How to Know Yourself

I recently listened to a piece about Paul Ricœur (I think there was a lot of news, largely on account of the 100th anniversary of his birthday). I can’t recall if I’ve read any of his work per se, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I had. I am quite certain that much of my work — especially the part focused on the intersection of language and information — is very closely related to much of his, so even if I have not read any of his texts, I have probably read many which are in the tradition of this line of thought.

Now, without knowing whether I am building on his ideas or not, I wish to go off on a tangent about this issue of self — basically, as the Beatles put it so well, this business of “All though the day: I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me mine; All through the night: I, me, mine, I, me, mine, I, me, mine”. The piece I was listening to (a week ago or so) was contrasting Ricœur’s notion of self with that of Descartes… but that is not precisely the distinction I want to make. I wish to follow more John Lennon’s lines — something like “I am he, as you are me, and we are all together”.

This line of thinking has a very long tradition… and this is also a crucial element in my own thinking about language — which is closely linked to thought, philosophy, etc. (e.g. Wittgenstein, Sapir/Whorf hypothesis, Marxist theories, and many more). Yet such ideas are not in wide circulation — primarily I think because many people are not accustomed to thinking outside of their own skins).

To make this especially simple, I will reduce it to one point: If you say “I am”, then you are also implicitly stating the complement — in other words, you are also saying “I am not.

You cannot define (or know) yourself without also knowing what you are not. All of the things that you are not, taken together, are a part of you what you are. You cannot be happy without the lack of happiness; You cannot love without loveless beings; You cannot hope without hopelessness. And so on… — so it goes, on and on: it circles back to you, and you circle back to it.

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