Posted by Adam Mish 0 Comments

Do I contradict myself?

In Song of Myself Walt Whitman wrote:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I assume that when he wrote this in the 1800’s he specifically had me in mind, reading it well over 100 years later. That’s the feeling I’ve gotten several times over the years when reading something great. It’s as if it was written just for me to read at just that moment in just that place in my life.

It’s true.

I have difficulty with the idea of a consistent self. Self, ego, whatever you want to call it. Little ol’ me, separate from everything else. A.E. Housman put it:

I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.

If you haven’t already rolled your eyes and tossed your internet device across the room at the philosophical babbling, hi, I’m Adam. I’m the new guy here. In addition to talking at people about philosophy, I also love to code. So that’s what I do at EMRL.

I was always told “be yourself” as a kid. But, uh, could you elaborate?

But back to the topic at hand. After all, what is this “I” anyways? (He said, having used the word “I” without issue several times in the last paragraph. Refer to Walt’s contradiction quote.). It’s been a constant question for most of humanity, so I don’t think I’ll have it answered by the end of this post. But it can be a real problem for an American like me to deal with. How am I supposed to improve myself if I don’t know where or what my self is? I was always told “be yourself” as a kid. But, uh, could you elaborate?

A Buddhist might help me out and say “don’t worry about not finding the self because it’s an illusion. It isn’t there!”

What a relief!

Crisis averted. The limits of the self are just illusions. Arbitrary lines that separate us from each other, and from the universe itself. I shouldn’t worry about it’s absence or about improving it because it isn’t there and never was. Cool cool. I dig it.

But there is this issue though, at least for me. It certainly does feel like I am myself. I’m here, now, typing this blog post last minute. Urgently drinking coffee and being productive and trying to improve (or feeling guilty about not improving). Urgently being my-self. And feeling it, real, right now, in HD.

This issue was put much more succinctly by my friend’s kid brother, probably no more then 10 at the time. When confronted with the idea that he was not real he responded with: “but if I’m not real, then what about me?!”

I can relate fully to his response.

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