Toward a philosophy of the Self?
A singular vision is an exceptional one. A singular person is a person of exceptional qualities. Now a singularity in astrophysics is another term for black hole, an exceptional occurence in stellar evolution. The matter of a particularly massive star at the end of its life collapses, thus increasing its density where then its gravitational field is increased to a point where no radiation can escape. Light is held “inside,” as laymen like to say, by this intense gravity, thus its apparent blackness, at least as viewed from outside the “event horizon.” Now what’s at the heart of the human soul, or however dark one’s life or mind or experiences may or may not be, there is something of the physics of stars that is correlative to the human soul. There are fires and motions for sure; there is a whole thermodynamics of human soul; there are rotations, revolutions, fusions and fissions, supernovae and singularity events.
Now, I have not given up on the existence of soul, nor have I decided that mind is of greater valency than any of the ancient or traditional notions of soul, regardless of what my contemporary world might view as correct and dogma, at least in one or another cultural variations on its pseudo-scientific understanding of its science. We must remember that what psychologists refer to as mind is not more tangible than this thing soul, which can still be understood as transcendent and absolutely irreducible, as I believe it is. The mind is not more empirically verifiable just because psychology has hegemony over philosophy or religion in American culture. But all psychology began as philosophy of mind, and most philosophical inquiry had an inception or parallel rise along with theology.
Mind is certainly void of any tactility as is also the human soul–and I reassert herein the tangibility of both mind and soul irrespective of either having no tactility. Tactility, we must remember, is not the sole verifier of the real. I am not going to play ping-pong between the idea of soul and the idea of mind. It is important to note that neither soul nor mind can be touched in the way a body can be, or a rock, or any thing that has this ability to be known through the senses; but then neither does freedom nor love have this tactility, although both are tangible and have their effects that we feel, as we say, language sometimes limited in how it expresses experience, limited in how it expresses our emotions, our thoughts, our perceptions, the extensions of these in one or another of the others, each mutually reciprocal in human experience.
Mind has not been located by psychologists any more than soul has been by theologians. Once more, each is tangible, yes; yet, both are non-tactile. This is crucial. Tangibility is not dependent on tactility, and we do know things without the evidence that phenomenology could bear, and apart from epistemological investigation. We can experience each of them, though. Nonetheless, mind has come to surpass soul in believability. The former has virtually universal acceptance; the latter a great deal of hesitation in accepting the idea, or varying degrees of incredulity in any discussion of its existence.
The French resolve the mind/soul distinction in one term, a clustered idea of a soul-mind/mind-soul contingency. The French say l’ame (circumflex over the ‘a’) for both. In this way, the French language has framed them as contingent entities, mutual, if not interchangeable. There is duality present in the French; there is dichotomy, if we understand dichotomy as bi-relational yet separate, or with some divergence. How is it that we have to insist on a hierarchy for two things that should not have been a dichotomy to begin with; we do have in English a dichotomy where the French understand duality.
For greater human understanding, we must set our linguistic experiences of things in the world or things in human interaction or things of mind and soul as we have herein done so far, as well as how we express them, in a forum of competing acceptance with other linguistic experiences and how they are expressed.
What though is the Self? Could it perhaps remain distinct categorically from what we mean by psychology, mentality or personality? Who am I inside? Who do I become outside? Outside in this place, at that time, here or there, then or now . . . wherever however whenever? Should I ask, what are they, when I am asking about this who I am?
They is the appropriate pronoun for the many selves inside of me, of course. I have taken the idea of a many selves Self as evident. Each self in the Self is integral, though, which leads to confusion in some, as well as confusion for how to articulate their existence and their interplay in mind–just what the relationship of the Self to soul is has been could be must eventually be determined for a greater understanding of the nature of mind, the nature of soul, and these things can and do have nature.
The difficulty anyone faces when trying to connect with another is that the I is already a plurality. I am we, for sure. There is no room left for anyone else, it seems, or so I believe. Of course we are familiar with Shakespeare’s all the world’s a stage . . . all the Self as well. The many parts we play in the world are multiplied by contexts, with whom, for whom, by whom, about whom, to whom? Possiilbe contexts are variegated and multiplied. I am different with men than I am with women, different with my wife than I am with women colleagues, different with women colleagues than I am with women friends, different with elderly women than I am with young girls, different with pre-pubescent young girls than I am with young women who are of adult age, different with Arab Muslim women than I am with American women, different with women in my class than I am . . . and so on and so on and so on. The many masks we wear . . . do you talk to a police officer who has pulled you over for an alleged traffic violation the same way you do the officer you approach for directions in Lower Manhattan?
The confusion about the nature of the Self leads us to believe that there can be one and only one self we choose, need to, have to, should . . . but when is this singular plurality, or plural singularity; how does it function in an individual? Yes, the coordinates of time as well as those of place have some bearing on my options, the choice I make, who I become, who I am, how I act, which self is allowed prominence, what masks I wear, both outside in the world and inside in the Self. Relevance is not everything; but context is a variable in a person’s choice of self. Where then do they reside, you might ask? They are non-locatable, as we have concluded for mind and for soul. I know we have a prejudice for empiricism, or at least we have succumbed to the dogmas of our own empiricism (and there can be many), whereby our epistemology has been held hostage by this empiricism to the disadvantage of traditional metaphysics. The only knowledge is knowledge verifiable by data collection, a scientific parallel of book keeping, which I have no interest in admonishing or denigrating, could have no sane interest in doing either. However, Our abilities to draw inferences or use metaphors to describe experiences that cannot be quantified, although they may be qualified in any one of a number of linguistic ways, has grown in proportion to the kind of science, as I have said, that mirrors accounting–no irony in this totalitarian capitalist America.
here are always problems of selection, whether they be problematic in the way that creates dilemma or not. Problems in making a choice exist, even when the choice is easy to make. 2 plus 2 equals 4 is a solved problem. Which one of our many selves do I decide is primary, is predominant, is the one and only one in this situation or that situation or another and another and another creeping in petty paces every day until the last bell of recorded time? The I that everyone or someone else sees, hears, has revealed before her, him, you and me–what is this I?
I am plural, I am multiple, I am variegated and variable. I am we, as I have said elsewhere in other essays; to essay these ideas of Self, of my I-ness, of what mind and soul are and where they have points of contact, where they may be mutual and reciprocal, where they diverge and remain distinct. Let’s not insist on locating them because what we find might be entirely different form the metaphors we use to communicate these notions, articulate these ideas, express our experiences of them to others.
We can understand the dilemma any person might face in however many situations where dilemmas could arise concerning who to be what to become . . . Hamlet’s to be or not to be is also this (thermo)dynamic between being and becoming; it is not simply a pondering of suicide or the primary philosophical question, as Camus has expressed at the opening of his Myth of Sisyphus. I confront dilemmas as well in any articulation of soul of mind and now of Self.
So then, an individual human life is plural–singular, certainly, yet plural. A paradox; a conundrum? Of course this is both. Any choice a person makes in determining his I-ness amounts to an oppression of his many other selves, but for how long; if protracted, if one and only is persistently chosen, as if this were the best, the only, or the most natural and thus healthiest choice, it would amount to a Self too repressed in its attempts to reach out to others, themselves like himself, cut off from the many that populate his Self, their Selves, as well as others outside of him, family, friends, neighbors. The pressure on identity a person suffers when the natural inclinations of the many selves Self are denied is enormous; many of our psychological maladies are inherent from a mentality that does not support this healthy plurality of selves in our personality. To express these in metaphors familiar to us from Freudian psychology, personality is to ego what mentality is to super-ego. Yet a question arises in the practicalities of our confusion. How is it that someone so awkward in mediating the fundamental nature of his Self could allow another to enter his being, to ask another to become a part of him? Desire here would not be enough to countermand this faith, and faith it is as long as it remains part of my beliefs, part of that structure of inferences from premises without direct tactile evidence.
How could he or she, or you or I dance without tripping up his partner and himself, her partner, yours, mine? Everyone in the world dances; few of us dance well. This I is persistently we; of this I am certain, but then certainty often masquerades as science, but again I know it mostly by faith. I do not want to put one or the other above either in any ascendancy, faith or science. We becomes each one of us. I am we the people as you are we the people, as he is, as she is, and only if each one of us is we the people simultaneously with every other person in the whole collection human-beings in this world can there be any validity to our Freedom or our freedoms. I have known this for too long, have understood this from Jefferson since I was a teenager. The rhetoric of singular and plural herein is clear; the politics of it is integral to American Democracy and our philosophy of individualism.
To be or not to be is the fundamental philosophical question; it is not only a question of suicide; it is to mediate being, to choose an actual existence, thus to remove oneself from becoming, from the flux of perpetual becoming which has always been non-being, as close to a primordial nothingness as anything related to annihilation. In order to be, one must choose being in direct opposite tension with becoming. One does not do this by resisting the will of one’s plural nature, resisting by artificially imposing a self to the psychic displacement of every other self that seeks mutuality in the many selves Self. There is harmony that comes out of this seeming chaos of selves; this harmonic Self is not achieved by imposing one self among many to be the one and only, but by conducting a symphonic coalescence of all of the selves in a harmonious Self of many selves, macrocosm to all exterior being.