The nature of self has long been a hot topic in the realms of psychology, philosophy, and religion. What is self? Can we consider the self without considering concepts like the psyche, mind, soul, and consciousness? When we take a closer look at consciousness can we see whether it is a physiological property of brain function, or something more? Perhaps, gaining a better understanding of how the psychological and psychiatric communities presently view the concepts of “self” and personality could help form a better understanding of whether or not one has a self.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines self as “a person's essential being that distinguishes them from others, especially considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action (Stevenson, 2010).” That leads one to understand that questions about the nature of consciousness are closely tied to one’s nature of self (Blackmore, 2012). The nature of self is individualized, based on a person’s subjective understanding of their objective world.
In explaining what is self, one needs to look at the other components closely related to the self. The psyche is understood to be the human soul, mind or spirit (Stevenson, 2010). The soul however is the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being regarded as being immortal, an emotional or intellectual energy or intensity (Stevenson, 2010). The mind is the element of a human that allows them to be cognizant of the world and their experiences, to think, and to feel; the faculty of consciousness and thought (Stevenson, 2010).
According to this definition, consciousness is a faculty of the mind. Consciousness is a state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings and or thoughts and feelings. This shows that the psyche is the cumulation of the soul and the mind. The mind thinks and feels, and the consciousness, being a faculty of the mind, makes the mind aware of what it is thinking and feeling.
The mere question of whether we possess an individual self can spark long debates. I recently had one of these debates with my neighbor. He very much believes there is no individualized self. To him, the concept of self, is a social construct, and an illusion of pride. For me, however, the concept of an individualized self is in line with my spiritual beliefs. I believe, when there is a felt desire for enlightenment, the Universe creates a soul. This soul is created when a fragment of the Universal Life Force, or a Divine Spark, is given consciousness. This consciousness gives rise to thoughts and feelings, which in turn creates the mind. This soul, now with a desire for enlightenment, a mind, and consciousness can be called the psyche.
The psyche is the immaterial and immortal portion of the self, housing the soul, mind, and consciousness. While the physical body is the material and mortal portion of the self, including the brain. The immaterial self and the material self, connect in-utero a few months before birth (Brown, 2000), becoming one embodied self for the purpose of a worldly existence. The embodied self is reliant on the physical body to experience the objective world. While the embodied self is reliant on the psyche to process the objective world into subjective understanding.
Once the physical body perishes, the embodied self becomes just the self again. The psyche, the immortal part of the embodied self, disconnects from the physical form at, or just before death, and transcends back to a higher plain of existence (Brown, 2000). The self is the psyche, that consists of the soul, mind, and consciousness, the essence of your being that makes you, you. It is immortal and can transcend death. Immanuel Kant believed, similar to the self and embodied self, in what he called the inner and outer selves. The inner self had the function of the psyche and the outer self, functioned like the embodied self. Kant supported the belief that the self, transcended death and had the potential for additional embodiments (Tizzard, 2020).
I believe once you have completed your spiritual journey, after all your incarnations are complete, you have the option to unite your individual self, back with the Universal Life Force of the Divine. This does harken back to the idea of no self, just matter, however that matter, or energy to be more specific, for a time possesses consciousness. This consciousness that once gave the energy its own self also gives it the ability to choose whether it wants to return to nothingness. In Solomon 2:23 of the King James Bible (1769/2017) it says, “For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity.” God, or the Universe, wanted man to live on beyond incarnation, hence creating the psyche. The psyche was fashioned from a Divine Spark taken from the Universal Life Force. This is where all energy comes from and returns to, for eternity. We are beings of energy.
It is this energy, our Divine Spark, that we carry with us from the Universal Life Force, that powers our physical bodies after our birth. Our psyche provides the power through the soul, thoughts, feelings, and actions, through the mind, and awareness through consciousness. The psyche inhabits the brain, as it is the command center of the human body (Brain Structure and Function, 2007). Through the different branches of the nervous system, the psyche, can send its energy through impulses that animate the body, starting with the heart and lungs. Like GE, the psyche, brings good things to life.
In the embodied self, the mind, inhabits the brain as part of the psyche. The mind manifests perceptions, thoughts, emotion, memory, determination, and imagination within the brain (Brain and Mind, 2000). Areas of the brain become processing centers for these faculties of the mind (Brain Structure and Function, 2007). Consciousness, also being a faculty of the mind, can be said to be a physiological property of the brain while embodied. Robert Pepperell (2018), of Cardiff Metropolitan University, has shown consciousness to be a physical process caused by the organization of energy in the brain. There is fluidity between understanding what came first, the thought of the action or the action itself.
To get a better understanding of self, let’s consider the traditional thoughts of many religious thinkers, as well as Kant and Plato. They believe that the self is an immortal soul that transcends the physical being (Blackmore, 2012). There are however, philosophers who reject this metaphysical view and rejected the idea of the self altogether. David Hume said the self is nothing more than a bundle of perceptions (Blackmore, 2012). While Daniel Dennett believes the self is merely a “center of negative gravity"(Blackmore, 2012) Many psychologists pull in terms like, self-esteem, self-regulation, self-identity, and so forth trying to explain their views on the nature of self. Psychologist, Dr. Paul Thagard, contends that the self is a complex system. This system operates at four different levels, explaining more than 80 phenomena about the self. He believes we need to focus on several mechanisms working in tandem: molecular, neural, psychological, and social (Thagard, 2014).
At Thuagard’s psychological level, a self-imposed-self-concept as well as other dimensions such as gender, ethnicity, and nationality can be found. At the neural level, we expand on the psychological concepts “as patterns of firing occurring within groups of neurons. A sufficiently complex account of neural representations can explain how it is that people apply concepts to themselves and others and also use them for explanatory purposes” (Thagard, 2014) At the molecular level we find personality and physical makeup and how they are are affected by genetics as well as epigenetics. According to Thagard (2014), we must also look at neurotransmitters and hormones that the molecular level to better understand the self. The social level is understanding the influence of society and interaction as it applies to the self (Thagard, 2014).
Some believe that self is a theoretical entity that only exists as a highly complex, multilevel system of interacting mechanisms (Thagard, 2014). Some believe it is an immortal soul that transcends death. Some believe the self is a cumulation of faculties of preservation. While others take a combination approach pulling from all areas of thought. Much like consciousness, there is no real accepted definition of self. This may serve as an area of concern when seeking out mental healthcare. For if one wants to heal and enlighten the self, you and your therapist need to be of similar understanding of what or who that self is.
Unlike, Metzinger, who believed nobody ever was or had a self (Blackmore, 2012). I feel I am a self. I feel that though I am connected to all matter through the Universal Life Force, my Divine Spark has its own consciousness. This consciousness gives rise to thoughts and feelings of the mind and that gives a deeper identity. My mind and consciousness in combination with my soul create my psyche, which is my immortal and immaterial self. When my psyche incarnates, by inhabiting a physical form, I become and embodied self. I have thoughts, I have actions, I have free-will, I have and understanding of how the choices I have made in this lifetime, other lifetimes, and when I was not incarnated have impacted and influenced my spiritual journey to enlightenment. I can feel in every atom of my being that I exist separate and individualized from the cosmic chaos. It is a warmth within somedays, other days it maybe a heaviness, somedays a tingle, and so on. I am able to remember astral projections and that gives me understanding of the psyche, or self, independent of the body or embodied self. I am me, because I feel and think I am.
William James believed the worst thing a psychology could do was to interpret the self as to rob it of its worth (Blackmore, 2012). The nature of self is individualized, based on a person’s subjective understanding of their objective world. Like consciousness, a person’s understanding of the self is what they make of it through introspection and reflexive action.
When a person's essential being can be distinguished from others that is when the nature of one’s self is most evident. Though once embodied, the self takes on much deeper neural and molecular functioning, however, at its simplest level the nature of self is one’s individualization. Making the nature of self entirely up to you to decide.