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What is "The Self"


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#1 china cat

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 11:59 AM

"Like the ancient Greek Aphorism states "Know thyself," well yeah okay, but what is it exactly, the self.  Everytime I think I know what the self is I come to learn it is not me, just another layer of the onion metaphorically speaking.  I don't know, like trying to bite your own teeth as Alan Watts would say."

 

So, holysmokes posted whats above in the John Lennon thread and I thought we could carry this discussion here.

 

This is a topic of interest to me (and I'd  gather to many of us, as we all grapple with this concept) thus, I I'd love to read others thoughts.

 

I'm going away this weekend, but will contribute upon return.

 

 



#2 Tim the Beek

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 01:00 PM

Hell if I know, but this, one of many translations of Dogen's words, has always sat well with me:

 

"To study the self is to come to know the self.
To come to know the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be at one with all things..."



#3 TEO

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 05:04 PM

Thyself in the "know thyself" would be our inner being.  Not to be confused with "I" the legions of egos.



#4 holysmokes

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 05:10 PM

Okay, I am going to have to come back to this when my thoughts are clear.  Right now, I am knee deep in this really far out cosmology called Dreamspell.



#5 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 05:58 PM

Thyself in the "know thyself" would be our inner being.  Not to be confused with "I" the legions of egos.

 

But I truly am confused by what you mean by ego. I truly do want to know how ego (as you define it) is separate-from or differentiated-from "inner being"?
 

 

When you say ego (here and other places you've used it) what do you mean? Any of these?


A: Wikipedia: "Ego" is a Latin and Greek word meaning "I", often used in English to mean the "self", "identity" or other related concepts.

 

B: Merriam-Webster: the opinion that you have about yourself


C: Merriam-Webster: (psychology)  a part of the mind that senses and adapts to the real world

 

D: Google: a person's sense of self-esteem

 

E: Google: a person's sense of self-importance.

 

F: The Free Dictionary: The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves.

 

G: The Free Dictionary: In psychoanalysis, the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality.

 

H: The Free Dictionary: An exaggerated sense of self-importance; conceit.

 

I: The Free Dictionary: Appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem.

 

 

I'm serious about asking you this, TEO. Because you use the word a lot...but the word has many definitions. So I wonder what you mean.

 

I guessing (and asking, so therefore not assuming) that maybe you mean the ones I've put in bold, but not the others???



#6 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 06:04 PM


I'm working up my thoughts on this, but I can give the highlights in bullet points

 

About definitions:

* It depends on the definition (duh.)

* It means nothing if the word "self" means everything. So "we are all one" or "we are everything" is not the answer

 

About the Medium we are working in:

* The question is being asked in a text format. I think there are important & helpful things to say about this in text/words

* Some may feel this question can not be answered at all in words. In which case they should just say so, then be done here.

* I do agree that not everything about The Self can be expressed in words. Some needs other mediums.

 

Frame of Reference:

* This is huge. You must know from what frame of reference the question is being asked.

* I am approaching is as from a human being - not a general or mystic self.

* Why (in what context) are you asking?? < ChinaCat, can you answer that. It makes a difference.

* Know thy self is one frame. I think the ways you may be asking it of yourself may be different than that.

 

Later...



#7 TEO

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 06:55 PM

Psychic aggregates:

 

 

 

"Gnostic Study Of The Soul Samael Aun Weor
 
GNOSTIC STUDY OF THE SOUL 
 
Introduction: 
 
What did the beetle represents among the Egyptians? To the Egyptian initiates it 
represented the Soul. 
 
How worth could it be for a man to accumulate all the riches of world if loses his Soul? 
The resurrection is only for the men with Soul; the true immortality is only for the men 
with Soul. 
 
It is not possible to awake the Consciousness, to make it become objective, if before we 
have not eliminated the subjective elements. Those infra human elements are formed by 
the multiplicity of "I's" which in their conjunct are the Ego, the myself. 
 
The Essence, trapped among all of those subjective and incoherent entities, asleep 
profoundly. The annihilation of each one of those unhuman entities is indispensable in 
order to freed the Essence. 
 
"We know that the Essence is a fraction of Soul, but with that fraction we can elaborate 
what the Tao calls Golden Embryo. That Golden Embryo establishes in us a perfect 
equilibrium between the material and spirit; but it is not possible to elaborate that Embryo 
if before we have not liberated the Essence, that is inclosed among the Ego, the "I," the 
myself." 
 
Disintegrating the Ego, the Essence or Buddhata is transformed in the Golden Embryo. 
Only the person who has a Golden Embryo, is conscious; only he that reaches the 
elaboration within himself of the marvellous Golden Embryo, awakes in all the Worlds of 
Consciousness and incarnates his immortal triad (Atman-Buddhi-Manas). Undoubtedly, 
he who attains this, becomes a legitimate man [woman], an Adept of the White 
Fraternity, a true Master. "
 


#8 hoagie

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 07:06 PM

The ego is that part of you that is conscious of it's own mortality and reacts to stimuli

 

my own working definition.



#9 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 07:21 PM

The ego is that part of you that is conscious of it's own mortality and reacts to stimuli

I tend to look at the ego along these lines too. Each human HAS and NEEDS their ego. Ego seems to have two commonly used/meant definitions. Implying the ego is bad, something to be rid of, transcended, or minimized is dangerous unless you specify what you mean.

These are necessary and important:

C: Merriam-Webster: (psychology) a part of the mind that senses and adapts to the real world
D: Google: a person's sense of self-esteem
F: The Free Dictionary: The self, especially as distinct from the world and other selves.
G: The Free Dictionary: In psychoanalysis, the division of the psyche that is conscious, most immediately controls thought and behavior, and is most in touch with external reality.
I: The Free Dictionary: Appropriate pride in oneself; self-esteem.

#10 hoagie

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 07:24 PM

You can absolutely transcend the ego (using my definition), and gain new perspectives that can be helpful while operating in "conscious" life.



#11 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 07:38 PM

The ego is that part of you that is conscious of it's own mortality and reacts to stimuli

 
 

You can absolutely transcend the ego (using my definition), and gain new perspectives that can be helpful while operating in "conscious" life.

 
 
If transcend means "be or go beyond the range or limits of" then am I correct in thinking that
transcending the ego does not mean getting rid of the ego (or negating it or wanting to set it
aside or seeing it as a bad thing...but simply being able to break beyond the limits that some
(most, many) people experience because of their ego?
 

Would it be right to say that even those that "transcend" their ego, still need their ego? That
is, still need that part of them that "is conscious of it's own mortality" and "reacts to stimuli"?

 

 

If that's the case, I can get it -- and believe I (and many others) do transcend their ego. We

get beyond the fact of the immediate stimuli and we get beyond the fact of our own mortality.

People concern themselves with the future of the earth or people or their own grandchildren 

that will be here long after they are dead. People concern themselves with issues in the 

world that will never affect their own person or their own stimuli. 

 

The questions, more directly are:

* Is ego, to hoagie, something that is bad, negative, to be minimized, etc.

* Is transcending ego meaning to limit ego, or just to step "beyond" it.



#12 hoagie

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 07:40 PM

Ego transcendence is ineffable, and needs to be directly experienced to be understood.



#13 hoagie

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 07:42 PM

i think the ego is negative in the sense that it is like having blinders on all the time.  Taking off the blinders now and then should be a pursuit encouraged by every person.



#14 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 07:48 PM

i think the ego is negative in the sense that it is like having blinders on all the time.  Taking off the blinders now and then should be a pursuit encouraged by every person.

 

My question is: When you, hoagie, take off the blinders...is ego gone -- or is it still there, just the blinders that usually-come-with-it-for-you are gone?



#15 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 08:00 PM


Here is a site that talks about transcending ego. http://spiritualityh...o-transcend-ego

 

From the site -- emphasis is mine.

 

The third of the five essential life skills is “Transcending the Ego and Letting Go.” This concept always brings up the question, “What are we letting go of?” The answer is, “anything that is not in alignment with your true essence, your values and your goals." You are choosing to transcend the ego.

 

It isn’t really that the ego is “bad,” rather it is misguided. Unfortunately, most of us think we are our egos , rather than recognizing a deeper, more substantial aspect of our beings. The ego is the part of us that gets jealous, possessive, anxious, judgmental, fearful and self-conscious. In reality, the ego wants to protect us, but it manages to do so in unhealthy, often painful and inauthentic ways. Much akin to an overprotective parent who keeps their child in the house rather than letting them go out to play at the risk that they could get hurt.

 

So my proposition is: Ego's are not inherently bad. We actually need them. 

 

Hoagie said, "...Taking off the blinders now and then should be a pursuit encouraged by every person."

 

Couldn't it be that instead of "transcending" ego occasionally, we can come to habbits that keep our ego in alignment with our true essence, values, and goals -- most of the time.

I believe that is possible. 



#16 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 08:05 PM


Here is a site that talks about transcending ego. http://spiritualityh...o-transcend-ego

 

From the site -- emphasis is mine.

 

The third of the five essential life skills is “Transcending the Ego and Letting Go.” This concept always brings up the question, “What are we letting go of?” The answer is, “anything that is not in alignment with your true essence, your values and your goals." You are choosing to transcend the ego.

 

It isn’t really that the ego is “bad,” rather it is misguided. Unfortunately, most of us think we are our egos , rather than recognizing a deeper, more substantial aspect of our beings. The ego is the part of us that gets jealous, possessive, anxious, judgmental, fearful and self-conscious. In reality, the ego wants to protect us, but it manages to do so in unhealthy, often painful and inauthentic ways. Much akin to an overprotective parent who keeps their child in the house rather than letting them go out to play at the risk that they could get hurt.

 

So my proposition is: Ego's are not inherently bad. We actually need them. 

 

Hoagie said, "...Taking off the blinders now and then should be a pursuit encouraged by every person."

 

Couldn't it be that instead of "transcending" ego occasionally, we can come to habbits that keep our ego in alignment with our true essence, values, and goals -- most of the time.

I believe that is possible. 

 

Fear is not always bad. It's good to be afraid of a hot stove, a steep drop, a lion.

Jealous is not always bad -- if it it alerting us to the fact that our conceptions of where we stand with someone are not accurate.

Anxiousness is not always bad -- if it makes us take a situation that needs attention more seriously.

Judgment is not always bad -- if we use it properly.

Self-Consciousness is not always bad -- I mean, just think about it.

 

I reject the idea that ego is bad. I support the idea that we need to understand our ego, how it works, how it is misaligned.



#17 TEO

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 08:10 PM

Ego in this sense is not what keeps the ID in line, but rather what obscures, distracts us from our inner being.

 

Direct experience is the way to knowing.  

Perhaps becoming familiar with and doing some dissolution of the ego(s) meditation practices would provide greater understanding.



#18 Jabadoodle

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 08:18 PM

Ego in this sense is not what keeps the ID in line, but rather what obscures, distracts us from our inner being.

 

Direct experience is the way to knowing.  

Perhaps becoming familiar with and doing some dissolution of the ego(s) meditation practices would provide greater understanding.

 

Direct experience (of turning off the ego)  may be a way to knowing (how it is to not be obscured by your ego).

It is not the only way.



#19 TEO

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Posted 11 October 2013 - 08:23 PM

Dissolution of the psychic aggregates would be the way to not be obscured by ego(s).

 

Not the only one agreed.



#20 holysmokes

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Posted 12 October 2013 - 08:49 PM

Hell if I know, but this, one of many translations of Dogen's words, has always sat well with me:

 

"To study the self is to come to know the self.
To come to know the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be at one with all things..."

 

Never heard that one before, I like it. 



#21 hippieskichick

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Posted 13 October 2013 - 12:41 AM

Hmmm... Here's my thoughts on the 'self', as the HSC sees it. 

 

I realize that trying to actually define the 'self' is something that my tiny little human peabrain will never be able to do, so how I see it is this:

 

Who I am, and what I am, well, I guess it's whatever I think I am, at that particular moment that I think about it. And that changes from thought to thought. Because my thoughts are always changing. 

 

Just as no two people think exactly the same, I also think that same infinite pool of thoughts exist in our own brains, as we are constantly evolving the way, and what, we think. So I personally don't think there will ever be an exact way you could define your 'self', since it's constantly changing as well, based on your own thoughts. 

 

Mostly I categorize this topic/idea in that "Humans are too peabrained to ever figure this shit out" thought box (with the likes of infinite space and where did we come from and all that happy horseshit), and I may or may not talk about it when I'm with friends around a campfire, and everybody's :pimp:

 

Other than that, I reckon it doesn't matter too terribly much. 



#22 holysmokes

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Posted 13 October 2013 - 01:04 PM

Right on HSC!  Your post reminds me of something I have read before by Heraclitus to the effect:

 

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.

 

http://en.wikiquote....wiki/Heraclitus

 

I still am trying to get my thoughts together on this subject... I am struggling right now with the differences between the ego, self, soul, and conscience.



#23 Jabadoodle

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Posted 13 October 2013 - 11:38 PM

I agree with HSC that each person is constantly changing and that can make knowing your "self" at any time a challenge. I also agree many discussions about this type of thing can be near fruitless. And, like holysmokes, I thought of the river quote. Still, I think a parts of person's self usually stay long enough (months, years, decades) that we can explore the question in a useful way.

 

Also...Just before starting this post, I was starting to re-read what I think may be my favorite non-fiction book, Consciousness Explained. The question is simple, "What is consciousness?" If we sat around the fire smoking and drinking, the discussion would probably be fruitless, though undoubtedly fun. Even in sober daylight, most discussions of consciousness might not be enlightening. Some might well decide that the only way to know consciousness it to experience it; that to talk about it is like "dancing about architecture."  But this book proves to me that thinking about these subjects in words and language can be fruitful. This book on consciousness is no replacement for being conscious. Then again, being conscious is no replacement for the insights into consciousness you get from the book. 

 

I do think there are useful things to say in language/text about "What is The Self"



#24 Jabadoodle

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Posted 13 October 2013 - 11:38 PM

China asked "What is The Self?"  As I mentioned in my second post (Post #6), definition and frame of reference is especially important in addressing this question. The John Lennon quote seems to refer to two different meanings of self

 

The "know thyself" seems to refer to knowing the properties of your own self; which I take to be along the lines of "what to do I really want, really like, really care about, etc."  The onion metaphor seems to go deeper and ask more "what is the underlying nature of any self." As in: At first I though I was a troubled kid, then I realized I'm a musician, then I realized I'm a communicator, then I realized I'm a lover [of all things], then I realized that I am love." Besides these two ways, I can think of at least two more meanings for "The Self". 

 

So, in which of these ways (or all of them) should we explore?

* Personal: How do I find out who I truly am (different from others)?  What are my passions are? What is my life about?

* Universal: What is universal to all selves?  What characteristics and properties does/must any self have? What is the fundamental nature of selfness?

* Brain/Mind: I feel that I have/am a self, that I have thoughts, wants thing, experience things. What is that? Where is that? Is it my brain? My whole body? A soul? Does it persist after my body dies?

* Different from Others: I have a self and you have (or experience) a self. We say "it's all one" but someone can die in Malaysia and I don't know it. So, is self one thing or many things?



#25 grateful_1

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Posted 14 October 2013 - 12:09 PM

"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together"

 

 

Then there's this guy: LINKY



#26 china cat

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 02:01 AM

i look forward to reading this thread. Will share some thoughts soon.

 

Got back from trip and i'm really overwhelmed with work the next two weeks. kinda drownin right now.



#27 hoagie

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 12:15 PM

"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together"

 

 

Then there's this guy: LINKY

 

the closing paragraph is great! (i read the whole page)

 

"Let me end this introduction on a serious note. Reason tells me that reality has been discovered, that the source of all truth and wisdom has finally been found. And in our currently troubled times there is no more important knowledge than knowledge of Reality - of what it truly means to 'Know Thyself' as the foundation for living wisely and ensuring survival. I do hope that you will take the time to read The Apology, consider the importance of truth to human society, and thus read on the Wave Structure of Matter and how it explains and solves many of the problems of philosophy that have existed for thousands of years. 


Geoff Haselhurst"



#28 holysmokes

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Posted 16 October 2013 - 03:00 PM

To me, "the self" is the ground from which our being springs... the over-soul in Emerson's writings.  We all are connected to "the self," it is the universal mind.  The akashic record upon which all vibration is recorded.  It resides in the eternal present. 

 

The ego on the other hand is a construct of time/space; it resides in past experiences and future expectations.  The physical body and mental ego are intimately connected, one is the extension of the other.  My physical body feels hunger, or discomfort and my mental ego tells me to end that discomfort by eating something.

 

Beyond the physical body and mental ego lies something more sublime, dare I call it the spiritual self.  The spiritual self reminds me to be mindful of the effects my actions have, not only on myself but on others.  The body and ego would like some steak, but my spiritual self directs me to eat some potatoes and corn instead. 

 

When the ancient Greeks admonish us to "Know Thyself," I often wonder what they meant.  Were they referring to our egos or this universal mind?



#29 TEO

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 12:20 AM

Tonight I heard, Jack Kornfield, PhD mention that neuroscience has determined that the self is not within.  He went further on to say that what we think of as self is a construct of our experiences and stories that we tell ourselves and identify with.



#30 TEO

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 12:21 AM

"Why are you unhappy?  Because 99.9% of what you think about is yourself and there is no self."



#31 hoagie

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 01:29 AM

Many leaves, one tree



#32 china cat

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 01:37 AM

Tonight I heard, Jack Kornfield, PhD mention that neuroscience has determined that the self is not within.  He went further on to say that what we think of as self is a construct of our experiences and stories that we tell ourselves and identify with.

 

Just read a chapter on Self over the weekend. edit to say: still left me with more questions than answers. I do love Kornfield, for so many reasons though

 

9780553372113.jpg

 

 

 

lots to say on this topic, just little time to share right now.



#33 china cat

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 02:05 AM

Not expecting anyone to read, but thought I'd offer... If you're a dork and you are interested in reading about contrasting notions of how self/ego/identity evolves, here's sumpin that might help. I definitely agree with symbolic interactionist explanation for the evolution of personal identity/self-concept (which is arguably different from elusive spiritual notions of "Self").

 

 

“Know thyself.”  This Socratic aphorism takes on new meaning in, what is becoming, an increasingly postmodern culture.  Can an individual truly know one’s self, moreover, is there such a thing as “self,” and, if there is, what is it?  A biological endowment, a history, a set of feelings, a conglomeration of experiences… an illusion? Whatever we call it, it seems to be our center of knowledge, the “place” where meaning resides.  Self is the part of us we least understand yet most desire to know.  Can science study it? Can philosophy reveal it? Can evolution explain it? Can psychology cure it?  The answer to these questions plagues theologians and social scientists alike. Empirical investigation leaves us wanting, nevertheless, theories regarding the formation of the phenomenon called “self” continue to proliferate across academic disciplines.

 

Currently, two seemingly irreconcilable positions vie for acceptance within the ongoing debate regarding what “self” is.  Structuralists, also known as modernists, purport that “self” is a fundamentally unchanging, autonomous, centralized and stable, pre-given essence, unique to every individual.  Poststructuralists, also known as postmodernists, reject this view.  Poststructuralists contend that “self” is an “overdetermined illusion.”  Self is neither essential nor fixed; rather, it is a fabrication manufactured and sustained by discursive means. Linguistic determinacy and individual agency are at odds.

 

            This paper is an attempt to reconcile these two positions.  First, I will explicate arguments from both the structuralist and poststructuralist theories of self; then, in an attempt to transcend these positions, I offer the pragmatic theory of self proposed by both George Herbert Mead and Kenneth Burke.  I critique the literature, and finally, I consider the implications of each theory for interpersonal relationships.

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE

 

Origins of the concept of self have been traced back to Homeric times (Ziller, 1973 p. xiv). Translations of these writings express the distinction between the physical human body and some non-physical counterpart described as soul, spirit, or psyche. The self has continued, throughout the ages, to be a focal point of reflection and study.  Greek philosophers of the Classical era spoke of a “soul” with unmitigated certainty; identity was considered essential, unitary, and fundamentally unchanging. 

 

Idealism persisted throughout the Enlightenment era.  Thinkers such as Descartes reified the promise of identity with the notion of cognito, Kant offered the transcendental ego, and even Freud advanced the Enlightenment project with the concept of “id.”  Each believed self to be a natural entity; thus, offering an ontological base from which the individual was adopted as the primary reality.  The self was described as an integrated core; a center from which awareness, feeling, thinking, and acting arose.  The ideology of autonomy and individuality was now deeply embedded in Western thought.  Geertz (in Shotter, 1989) describes the Western conception of personhood as:

      bounded and unique, a more or less integrated motivational and cognitive universe, a   

     dynamic center of awareness, emotion, judgment and action, organized into a

     distinctive whole and set contrastively against other such wholes and against a social

     and natural background (p. 1). 

 

However, Geertz continued, “This is a rather peculiar idea within the context of world cultures.” 

 

The modernist version of identity, according to Habermas (in Lash & Friedman, 1992), “carries with it a certain amount of very questionable baggage” (p. 5). With the era of modernity coming to an end, so too, was the rational and unified subject at the heart of Cartesian philosophy.  Oravec (in Crusius, 1999) states:

     The wholeness, uniqueness, intentionality, and generative power of individual human

     beings, generally phrased “the problem of identity” has been thrown into question . . .

     A common thrust that links these various approaches . . . [is] a view of the individual

     as “constructed” rather than “constructing,” that is, determined by forces, whether

     environmental or linguistic, which are impersonal and universal, and hence,

     nonproductive of uniqueness or “identity” (p. 37).

Philosophers such as Hegel, Nietzche, and later Heidegger and Sartre began to question the concept of “self” as professed by Enlightenment thinkers.  Throwing modernity’s ontological and epistemic assumptions into disarray, poststructuralist philosophers began to launch an attack on modernity’s notions of subject and identity.  Contemporary postmodern theory about the concept of self has typically been concerned with an erosion of the belief in an essence of foundational identity defining the person.  Fragmentation and multiplicity become central themes in theories of identity.  In the era of postmodernity self becomes an “overdetermined illusion.”  Identities are replaced with what Davis (2000) explains as

      a fragmented, discontinuous dissolution of boundaries between interior and exterior

      worlds .… No longer an individual, rather, a fluid set of effects produced by

      processes of discourse.  Poststructuralists announce the death of the subject.  This

     conception displaces the essentialist and unified notions of the individual by

     repositioning it in unstable structures of language, discourse, thus, rendering self to a

     shifting set of textual effects (p. 113).

Postmodernists claim that it is the repetitive enactment of discursively produced identities that creates the illusion of an inner sense of identity.  Identity is not substantial or essential, but a product of discourse about identity.  There is no doer behind the deed; the doer is constructed by the deed. 

The postmodern “self” is no longer an identifiable entity.  It is not in the individual, it is not a single locus of control, never entirely defined because it is always in the process of creation.  I become all of my cognitive debates and discussions, I am not permanent or fixed, rather a set of choices, possibilities, thoughts, conversations, always created in the present.  I am an open-ended question responding, and responded to, with a never-ending referral of open-ended answers.  Claiming then, that the essence of identity is a fabrication manufactured and sustained through discursive means, postmodernists proudly proclaim the centrality and sovereignty of the individual has been “unmasked” (Shotter, 1989).  Fogel (1993) clarifies both the modern and postmodern position:

 

                                                                                                  

 Dialogical Self   (Constructed)                                                                                   Objective Self

the self has multiple I positions,  each of which has                                       the self is unitary with a single                                 

different perspectives. the self is embodied such that I positions                      the self is disembodied and thought

 must occupy an imaginary time and space.                                                    Can transcend its material

Thus cognition must participate in a dialogue                                                boundaries by taking an abstract

 and cannot transcend those positions,                                                                       stance

except from some other embodied position..

 

the self is social                                                                                      the self is individual even though one

                                                                                                            can think about interacting with another

 

 

 

the self is decentralized; it is not one particular                                      the self is the centralized or ideal

position but all of them combined and in dialogue                          center of control with defined boundaries

between them.

 

the self is defined with respect to its historical                                  the self is context free, without reference

and cultural context                                                                           to society and culture, and can stand

                                                                                                                            outside its own history

 

 

What then, do these seemingly irreconcilable positions offer us?  Must we choose between a sterile, unchanging, predetermined notion of self and a fragmented, unstable, discursive fiction?  Can we retain self, some sense of identity and uniqueness, and also account for growth, change, and instability?  Neither idealism nor deconstruction works.  I propose a third alternative, which allows for the socially constructed self to maintain an individual identity.  I propose Mead and Burke’s theory of self as a way to reconcile both positions.  I begin with Mead.

 

Mead, like the poststructuralists, rejects the essentialist notion of self and opts for a constructivist position.  Mead argues that selves, persons, traits are social and historical constructions.  We are dependent on others to become ourselves.  Self must be understood as evolving out of a process of symbolic interaction; it cannot develop without others.  Self is not in “me” rather within “us.”  While, for Mead, it is impossible to conceive of identity outside of social interaction, this does not translate to the poststructuralist conclusion that identity is an “illusion.”  Self is neither an unchangeable substance nor a linguistic artifice.  Decentering does not translate to dissolution.  Meads saves the self while accounting for its social origin.

Mead sees persons as forming attitudes and dispositions taken from others, which becomes the basis of how one sees one’s self as a social entity as well as a means for developing social identity (Dunn, 1997).  He claims self is based in the perceived social responses of others, which, become part of a person’s perception and relationship to self. Thus one’s relation with others becomes grounds for the conception of self.  For Mead self is not fictive insofar as it is rooted in the capacity to make an object of one self as a real person. 

Mead insists on the objective quality of the self.  It is through the social process that an individual develops a mind and self.  Meads theory of symbolic interaction claims that just as individuals are born mindless, they too, are born selfless; our selves arise in social interaction with others (Herman, 1994).  The distinguishing aspect of the self is the self’s ability to be an object to itself.  Herman explains Mead’s position:

     One is able to stand outside oneself to view oneself as an object, by taking the role of

     others toward oneself.  One can experience himself [sic] as an object insofar as he can

     become an object to himself just as other individuals are objects to him (p. 193). 

The distinctive quality of the self then, is its duality, that is, its capacity to be both a subject an object to itself.  How can an individual get outside of her or himself in such a way as to become an object to one’s self?  Again, Herman argues:

     He becomes an object only by taking the view of others toward himself within a social

     environment.  This reflexive ability is made possible through the use of language, a set

     of symbols. A person comes to acquire a self and becomes conscious of this self

     through the application of meanings and linguistic entities which are socially derived.

     In short, the self is a linguistic construct (p. 193).

The capacity to reflect on oneself as an object thereby bringing self into existence is a process, according to Mead, that occurs within four developmental phases. Charon (1992) describes each of the phases as follows:

 

1) Preparatory stage – This is the most primitive self-emerging, presymbolic stage of self.  As infants we learn to imitate others. But insofar as the act is imitation, it lacks meaning; it lacks symbolic understanding. Other objects have not taken on meaning, therefore “self” as object cannot be understood; it has no meaning. In this stage social objects, including self, are not yet defined.

 

2) Play stage – Within this stage individuals acquire language.  We are able to define objects with words that begin to have shared meaning. Objects that were acted upon because of imitation are now acted upon according to the meaning shared in interaction with others. The self is pointed out by others (“There you are.” There “who” is? “Are you sleeping?” Am “I” sleeping?).  Others point us out to ourselves, we begin to see ourselves, point ourselves out, become objects to ourselves; we identify with this object.  The “you” that you are talking to becomes “me.”  Self-consciousness emerges.  During this stage there is usually a set of significant others with which we are often in close contact.  These significant others shape our ideas of self; they become our role models.  They provide a pattern of behavior and conduct on which one patterns oneself.  Through this interaction we begin to pattern our own behavior. Significant others are responsible for the emergence of self; the child comes to view self as an object because of significant others. In a sense I fail to see myself without the awareness that these significant others see me. In this stage it is assumed that the child assumes the perspective of only one significant other at a time. One cannot see self from the perspective of many persons simultaneously; the view of self is a segmented one. The self is a multitude of social objects, each defined in interaction with a single other.

 

3) Game stage – In this stage the individual begins to organize the perspective of several others simultaneously. Individuals begin to understand their social role in relation to a complex set of others; they acquire a group perspective. Self incorporates all significant others into a “generalized other.”  Self also becomes more unitary, changing in interaction between significant others, but not radically. Roles are defined.  The “me/them” dialectic emerges.  Seeing others as objects, different from self allows the individual to see self as different from them and reflect on that difference. The generalized other has just afforded the individual with an understanding of self.  From this development we are then allowed difference and coherence. We become stable in the sense we learn a fixed sense or rules, norms and roles; we come to an understanding of self’s role within that society (definition of self) yet, once we have a set of norms and behaviors we can then transcend them. We can emancipate ourselves from the particular situation.  Yes, there is consistency across situations but also ability to reflect and make new choices changes according to new situations

 

4) Reference group stage – Within this stage we interact with an awareness of many different groups.  We have a perspective and awareness used to define self within each social world.  We can conceive not only of a generalized other, but also share new perspectives, even alter self in new ways.  A changing self can occur as it has been provided with secure base from which to alter itself.  Our significant others provided a structuring base from which differences can and do arise. We can show a different side of our self to different groups. We interact with many groups yet we can locate our “self” within mass society in this stage.

Self anchors us in all situations, because unlike other objects, the self is present in all situations. The self now serves as the base from which to make plans and take action toward objects that appear in each new situation.  Self is now built and enduring yet has the ability to shift and adjust (Charon, 1992, pp. 72-74).

 

Mead offers a self that is enmeshed in society yet freed from society.  The self is not present at birth – the closeness and repetition of early affiliations set a basic pattern of identity.  Self is somewhat stable in that it is derived from consistent social affiliations yet the ability to reflect on social roles and possibilities allows us to make and remake identities.  We are afforded the ability to grow and change while retaining a stable base from which to do so.  Once endowed with the ability to reflect, we can now make choices, even alter our environment.  We become agents of interpretation, definition and action. 

 

The Enlightenment notion of an autonomous pre-symbolic essence has been abandoned.  Mead and the poststructuralists reject the modern notion of self, opting instead for a linguistically oriented epistemology.  Both agree that the subject needs to be removed from an exclusive internal world and relocated in an exterior world of shared symbolism.  Both agree that self is not present at birth and that it is social in nature.  Both agree that self-reflexivity is dependent on language.  Mead and the Poststructuralists part when the poststructuralist conclude the self’s linguistic construction signifies its nonexistence.  Poststructuralist claim that if self has no basis apart from language, and language is nothing more than unstable, ambiguous text, so too, must be our identity.  We have mistaken self-narrative for self.  Mead does not support this conclusion.

Language, according to Mead, is a “necessary but insufficient” condition of self (Dunn, 1997).  Self can be understood as structured in and through discourse without being reduced to it.  He argues that is it language that allows for the ability to formulate a self.  Language is the vehicle for understanding connection between communication, community, and self.  It allows us to share meaning, thus it has a unifying and not fragmenting effect.  As Dunn explains:

     Meaning is in a constant state of flux as a consequence of processes of adjustment to

     changing social conditions.  Self must adjust to different situations and may take on

     many different roles “sociality is the capacity to be several things at once.”  Mead

     would understand these relations of difference as constituting identity rather than

     fragmenting it.  Difference shapes the subject – difference is incorporated into the

     formation of self-identity.  Unity is achieved through a socially integrated but multiply

     determined self.  Mead understands this multiplicity as the underlying principle of

     identity.  Self-identity is internalized yet continually shaped through interaction (p.

     20).

Ricoeur (in Ezzy, 1998), states “because identities, at times seem confused and chaotic because of the disordered nature of life, and because we cannot be sure how the story will end, this does not mean that they lack a plot, only that it is not simple, clear or fully worked out” (p. 12).

Mead, rather than reducing self to discourse, establishes a relationship between them.  Rather than destroy self, as the postmodernists do, Mead decentralizes self while maintaining its viability. Human beings have a self, it is socially constructed nevertheless, existent.  Kenneth Burke, offers a different perspective yet  advances it to same conclusion.

           

Burke challenges Descartes “sovereign, rational, atomistic and autonomous, disengaged and disembodied, ideally self-transparent” subject.  He maintains (in Crusius, 1999):

     Self is not atomistic because of the “intrinsically social character” of consciousness, it

     is not autonomous because it is altered by the time and place in which it develops, it is 

     not self-transparent because it is never fully present to be seen and because of the

     “influence of the unconscious on the conscious,” which conditions behavior in ways

     that allude awareness, much less assessment or control.  It is not disengaged because

     subjects are always “practically engaged with the world.”  And it is not disembodied

     because mind and consciousness depends on the human brain, the human brain on the

     human body (p. 37).

 

Burke’s “I” has following characteristics:

 

1) “It” exists in human bodies

 

2) Identity is not an essence but a process, a social, linguistic process

 

3) The self is normally multiple and conflicting

 

4) The self is poetic, integrative and synthetic

 

5) The self is dynamic, always on the way

 

            Consistent with Mead’s theory regarding the social construction of self, it is Burke’s positioning of the human body as the central figure through which self is constructed, that distinguishes his theory from Mead’s.  To Burke, there is no mind-body dualism as Descartes had theorized.  There cannot be some separate “I” that then merges with the body, “I” has no existence apart from the body.  The mind is dependent on the body therefore, dependent on biology and nature.

            Identity is not an essence, rather a process.  According to Burke, the self is a sum of our social roles whose stability is made possible through a pattern of identifications.  What stability the “I” does have is made possible in the collective meanings with which  “I” have identified.  Mead claims that these collective meanings are made possible through our “generalized other” Burke redefines the generalized other as our “corporate we’s.”  He claims that “self” is multiple; there are many of us “in here” because we identify with many corporate units and perform many social roles.  To cope with our many, sometimes conflicting “we’s” we must synthesize them into an organized whole.  To the extent that we can integrate our conflicting “we’s” is the extent to which we can build a self, thereby claiming coherence.  But, Burke adds, because the “we’s” come in many pieces, always being added and changed, we are never fully unified; “I” is always “on the way.”    

 

Burke, like the poststructuralists acknowledges that the self is more constructed than constructing but to the extent that we must actively integrate our many “corporate “we’s” we are agents of assembly.  We are engaged in making ourselves.   Burke calls this the “poet” in us.  We are agents in a struggle to integrate multiple, social roles and identifications.  For Burke, “the most fundamental process of all living is the drama of the self in quest” (p. 41)

Rejecting modern structuralism, Burke, like Mead, still allows for individual identity.  It is social in nature, nevertheless, existent.  He states (in Crusius), “To be sure, there is an individual.  Each person is a unique set of situations, a unique aggregate of mutually reinforcing and conflicting ‘corporate we’s’” (p. 40).  To explicate this point Crusius uses the analogy of family resemblance:

     Perhaps every feature on “my” face is shared by some relative of mine – but the

     peculiar combination of shared features remains uniquely mine.  So it is with

     individual identity; it can be because it must be both unique and collective, like the

     combination of genes no one else has but me, both mine and not mine” (p. 41).

 

Full development of self comes by organizing individual attitudes that arise through the process of organizing the attitudes of our corporate units, our “generalized other.”  The social group attitudes are brought within a field of direct experience, then organized to develop a set of individual attitudes, which constitute my “self.”  This “self” is necessarily dependent on the body, on society, on language – on symbolism; nevertheless it does exist.

 

Poststructualists purport it is not an “I” that speaks but rather language.  Mead and Burke both stress the primacy of language yet refuse to reduce self to discourse.  They assert that we can dissolve the notion of a pre-symbolic, sovereign essence, without believing self, as an agent, is an illusion.  Postmodernists want to solve the problem of identity by doing away with it.  Mead and Burke choose, instead, to “manage” the problem, thereby offering an alternative to both positions.  For Mead self is not fictive insofar as it is rooted in the capacity to make an object of one self.  For Burke self is not fictive insofar as it has the ability act as agent; an agent responsible for integrating multiple, conflicting we’s.   Our uniqueness resides in our ability to think and maintain that thinking in the process of adjusting to multiple situations.  According to Burke and Mead, we need not exalt nor forfeit our identity, we exist as subjects working through our discursive and social nature.

 

DISCUSSION

            Contrasting the poststrucuralist with the structuralist theory of self provides an insightful framework from which to study the formation, maintenance, and stability of personal identity.  The “reality” of personhood, as revealed by Mead and Burke, cannot be grasped by either polarity.  While the Cartesian notion of an autonomous, disengaged self has been displaced as an ontological falsity, the postmodern dissolution of the subject also has been rejected.  Mead and Burke offer an objective basis for identity while retaining the notion that symbolic interaction is the source of that identity.

            Each theory however, does not come without criticism.  First, Mead’s theory fails to account for organic factors, which may influence behavior.  Are there no biological motivations for behavior?  Burke’s theory accounts for biological factors by rooting self in a human body and by acknowledging that chemical changes within the body instigate disparate moods, attitudes, and behaviors.  

Mead also fails to account for biological influences on personality formation.  Is introversion and extroversion simply socially constructed personality types?  Are there no innate qualities from which individuals draw upon with regard to character formation?  Biological theories of personality (i.e., theories of evolution, genetic science) may provide evidence to the contrary.  Mead might respond, that while biology may influence personality, these traits cannot be revealed without language.  It is only through our capacity to use symbols that we are allowed to express, what may be, innate differences. 

Mead and Burke do not account for the influence of emotion on identity formation.  Organistic and constructivist theories of emotion have yet to be worked out.  While there is broad agreement that emotions such as fear and anger are physiologically grounded (Herman & Reynolds, 1994), others emotions such as love and shame are grafted through socialization.  Both Mead and Burke would argue that those emotions existing apart from the social self must nevertheless be managed interactionally.  However, further research exploring the origin of emotion, and its influence on identity construction is warranted.  Withstanding criticism, Mead and Burke offer enormous contribution to the study of human development.

 

Mead and Burke allow for human agency.  If, as postructuralists assert, we are determined from one minute to the next by an “ever changing flow of ambiguous text” human agency is a pretense.  Any sense we have to act as a “free” agent must be dismissed as a self-deception.  Mead and Burke allow us to be agents thereby bequeathing us moral beings capable and responsible for moral choices.  Self-reflexivity allows me to think, act, and reflect upon my actions, thereby making me responsible for them.  This capability is made possible through our uniquely human capacity to use symbols. Without the symbolic ability to self-reflect, we must abandon the possibility of moral agency.

            Symbolic interactionism underscores the importance and significance of the study of interpersonal communication.  In fact, symbolic interactionism signals the urgency for and need of further theoretical advancement.  If identity is socially produced, not an individual property, researchers, by studying interpersonal relationships, can understand how interactions mold individual’s sense of self.  If Mead’s four stages of self-development are accurate, communication scholars should focus their research on early interaction between children and their significant others in order to better understand identity construction. 

Regarding the study of adult interpersonal relationships, researchers should investigate why and how different dimensions of self are employed in different social interactions.  Symbolic interactionism affords us the capacity to redefine self and other in each new relationship; thus, confirming current interpersonal communication researcher assumptions that we are co-created in and through our interpersonal relationships.  Our ability to create meaning, the very essence of humanity, is derived through relationships with others.

Davis (2000) explains:

 

     All meaning, including meaning of ones self, is rooted in the social [symbolic] process

     and must be seen as an ongoing accomplishment of that process.  Neither meaning nor

     self is a precondition for social interaction: rather, these emerge from and are

     sustained by conversations occurring between people (P. 149).  

 

What Mead and Burke offer us is a communication theory that privileges language as the primary tool through which we come to an understanding of self, other, and the relationship between them.  Language creates a pattern of symbolic meanings through which the members of a collective society grasp their world.  It is also the process of communication that transmits the experience of the group into the subjective world of meaning that shapes and guides each individual.  The person is a mediated product of society and also, by acting, transforms that society.  The study of symbolic interaction provides the basis upon which we can come to understand self, society, and social reality.  The person-society relationship must be acknowledged if we are to truly understand the “self.”



#34 hoagie

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 11:42 AM

Are these two quotes contradictory?

 

"I think, therefore, I am."

 

"Why are you unhappy?  Because 99.9% of what you think about is yourself and there is no self."



#35 Jabadoodle

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 11:12 PM

Tonight I heard, Jack Kornfield, PhD mention that neuroscience has determined that the self is not within.  He went further on to say that what we think of as self is a construct of our experiences and stories that we tell ourselves and identify with.

 

Any references to where he talks about this (youtube, books, websites). Hard to agree or disagree or discuss without anything beyond a claim.



#36 Jabadoodle

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 11:44 PM

Not expecting anyone to read, but thought I'd offer... 

 

What is that you are quoting? I searched a PDF of Kornfield's book, A Path with Heart -- and didn't find those passages?

 

I only ready some of it. All that history of who said what about which first holds no interest to me. The convoluted writing also turns me off. Not saying there isn't value, but I stopped.

 

---------------

 

A cursory glance and this is what I came away with:

* Objective: The structuralists/modernists/objective-selfists posit a self that is unchanging, constant, in one place, is disembodied, and individual.

 

* Dialogic:  the post-structuralist/postmoderist/dialogicalist-selfists posit a self that is ever changing, an illusion, contextual, and ... "no singal locus of control, never entirely defined because it is always in the process of creation. 

 

 

---------------

 

 

Most people that haven't reflected on the self...seem to experience the self in the "Objective"  way. Our language shows it. We talk about "when I was 5 years old" or "Tomorrow I will do bla bla bla" or "When I get my pig I'll be happy" as if there is a past-I and future-I that is the same (essentially) as the now-I of today. 

Reading Consciousness Explained and reflecting on things, I believe the "Dialogic" description to be closer to how our brains actually produce what we experience as "self". The experience for most people (maybe until they meditate or reflect deeply about this) is Objective but the actual process is Dialogic. 

 

 

---------------

 


I'm not a fan of describing the self as an illusion. A wave in the ocean is not "really" a wave. It is a bunch of water that happens for form that shape -- and as it moves through the water, the actual molecules of water are different molecules. (The "wave" moves but the water does not -- except for up and down, but not in the direction the wave moves.) Does that make the wave an illusion? Certainly not it if tips your boat over. ~ The wave exists and has properties that we can see, feel, experience, measure, predict, etc.

The image on your screen as you watch a movie is really just a bunch of dots changing color. There is no actor or plot or show, it's just colored dots - they are all illusions. Yet they do exist. Even you, your body, is an illusion. You are a whirlwind of molecules...as explained on The Soprano's of all things: 

 

http://youtu.be/EBqO_FSMxag?t=40s


As I said in my second post, it all depends on what frame of reference we are talking about. From some standpoints everything we can talk about at all is an illusion. But this isn't a very interesting or helpful frame of reference. In that frame all we can say is, "It's all an illusion; lets go dance."  Oh, wait -- it is helpful   :lol:

But for a discussion, the self does exist. It is not an illusion. It is created & recreated in every moment. Still, your self has properties and habits and "identities" that are largely the same as everyone else in the fundamentals and largely or totally unique in the particulars.

 



#37 Jabadoodle

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Posted 17 October 2013 - 11:51 PM

rho9.jpg



#38 china cat

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:08 AM

ROFL! I wrote it. :lol:  yes, convoluted - it's almost expected in grad school (write to sound academic and pretentious) :lol:

 

started with the "who said what" because it's a lit review, thus required

 

aside: lean more toward dialogic view myself and by the end of the paper, Mead and Burke agree with you (which may be where you stopped) - they claim it's not an illusion.  their take on self is actually very interesting.

 

I'm totally sharing your comment with the professor who gave me an A on that :lol:



#39 china cat

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:10 AM

noun: illusion; plural noun: illusions
  1. 1.
    a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.
     
     
     
    An illusion is a distortion of the senses, revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. Though illusions distort reality, they are generally shared by most
    people
     
    il·lu·sion noun \i-ˈlü-zhən\

    : something that looks or seems different from what it is : something that is false or not real but that seems to be true or real

     
     
     
     
    self might very well be an illusion.


#40 Jabadoodle

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:12 AM

ROFL! I wrote it. :lol:  yes, convoluted - it's almost expected in grad school (write to sound academic and pretentious) :lol: started with the "who said what" because it's a lit review, thus required

 

aside: lean more toward dialogic view myself and by the end of the paper, Mead and Burke agree with you (which may be where you stopped) - they claim it's not an illusion.  their take on self is actually very interesting.

 

I'm totally sharing your comment with the professor who gave me an A on that :lol:

 

Yeah, I got that it was meant for a different purpose/audience than what I am. Not knocking it for what it is -- but not what needed. Still :lol:

Not sure exactly where I stopped. Kind of skimmed the 2nd half, so didn't really "stop" all in one place. 

"their take on self is actually very interesting." -- can you cut & past just that into a new post?


 



#41 china cat

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:13 AM

Yeah, I got that it was meant for a different purpose/audience than what I am. Not knocking it for what it is -- but not what needed. Still :lol:

 


 

 

yeah, G, I would have tailored it a lot to fit the discussion just didn't take the time to do that, 'cause I was busy.



#42 Jabadoodle

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:15 AM

noun: illusion; plural noun: illusions
  1. 1.
    a thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses.
     
     
     
    An illusion is a distortion of the senses, revealing how the brain normally organizes and interprets sensory stimulation. Though illusions distort reality, they are generally shared by most
    people
     
    il·lu·sion noun \i-ˈlü-zhən\

    : something that looks or seems different from what it is : something that is false or not real but that seems to be true or real

     
     
     
     
    self might very well be an illusion.



Okay. If the definition of Illusion is not that is doesn't exist but is that "it isn't what you/most think it is -- it isn't what it appears to be" then I'm okay with that.

My concern was/is that in this type of discussion many will take the phrase "the self is an illusion" to mean the self doesn't really exist. 



#43 Jabadoodle

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:16 AM

yeah, G, I would have tailored it a lot to fit the discussion just didn't take the time to do that, 'cause I was busy

 

I get it + funny.



#44 china cat

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:16 AM



Okay. If the definition of Illusion is not that is doesn't exist but is that "it isn't what you/most think it is -- it isn't what it appears to be" then I'm okay with that.

My concern was/is that in this type of discussion many will take the phrase "the self is an illusion" to mean the self doesn't really exist. 

 

define "exist"



#45 china cat

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:17 AM

"their take on self is actually very interesting." -- can you cut & past just that into a new post?


 

 yep, still really long though  (but I'd actually be interested in your thoughts)

 

 

 

Mead, like the poststructuralists, rejects the essentialist notion of self and opts for a constructivist position.  Mead argues that selves, persons, traits are social and historical constructions.  We are dependent on others to become ourselves.  Self must be understood as evolving out of a process of symbolic interaction; it cannot develop without others.  Self is not in “me” rather within “us.”  While, for Mead, it is impossible to conceive of identity outside of social interaction, this does not translate to the poststructuralist conclusion that identity is an “illusion.”  Self is neither an unchangeable substance nor a linguistic artifice.  Decentering does not translate to dissolution.  Meads saves the self while accounting for its social origin.

 

Mead sees persons as forming attitudes and dispositions taken from others, which becomes the basis of how one sees one’s self as a social entity as well as a means for developing social identity (Dunn, 1997).  He claims self is based in the perceived social responses of others, which, become part of a person’s perception and relationship to self. Thus one’s relation with others becomes grounds for the conception of self.  For Mead self is not fictive insofar as it is rooted in the capacity to make an object of one self as a real person. 

 

Mead insists on the objective quality of the self.  It is through the social process that an individual develops a mind and self.  Mead's theory of symbolic interaction claims that just as individuals are born mindless, they too, are born selfless; our selves arise in social interaction with others (Herman, 1994).  The distinguishing aspect of the self is the self’s ability to be an object to itself.  Herman explains Mead’s position:

     One is able to stand outside oneself to view oneself as an object, by taking the role of

     others toward oneself.  One can experience himself [sic] as an object insofar as he can

     become an object to himself just as other individuals are objects to him (p. 193). 

The distinctive quality of the self then, is its duality, that is, its capacity to be both a subject an object to itself.  How can an individual get outside of her or himself in such a way as to become an object to one’s self?  Again, Herman argues:

     He becomes an object only by taking the view of others toward himself within a social

     environment.  This reflexive ability is made possible through the use of language, a set

     of symbols. A person comes to acquire a self and becomes conscious of this self

     through the application of meanings and linguistic entities which are socially derived.

     In short, the self is a linguistic construct (p. 193).

The capacity to reflect on oneself as an object thereby bringing self into existence is a process, according to Mead, that occurs within four developmental phases. Charon (1992) describes each of the phases as follows:

 

1) Preparatory stage – This is the most primitive self-emerging, presymbolic stage of self.  As infants we learn to imitate others. But insofar as the act is imitation, it lacks meaning; it lacks symbolic understanding. Other objects have not taken on meaning, therefore “self” as object cannot be understood; it has no meaning. In this stage social objects, including self, are not yet defined.

 

2) Play stage – Within this stage individuals acquire language.  We are able to define objects with words that begin to have shared meaning. Objects that were acted upon because of imitation are now acted upon according to the meaning shared in interaction with others. The self is pointed out by others (“There you are.” There “who” is? “Are you sleeping?” Am “I” sleeping?).  Others point us out to ourselves, we begin to see ourselves, point ourselves out, become objects to ourselves; we identify with this object.  The “you” that you are talking to becomes “me.”  Self-consciousness emerges.  During this stage there is usually a set of significant others with which we are often in close contact.  These significant others shape our ideas of self; they become our role models.  They provide a pattern of behavior and conduct on which one patterns oneself.  Through this interaction we begin to pattern our own behavior. Significant others are responsible for the emergence of self; the child comes to view self as an object because of significant others. In a sense I fail to see myself without the awareness that these significant others see me. In this stage it is assumed that the child assumes the perspective of only one significant other at a time. One cannot see self from the perspective of many persons simultaneously; the view of self is a segmented one. The self is a multitude of social objects, each defined in interaction with a single other.

 

3) Game stage – In this stage the individual begins to organize the perspective of several others simultaneously. Individuals begin to understand their social role in relation to a complex set of others; they acquire a group perspective. Self incorporates all significant others into a “generalized other.”  Self also becomes more unitary, changing in interaction between significant others, but not radically. Roles are defined.  The “me/them” dialectic emerges.  Seeing others as objects, different from self allows the individual to see self as different from them and reflect on that difference. The generalized other has just afforded the individual with an understanding of self.  From this development we are then allowed difference and coherence. We become stable in the sense we learn a fixed sense or rules, norms and roles; we come to an understanding of self’s role within that society (definition of self) yet, once we have a set of norms and behaviors we can then transcend them. We can emancipate ourselves from the particular situation.  Yes, there is consistency across situations but also ability to reflect and make new choices changes according to new situations

 

4) Reference group stage – Within this stage we interact with an awareness of many different groups.  We have a perspective and awareness used to define self within each social world.  We can conceive not only of a generalized other, but also share new perspectives, even alter self in new ways.  A changing self can occur as it has been provided with secure base from which to alter itself.  Our significant others provided a structuring base from which differences can and do arise. We can show a different side of our self to different groups. We interact with many groups yet we can locate our “self” within mass society in this stage.

Self anchors us in all situations, because unlike other objects, the self is present in all situations. The self now serves as the base from which to make plans and take action toward objects that appear in each new situation.  Self is now built and enduring yet has the ability to shift and adjust (Charon, 1992, pp. 72-74).

 

Mead offers a self that is enmeshed in society yet freed from society.  The self is not present at birth – the closeness and repetition of early affiliations set a basic pattern of identity.  Self is somewhat stable in that it is derived from consistent social affiliations yet the ability to reflect on social roles and possibilities allows us to make and remake identities.  We are afforded the ability to grow and change while retaining a stable base from which to do so.  Once endowed with the ability to reflect, we can now make choices, even alter our environment.  We become agents of interpretation, definition and action. 

 

The Enlightenment notion of an autonomous pre-symbolic essence has been abandoned.  Mead and the poststructuralists reject the modern notion of self, opting instead for a linguistically oriented epistemology.  Both agree that the subject needs to be removed from an exclusive internal world and relocated in an exterior world of shared symbolism.  Both agree that self is not present at birth and that it is social in nature.  Both agree that self-reflexivity is dependent on language.  Mead and the Poststructuralists part when the poststructuralist conclude the self’s linguistic construction signifies its nonexistence.  Poststructuralist claim that if self has no basis apart from language, and language is nothing more than unstable, ambiguous text, so too, must be our identity.  We have mistaken self-narrative for self.  Mead does not support this conclusion.

Language, according to Mead, is a “necessary but insufficient” condition of self (Dunn, 1997).  Self can be understood as structured in and through discourse without being reduced to it.  He argues that is it language that allows for the ability to formulate a self.  Language is the vehicle for understanding connection between communication, community, and self.  It allows us to share meaning, thus it has a unifying and not fragmenting effect.  As Dunn explains:

     Meaning is in a constant state of flux as a consequence of processes of adjustment to

     changing social conditions.  Self must adjust to different situations and may take on

     many different roles “sociality is the capacity to be several things at once.”  Mead

     would understand these relations of difference as constituting identity rather than

     fragmenting it.  Difference shapes the subject – difference is incorporated into the

     formation of self-identity.  Unity is achieved through a socially integrated but multiply

     determined self.  Mead understands this multiplicity as the underlying principle of

     identity.  Self-identity is internalized yet continually shaped through interaction (p.

     20).

Ricoeur (in Ezzy, 1998), states “because identities, at times seem confused and chaotic because of the disordered nature of life, and because we cannot be sure how the story will end, this does not mean that they lack a plot, only that it is not simple, clear or fully worked out” (p. 12).

Mead, rather than reducing self to discourse, establishes a relationship between them.  Rather than destroy self, as the postmodernists do, Mead decentralizes self while maintaining its viability. Human beings have a self, it is socially constructed nevertheless, existent.  Kenneth Burke, offers a different perspective yet  advances it to same conclusion.

           

Burke challenges Descartes “sovereign, rational, atomistic and autonomous, disengaged and disembodied, ideally self-transparent” subject.  He maintains (in Crusius, 1999):

     Self is not atomistic because of the “intrinsically social character” of consciousness, it

     is not autonomous because it is altered by the time and place in which it develops, it is 

     not self-transparent because it is never fully present to be seen and because of the

     “influence of the unconscious on the conscious,” which conditions behavior in ways

     that allude awareness, much less assessment or control.  It is not disengaged because

     subjects are always “practically engaged with the world.”  And it is not disembodied

     because mind and consciousness depends on the human brain, the human brain on the

     human body (p. 37).

 

Burke’s “I” has following characteristics:

 

1) “It” exists in human bodies

 

2) Identity is not an essence but a process, a social, linguistic process

 

3) The self is normally multiple and conflicting

 

4) The self is poetic, integrative and synthetic

 

5) The self is dynamic, always on the way

 

            Consistent with Mead’s theory regarding the social construction of self, it is Burke’s positioning of the human body as the central figure through which self is constructed, that distinguishes his theory from Mead’s.  To Burke, there is no mind-body dualism as Descartes had theorized.  There cannot be some separate “I” that then merges with the body, “I” has no existence apart from the body.  The mind is dependent on the body therefore, dependent on biology and nature.

            Identity is not an essence, rather a process.  According to Burke, the self is a sum of our social roles whose stability is made possible through a pattern of identifications.  What stability the “I” does have is made possible in the collective meanings with which  “I” have identified.  Mead claims that these collective meanings are made possible through our “generalized other” Burke redefines the generalized other as our “corporate we’s.”  He claims that “self” is multiple; there are many of us “in here” because we identify with many corporate units and perform many social roles.  To cope with our many, sometimes conflicting “we’s” we must synthesize them into an organized whole.  To the extent that we can integrate our conflicting “we’s” is the extent to which we can build a self, thereby claiming coherence.  But, Burke adds, because the “we’s” come in many pieces, always being added and changed, we are never fully unified; “I” is always “on the way.”    

 

Burke, like the poststructuralists acknowledges that the self is more constructed than constructing but to the extent that we must actively integrate our many “corporate “we’s” we are agents of assembly.  We are engaged in making ourselves.   Burke calls this the “poet” in us.  We are agents in a struggle to integrate multiple, social roles and identifications.  For Burke, “the most fundamental process of all living is the drama of the self in quest” (p. 41)

Rejecting modern structuralism, Burke, like Mead, still allows for individual identity.  It is social in nature, nevertheless, existent.  He states (in Crusius), “To be sure, there is an individual.  Each person is a unique set of situations, a unique aggregate of mutually reinforcing and conflicting ‘corporate we’s’” (p. 40).  To explicate this point Crusius uses the analogy of family resemblance:

     Perhaps every feature on “my” face is shared by some relative of mine – but the

     peculiar combination of shared features remains uniquely mine.  So it is with

     individual identity; it can be because it must be both unique and collective, like the

     combination of genes no one else has but me, both mine and not mine” (p. 41).

 

Full development of self comes by organizing individual attitudes that arise through the process of organizing the attitudes of our corporate units, our “generalized other.”  The social group attitudes are brought within a field of direct experience, then organized to develop a set of individual attitudes, which constitute my “self.”  This “self” is necessarily dependent on the body, on society, on language – on symbolism; nevertheless it does exist.

 

Poststructualists purport it is not an “I” that speaks but rather language.  Mead and Burke both stress the primacy of language yet refuse to reduce self to discourse.  They assert that we can dissolve the notion of a pre-symbolic, sovereign essence, without believing self, as an agent, is an illusion.  Postmodernists want to solve the problem of identity by doing away with it.  Mead and Burke choose, instead, to “manage” the problem, thereby offering an alternative to both positions.  For Mead self is not fictive insofar as it is rooted in the capacity to make an object of one self.  For Burke self is not fictive insofar as it has the ability act as agent; an agent responsible for integrating multiple, conflicting we’s.   Our uniqueness resides in our ability to think and maintain that thinking in the process of adjusting to multiple situations.  According to Burke and Mead, we need not exalt nor forfeit our identity, we exist as subjects working through our discursive and social nature.



#46 Jabadoodle

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:19 AM

define "exist"

 

I'm not going down that track other than to say...like a wave. It is not what it appears to be. It appears to be water moving (laterally) through water. It isn't. So what it looks like to some/most people is an illusion. But waves do exist. ~ My concern is that people in this type of discussion (where there is no "wave" to point to) will take "the self is an illusion" in a way that would mean (to mix back to the analogy) that the wave does not exist AT ALL.

PS: In the book store today came upon a (big) book all about how analogy is used in thought. Dust jacket claims that we can hardly think at all without analogy. I tend to believe that. I've got a lot on my reading list...



#47 china cat

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:23 AM

I think you'd dig his stuff G

 

978-0-226-51668-4-frontcover.jpg



#48 Jabadoodle

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:29 AM

I think you'd dig his stuff G

 

978-0-226-51668-4-frontcover.jpg

 

Reviews look good & like it's interesting. Put in the Amazon list. 



#49 china cat

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 12:44 AM

side note: evidence for dialogic/symbolic interactionist view of self is overwhelming  - Feral children indeed seem to be void of any sense of self - merely sensory animals, with little evidence of conceptual thought.

 

https://notes.utk.ed...81?OpenDocument



#50 Jabadoodle

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Posted 18 October 2013 - 01:19 AM

side note: evidence for dialogic/symbolic interactionist view of self is overwhelming  - Ferrel children indeed seem to be void of any sense of self - merely sensory animals, with little evidence of conceptual thought.

 

https://notes.utk.ed...81?OpenDocument


Would be interesting if we could teach some different languages without interaction with any people. 

I read the section you posted. Much better -- little history, just ideas. In general I like what Mead and Burke are saying -- and like where Burke diverts from Mead. 

There are a few things (mostly earlier on) that I think I disagree with. I'll have to re-read to see if these are also what Burke is disagreeing with or if I have other qualms. 

The one thing that I thing I want to point out that wasn't is.. ... (without doing the experiments I suggested above) ... Maybe the only way to develop a self is via social interaction. But since ."the distinguishing aspect of the self it the self's ability to be an object to itself." ... once we have/are a self -- we don't need social interaction for self to continue. 

Anyway, good stuff. And there is still something else nagging -- a different type of "self" that isn't quite covered in this -- but not a universal/spiritual self. Something else I'm trying to pin down.