What do we mean by 'self'?

Rick, so far the most explicit you have been about what you think the ego is, is the following statement: the ego is

I have attempted to provide you with a detailed explanation of the Samkhya-Yoga view of the ego, as well as touching on the Advaita view of the ego, the Buddhist view, Krishnamurti’s view, etc - and you have implicitly rejected all these.

I have also done my best to think of religious philosophies that might align with your own defence of the ego - and as I have said, most if not all serious religious philosophies speak about self-transcendence and self-dissolution.

Which is why I asked you if your notions about the ego are informed by secular psychology and neuroscience (as the statement of yours quoted above implies).

You said this was an investigation earlier, but I feel I am the only one investigating?

Joking aside, are you honestly defending the existence of a permanent, atomic personal ego? Or are you merely insisting on a secular psychological and neuroscientific approach to exploration of the self and ego?

Edit :writing_hand: - I posted this without having seen your most recent post

(We posted simultaneously! See: connection.)

Well I am not trying to do either, but of the two, the second is definitely closer to my intent. I’m sharing my understanding about the nature of the self and my feelings about my self, with the hope that they will provide a useful perspective in the investigation.

So are you saying, basically, that there is a gap, a distance between your intellectual understanding of the self or ego, and your direct acquaintance with your own experiences?

Edit :writing_hand: I posted at the same time as your last post - connections indeed!

It’s late here, so take your time to reply - I’m going to sleep :sleeping:

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When seen from a more dualistic pov, there’s a disconnect between understanding and feeling. Seen from more of a non-dualistic pov, it’s like two sides of the same coin (maybe).

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To be continued… 20 characters are not always possible

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I’m not sure I follow you?

The disconnect between

  1. an abstract second order comprehension of a thing and

  2. the direct acquaintance with it, seems pretty clear. I’m not sure one can say it is a matter of being two sides of the same coin?

In the case of

  1. there is really no side of the coin at all. It is just an abstract theoretical comprehension of a thing. The words may be correct, but the substance of true understanding (involving immediate perception) is lacking.

  2. is one’s actual feeling or experience of the thing. What one currently feels may be mistaken, inaccurate, false - but it is the actuality of one’s experience nevertheless. So it is wiser to begin (cautiously, tentatively) from there.

In relation to the issue of egotism, I wonder if a different way of approaching the topic would be to ask what place does the ego, one’s self-interest, the ‘me’, have in open awareness?

It seems to me that one’s self-interest, one’s self-concern, narrows and limits the scope of awareness - it is a limiting factor.

In relationship to others too, it is a limiting and distorting factor.

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Absolutely. The self is kept in place by fear. Fear of the unknown. The suppressed fears from childhood arise when there is an interest in not escaping, in facing whatever image arises in the mind. They are meant to frighten for some reason and take forms that are very personal. They are a form of ‘noise’. Suppressed forms of the self darkness / fear we live in. Neither ‘shoo them’ or indulge them and they fade. I would say that there is ‘space’ or ‘silence’ in the brain and it must be this quality, (a finer energy?) that can resonate with what K has called ‘mind’? It is the self / thought that “limits and distorts” and prevents the connection as well as maintaining the pernicious illusion of division that makes us unable to see ourself in the other or in the World.

Guten Morgen!

Right, thoughts (head) and feelings (gut/heart) about something can be very different.

Seen from more of a non-dualistic pov, it’s like two sides of the same coin.

I’m not sure one can say it is a matter of being two sides of the same coin?

Me either, I’m trying it on for size, not sure how it fits yet.

It seems to me that one’s self-interest, one’s self-concern, narrows and limits the scope of awareness - it is a limiting factor. / In relationship to others too, it is a limiting and distorting factor.

Agreed. I’d add that the presence of ego-self also expands awareness. (Awareness can be both limited and expanded at the same time, limited in one aspect, expanded in another.) When I say ‘expands’ I am not saying ‘makes better’ rather ‘provides new possibilities.’ Would T.S. Eliot have been able (have been willing) to write Four Quartets sans his ego-self? (I don’t think so.)

The monsters under the bed. Yes, I think this is probably the reason why most of us find it so hard to just stop and face ourselves as we are. We fear losing ourselves and even going crazy. There is also the fear of annihilation which keeps the wheels spinning.

To use a figure of speech, we have to befriend our monsters :japanese_ogre: :smiling_imp: - “neither ‘shooing’ them or indulging them” - until they leave of their own accord.

I don’t see how the example of TS Eliot’s ability to write poetry justifies your statement (that the ego expands awareness)?

Eliot’s poetry - including the Four Quartets - is all about the unqualified value of non-verbal, non-self centred immediate experience, the valuation he places on the present moment, which poetry only distantly and weakly captures through memory.

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present…

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

(Burnt Norton)


Sudden in a shaft of sunlight
Even while the dust moves
There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage
Quick now, here, now, always
Ridiculous the waste sad time
Stretching before and after.

(Burnt Norton)

A lot of Eliot’s poem resonates with the language of the Christian mystics, like the Cloud of Unknowing and St John of the Cross:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought

(East Coker)


In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

(East Coker)


to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—
No occupation either, but something given
And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,
Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.
For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.

(The Dry Salvages)

and (quoting Julian of Norwich, a Christian mystic)

Quick now, here, now, always
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

(Little Gidding)

And here is Eliot saying the same thing but now echoing the language of the Bhagavad Gita

Here between the hither and the farther shore
While time is withdrawn, consider the future
And the past with an equal mind.
At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: “on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death”—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)

(The Dry Salvages)

So I’m not sure that Eliot would agree with your saying that the ego, the self, the ‘me’, expands awareness. His poetry rather says the opposite. The world made by memory makes poetry possible, and can be celebrated for that - but it is a pale imitation of original, unmediated experience (“Erhebung without motion”).

To me they appear as apparitions probably from the few horror films I saw as a child along with the nazi films. They’re a bit ludicrous looking though trying to be scary. Also it’s strange in the midst of it to realize that none of them are ‘real’. That they are just ‘images’. The ‘silence’ or ‘space’ is not an image.

I espy another rabbit hole we may find ourselves having tumbled into! To minimize the confusion, may I suggest we leave the Eliot issue and focus on investigating whether our sense of self both limits and expands our awareness?

The limiting we both agree on, so let’s move to the expanding.

Does our sense of self expand our awareness? Would it help to do a thought experiment where we started out self-free, then added self and had a look at the consequences?

We clearly do not both agree on how self-interest creates limitation. You are stating the opposite.


Please just explain why, in simple terms, you feel that egotism expands (rather than limits) awareness.

Can self-interest, ego, expand awareness?


Self-interest and ego are typically associated with a focus on one’s own needs and desires to the exclusion of others. While they may lead to personal success or advancement, they can also limit one’s awareness by narrowing their perspective and making them less empathetic to the needs and perspectives of others.

Expanding awareness often involves being open to different viewpoints, understanding and considering the needs of others, and developing a broader perspective on the world. While self-interest and ego can drive individual goals, they may not naturally lead to expanded awareness.

I think there may be more to it.

Fear is inseparable from desire because they are polar opposites. Equanimity (no driving emotion) is the midpoint between the extremes.

Are we afraid of what we don’t know, or what we think the consequences of not knowing may be? We presume to know more than we do to compensate for how little we know, but it’s what we imagine might happen that makes us fearful - not what we can’t imagine happening.

I think what keeps the self in place is what we don’t know about fear and desire; how unaware we are of using fear/desire to determine our behavior.

I wouldn’t take GPT’s responses as anything near ‘proof’ when it comes to subtle topics like ours. I’m sure I could get it to say pretty much the opposite by framing the question differently. That’s why I like using the AIs for brainstorming, where ‘hit and miss’ is part of the game.

Again, I am not talking about egotism, rather: the presence of ego-self. Egotism is perceived in a negative light, using it biases the conversation. Even ego is tinged negative these days. I’ll be using ‘self’ from here on, which is, I think, more evenhanded. And I’m not saying self expands rather than limits awareness, I’m saying it both expands and limits awareness.

How does the presence of self expand awareness? Well, for starters, the self can provide motivation, purpose, energy, and novelty, all of which can expand the scope of awareness.

Does the self always provide these things? No. Sometimes it does. When these things are provided by self, do they always expand the scope of awareness? No. Sometimes.

I am happy to continue the conversation, but if it’s interfering too strongly with the direction you and others want the thread to go in, I’d be happy to let it go or pursue it in another thread.

By utilizing fear and desire, primarily, and anger, envy, pride, shame, greed, ambition, etc., secondarily.

The only expansion of awareness the self can provide is awareness of the effect of self-centered behavior.

The means used for self’s expansion of awareness can be quite nasty. Megalomaniacs can create great art, inventions, philosophies.

Perish the thought! We’re finally closing in on your defense of self. Stay with it. Don’t escape!