Other routes to the Search-Focusing Question: What am I0?
this question, 'what am I?', is something like a key that some philosophers have used to open the door into their psychophilosophical reflections.
1. Rene Descartes, the founder of modern psycho-philosophy
Descartes doubted all that could be doubted and discovered that one could not reasonably doubt that 'I am'. however, as he quickly realized,
I do not yet understand well enough what the I is that I necessarily am. Descartes is effectively saying that just knowing that I am, doesn't tell me what I am; so, he took up the 'what am I?' question in his Meditations on First Philosophy nearly 400 years ago. converting his statement into a search-focusing question we get: what is the I that I necessarily am?
2. Johann Fichte, a philosopher within the tradition of German idealism
Fichte began The Vocation of Man in a state of despair. in the first section he dwells on his doubts. in the next section he is visited by a spirit and they carry on a dialogue. at one point the spirit asks 'what are you?'. Fichte's answer reveals a curiously cartesian analysis. he starts with the fact of self-consciousness as the only true certainty and proceeds from there.
3. Joseph Almog, contemporary academic philosopher
Almog calls 'what am I?' the 'primal question'; and, in a book with that title he critiques Descartes' answer to that question.
4. Joel S Goldsmith, contemporary mystical philosopher, writes:
When you say, 'I', or when I say, 'I', the next question is: Who am I? What am I? Where am I? What is my function? This is the mystery, the mystery of the ages. so we search ... [Consciousness is What I Am. 1976. New York: Harper & Row. p. 32.]
5. Arthur J. Deikman, contemporary psychiatrist and philosopher, writes:
The fundamental questions, 'Who am I?' amd 'What am I?', arise increasingly in the struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. ... Western psychology is severely handicapped in dealing with questions because the center of human experience --- the observing self --- is missing from its theories. ... Lacking understanding of this elusive, central self, how are we to answer the essential questions 'Who am I?' 'What am I?', that lie at the heart of science, philosophy, the arts, the search for meaning? [The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy. 1982. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 9-11.]
6. Fred Alan Wolf, contemporary physicist, writes:
What am I? I'm sure the question has crossed your mind as often as it has crossed mine. Am I simply a machine? Is my mind an illusion, a simple construction that arises out of my mechanical brain? Am I, as John Lilly put it, 'a human liquid bio-computer'? Somehow, deep inside of me, I feel that I am more than that. At least, I think I must be. If I am more than a mechanical device, then what distinguishes me from a can opener or a washing machine? [Taking the Quantum Leap: The New Physics for Nonscientists. 1989. New York: Harper & Row. p. 228.]
7. Edward Williams Cox, early psychologist:
Cox defined the human as a mechanism; but, held that there was something non-physical (a mind or self or soul) that was part of that mechanism. interestingly enough, Cox proposed that this non-physical component of the human could be studied thru a study of the effects it had on the rest of the person; and, that this study is best done by studying what we'd now call paranatural phenomena (psychic phenomena, abnormal psychology and dreaming). his study, in two volumes is called [The Mechanism of Man: An Answer to the Question, What Am I?, A Popular Introduction to Mental Physiology and Psychology. 1879. London: Longman and Co. online at Google Books.]
8. Augustine of Hippo, early western philosopher:
in the midst of his agonizing introspection he asks writes, "Why then dost thou, in the manner of heretics, leave the matter, and betake thyself to the person? For what am I? What am I?" [The Confessions of St. Augustine. Pusey, Edward Bouverie. 1907. New York: E P Dutton. online at Google Books.]
9. Miriam Adahan, contemporary psychotherapist, writes:
"We all experience moments when our perception of ourselves, of others, or of the nature of reality is suddenly altered, either positively or negatively. In a suddn flash of revelation, we say that life and people are not what we thougth they were. For example a sudden loss may make us acutely aware of just how tenuous, helpless, unstable and impermanent we are, with a resulting sense of existential anxiety. A crisis can make us see everthing in a new light. These borderline or transition moments can last from a few seconds to months. ... The major gift in a borderline experience is that it shakes us up out of our lethargy and complacency. It provokes us to question our goals and our behaviour, to ask ourselves, ... 'What am I?'" (among other questions) [It's All a Gift. Feldheim Publishers. 1992. online at Google Books.]
10. B. A. Realist, contemporary mystical philosopher:
"What Am I? This fundamental question does not change with time. ... dive deep within and find what is Real in you. ... Give up all questions except one, 'What am I?'. After all, the only fact you are sure of is that 'you are'. ... The 'Beingness' I AM is always certain when you are conscious; the I Am This is not. Resolutely find out what you are in Reality." [What Am I?. Realist, B. A. 2006. Lulu Press lulu.com. online at Google Books. p. 2.]
there are also other, more fanciful, ways that 'what am I?' can become a search-focusing question. consider these possibilities:
1. genetic engineering
in the not too distant future, we will have the technology to introduce genes from other species into the human genome. for example, we might find a way to give our children the eyes of eagles. paradoxically, our children would acquire 'superhuman' abilities from the genes of 'subhuman' species. some of the children so blessed might well ask themselves 'What am I?' --- especially if they face persecution for being nonhuman. if so, there will have been a fascinating literary anticipation of their situation. in recounting the tale of his experiences, Frankenstein's monster says:
My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them. [Shelly, Mary. 1957/1861. Frankenstein. New York: Pyramid. 111.]
2. electronic implants
as electronic parts are incorporated into the brain, one might ask 'at what point do we cease to be human and start to become ... binars?'.