Philosophers have, for long, articulated that the “self” resides and exists in the present, while enduring innumerable physical and emotional changes. You’d call the foray “intuition quarrying,” or transcendental analysis, into one’s own mind — a context that celebrates changes, factual and imagined, in our mental and physical canvas, while preserving our unique identity, or mindful fingerprint. While pure intuition may not hold a stellar position in the realm of philosophy, it is given its due in terms of one’s personal identity, to the extent possible, just as much as one’s distinctive concept of the self is endowed with “what-is-what-as-it-is” in regard to nature’s catalogue that encompasses our physical element, aside from our mind, brain and our “bespoke” personality traits.

As philosopher Thomas Reid said, the self is something that thinks, reflects and resolves, and acts and agonises. His observation was — the self is not thought, or action, or feeling, albeit its essence is related to thinking, doing, and suffering. In other words, the whole idea suggests that anything we know, or discern, does not endow us with the qualified tag called “oneself.” Put simply, this is akin to a known, or unknown, extra-terrestrial entity, ego, or soul. One that epitomises the doctrine, “Where the ego goes, I go.”

This is also every philosopher’s “blind spot” — it is like looking only at the rear-view mirror while driving — in other words, through one’s journey across time and life. The best thing to do is one should wriggle oneself out of philosophy’s catch-22 and instead take a view beyond nature — but, with no intent to address the paradox of one’s personal identity, or distinctive signature. This is simply because if one did not know the precise nature of the self, or soul, or the transcendent ego that preserved one’s life’s experiences — irrespective of whether or not we stayed in the same place, or meandered elsewhere — we could not have given credence to, or justified, our wisdom, if not the conjectural knowledge of the self.

To go back in time — the whole credo, not just the problem, of the self predictably began with philosopher Plato and his dialogue, Phaedrus. It was purely Plato’s unremitting interest in defining as to what drove Phaedrus that led to the opening chapter of the self in Western philosophy and culture. Agreed, that, Plato’s philosophical context in the text is keyed to locating the truth in the metaphysical sense and hypothesising the human self, as a thinking being, capable of gaining access into that metaphysical realm through the method of interaction, or discussion. It is also obvious that Plato believed that truth ought to be achieved by the association of two individuals, sharing the same mindful wavelength and frequency to provide meaning and coherence to the whole of reality.

It was precisely with this principle that Plato established a coherent, albeit dualistic mosaic of truth with the metaphysical realm being distinct from the physical world. He also corroborated the fact that our essential human self and the physical world reached the plateau through the purport of the self into the vast echelons of what Platonists refer to as the mind/body construct; also “split.” Put simply, the whole doctrine exemplifies the human self as being primarily an intellectual entity where our “true,” or essential, nature exists as markedly distinct from the physical world. This is analogous to the Vedic corollary of the self, viz., jīva (life), ātman (breath), jīvātman (life-breath), puruṣa (the quintessence that lies in the body), and kṣetrajña (one who knows the body). It culminates in the process of inquiry and resolving the ultimate framework of the self.

(The writer is a wellness physician, independent researcher and author)

Rajgopal Nidamboor