Reflection 316: Self-Awareness

September 7, 2012

Copyright 2012 by Steve Perrin.

As I see it, phenomenology applies the powers of mind to understanding the self. Fundamentally, it is self-reflection taken to an extreme degree in discovering not the everyday, self-accustomed I in its everyday world, but how the biological self pieces together that I from the several dimensions of consciousness. These dimensions include sensory impressions; meaningful interpretations of those impressions; as well as feelings, biological values, autobiographical memory, accustomed habits, personal points of view, and felt situations within which subsequent courses of action become meaningful.

Phenomenology, that is, accounts for derivation of a course of appropriate action from analysis of sensory input within a situation informed by both current motivation and prior experience. It is an ongoing process for suiting actions of the self to the conditions shaping the situation within which that self exists as a coherent whole composed of diverse dimensions of consciousness.

From my own self-analysis, I identify these dimensions as including, on the perceptual side:

  • the cultural setting of experience
  • expectancy derived from past experience
  • arousal or wakefulness
  • attention
  • sensory impressions or phenomena
  • concepts as recognizable classes of sensory impressions
  • understanding within fields of interrelated concepts
  • feelings
  • biological values
  • culminating in a perspectival sense of the situation one is facing at the time.

Dimensions of consciousness on the behavioral side include:

  • judgments prompted by felt situations
  • decisions about what might be done
  • setting of goals
  • planning of projects and relationships
  • execution of projects and relationships
  • culminating in a program of action monitored by attention.

The entire assembly of coordinated dimensions of consciousness constitutes a loop of engagement joining an individual to a world within the situation as consciously construed in his or her mind.

By this scheme, our lives don’t just happen as they do; we make them happen in light of our biological motivations and prior experiences applied to our current situations as we construct them in our minds. Yes, we respond to patterns of energy interpreted as events in the world, but we also make ourselves happen as our engagements with those ongoing events develop moment-by-moment.

Phenomenology is the conscious and deliberate study of those momentary events in our personal experience as based on the dimensions of consciousness that apply at the time. Even if we don’t study them, those moments happen unconsciously anyway—as if we had no agency in their doing. Phenomenology applies the powers of the mind to personal experience, highlighting our role in making ourselves happen as we do.

No more and no less, phenomenology is the process of making ourselves—not world-aware—but self-aware. That is, it lets us shoulder responsibility for being ourselves without blaming the world for making us who we are. No learning can be more crucial than that in coming to self-understanding and self-realization. Which is why I am subjecting you to this exercise.

As ever, I remain y’r friend and brother, —Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

So far in my reflections, “I have met with no sure signs of an ego, superego, or libido such as Freud made the cornerstones of his self-analysis” (CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, p. 172f.). What I do find is consciousness as a process in the form of an on-rushing loop of engagement that conducts my stream of consciousness from moment to moment as driven by my subjective feelings, values, and memories.

Feelings come in two polarities: positive and negative, pro and con, attractive and repellant. Positive feelings drive the loop forward, negative feelings hold it back. Our engagements are steered by the polarity of our feelings toward what we love, like, or yearn for, and away from what we hate, dislike, or find unappealing. Insofar as our engagements are expressions of the biological values underlying our motivated behavior, they aid our survival in the various situations we get ourselves into. Situations in which we receive sensory stimulation and with which we interact as appropriately as we can.

Positive engagements reflect  the many layers of our identity, including feelings, values, habits, autobiographical memories, decisions, judgments, and choices we make in acting as we do. They are how we make ourselves happen in the world and become who we are. Negative engagements tell who we are not in reflecting the dark or hidden side of our depths—the self we wish to avoid. Our loops of engagement are more all-encompassing than our little self (Latin ego, meaning I).

Our looping engagements are fast-moving and full of adventure, while old ego is staid as an assumed property of our minds. I believe ego is an outdated concept, that it is time to acknowledge the dynamics of our personality, and that in different situations we behave differently and become different people. In fact we are as much a product of our engagements as we are their directors. Each day is given to us so we can discover who we are in the situations that arise on that particular day. The self of yesterday is not necessarily the self of today. We can change, we can adapt, we can try new behaviors. We can grow into new selves in light of our daily adventures. Self-reference stays the same day to day, but the self referred to can grow as our experience grows larger and larger.

I would say that if we stay the same from day-to-day, we aren’t really living up to our potential. We are meant to grow larger as our experience accrues, to transcend who we were yesterday in order to become the larger self we are today. Our loops of engagement are active and kinetic, not staid and ever the same. As experience accrues, understanding accrues, wisdom accrues. We grow into larger selves as we progress through our days hour-by-hour, day-by-day, year-by-year. If we don’t give ourselves to our coursing experience, we actually grow smaller as life passes us by. We are stuck in the past, diminished, pretending to be alive, depending on the good old days to tell us who we are. Not keeping up with our streaming experience, we slip into existence as our version of the walking dead.

Superego, too, seems an outdated concept. Our cultures—not just our parents—influence everything we do, including who we are. And every day we wake to a new culture because the people around us are doing new things. If we don’t keep abreast of what’s going on, our frame of reference slips back, back, and back, leaving us living as who we once were, not the larger selves we might have become.

Yes, libido, the sensuous or affective self, still applies to our looping engagements as the range of bivalent feelings that steers us from one sexual or aesthetic or habitual encounter to the next, engagement after engagement. If passion is not involved in what we do, we are missing the point of life as an expression of who we are as individual specimens of vibrant human possibility. But our engagements are far more diverse than Freud’s emphasis on sexual liaisons would imply. Not all passions are implicitly or explicitly sexual. Our experience is nuanced in every case, with soft shadings, subtle hues, and quiet gradations merging from one to the next, carrying us through the full range of sensory possibilities. To be truly alive is to be alive to the whole palette of human experience, to the bold and the delicate alike.

In my mind, ego, superego, and libido are supplanted by the dynamic flow of my successive, felt engagements with the myriad situations that make up my life’s experience. Experiences centered on food grade into those centered on sex, on drink, on scents, visual impressions, aural sensations, tactile encounters, intellectual appreciations, scientific realizations, and so on and on. The only certainty is that this instant of awareness will merge with the next, and the one after that. Until, that is, my loop is done and I leave the world to those who accompany and come after me.

Gotta move on to the next episode. Catch up with you later. Y’r friend, –Steve