Getting rid of the unique self: On how we are losing what it means to be human

in #philosophy2 years ago


Current psychology (read: science) does not promote mental health in the sense of human flourishing, but rather some “ideal” which no one can attain. This is a bold statement to make, and there is no way I can defend it properly. But read it in this way. Take, for example, the Epicurean philosophy and sciences. The atomistic theory (of the soul) is something current science would laugh away, it is not up for scientific verification, it should purely be dogmatically accepted. Why is this? Because the atomistic theory promoted human flourishing, or it sought after ataraxia, a life free from anxiety and stress. The scientific theory was not promoted in order to mirror nature, but rather to promote a good life; the scientific theory did not want to “get it right” or get to the “bottom of it”, but it rather promoted a way to live life without baggage and fear (of the gods or whatever caused unnecessary stress). One can criticize this from various perspectives but let us try and see this idea through. Let us leave all of the actual theories of yesteryear and of now and focus on the idea: current science does not promote human flourishing or ataraxia because it is seen as something detached from us.

Mirroring of nature

The idea that our theories “mirror nature” is not something foreign. The wording might be odd. But the idea that our theories of, say, movement predict certain phenomenon is not controversial. We trust that our theories will “get it right”, or that what actualizes can be predicted to a certain sense. We can predict the movement of an object with theories and mathematics. Complex mathematics will predict the movement of a certain weight etc., through space etc., with a certain accuracy. One might naively state that our theory and math “mirrors” what happens in “real life”. This is not controversial, nor is it something one can attack or criticise without the required knowledge. This is also not something I want to critique in any way. This ideal of “objectivity” in science is what matters: there is no human subjectivity “influencing” the “world” as such. The theories are devoid of human influence, the world is devoid of human influence, it is merely a “mirroring of nature”.

Science and humans

We stand, in a sense, outside or a step backwards from what we are investigating. The object moving across a certain surface and our theories mirroring or predicting the outcomes are not influenced by our subjective feelings, nor does it have any influence on our subjective feelings. The study of science has nothing to do with our subjective feelings or our way of viewing life, or so it should be. But this is not the case. The Epicureans did not fear death because after one died, your soul and body dispersed into its atomistic parts, in other words, one would feel nothing, on could not stand in the afterlife before a judgemental panel of gods or entities because there was nothing as such. The sciences for the Epicureans promoted ataraxia or flourishing by stating there are only matter or material and nothing of an afterlife or hell or gods will happen because there is nothing after life. No feelings, nothing. There was a certainty on which one could rely; I should not fear death because it cannot harm me, thus there is no stress. (Or there should not be.) But today our sciences are functioning on a different level. Can your theory predict? Can your hypothesis be tested? Where are your results?

One enters upon a problem when the studied “objects” are “subjective entities”, i.e. when we as humans are the subject of our theories and predictions. If we try and apply this same “mirror” to our own nature, what do we see? Can we predict our behaviour? Can we even work with an “ideal” human nature? What are the constants we put into the theories?, etc. This is the problem of the mental health professions or psychology. The “objects” being studied are not the same as things out in the world, or we perceive it as different. If we try and predict, theorise or hypothesize humans, we stumble upon a world of different problems. Let us look at depression as example. Depression is hypothesized as various things, but the one most people are familiar with are the chemical imbalance theory. There is a chemical imbalance which needs medication to rectify it, depression is thus not something you can get rid of on your own; one cannot just “get rid of it” or “shake it off”. You are also not (entirely) responsible for it, it is your brain, it is an illness like any other illness, it is physical etc. (Once again, don’t read this as me criticising this model or theory, because I am not.) A pill is given to the depressed and then all will be good. One is, in a sense, cured from depression, or one maintains the chemical balance with medication.

The problem with this model is that we can somehow “idealize” or “normalize” the chemical makeup of the mind. Here is the ideal brain in complete harmony; anything with excess or loss needs more or less of this or that. Here is a pill to rectify your losses, here is a pill to manage your excesses. This is how you should look like; this is how your brain should function, but don’t worry it is not you, it is rather your brain’s fault. You are not to blame here. To me there is a glaring problem with this model; it is not that we are looking for human flourishing or ataraxia, but rather a mythical ideal which no one can ever reach.

Ataraxia, magical pills and the conclusion which no one reaches

Freedom from anxiety, or ataraxia, is the state of mind which most of the Hellenistic philosophies sought after. One should get rid of things which cause this stress; the Epicureans got rid of the religions and sciences which caused their followers to feel stressed. For example, the idea that one will be punished for your behaviour will lead one to stress over every action. This life of stress will not promote flourishing, this life will merely promote a constant “looking over one’s shoulder” mentality. This same feeling of stress is promoted by our current psychologized era; do I have enough of this chemical?, is there too much of this?, is my brain functioning normal?, is this behaviour normal?, and so on. This constant questioning is not conducive for a good life, or one of ataraxia. In fact, it directly causes an anxious lifestyle; it causes one to constantly look over your shoulder, am I eating the right food?, am I acting as I should?, should I take this pill?, and so on. This is not the flourishing life one might want.

If there was a magical pill which caused one to live a life free from stress, promoting human flourishing, it would have been taken by everyone. But, I think, this will never be the case; there will never be a time when such a pill (or anything for that matter) will replace the flourishing humans seek. This flourishing (whatever it may be) will never be as easy as taking a pill or replacing this chemical, etc. One might state that human flourishing or this elusive state is not something one can possess or achieve; it is not a fixed destination. It is rather a by-product of a lived life, a life one chooses oneself. It cannot be chosen for you, it cannot be achieved by drinking pills, etc. There is no magical pill which can bring forth ataraxia or flourishing. Constantly chasing it will also bring nothing forth.

At this stage, we are so set on getting rid of the unique self, that we are losing what it means to be human. Life is a struggle, but in this struggle, the by-product of flourishing and ataraxia is to be found. If one constantly fights against this unique self, if one cannot accept what one is or should be, or if one tries to accept what others tell you to be (like psychology), one will never achieve ataraxia. One will always be anxious; one will always look over one’s shoulder. The unique self, whatever that may be, is not an elusive or mythical thing, it is merely that one needs to accept who oneself is. *

(* That being said, if one needs medication, please see the doctor or psychiatrist or psychologist one trusts. One cannot simply “get rid” of, say, depression. Depression, and other disorders, is not something one can “snap out of”. The essay merely argues that holding an ideal of what it is to be human will in the end “get rid” of the unique self. In other words, if we ascribe to be the same as everyone else, we will lose our uniqueness and that is something worth fighting against.)


The older I get and I am getting older, the more I have come to understand that the current state of malaise that hangs over humanity begins first and foremost with physical causes and I do not mean innate chemical imbalances. First there is our diet. We were not meant to run carbohydrate based metabolisms and when a person can free herself from blood sugar swings, the state of ataraxia is a great deal easier to arrive at and maintain. Then there is a lack of sleep and chronic recreational drug use. All but the rarest individual who attends to all three of these factors will not see improvements in mood and more control over self. Few of us understand this but control over self is truly what we are looking for. We all want to be free. But then that is another philosophical vein, isn't it:)

Great post. A thinker:)

Thank you so much for the comment. Yes, you are absolutely right. There is not one answer, but a complex network of different interrelated things we need to give attention. (I do not like the word holistic approach because of the "negative" (??) connotation it sometimes has.) Yes, absolutely. Diet is so important, also exercise and a whole lot of other things. The idea of a quick single fix to a complex problem is so ingrained into our psyche that we totally forget that a lot of things are in our control. Thanks again!

I think the problem is that we have monetized our healthcare. Companies look for cures they can sell and they must get these so-called cures to market quickly and it has to be something the customer will have to buy many times to make profit. The healthcare system isn't about curing or ameliorating even. It is about getting people dependent and how can you heal a mind that way. You can't. Other than with really acute diseases and injury cases, a person might do better to trusting herself. And then there are all the snake oil salesman online too. I am starting to feel pretty good myself LOL for doing as good as I do:):):)

Hey, have a good day. You earned it:)

Thanks! Yes, you are absolutely right there. If you can make a whole society think they are ill, and you have the cure, then you have a brilliant way to make a ton of money. Thanks again, keep safe.

Exactly I agree with you here 100%. There is no psychological freedom I would say, the boundations are what make most of us mentally sick or stressed. Why do I need to behave a certain way - not that I can be violent and kill people. But I don't understand why science and all those fancy stuff by which humans are sustaining and mankind is growing - why did not consider human psychology as one of the main factors in our flourishment. It has not been given the right weightage.

The way a human think and feels directly impacts everything in the world and yet we are so bounded and conditioned psychologically that this is not true growth.

I think we thought we were immune to our own psychology (or psychological influences). That is not the case. Thank you so much for the comment! :)

You put a a lot of effort to write this post. It gives a reader a lot to rethink. Your thoughts are deep and very systematic, I agree with you that we losing our self in many different ways.

I think the main issue behind this may lie in the perception of ideal or "ideal states", those can create two big problems, one being that such ideals are hard not to say impossible to achieve in a material not metaphysical world and two is that it may lead to underperceive everything, one of the main drives of depression is melancholy and this is a by-product (most of the time) of the conflict between reality and expectations, the expectation of ideal situations realities of even our selves, I think that's why psychology doesn't only relies on pills, they have cognitive and behavioral therapies as well, one must discover ourselves by our own, and discover that those ideals are more a guideline than a set goal, thanks for sharing this!

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Thank you so much for the comment! Yes, I agree with you. Please read my blog next week, which will address this in some more detail, especially the therapy part.

hi @fermentedphil
you wrote a very deep post. I don't know English very well and I had to use the translator, so I don't know if I understood all your thoughts well. unfortunately the evolution of man does not always go as we hope or desire. there have been periods of great progress (see Enlightenment, industrial eras,) and even there probably will have been imbalances created in the minds of the people we do not know. nowadays our evil is to have too much, to know so much and not to use it well, to think that we need a lot of useless things, to think that money, success and power are the key to happiness. all this leads people to react differently, it also depends on which part of the world they are growing. of course the pills will not take us to ataraxia, but I feel more interested in the evils for which I take the pills. the search for the self is a personal journey, we cannot expect everyone to do it in our same way. reality is subjective and we should be so empathetic as to understand that everyone interprets this reality through their own personal feelings. I suffer from chronic headache and when I am sick I am depressed and I seem to go crazy and my inner self is wiped out by pain. what should I do? however, taking the pills does not eliminate research in life. and personally I am not looking for ataraxia, but for the strong emotions that make my heart beat.
congratulations and thanks for sharing with us

Thank you so much for the time and effort you spent! Yes life is subjective and everyone won't join the journey or for the search for ataraxia. But the thing is one needs to be happy with one's decision. If one does not want to look for ataraxia, one needs to be happy with that choice. Good luck with the headaches! Keep safe and stay strong.

no effort, just happy sharing of thoughts! I love philosophy and questioning about life is its very essence !! Thank you very much

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This piece of writing seems to be close to the reality of present world and applicable to the whole universe wherever mankind exists. You refers to the

The problem with this model is that we can somehow “idealize” or “normalize” the chemical makeup of the mind.

What is in fact mind? is it an imaginary thing without any scientific evidence, is it simply the thought process of our brain. Your reference to the epicureans is only those people who think about only food and pleasure, is it? If so then no wonder they never cares about any other worldly things and not afraid of death and its after effects. But we - the majority of people in the world is tied up with their religious beliefs, and there are a section of people who prays for the departed souls (if there is, and for them it is there) by their successors.

But I loved the way your reasoning it with depression and humankind's urge to solve every issue related to even the thought process with the help of a pill. I too wonder will it ever works?

To conclude the mental aspect of the human being is so complex and it really requires a lot of conviction to get of those tag.

Thanks so much for the comment! Yes what you say is true. We are in a time where there are so many religions etc., it is hard to think about how it would be without them. It won't necessarily be good. And yes, the mind etc., is very complex, maybe it is our misguided idea that it can be explained and understood which got us in this current predicament?

Good that you got some time to write such a post which involves the complex nature of human being, how it works with flourishing and all.

Ultimately people are looking for happiness, but the greediness in them never gets them to an ideal point where the search for more happiness ends. Those who have sufficient bank balance for the nest three to four generation generation want to earn more to add to the existing wealth, so when will their happiness ends. Those having one luxury car eyeing for one more to add so that his status in the society will be more.

But the sad reality is that despite enough wealth these people never experience the happiness they are looking for and ultimately leaving this world due to the unnecessary stress., is it.

So I loved this concept,

If there was a magical pill which caused one to live a life free from stress, promoting human flourishing, it would have been taken by everyone.

Lets wait for such a pill..

Yes, money is kind of the root problem. See my newest post for this topic! Thanks again. Keep safe.

Such some lovely philosophies you have in there. I love how you took the time to explain them one after the other to give views the understanding. I t was a great and loving one around your blog. The education you have given me today will travel a long while. My uniqueness will always be as it should.

Each second spent on your blog was worth the read. Good work and keep the spirit of philosophy up

Thank you so much! Take care, and be safe.

You are humbly welcome

This is a very insightful post. One that brings up a very polemic topic.
I could not agree more with you about this issue.
I am among those who do not think science have all the answers and, as a matter of fact, considering all the money invested over the last centuries, science has actually obscured everything some more.

A pill is given to the depressed and then all will be good. One is, in a sense, cured from depression, or one maintains the chemical balance with medication.

I learned the opposite was true the hard way. When I went to the States for Grad School I took my 8-year-old son with me. He did not speak spanish; it took him 6 months or so to start understanding what was being said around him. It took him even longer to start socializing effectively.
The first time he tried to defend himself from racist attacks the teacher suggested to get him some medication.

I also agree with your clarification at the end. There are obviously certain conditions that will require medication, but there are emotional upheavals that must be faced head on and those vary from one person to the next (cause-effect).
Not every person will be able to get out of holes in the same way.

Thank you so much for the well-worded reply and the time you took. Yes, a pill seems like the easiest way to shut people up and shift the burden of problems onto someone else. Only if people could be more aware and inquire more into things before they decide. Stay safe, and thank you so much! Take care.