Sunday 7 July 2019

The problem of false selves (William Arkle)

One of William Arkle's core insights is that - in normal, everyday life - people act from a multitude of false selves. The true self, which is of divine origin and potentially able to become a god, is what makes us what we are - but it may be completely buried beneath false selves; the true self may be utterly ineffectual.

These false selves are of many types. Some are the collections of traits - hereditary and socialised - that constitute our 'personality' as described and measured by psychology. Others are that mass of automatic, robotic skills and responses that we learn to deal with the problems of living; including skills like typing or driving, small-talk and routine social interaction.

You can see that false selves are the totality of what a person presents to the world; and usually also everything that a person is aware of in himself, insofar as he is aware of anything. So, our consciousness is not the same thing as our true self, because it may be unaware of the true self, may even deny the reality of any such thing as a true self.

False selves are therefore necessary but a problem, because whenever we make an effort to change ourselves in any way, the probability is that this will be a matter of one or more of the false selves trying to change us in a superficial and false direction.

This is why methods of meditation,. methods of self-improvement, will-power... all such endeavours are nearly always ineffective. It is just a matter of distorting ourselves by exaggerating one or more false selves.

And how can we consciously strive to discover and nurture our true self, when the striving is being done by a false self?

Or if we try to relax and let-go the true self; simply 'allowing' the true self to emerge from under the false ones; there is a likelihood that we will instead be releasing one or more of the false selves...

The problem is not insoluble, because it has been achieved by others (and perhaps even by our-selves, albeit infrequently and briefly); but Arkle makes clear that there is no method to it; and indeed part of solving the problem is to recognise why there is no method. We must 'quarry out' our real self from the false ones, by some kind of trial and error - discovering what works for us, here and now; but never able to make the process a standard one.

The answer can be summarised as 'intuition' - but that is just giving a name to the fact that there is no method. But the start of a solution is to define the problem - and after that to recognise when the true self is emerging and strengthening. And this can be done by learning to recognise the uniquely self-validating quality of the true self.

Once you know it is there, real and vital - we can feel the reality of the true self in an absolutely distinctive way - even though we cannot describe it.



Francis Berger said...

I appreciate this post very much, Bruce. It tackles a concept I hold to be true and have explored, but struggle to fully come to grips with. The core of the problem for me lies in intuitively knowing what the true self is without being able to fully comprehend it or describe it, and then using this intuitive knowledge to recognize and identify false selves.

Some false selves are easily recognizable and identifiable, but others can be far more subtle and misleading. An individual could spend years intuitively adhering to what he or she believes to be the true self only to discover it was a false self all along (assuming, that is, that the person even senses it is a false self at all since knowing the true self seems so wrought with difficulty).

I know Arkle's answer to this question, but I still often ask, "Why is it knowing the true self so inherently difficult and challenging? Why does it remain so well hidden from our consciousness?"

Bruce Charlton said...

@Francis - I think the problem is that what we are doing is, for the people incarnated to do it, difficult. It's why we are living these lives, why we *need* to live these lives. It doesn't really matter how many times we fail, or even how long it takes, just so long as we accomplish it before we die.

Zach said...

It's been a while since I read Kierkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death, but that's what this made me think of. Also Sartre and bad faith/inauthenticity. I guess that ties in with posts you've written on freedom as well. The other thing that sprang to mind was CS Lewis in Letters to Malcom where he prays that it might be the real self that asks (can't recall the quote exactly.) There's a lot to think about in what Arkle says. I guess even Nietzsche was thinking about this with "become who you are." It's so hard when the world encourages us to strike poses.

Nicholas Fulford said...

The true self is implicit and opaque whereas false selves are explicit and visible. it is like a snake who has scales on the surface that age and fall off only to give rise to new scales which also over time age and fall off. If I keep looking at the scales I will just find more scales, which is of course the problem of trying to find the *true* self. However, that which is snakeness - encoded in its DNA and all the DNA of all the snakes - is the true self of the snake. Now, how that expresses is relational, and it is not a one way street, as there is epigenetics as well as genetics at play, and all of this occurs iteratively over time. But snake over time also changes giving rise over to other than snake, hence once again there is a more fundamental level at work which we see as evolution and speciation. If we follow the chain back as far as we can, we find that near instantiation - close to t=0 - there must be implicit the seed of that which time unfolds. We cannot say very much about that without looking at the expression that has occurred and continues to occur over time. The expression is the revelation of what is implicit, and time is that which unfolds it. A theist may give that quality of implicity an explicit label, but there is always the risk of projection of falsity by the ego into that, and because the label that has been given is "God", it is very easy for something which is projected from the ego to be regarded as absolute - which of course is what the ego's dearest wish is, to be absolute rather than contingent.

Bruce Charlton said...

The true self that that which makes all esle possible - it is the divine and eternal in us (or rather Of us). But - since we Are divine - we are free to deny our own divinity.