A Simple Question

  • Q: what am I?
  • A: I am a meditator.
  • R: meditation is something you may do, not something you are. what are you?

  • Q: what am I?
  • A: I am a thinker.
  • R: thinking may be something you may do or something you experience; but, that's not really what you are. what are you?
  • Q: what am I2?
  • A: I2 am something that experiences loving and hating, joy and anger, fear, sorrow and a host of other emotions.
  • R: these are experiences that you may have from time to time; but, what are you?


in retrospect, I2 should not be surprised at these rounds. a suffix of '-or' or '-er' indicates 'one who'; for example, 'farmer' = 'one who farms'. so an answer like 'I am a thinker' is equivalent to 'I am one who thinks' and I2 have already found that the internal voice that is doing the replying (the doubtcaster), has already rejected answers of the form 'I2 am that which X'.

answers of the form 'I2 am one who X' state that I2 am and say something about I2, that I2 do (or think, feel, etc.) X --- in this case that I2 think or meditate. this sort of answer defines me; but, only by confining me or limiting me to that one facet of my experience. in this QAR thinking is given special prominence --- it defines me. in another QAR feeling might have this special prominence. but, I2 do not want to be defined by limitation, by giving a subset of my experience some special significance.

  • Q: what am I?
  • A: I am a mind.
  • R: no. that's just a word. how do you know that you am a mind and not a soul or a spirit --- the proverbial ghost in the machine --- or, for that matter, a ba or a ka or a psyche or ... a <whatever>?


all these names (mind, soul, psyche, etc.) refer to a hypothetical, non-physical component of the human individual. what struck me the most about this QAR was that I2 just rejected --- in only two sentences --- the supposedly certain conclusion proposed by Rene Descartes in his Meditations on First Philosophy almost 400 years ago.

this left me in a quandry: while it seems intuitively obvious or self-evidently true that I2 am, I2 can not say what I2 am. I2 must be something; but, what?

as I pondered this insight, it seemed to grow more intense, more significant; and, this gave the thought I2 used to express the insight (I2 know that I2 am; but, not what I2 am) a sense of novelty. a part of me wanted to accept thought as a description of the inevitable and inescapable predicament of the human individual; but, after considering the potential for reaching a nihilistic result, I2 rejected the principle that suggested itself: I2 know that I2 can not know what I2 am.

nevertheless, I2 wondered how this meditation, based as it is on the tactic of rejecting each answer whether true or false, could take me beyond the self-evident or self-verifying fact that I2 am, enabling me to discover what I2 am. is there any identification that I2 could not have rejected as easily as I2 just rejected 'I2 am a mind'?

in retrospect, two points seem significant. first, in the experience I2 am calling an insight, the recognition that knowing that I2 am does not tell me what I2 am, there is something implicit, the recognition that I2 am. this showed up as the 'base' against which the insight created a quandry. the quandry or dilemma appeared because it appeared intuitively obvious that I2 am and that I2 had to be a something; but, I2 didn't know what. I2 sort of see this as snapping out of a reverie on a boat. I2 find that I2 am. and before I2 set sail on the knowledge quest. I2 pull on the rope I2 have on my hand and pull up the anchor. the intuitively obvious, self-verifying statement that I2 am is like the anchor.

secondly, it appears that looking for an unrejectable answer amounts to looking for certainty in the philosophical sense; but, I2 didn't realize that at the time --- despite having a reference to Descartes dangling before me.

  • Q: what am I?
  • A: I am that part of me which is not part of my body.
  • R: how do you know that there is a non-physical part of the human individual (and that you are it)?


I2 know only that I2 don't know either:

  1. that a human individual is more than a human body; or,
  2. that a human individual is no more than a human body.
  • Q: what am I?
  • A: I2 am that which asks 'what am I2'.
  • R: true, but uninformative. this doesn't tell me what you are, only that you are. what is that which asks 'what am I2'


I2 have shifted to using the first person triplicate as my interpretation of the question seems to have changed. when I2 began this meditation, I2 implicitly assumed that 'what am I' and 'what is a human individual' were alternate forms of the same question. one is phrased in the first person and the other in the third person; but, I2 considered them the 'same question' because I2 assumed that an answer to one would also be an answer to the other.

the structure-ambiguous 'I' of vernacular english broke down when confronted with questions that seemed to ask about the internal structure of the human individual. once I2 realize that a human individual has an internal structure, I2 must ask 'what component of that structure am I2?' and 'what component(s) generate the I2?'.

for the moment, I2 know only that

'I2' = 'that which asks "what am I2?" '

the I2 that asks 'what am I2?' is not necessarily the whole human individual!

thus, when the questions, 'what am I2' and 'what is a human individual', are different ones. if I2 take the latter to mean 'what is the structure of a human individual', I2 must consider (among other possibilities) that the I2 that asks 'what am I2' is but one component of the human individual or that the I2 is merely a function of one component of the human individual.

  • Q: what am I2?
  • A: I2 am something that is capable of perceiving.
  • R: perceiving is something that you may do or something you may experience. what is that something that perceives the world external to itself?


clearly, when I2 appear to be perceiving something external to myself, there is always the remote possibility that I2 am experiencing a hallucination rather than a perception. but, in either case, I2 am experiencing something. it's the same with optical illusions and misperceptions. whatever reality status the apparent object of my experience might have, it is undeniable that I2 am experiencing it.

I2 sometimes wake up from a dream and I2 am aware of having experienced a dream. within the dream I2 am almost never aware of dreaming, so in some sense I2 am deluded within the dream because I2 have a false belief about it. nevertheless, I2 can clearly say that I2 experienced seeming to drive my car backwards down the highway or seeming to do any of the other wild and crazy things that happen within the dream.

hmmm. if I2 am certain that I2 am experiencing when I2 seem to be experiencing; then, does it not follow that I2 am certain that I2 am an experiencer?

years later, in looking back, I2 realize that I2 may encapsulate my reasoning process in the following pity, epigrammatic, signature saying: I2 experience; therefore, I2 am ... an experiencer.

  • Q: what am I2?
  • A: I2 am an experiencer.
  • R: <silence>


undeniably, 'I2 am an experiencer' is a privileged identification in that it is as self-evidently true as the simple assertion 'I2 am'.


after reaching this point, I2 gradually realized that I2 had discovered another path to one of the traditional search-focusing questions that promote philosophical inquiry. after considerable deliberation, I2 decided to pursue the matter to see where it might lead; but, that is a task for another day.