I find it helpful rather than to say, there is no self, to understand my existence as consciousness itself, enmeshed WITHIN a biological system, as opposed to OWNING one, with complete visibility and control. The latter being empirically untrue — further falsified by science.
The mind and body are allies and collaborators, not our slaves — nor ‘us’.
Part 1 — Philosopher and scholar Jay Garfield echoes a 2000-year-old proposition — there is no self. Consider his book, or more rapidly, listen to this or this podcast.
Part 2 — Author Frank S. Robinson writes a short response to Garfield’s thesis, wondering, how can anyone possibly convince themselves this is true?
I deeply admire both viewpoints, the first being a provocative, time-worn idea, the second demonstrating how interesting it is to grapple with — even if it cannot be fully accepted. I am convinced this grappling is an invaluable endeavor for anyone — as it can precipitate ease, understanding, and gratitude. While either perspective might not make perfect conceptual sense at first glance, they reliably open a door to crucial questions, ringing a bell in the mind than cannot be unrung.
After considering this topic for nearly two years, and more recently digesting theses viewpoints above, I offer the following perspective. I hope this partially bridges and highlights value within both. I consider these ideas and other proximate ones to be a hugely important part of understanding the human condition.
An Open Reply to Frank, the Rational Optimist
(posted as comment on his article)
I really enjoyed this post — as well as enjoying Garfield’s characterization of our circumstance. Trying to settle on my own understanding.
Personally, I find it helpful rather than to say, there is no self, to understand my existence as consciousness itself, enmeshed WITHIN a biological system, as opposed to the default feeling — being an “owner” OF a biological system, with complete visibility and control of it. I think you offer a proposal along the same lines:
“I would actually say that ultimately we exist only as consciousnesses in the workings of our brains”
Along with understanding myself as consciousness, I can understand that the things appearing in consciousness might be distorted and aligned with some biological agenda. Of course this agenda helps us survive — overall, great! Sometimes these survival drives may be “optimal”, in the sense of maximum wellbeing for myself and world. Other times not.
In sum, a thought, feeling, or emotion, can be looked at curiously before it is acted upon. Very basic stuff. Further, understanding everyone else as enmeshed within this circumstance, and more broadly, that everyone is enmeshed within a vast physical and psychological network with everyone else, fosters a sense of compassion. In other words, observing others who act purely on what they “feel”, and have not yet cultivated some meta-cognitive wisdom on top of it, I have empathy for them, without trying to make it sound “transcendent” or “enlightened” or “mystical”. It’s simply an absence of metacognitive governance… which I do not fault them for. To foster this capacity for governance is pure luck.
I am attempting a dangerous act, to map this out more, here:
Anyhow — enjoyed this post — thank you.