Example of Self Awareness Actions

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Do others know us better than we know ourselves? According to Edith Stein in her work “On the Problem of Empathy,” the answer is an absolute yes. Stein argues that we have unconscious behaviors observable purely through another’s observation. In contradiction, Franz Brentano argues in “Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint,” that there may be no unconscious mind setting forth these behaviors. Instead, some thoughts are self-directed, or their directionality and inner perception are intended towards self-awareness, though this poses a regression dilemma. I agree with Stein in that the unconscious exists, and by observing behavior, we can infer that the causes of past behaviors influence present behavior. In support of my thesis, I will use an article by Joel Voss and Ken Paller called “An Electrophysiological Signature of Unconscious Recognition Memory.” This article explores the unconscious’ ability to retain and retrieve memories through implicit and explicit memory retrieval.

In objection to these points, a naysayer like Socrates might argue that we know ourselves best through deep self-examination since observations by others are not always correct. I counter this argument by highlighting that while others may possess incorrect assumptions about our character, it does not negate the usefulness of outside insight for developing a well-rounded sense of self.

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For clarity in this essay, I will define inner perception as Brentano does – as the awareness of thought. Intentionality, as defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary, is the act of being deliberative and purposeful. This definition aligns with Brentano’s idea of thoughts containing a sense of intentionality and directionality. Directionality, defined by the same dictionary, relates to the indication of direction in space. However, for this essay, I define directionality as having deliberate intention in a mental phenomenon focused on any person (including the self), place, or thing. Mental phenomena are the mental representations of thoughts, experiences, sensations, intentions, etc. Brentano would define mental phenomena as the perceived inner consciousness. Implicit and explicit memories are also discussed: the former are the memories we cannot easily retrieve but manifest in unconscious behavior, while the latter are those we can easily retrieve and of which we are consciously aware.

Understanding the difference between conscious and unconscious thinking allows us to question if the unconscious exists. Once an individual tries to become aware of their unconscious, it becomes conscious. Self-awareness of unconscious thinking is not possible, as that would render it conscious. This raises the question: if there is an unconscious, how can we know it exists if we cannot see it, know it’s happening, or be aware of it? As Brentano explains, inner perception — being aware of thinking — can never be nor transition into inner observation.

To answer the question, first and foremost, we need to try to understand thinking. Thinking, for clarity, will be referred to as a mental phenomenon, or the non-physical representation of feelings, objects, and intentions. Mental phenomena, as Brentano explains, are intentional and are objects of inner perception. This can better be explained by intentionality as when one is thinking of or about something, and inner perception as they are aware they are thinking. Brentano suggests that to possibly try to understand consciousness and the possible lack of it, it would require not trying to observe the perceiving of the self, but rather the self being aware of the directionality and intentionality aspect of thinking.

Brentano explains there are two types of phenomena, the mental and the physical. The major differences between the two states, as he explains, is that the mental phenomena are characterized by their intentionality, while physical phenomena lack just that. Directedness of thoughts can be understood as the focus, where the thought is going, or what the senses are observing in the moment. To perceive, interpret, or understand what the senses are observing, one will require the second half of the mental phenomena, inner perception.

Brentano further explains that inner perception is the next step to understanding mental phenomena. Inner perception is when one is aware of their perceptions; it goes along with identifying, being aware, or understanding what is being observed. The act of perceiving your thoughts, or in some cases thinking about what you may be unconscious of and trying to be aware of it. This inner perception does not do justice as thinking about what unconscious thoughts are, brings them into consciousness. This creates an infinite regress that will not find the solution.

Brentano goes on to explain that perhaps instead of an infinite regress, it can be interpreted that there are two parts of mental phenomena. There are the conscious thoughts that we are aware of, that have direct intention, and can be perceived with self-awareness; and there can also be mental phenomena that are unconscious, arguably self-directed but still perceivable with inner perception. The concept of self-directed thinking and inner perception can also be interpreted as self-examination.

Without directly stating her belief in an unconscious mind or not, Stein makes a compelling case for the possibility of it. Stein explains that through stimulation like scents, visual cues, feelings, etc. are triggers for the brain that can make memories and ideas move from the unconscious to the conscious. Though she does not claim to possess knowledge of where the thoughts or memories go once in the unconscious, they seemingly just disappear. She explains that in trying to figure out what may be within the unconscious through introspection, it may never be found without the help of another person. It is unconscious, and Brentano’s dilemma with trying to witness what one cannot be physically aware of is almost solved with Stein’s explanation that observation by another can be a meaningful method of self-awareness.

From Stein’s perspective, it almost seems as though the past ceases to exist once the mental phenomena are not fresh in one’s mind anymore. However, it happens that the past, or more precisely the behaviors from the past, remain in the unconscious, waiting for stimulation to be remembered. Her argument for this is that the past itself cannot cause behavior in the moment, since the past does not exist as a physical thing, but as a mental phenomenon. Rather, the cause of the behavior from the past is what affects the present. To illustrate this point, consider if a long-time friend starts acting strangely when trying to reenter the dating scene after a lengthy, depressing break up. One can infer that the cause of the awkward behavior is stemming from the ending of the relationship in a less than pleasant way. This inference would depend on multiple conditions, such as familiarity with the person’s typical behavior and a personal understanding of their situation. The newly-single friend may not be able to pinpoint why their dates have been going awry, but their observant friend could suggest that they are projecting problems from the breakup or are not yet ready to date again. This situation is a good example of how past experiences can continue to influence current behavior.

Inference is the best explanation, as the past and present are fleeting moments of time. The past experience fell out of existence but can be stimulated through senses or mental phenomena to be remembered again. The cause of past behaviors persists in the unconscious and accounts for behaviors, reactions, and ways of thinking. Consider a thought experiment known as Last Thursdayism — the idea that everything in the world was created last Thursday by an omnipotent being. If we compare this hypothesis, which posits that every complex organism, animal, bacteria, etc., was created last week, to the theory that these complex creatures evolved over millions of years through trial and error, it becomes clear that the latter requires fewer conditions to be possible. This approach of deciding by cutting down the possibilities to only those that involve the least amount of assumptions or conditions is known as Occam’s razor. This method can also be applied to Brentano’s argument of the unconscious. If the question is posed whether there is an unconscious mind or not, as opposed to the assumption that there is only the conscious mind, but it has a regressive tendency that we have yet to understand fully, or the idea that there are layers to the mind that subtly influence one another, the more plausible answer is the latter.

According to Stein, the unconscious concurs with the notion that past experiences influence future or present behaviors. The causes of past behaviors reside in the unconscious, and to more efficiently manage situations, we unconsciously rely on the past to make effective decisions for the future. On occasion, we can discern past experiences affecting our present behavior. To call upon an earlier example, we may demonstrate unconscious behaviors in romantic relationships when situations become stressful. If an individual had a history with a partner who would yell or act out during a disagreement, in the next relationship that person might preemptively react with anger, as this past behavior became the protocol for arguments. They may not intentionally mean to get angry, but the pattern of behavior developed from the first relationship may unconsciously carry over into the next one, and responding with anger becomes their initial unconscious reaction. If their partner calmly points out their overreaction to a minor disagreement, they may reconsider their tone. It requires deeper self-examination to identify this behavioral pattern, but discussing anger issues with a partner or a therapist can expedite the resolution of such insidious patterns of behavior, which stem from the unconscious influence of the past on present behavior.

I concur with Stein that there is an unconscious, and there are aspects of the self that can be challenging to reflect on through self-examination alone. She argues that the causative factors of past behaviors reside in our unconscious and manifest through behaviors we often do not notice. One could argue that when trying to understand ourselves better through self-examination, all we can observe are our explicit memories. However, much of our lives are dictated by our implicit memories; arguably, most of our lives are ‘forgotten’ to the explicit memory, though these memories might be dormant but preserved in the unconscious.

In an article by Joel Voss and Ken Paller, they discuss the unconscious’s capacity to retain and retrieve memories by differentiating between explicit and implicit memories. The main distinction between the two is that explicit memory involves conscious retrieval, while implicit memory, although unconscious, still influences behavior.

Implicit memories can be challenging to test for, so the neuroscientists measured priming tests — exposure to one stimulus influencing the response to another stimulus — and methods that didn’t reference prior learning, to see if any hints of implicit memory emerged. Their tests involved matching numbers with kaleidoscope images. Additionally, they tested attentive encoding by distracting a portion of the participants to see if this impacted their explicit or implicit memory retrieval. The test was complex, giving room for some guesswork. The researchers concluded that recognition is a process within explicit memory. Highly accurate guesses were not associated with explicit nor implicit memory; however, differentiation between neural signatures revealed decisions that were not part of the recognition process nor indicative of guessing. Instead, they noticed a distinct pattern while deciding, which they interpreted as recognition stemming from an unconscious memory— what they would describe as implicit memory.

In the same vein as Stein, the research by Voss and Paller explains the phenomenon of memories wherein they can pop in and out of consciousness, with or without a direct stimulus affecting them. Voss and Paller used neural imaging to prove what Stein was talking about: while conscious, it seems that there are unconscious thoughts that influence our day-to-day life, and through some sort of stimulus, they rise from the horizon of the unconscious mind and find their way into the present conscious thought.

Stein argues that for the best self-understanding, we would require observation and explanation of ourselves from an outside source to grant us the truest insight into ourselves. Socrates would negate this argument as he argues that we know ourselves better than anyone else, and that gaining true insight into who we are simply requires rigorous self-examination. Socrates had many issues with the ignorance of the citizens of Greece, and the subsequent assumptions derived from his negative reputation. If he were to ask those around him who he was, their answers would vary depending on if they were friends or enemies he had earned through his sophistry. A friend might give a pleasing response or, if genuinely close, may fairly mention some of his faults. However, more likely than not, the friend may wish to preserve the friendship, and revealing someone’s worst traits would not be the way to do so. Would the words of a friend, telling him what he wants to hear, necessarily be correct? Or, would an enemy, familiar with Socrates’ faults, be closer to his true self? The answer is complicated. It seems that in such a circumstance, it would be up to Socrates himself, through self-examination, to establish his persona, as these people only know him through his actions and the aspects of his personality, he chooses to reveal.

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It is just to acknowledge that most people may be ignorant about us and our internal feelings, or not knowledgeable about our past experiences. It is contentious to debate about who we are initially, since who we are as perceived by others is subjective. However, to assume that others cannot provide some kind of beneficial insight into us because they conceive us differently from the image we have built for ourselves would be incorrect. Socrates built a negative reputation for himself and, if he were to ask the citizens of Greece their opinion of him, likely they would have a negative view as well, aligned with his reputation. Nevertheless, his friends might disagree with the majority and consider him a good-hearted fellow with some annoying, gadfly-like tendencies. This is not a situation where one can decide who is “right” as it is subjective to ponder whether he is a good person or not. What can be established from observed behavior, be it by a friend or a foe, are inferences about Socrates’ past experiences as well as who he might be. Although the goal here isn’t necessarily accuracy, the urge for self-awareness is paramount. And, should Socrates possess any unconscious attitude or behavior while practicing sophistry, he would most certainly want to be aware of those as well as how others perceive him to better himself. Observation can be a powerful tool for not only forming a deeper understanding of the self but also for unveiling the unconscious.

To truly know ourselves, it is useful to try and use self-examination as a starting point. However, if the goal is to be as accurate as possible in familiarizing ourselves with our own behaviors, it is necessary to seek a second opinion or more. The second opinion allows for observation and awareness of behaviors unobservable through self-directed inner perception, our unconscious behaviors. More often than not, we perform behaviors unconsciously that others may interpret as reflections of causes of past behaviors that seep into the present. Whether their inferences of these behaviors are correct, or assumptions based on their past experiences, they are still useful in developing a well-rounded schema of one’s identity. Consequently, it aids in truly knowing, or at the very least, understanding oneself. 

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Example Of Self Awareness Actions. (2021, May 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/example-of-self-awareness-actions/