This is the continuation of the series on respect and how to cultivate it. This is the fifth part so if you have missed the first four then click here to view them
4. Self-knowledge through introspection and insight
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
― Lewis Carroll
Two essential parts of self-knowledge are the processes of introspection and insights.
Introspection is the process of examining thoughts and feelings that reside within you. Insights give meaning to those internal thoughts and feelings.
The ability to think for yourself is the hallmark of a truly mature and healthy person.
No one has the right to determine who you are apart from you, even though many contributing factors will be present, i.e. your genetic makeup, familial environment, and so on.
It may take a lifetime to progress to the highest level of self-knowledge, simply because others can benefit by making you an individual a ‘follower’ or a ‘convert’ or a ‘disciple’ to their way of thinking. This process can completely destroy a person’s true concept of self.
It also must be said that when a child is born he or she is completely dependent on the people who clothe, feed and nurture the young child. As a consequence of this dependency ideas of right and wrong are transmitted to the child before he or she can even speak, and the child learns which actions bring punishments and which actions bring rewards.
There are a number of people who grow up resenting the way that their parents conditioned them as a child and this is understandable from a certain perspective. The truth is that no matter what harmful ideas that a child has been exposed to as a child each person must take responsibility for their life and take steps each day to create the ideal life that they want to have.
This is not always an easy thing to do, and it may be the most difficult thing ever to overcome traumatic events of the past, and yet that is the only way to truly become liberated. That process of liberation is a lifetime journey and must happen each day for an individual to be able to thrive for a lifetime.
Now I will move on to look at how and why introspection and insights are so important to self-knowledge.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Arguably the oldest record of introspection that currently exists is written on a papyrus, which is known by a number of designations. Some call it ‘The dispute between a man and his Ba’ from Ancient Kemet (Egypt) around the time of 1900 BCE. The original document can be found at the Egyptian Museum in Berlin.
Some scholars translate the ‘Ba’ as ‘Soul.’
The Ba is an extremely complicated subject and would require a separate work to really get into an understanding of it.
The Ba work is a philosophical enquiry into the self and although this is currently the oldest surviving introspective text in the world it would have been part of a long and on-going tradition of critical reflection that stretches back into remote antiquity.
During the next few hundred years from when the text was created, Kemet would be invaded by Asian/Semitic assailants (Circa 1700 – 1550 BCE) known as the Hyksos or Shepherd Kings. Interestingly these invaders did not manage to destroy the Egyptian culture but adapted to it by attempting to be enlightened rulers by learning the language and culture in their limited way. The Egyptians would regroup with their ancestors in the regions of Upper Egypt and Nubia along the Nile to drive out the Asian Hyksos invaders, this would take almost 200 years and in that time many of the ideas that would go into the Hebrew faith would be conceived from the Egyptian culture.
When these invaders were driven out of the African continent they went back to western Asia and with their newly acquired knowledge of writing would adapt the Egyptian script to form Semitic writing and this along with additions from the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans over the next two thousand years would go on the form the current alphabet.
As the alphabet and literary practises spread to western Asia and Europe so too did ideas about the self from a philosophical perspective.
The interesting thing is that each separate culture adapted the Kemetic/Egyptian script to form their own purposes, so too did the concept of ‘the self’ change in those cultures.
An interesting work to look in relation to the Semetic perspective is the Book of Job from the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh). From my research a number of Biblical scholars think that it was written between 700 and 400 BCE. The Book of Job has influenced writers across the globe, and it is fascinating to look at the distinction between that work and the Kemetic work on the Ba.
The Kemetic Ba text looked at how the problems could be solved with self-reflection and analysis from within, and in the Book of Job the problems that Job faced were brought about and solved by divine forces outside of his control.
From this perspective we could see why the Hebrews felt resentment against the Egyptians because their worldview was diametrically opposed.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called the Hebrew theology an example of ‘slave morality’ and even though there is no evidence for any Hebrews being enslaved in Africa during the 2nd millennium BCE, the feeling of inferiority from the Hebrews would create a dualistic approach where Hebrews resented the Egyptians, although many aspects of their culture would be influenced and inspired by them.
Nietzsche calls this type of emotional feeling ressentiment.
“While the noble man lives in trust and openness with himself (gennaios ‘of noble descent’ underlines the nuance ‘upright’ and probably also ‘naïve’), the man of ressentiment is neither upright nor naive nor honest and straightforward with himself. His soul squints; his spirit loves hiding places, secret paths and back doors, everything covert entices him as his world, his security, his refreshment; he understands how to keep silent, how not to forget, how to wait, how to be provisionally self-deprecating and humble. A race of such men of ressentiment is bound to become eventually cleverer than any noble race; it will also honor cleverness to a far greater degree: namely, as a condition of existence of the first importance; while with noble men cleverness can easily acquire a subtle flavor of luxury and subtlety—for here it is far less essential than the perfect functioning of the regulating unconscious instincts or even than a certain imprudence, perhaps a bold recklessness whether in the face of danger or of the enemy, or that enthusiastic impulsiveness in anger, love, reverence, gratitude, and revenge by which noble souls have at all times recognized one another. Ressentiment itself, if it should appear in the noble man, consummates and exhausts itself in an immediate reaction, and therefore does not poison: on the other hand, it fails to appear at all on countless occasions on which it inevitably appears in the weak and impotent.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals / Ecce Homo
The Greek philosopher Plato examined self-knowledge throughout his life and was influenced by the teachings of the Egyptians, Pythagoreans, the Homeric tradition, tragedians, and other philosophers such as Parmenides and his teacher Socrates.
It was said that before Plato became a philosopher he was preparing to write tragedies like Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles who were the most influential of the writers that preceded him.
In relation to the self, Plato used the character of Socrates to examine various perspectives in his philosophical dialogues.
In the dialogue ‘Phaedo’, Socrates examines the concept of the soul and whether it is a part of the body that exists with it or is a distinctive element, which lives on after the body no longer remains.
In the dialogue ‘Meno’, Socrates examines whether we are the sum total of our experiences in life or if we have innate knowledge that we would be able to tap into and remember to gain a true knowledge of self.
In the dialogue ‘Pheadrus’, the self is divided into three parts that are the rational, spirited, and appetitive, Plato likens the soul to a charioteer who has to control two horses at the same time, one horses is energetic and the other is well behaved and like the soul we would need to take control of those opposing forces within to become a whole person.
Plato’s ideas would influence a great number of philosophers in the following centuries and ideas relating to self-knowledge would often be influenced by Platonic thought.
“For a man to conquer himself is the first and noblest of all victories.” – Plato
A pivotal work on self-knowledge during the height of the Roman Empire would be called, ‘Meditations’ by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius between the periods of 161-180 CE. These meditations would be a series of introspective reflections that was influenced by the Stoic school of philosophy, which was another variation of Platonic thought.
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius
The French philosopher Rene Descartes caused a revolution when he stated ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ in his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences treatise written in 1637.
‘Cogito, ergo sum’ translated into English means ‘“I think, therefore I am”
This would be a landmark moment as the idea of rationality would play a pivotal part in the development of France and Europe.
From this Cartesian perspective the self could be elevated above and beyond the body and that meant that things that were ‘merely natural’ played less prominence in society. Natural philosophers (such as Newton and Galileo) would be transformed into rational scientists (by later generations of thinkers) and even priests would adopt this idea and move into a mechanistic way of seeing themselves and the world with Pierre Gassendi being the most prominent at the time of Descartes.
This progression of ideas would give rise to the age of mechanism and machinery.
In 1747 the French philosopher Julian Offray de La Mettrie would publish the first edition of ‘L’homme Machine;’ ‘Man a Machine’ where he would push Descartes’ ideas further to materialist perspectives.
“Man is so complicated a machine that it is impossible to get a clear idea of the machine beforehand, and hence impossible to define it. For this reason, all the investigations have been vain, which the greatest philosophers have made à priori, that is to to say, in so far as they use, as it were, the wings of the spirit. Thus it is only à posteriori or by trying to disentangle the soul from the organs of the body, so to speak, that one can reach the highest probability concerning man’s own nature, even though one can not discover with certainty what his nature is.”
― Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Machine Man and Other Writings
This mechanistic concept has had a profound influence on how many see themselves and the world around them.
For those people, the world and everything in it is valued by ‘objects’ and ‘things’, which are perceived as external measures of success and truth.
Currently industries are working to push this ideas to its limits with the mastery of fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning, where software will be able to perform the functions that humans would be in a more advanced way… well, that’s the concept anyway. Time will tell how things will work out.
To be capable of introspection in an externally focused (or artificial) world is a real challenge that many people never ever meet successfully.
Problems that arise from a lack of self-knowledge can never be solved by external methods.
In the next section I’ll look at how insights can be used to achieve extraordinary things
The next part will be available shortly.
To view the next part you can click here – http://anisometric-inc.com/self-respect-derives-from-self-knowledge-part-6