Searching for the Self …
Probably since we first became self-aware humans have been exploring and attempting to make sense of the concept of the self, or the “I.”
Maybe these times more than any other in recent history demand that we achieve the self awareness necessary to process reality as it is … and not as we hope for it to be …
Modern cognitive neuroscience suggests that the “I” must be a function of neurological interactions happening deep in the brain, most of which are occurring at a pre-conscious level of awareness. These interactions are a function of neuronal functions and synaptic connections that happen as a result of what can generally be called learning.*
Exposure and interaction with the external world form patterns that become imprinted in the brain in a process called myelination. These interactions include the sense of self that arises as physical awareness of one’s being, largely experienced and organized in the cerebellum. My sense of this process is that “rear brain” cerebellar processing interacts with “front brain” neocortical processing to create an awareness that forms the self we know ourselves to be.
A neuroscientist, Dr. Masao Ito at the Riken Brain Science Institute in Japan, suggests that it is the cerebellar processing that forms what he referred to as the “implicit sense of self.” In fact, these particular interactions that form the implicit sense of self, or the awareness of the “I” are a kind of recursive, infinite loop that regress upon itself, until only the representation of the “I” remains on the internal screen of our mind as an absolute representation that seems immutable. Yet we also know at another level that this “sense of self’ changes through time.
Essentially I interpret this thinking about the “I” that I know myself to be as a set of neurological interactions as a pattern held intact around a central conception that has many representations that have varied over time. The “I” I know myself to have been at say 7 or 8 years old, doesn’t not correlate in a one to one, isomorphic way with the “I” I know myself to be today. Yet that earlier “I” of 7 or 8 I do know to be a representation of myself from another time.
The kind of variation of my sense of myself as “I” has many forms that are equally me, at points in time that can vary by years or decades, or for that matter minutes or maybe even seconds, as when a particularly strong emotion overtakes me and changes my sense of myself seemingly instantaneously. Yet, some core sense of self, i.e.: “this is me,” remains throughout the varied representations I have as I experience them through time.
The Narrative Of The Self
This “sense of self” as I’m referring to it is contained in narrative, where narrative is the sequencing of events within events as they unfold, e.g.: this happens then that happens … and so on. It could also be languaged as, “this happened, then that happened” or “this happened, then this is happening” or even, “this happened, now this is happening, and then that will happen” so time becomes flexible within narrative.
Also, time isn’t limited to progressing from past to future in narrative, e.g.: because I know that this will happen, I remember that happening, and now this is happening, where the placement in time can be freely moved between moments, in the past, present or future, in any ordering so chosen by the narrator/author. Entire events can disregard any point in time in narrative such that every that has occurred, is occurring or will occur, is the only time referenced.
For each consideration of time, events also need some place to occur as well, e.g.: that happened there, this is happening here, and what will happen will be felt both here and there. This confluence of space and time, is a space-time moment, which I’ll call a “moment” for simplicity, meaning that a “moment” is a reference to a specific space-time where the event in a narrative happened, is happening or will happen.
In any moment each of us has a sense of self that we reference as our “I”… the “I” … or more concisely, simply “I.” Each of the “I”s I experience is considered within the context of the narrative that I hold about the event and the moment within which it occurs. Let me make this clear about the universality of what I am saying to include the event of just thinking about my “I” … for example, who “I” am, or who am “I” … such that there is no experience of self that does not happen as a moment in the narrative.
Since the “I” remains malleable in regard to the moment in which the “I” engages in action in the world, the question of which “I” has the experience comes up as a natural consequence of this understanding. Furthermore, the “I” that has the experience also determines the actions that I take, and the outcomes I produce (including of course not producing an outcome that I intend).
Given all of this, it makes it essential to have some sense of the “I” that would be most likely to haven the experience I want to be having, as well as the “I” most likely to produce the outcomes I intend. Or stated differently, what narrative most likely supports my having the experience I want to be having, and producing the outcomes I intend?
Another, maybe more direct and simple way to consider all of this could be stated as …
The narrative I am holding and operating from determines the experiences I have as well as the outcomes I produce, so in taking control of my self narrative I can direct both the experiences I want to be having and the outcomes I want to be producing.
Fortunately for us we are organized innately to understand narrative, and we posses an innate skill in both responding to and creating narrative on the fly. This of course doesn’t mean we all do this as well as any other, any more than suggesting that we all walk, run or swim as effectively as any other person, but yet possess the innate ability to do these things naturally given the opportunity to do so.
Also, like walking, running and swimming we possess the ability to increase and improve our knowledge, skill and performace in responding to and creating narrative. This suggests that we have an ability to notice for what narrative we are experiencing and responding to with greater facility and effectiveness in regard to producing our intended outcomes, and the ability to increase our facility and effectiveness at creating narratives that are better suited to allowing us to have the experiences we most desire and, those we use in producing our intended outcomes.
Another way to refer to the self narrative form is by the phase “autobiographical narrative,” in this case this refers to the self narrative told by you, about you, to yourself, and to others as you choose. The autobiographical narrative is your “life story” … the way you represent who you have been, who you are and who you will become in narrative form.
If we accept these premises as true for us, then the ability to know you life story can be seen as critical to your self awareness, and more importantly to how you are directing yourself to have your experiences and, how you will respond to events and create the outcomes you do, or fail to do.
Building The Critical Narrative
The narrative you hold as your life story, the autobiographical narrative, is the key to organizing what I call the Ladder of Perception …
- Sense Making
- Meaning Making
- Decision Making
- ACTION! –> Results/Outcomes
We know the world, and our experience of the events that occur, as a function of who we know ourselves to be in relation to them. This begins with whether or not we even perceive them to begin with, i.e.: we have awareness of the event/s past the threshold of our sensory system processing them for sense making and meaning making.
There are perceptions that occur below the threshold of awareness … i.e.: we are present to the sensorial data, but what we perceive sensorially never reach the level of stimulation necessary for us to become consciously aware that we are perceiving the sensorial stimuli. Yet this transformation from simple impressions in our sensory system, to which we may be responding in a reflexive ways, never make it to the level of conscious processing, i.e.: they remain out of our conscious awareness.
For example many of our phyisological homeostasis responses operate in relation to external, environmental stimuli that we never become aware consciously until they exceed our thresholds of familiarity, comfort, priming , or targeting. Specifically, we can use the sense of temperature changes that we respond to almost instantly via our internal regulation system, keeping our core temperature steady, yet until the range of temperature change exceeds the threshold of comfort we remain largely unaware of these changes happening.
Familiarity and comfort remain largely out of our conscious awareness until these thresholds are breached, e.g.: how salty our food actually is when served and tasted. Yet both priming and targeting can influence the threshold levels we experience. For instance if we are specifically tasting food for the level of salt it contains we become much more sensitive to the taste impression of saltiness. The same is true if we are testing the ambient temperature, say with an intention to dress appropriately.
These threshold conditions are primed in part by the autobiographical narrative we hold, i.e.: how we know ourselves to be in relation to the events we experience. This tends to be especially true in regard to how we experience the “other” … those people we interact with in our lives.
We can build the experience of others into our life story in one way by categorizing people we know as well as those we don’t … e.g.: family, intimate/close friends, casual friends, acquaintances, strangers … enemies. As soon as we fit someone into a category our sense of them (in relation to ourselves, as well as who they are independently of us) becomes influenced by the category into which we’ve placed them.
This example of categorizing people as a reflection of our life story then runs into our ability to make sense of someone immediately upon recognizing them (perception –> sense making), and then almost as immediately making decisions about how to respond to their presence (sense making –> decision making). This in turn determines our response to them (ACTION!) and their response to our response (results/outcomes).
These loops then reinforce or diminish our sense of the validity of our life story as an accurate representation of reality. So for us, reality and the story we tell ourselves and others about it are the same. This remains true for us even when the evidence we’re confronted with presents a contrary view.
Dealing With The Cost Of “Truth”
When confronted with evidence contrary to our life story we typically experience extreme cognitive dissonance, leading to immediate rejection and avoidance in most people. I’d argue that only those who have specifically trained for dealing with cognitive dissonance when it arises in any other way fall into the trap of rejection and avoidance that allows them to keep their pre-existing life story intact.
You pay the cost of failing to produce the results and outcomes you expect, intend and desire … acting insanely, i.e.: being incapable of any action related to what is real beyond your projections of self … when you are living from, and operating in relation to, a life story that rejects and avoids contrary evidence.
Philosophers call this way of thinking and acting “solipsism” …
- the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.
Psychologically a solipsistic personality exhibits Solipsism Syndrome …
Solipsism syndrome refers to a psychological state in which a person feels that reality is not external to their mind. Periods of extended isolation may predispose people to this condition.
In my experience a large portion of my clients experience either periods of solipsism or respond solipsistically to events in their lives that are contextually driven. I’ve especially seen this when people are going through periods of personal and/or social transition. This prevents them from exiting the loop they find themselves in, where they seem unable to move beyond what limits them, often despite previous success (even in the same domain of consideration).
These folks seem categorically unable to process that “This isn’t That” … or the need to frame what they are experiencing in relation to their pre-existing life story, and the contextual framing represented by it. Their life story has become impenetrable in relation to whatever they are confronting that limits them.
Making the shift that allows your life story to be more porous and permeable in regard to what you confront that leads to a sense of cognitive dissonance provides both relief to the discomfort that leads ordinary folks to rejection and avoidance, and also a way to update your life story to encompass a greater range of possibilities in regard to creating results and outcomes … on your own and with others.
Helping clients make this shift is the primary thing I do … in my webinars and programs, in my 1-to-1 Private Work work with clients, in MythoSelf Process training and mentoring … essentially, I’m all (and to some degree “only” about) helping people to become aware of their life story, how it drives them, and showing them how to modify and update it.
While there may be a million and one ways to tap into the power of your life story, and what could be possible when you update it to more closely reflect reality “as it is” and not “how you want it to be” my singular approach aims at developing profound cognitive adaptability and maturity as personal developmental evolution to achieve new levels of awareness and personal performance. I call this approach the MythoSelf Process, and now you know a bit more about it too.
Joseph Riggio, Ph.D.
Architect & Designed of the MythoSelf Process and SomaSemantics
P.S. – If you’d like to arrange a time to explore and discuss working with me privately or joining one of my programs, including the upcoming 2021 MythoSelf Certification programs let’s chat about it …
If you’d prefer you can start by requesting more information about the upcoming 2021 MythoSelf Professional Training and Certification Programs …
*NOTE: I dealt extensively with explaining the process of learning, presented as the concept of “wholeform learning” … what others might prefer to refer to as “natural learning” … in my book, “Experiencing The Hero’s Journey” available at Amazon and other booksellers.