Core Self Dates and Links
... and a brief narrative intro
Dear friends of the POP-UP School.
I have been spending the last couple of weeks meditating on the experience and phenomenology of the core self. Interestingly, it brings me to a wordless place, and so, the several attempts I have made at explicating the “content of this course” have seemed forced and rather scripted.
Of course, I have also spent a couple of decades studying the self-other-world motif. Early on I wrote A Process Model of Integral Theory paper that was heavily influenced by both Herbert Guenther and Jason Brown (unlikely bedfellow indeed!) It was my first paper, and it won 2nd place for alternative theory at the first Integral Theory Conference, echoes of which appeared a decade later in Kosmos as the article “The Phenomenology of the Self” where I introduced the notion of deep phenomenology — the practice I embraced these past couple of weeks.
Deep phenomenology allows us to identify the conditioned aspects of memory, thought, and mind, and enables us to dis-identify from all the symbolic representations of reality stored in our heads. This process of clearing out the structural artifacts of the conditioned mind reveals the active imagination at the heart of all experience. We discover that the activity of the imagination is what binds the myriad phenomena by ‘minding’ them into a centered whole, in the same manner that the dream self is imagined into existence while we sleep. We realize the self as the terminal bud unfolding at the end of the waveform of moment-to-moment experience. First feeling, then perceiving. In the end a self is image-mind(ed) into existence. Then, right at the moment when the wave of experience crests and the moment dissolves into the traces of its past, the self, a reflection through the looking glass of imagination, turns around to catch a glimpse… but the moment has passed and the phenomena have disappeared. The self is left only with its apparition… and it too is not there.
At the time of the publication of the Kosmos article, I was hosting a summer school called "Alderlore SOLE” - an experience that proved to be both fruitful of key insights, and highly problematic, leading to key learning points.
Alderlore SOLE itself was a production that emerged from a web-based learning journey I hosted called The Magellan Courses - of which I presented an overview for the Integral Theory Conference in 2013. Here I was beginning to integrate several perspectives on the self, the basis of which was this prompt:
The illiterate of the future will be those who cannot _________________.
So here over the last couple of weeks, I find myself, once again in a teaching setting, grappling with how to present this material. The reason why the notion of “the self” is such a tricky topic, is that at bottom, the “self” is what we might call a “generator function” — or a generative process. It is the process through which the self-other-world matrix arises. Each time we pursue this question, whether experientially, phenomenologically, or conceptually, we activate its generativity, and discover new ways to enstructure reality. We might see the self as emerging from the world, or the world(s) emerging from the self; we might see the self as being constructed socially, or enmeshed in intersubjective processes; we might see the self as “tetra-arising” through primoridal perspectives1; we might conclude the self is illusory, epiphenomenal, primoridal, empty of anything or full of everything. The self, Ramana Maharsi said, is like the thumb held before the eye— it can grow to block out the sun. It can also disappear. And when “it” the self disappears, the world might disappear along with it or, more captivatingly so, as Dogen said — we might fall among the myriad things.
Much of the ideas behind the early development of the self-other-world comes from the work of Alisson Gopnik, although she doesn’t extend that process deeper into stages across the lifespan. We will also highlight the egocentric and allocentric modes, which is primarily based on the work of James Austin (a neuroscientist and Zen practitioner). There are, of course, many other philosophers, practitioners, authors and neuroscientists that inform this work. 2
In preparation for this course, I started working through four books I haven’t read before. I find myself wondering- what are people up to these days, when examining these motifs?
I am familiar with Damasio’s earlier work (The Feeling of What Happens), and his latest work (The Strange Order of Things) - instead of returning to them, I decided to read this intermediate book. Similar to our Generative Self model, Damasio has a tri-partite self which includes the proto-self which includes primordial feelings, the core self which is the sensori-motor action-oriented self, and the autobiographical self, which is how we carry identity forward through narratives. Like my own “origins of the self” model, Damasio identifies deep structures in our animal natures as the sources of the self.
Dan Zahavi has been writing about the self and self-other relation for decades, from both philosophical and introspective perspectives. In this book he summarizes the various approaches that compose the field, and his aim is to both clarify the contradictions and carry forward the debate. In this book his goal in exploring subjectivity is toward the understanding of empathy and shame. Lots to work with here, and I am eager to share.
Interdependence by Kriti Sharma
Although she is not focusing on the self-other-world matrix from a psychological or phenomenological perspective, Sharma is putting forth a new understanding of reality that “takes interdependence seriously.” Her questions form the framework of the book
What do objects depend on? - Physical substance, matter and the external world
What does sensing depend on? - Transduction, energy, and the meeting of worlds
What do organisms depend on? - Bodies, selves and internal worlds
What does order depend on? - Patterns, gaps and the known world
Here I am using her work as an example of someone who is in the throws of reorganizing reality into new self-other-world compositions. It stands as a beautiful example that the development of the core self is not fixed in childhood, but plays a crucial role across the lifespan of individuals, and across transgenerational relations.
This is a surprising and strange book that I loved reading! It is an edited transcript of a series of discussions that took place in Tokyo in 2016 between two Zen priests (Issho and Ryodo) who were both ordained the the somewhat radical lineage of “Homeless Kodo” and the popular Japanese philosopher Hitoshi (also a Zen practitioner). Among a host of odd topics, they explore an extreme version of solipsism, and whether or not the point of meditation is to tame the mind like you tame a puppy. I will share the wonderful illustrations they used to suss out the issues they address.
I will use these four books as a loose course framework. Looking forward to launching this rare and refreshing course. Sorry about the late notice. First session this Saturday!
Main Group: Every Saturday 10 am (Eastern) June 18 - July 30
OZ Group: Every Tuesday 3 pm (Eastern) June 21 - July 26
Dates and links below for paid subscribers?
Want to jump right into this course with us?
Do you know someone you’d like to take this course with?