Essay—Becoming Self-Aware (52)

Summary—This essay argues for a shift in paradigm from consciousness to include self-awareness. Self-awareness is a higher form of mental energy than normal consciousness and is essentially consciousness of consciousness.

Two decades ago I got three female pups and named them Camus, Copper and Kafka.  I soon realized that three dogs were too many and I gave Kafka away to a luxury retirement home.  A friend suggested that I use their names whenever possible.  So I often called them by their names and treated them as individuals.  Camus and Copper were happy dogs with unique personalities.  Camus was an existentialist and Copper was more elemental than existential.  I taught them to cross the street on command.  I then taught them to respond to their own names when told to cross the street.  I would thus argue that they were self-aware.  Both died of old age a couple of years ago.  I posted their picture on my Philosophymagazine website so they can find their way back to me when they reincarnate.

Subjective vs Objective.  Subjectivity is based on opinions, interpretations, viewpoints and personal judgment.  It is generally considered to be unsuited for wide-ranging phenomena including news reporting and decision-making.  Objectivity is based on facts that are observable and measurable.  Einstein defined the thought problem as to whether the moon really exists when no one is looking at it.  Objectively speaking, the moon exists when no one is looking at it.  This objective viewpoint does not depend on having an observer while an observer is necessary for the subjective viewpoint in order to determine physical reality.  The philosophical discipline of logical positivism seeks to find the objective truth while existentialism recognizes subjective truth as the ultimate reality.  Self-awareness includes awareness in our own characteristics, both good and bad.  For example, if a person has a problem with their decisionmaking process, self-awareness shines a light on the problem and enables them to correct it.  We often take a subjective truth as if it were objective, which self-awareness allows us to recognize.  Self-awareness also provides us with knowledge of our strengths so we can play to them.

Eternal Destiny.  Society generally shuns people who only look out for their own self-interests.  By expanding our interests to include our eternal destiny, we would be looking out for the fate of the universe.  It means searching our conscious minds for decisions that honor the self (or soul).  Having an eternal soul cannot be taken for granted.  It is like any phenomenon, if we do not care for it, it shrivels up and dies.  I would argue that being self-aware of our eternal destiny would provide a panacea of the world’s problems.  We would be less inclined to have so many children in that we could reincarnate rather than procreate.  A lower population would tax the world’s resources to a lesser degree.  I believe the world is overpopulated by a factor of ten.  As such, we should go from our current population of seven billion people to seven hundred million people, which would arguably leave us with a sustainable planet where everyone is self-aware.

Bad Behaviorism.  Behaviorism is a psychological theory based on the work of Watson and Skinner which asserts that consciousness does not exist.  And even if we now believe that consciousness does exist, the behaviorism die has already been cast.  In failing to recognize existentialism, behaviorism has become the standard cognitive model.  Behaviorism is the psychological discipline that supports experimental procedures to study observable behavior.  According to Donald Palmer—Behaviorism is the theory that only observable, objective features of human activities need to be studied to provide an adequate scientific accounting of behavior.  Behaviorism dominated psychology for the first half of the 20th century, although I would argue that it is still in play today.  Behaviorism formulates its models of behavior based on laboratory experiments (ie. a posterori) instead of on ontological models (ie. a priori).  Behaviorism forces us to behave rather than seeking to know the self—exactly as the psychiatrists would have it.

Existentialism.  Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) bookended the philosophy of existentialism.  According to the Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia “Existentialism is the philosophical movement emphasizing individual existence, freedom and choice that has influenced many diverse writers in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Because of the diversity of positions associated with existentialism, the term is difficult to define.  Certain themes common to virtually all existentialists can however be identified.  The term itself suggests one major theme—the stress on concrete individual existence and consequently on subjectivity, individual freedom and choice.”  Webster’s Dictionary defines “Existentialism as a 19th and 20th century philosophy centered on the analysis of existence as not exhaustively describable or understandable in scientific terms.  It stresses the freedom and responsibility of the individual, the irreducible uniqueness of an ethical or religious situation.  Existentialism emphasizes the subjective experience of individuals with anxiety, guilt, dread and anguish.”  Subjectivity is based on reflection on the self.  Existentialism studies the inner workings of the subjective mind.  I would argue that we should make existentialism the philosophy of the 21st century.

Ontology.  Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that addresses the question of what are the fundamentally distinct entities that compose being.  It is the most basic question we can ask.  The four steps of ontology are matter, life, consciousness and self-awareness (ie. souls and God).  God is pure self-awareness.  According to EF Schumacher’s 1977 book A Guide for the Perplexed  “From a base of matter, man has the power of life like plants, the power of consciousness like animals and the power of consciousness recoiling upon itself.  This power of self-awareness opens up unlimited possibilities for the purposeful learning, formulating and accumulating of knowledge.  Life is either present or absent; there cannot be a half presence; and the same goes for consciousness and self-awareness. I would argue that self-awareness is like a light bulb that flickers on and off.  It cannot be half on.  The light bulb stays on once we achieve self-awareness.  We are born without self-awareness but can realize it in our lifetime if we workout our salvation with diligence.  Imagine holding a dog with a dot on her forehead up to a mirror.  If she tries to remove the dot then she is self-aware.

Canadian Self-Awareness.  The Canadian Marshall McLuhan said that Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity.  By achieving consciousness of consciousness, we would also become self-aware of our identity.  The Canadian Margaret Atwood said that if the mental illness of the United States is megalomania—that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia.  Canada has the potential for self-awareness in comparison to the consciousness of the United States.  We see ourselves as Americans with a difference.  We have the possibility of becoming world leaders in philosophy and science based on realizing self-awareness.  Canada needs to shift from consciousness to include self-awareness both individually and in aggregate.  Coming to grips with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses through self-reflection would cure these problems without the need for medication—and would put the psychiatrists out of business. 

Universal Self-Awareness.  Matter on Earth was first created four-and-a-half-billion years ago.  Three-and-a-half-billion years ago the first two amino acids joined together to create life for the first time.  Next up was consciousness possessed for the first time by animals half-a-billion years ago.  The final evolutionary step then has people striving for self-awareness.  We could all agree that deer are not self-aware in that they do not see themselves in the first person.  Dogs however can become self-aware by knowing their names and/or faces.  But what about people?  Are we self-aware just because we know our names and faces?  Self-awareness means that we take responsibility within the confines of our matrix.  Dogs exist within a matrix that is unbounded by them.  Alternatively, professional athletes exist within a matrix that they have chosen in bad faith and which goes no further than the boundary of their sport.  If they were to donate half their income to charity, they would become active agents within this expanded matrix and would then be self-aware.

Conclusion.  Existentialism tells us that we have total freedom and total responsibility.  Acknowledging this makes us self-aware.  Conversely, behaviorism tells us to behave like everyone else behaves.  People who are not self-aware only see themselves through the eyes of the government and their employers.  Realizing awareness of self is an ontological leap that we must be prepared to take.  In order to achieve self-awareness we need to become subjectively cognizant of our inner thought processes.  Becoming self-aware is a radical change that would fundamentally alter the course of history.