the Observing Ego: a narrative of my existence


Have you ever heard the phrase “talking to yourself”?
What about “thinking aloud”?
Which one seems to be accurate? The phrase thinking aloud has
become accepted due to self- consciousness but it doesn’t make any
sense. When YOU are talking to your SELF, you are talking to
someone, as you do in any other conversation;
just as YOU are reading this book. Whereas to think aloud,
your brain would actually have to verbalize in some way.
So what is the difference between
you and yourself?
A matter of existence.
Thinkers in the mid to late 19th century and early 20th century like
Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche, through a dismantling of
objectivity and emphasis on skepticism, especially concerning social
morals and norms, laid the groundwork for the intellectual movement
called existentialism. It is my belief that the line between the objective
and subjective view of philosophy exemplified by this movement has
been completely obscured by not only a subsequent misuse of
terminology but a general displasure of ideals by the following
generation of philosophers. As a result, writers such as Jean-Paul
Sartre, Albert Camus, and Samuel Beckett drew heavily from
Kierkegaard and Nietzsche rather than that of their contemporaries.
They brought about a new sense of subjectivity, but also one of
forlornness which greatly influenced contemporaneous thinkers, writers
and artists. For example, Karl Barth’s important fideist approach to
theology and lifestyle ironically spawned an irreverence for reason and
therefore sparked the rise of subjectivity.
Colonialism after World War II contributed to the idea that one cannot
have an objectively superior lifestyle or belief. This idea was taken
further by anti-foundationalist philosophers Heidegger, Ludwig
Wittgenstein and Derrida, who re-examined the fundamentals of
knowledge. They argued that rationality was not as sure or as clear as
modernists and rationalists believed. In addition to the philosophers,
most psychologists began to assert a cognitive bias toward existence,
which points out the human bias of “truth”. Existentialism as a
philosophical movement is generally considered to be a study in
pursuit of meaning in existence and seeks value for the existing
individual. Unlike other fields of philosophy, it does not treat the
individual as a concept but values individual subjectivity over objectivity.

Because of this, questions regarding the meaning of life and subjective
experience are seen as being of paramount importance, above all
other scientific and philosophical pursuits. There are several
philosophical positions related to existential philosophy but the main
identifiable common proposition is that existence precedes essence,
i.e. that a man exists before his existence has value or meaning.
This value or meaning and that of the world around him allows man to
define himself in his own subjectivity and vacillate between choice,
freedom and angst. Existentialism often is associated with anxiety,
dread and awareness of death. However, it is also associated with
both freedom and liberty. Existentialism emphasizes action, freedom
and decision making as being fundamental to human existence.
It is diametrically opposed to both rationalist tradition and positivism.
Early existentialists argued against any description of humans as
primarily rational beings who see reality as an object of knowledge.
They refused to see human actions as something that should be
regulated by rational principles, as we were beings who could be
defined in terms of our behavior. More generally it rejects all of the
Western rationalist definitions of being and rational principles. It also
rejects essence as the most general feature that all existing things
share in common. More contemporary existentialists view human
beings as subjects in an indifferent, objective, absurd and often
ambiguous universe in which meaning is not provided by the natural
order but can be created, however provisionally and unstably, by the
actions and interpretations human beings. Although there are certain
common tendencies among existentialist thinkers, there are major
differences and disagreements among them. Some don’t even affiliate
themselves with or accept the validity of the term “existentialism”.
In contrast to this philosophical school of thought there is an interesting
paradox known as postmodernism.

When I first started writing this book, I read a quote about
postmodernism from Al Gore, former Vice something or other and
possibly a Senator at the time, i’m not sure. To be honest, I don’t keep
up with that sort of thing. He stated that postmodernism was a perfect
combination of nihilism and narcissism. I took offense to this as both a
nihilist and a narcissist. I mean, the nerve of this jerk. Who are you to
tell me what my personality traits combine to create perfectly?
A Senator, huh? Well, the joke’s on you because I don’t vote. I guess
that’s the nihilism you are referring to. In any case, I do not believe
anyone has properly defined or classified this so-called philosophical
movement, let alone come to any kind of
consensus about the basic principles therein.
Other than the rejection of modernism, which is also ambiguous, what
is it really about? I know that an opposition to the rise of the “robots”
and dawn of the computer age has much to do with it. That would
probably make George Orwell a postmodernist. But it also has to do
with a rejection of conservative ideology, in that the traditional views of
socio-econmics and politics using rationalization and objectivity are
impossible because those patterns of thought do not actually exist.
I find this to be a strange conclusion as rationale and objectivity are
sometimes diametrically opposed. Objective views are primarily
influenced by physical laws and mathematic absolutes whereas
rationalization may proceed from a false assumption. If both ideas are
rejected or neither exists, one would have no other choice that to
presume that they are the center of the known universe, hence the
narcissism I suppose. I started this project innocently enough by asking
myself questions. It is turning out to be very complex.
I have studied philosophy for 20 years,
but I am not a professionally trained philosopher
(whatever that may be).
I will however make an attempt to articulate as best I can from my own
understanding of the material. Simply put, this is how I see myself and
how I see the world.    

Skip Pulley
Skip Pulley
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