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The Phenomenology of Self

My framework categorises different expressions of self and allows for varying degrees of strength. This is evidently the case and theories of binary ego formation (either you have it or you don’t type deals) lack necessary explanatory power to cover certain states of experience. For instance, someone may lose identification with their body but remain identified as a persisting entity which continues through time. Or, a trap that many fall into is the loss of identification with local and temporal phenomena, but a continued (or newly formed) identification with ‘The Witness’ — the backdrop of consciousness that perceives all phenomena.

The issue with this topic is there is a poverty of vernacular among most spiritual groups when it comes to deconstructing the sense of self and the various experiences of ego loss. Ego loss is not so rare in fact, and it is very possible for many people. However, despite this, most people struggle to interpret their experiences. I think this is simply because they haven’t been given good frameworks in which to fit these abnormal experiences into. The fashion of language at the moment doesn’t have appropriate outfits for these odd shape figures of consciousness — yet.

Simply put, I will define the sense(s) of self to mean: An experience of feeling identical (one in the same as a.k.a numerically identical) to some phenomenon or set of phenomena. In the way I use it, ‘ego’ is synonymous to the sense of self/feeling of ‘I’.

I think it is important we parse a distinction between what we believe ourselves to be in a metaphysical drawn up descriptive sense, versus where we subjectively feel the thing we call ‘I’ to be located in. To make it clear what I mean here: Someone may describe themselves as being a ‘brain’, but subjectively speaking they have no direct inference of being a brain or brain-ness.

Types of Self:

  • Categorical Self — This is identification with the content of beliefs that form in the mind. I.e. beliefs like “I am a man, human, brain, conscious, Funkadelic fan.”

  • Spatial Self — This is the feeling of identifying with some point in space. “I am here, not there.” This is accompanied by the notion that there is some centre of consciousness to which experience converges on — I rest at some vantage point to which I perceive the world from.

  • Temporal Self — Identification with the sense of being a thing which persists across multiple moments. “I am the same thing now which was one second ago and will be one second into the future.”

  • Epistemic Agent — Having the sense that there is a knower in addition to experience. Feeling like you are the hearer of sounds, the thinker of thoughts, the receiver of sights, the experiencer of experience. When this phenomenon manifests the mind system is convinced that there is something/some entity to which experience is happening to. This is the most fundamental sense of self as it the first to form and the last to be disabused of — it is also the subtlest. With the epistemic agent comes some feeling of contraction, some sense of ‘effort’ and also suffering*.

*I define suffering in a very particular way which I have unpacked in another note.


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