I also find myself slowly ploughing through this Garfield text.
His chapter 7 on "Ethics: Abandon the Self to Abandon Egoism," has really got me sweating.
In my active political organizing years (all of which ended in complete failure in the sense of initiating any type of mass political movement to change the U.S.) my political ideology endorsed a view of myself as a self-less, self-appointed servant to the working class. The complete failure of such "selflessness" resulted in much personal anger, angst and resentment toward others who had not made such "noble" political commitments (i.e. sacrificing career etc.).
On a meta-level my seemingly selfless political ideology--encased within an unacknowledged moral egoism (self as center of moral universe) made it quite difficult, even impossible, to see my situation from a more disinterested point of view.
As Garfield argues the self illusion is not harmless and can easily lead to personal attitudes and feelings, which I have lived, that can become quite pathological.
A gradual and grudging acceptance that "I" do not know for sure has led me to the point that ethics does appear to outweigh epistemology--and that the pursuit of the moral ideal of incrementally attempting to abandon egocentricity may not be such a bad goal.
However Garfield's overall concept of the selfless person still has my head spinning and where all of this leads politically seem even more up in the air.
The baby boomers of whom a small but significant portion spent the rebellious energy of their youth flirting with alternative religions and heterodox philosophy have morphed into the most craven and self serving oldies on the planet. Some say it was Madison Avenue and its adoption of newly discovered psychological models that managed to turn "we" into "me" and ultimately into the i generation. What I have observed with some dismay are the numbers of young fogeys out there who would make dusty arch conservatives turn in their graves!
I do wonder if the denial of "I" in favor of "we" is something central to every old religion, or even every old "communal" beliefs. It's a theme that often heard repeated in my own background (Roman Catholic, although with a distinct Korean flavor--but I'd heard the same from my friends with Irish, German, and Italian backgrounds--but all Americans). A Korean-Canadian-American priest (he is Korean, but he did most of his pastoral work in North America) who had written a lot of self-reflective musings in context of several quasi-autobiographical books liked to repeat the point that he learned most about Christianity while serving in ROK Marine Corps during the Korean War--i.e. a definitely anti-religious environment where there was no "I" and you would give up your life for "us"--defined as your comrades next to you, not some abstract concept or ideology. (One memorable chapter in one of his books is basically dedicated to one of his comrade's "nation," which referred to his wife and child.)
In this context, we should also mention the Upanishads. They have not only fascinated me, but also influenced thinkers like Arthur Schopenhauer or Erwin Schrödinger. Our Western, materialistic worldview makes them somewhat difficult to access, but studying them is a worthwhile investment.
Aurelian, I would love to read your review if I knew where to find it ;-)
Congratulations.....I very much enjoy you work. Heading over to read your review