Sense of self over time is therefore ‘the story that we tell ourselves that keeps us together (Baggini, 2011).
In this ‘Image of Self’ I will discuss issues raised in my last blog, 60 Posts. In 60 Posts I referred many times to the evolution of our psyche and how, in my view, it has impacted on our world. In our understanding of the image of self we must first understand what it means to recognise one’s ‘self’. By introduction I’ve used the Wikipedia explanation of self-realisation:
Self-realization is a maturing of the ego or personality to accept its own evanescence [gradual disappearance] and thus allow space for the true Self [to be revealed]. The sun veiled by clouds is an apt metaphor for the Self’s apparent absence in our everyday lives. The dissolution of the ego’s obsessive, internal preoccupations, with its psychosomatic complexes, frees the [Self] to directly experience [the] reality of the world as it is, free of any assumptions.
Sounds like the proclamation of some religious sect! So where does this ‘maturing ego’ come from and how does it fit into this story? As I’ve discussed in 60 Posts, the ego acts as our protective master, alerting us to danger, both physical and social. I can only here paint a picture of how it might have developed. Is it what some flippantly call the angel that sits on our left shoulder, who tells us “Watch out, (s)he’s after something!” or the devil on the right saying: “Go on, try it. It won’t hurt!”? Or is it the ‘super ego’ mentioned in Freud’s analyses, with ego and id following close behind?
Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’sstructural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego. The super-ego can stop you from doing certain things that your id may want you to do (see here for reference).
Many argue that it doesn’t exist at all (Dennett, 2003; Hood, 2012, Blackmore, 1999 and many more). If it doesn’t exist then I shall instead deal with the illusion we generate – the story that we tell ourselves that keeps us together. Fortunately, this view may be shared (Broks quoted in Baggini, 2011). I believe that the ego or our perception of the ego has evolved over time. At earlier stages of our evolution we may not have been ready to recognise a dual nature in our psyche. Self-reflection (or self-realisation) may only have emerged in modern history amongst a few solitary thinkers with brief glimpses possibly emerging earlier around the campfires of hunter-gatherers after a successful hunt. Glimpses of our dual nature may not have been uncommon in the past but speculations as to its make-up have only recently begun to coalesce into a common understanding (Baggini, 2011).
I see renaissance thoughts and perceptions in 16th Century Europe as a manifestation of an emerging individualism. We emerged from church-dominated societies to become individuals in our own right – still ‘god-like’ but with a sense that we can control our own destinies. From this, Descartes may well have begun to speculate on the distinction between body and mind (Blackmore, 1999, Baggini, 2011). And from Descartes, dualism emerged as one of the concepts shaping western thought. Dualism is defined in various ways according to the academic discipline defining it. Of course, if there is no self (see above references), there is no dualism. For the purpose of this post I continue to refer to dualism as a way of explaining our perception of ego and self. However we define these concepts, this essay can be seen as an hypothesis: that we have an evolving dualist nature that can lead us to a new social understanding of self, or a maturing of the ego. The corollary of this of course is that there is a spectrum of ego-development running from the more primitive societies through to the more advanced societies. More soon.