The Pursuit of Self-Knowledge

He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.

These wise enlightened words come from the philosopher/author Lao Tzu (aka Laozi). I always strive to know myself, but I’m not sure if charging full steam ahead is the best path. Maybe it involves taking multiple paths, simultaneously, from different directions. I mean this figuratively, of course. As one moves through life, I believe a person should constantly consider perspectives from as many angles as possible. I assume that this awareness of the world, other than oneself, ties in directly with one’s self-knowledge and the ability of one’s senses to perceive. My experience as a being stems from my interaction with my environment, so understanding myself without considering these factors is impossible. Well, that’s how I see things from my perspective. In the pursuit of self-knowledge I face a dilemma: the truths which I experience can never fully be known to be true; thus, leaving me in a state of conditional cognition.

How do I know that what I know about myself is true?

I can create the clearest picture of myself possible through careful observation and interpretation with consideration of contexts, but I’ll never achieve absolute focus. If I focus too finely, the image may be sharp, but am I missing something key in the blurred exterior. The aperture of my system of perception cannot create a perfect picture. Impossible?

Understanding the philosophy of self-knowledge or the psychology of self-knowledge doesn’t mean one can achieve it. It just means that one has more info on the matter at hand. So, how can we achieve self-knowledge? Is it possible to achieve enlightenment as a human, considering the limitations of the senses we possess? Maybe true self-knowledge exists in our dreams, beyond our awakened state? What’s your stance on the pursuit of self-knowledge?

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12 Comments

  1. We all know who we are deep inside…our own thoughts, joys, weaknesses, fears, etc. But, not everyone knows who God is. God knows who we are because He knows our innermost being, our every thought is not hidden from Him. He knows you. Do you know Him. You won’t find Him within the recesses of your mind. He is found in Christ. Know Him and you know everything. Connie

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    1. Yes, spirituality and faith in something greater than ourselves, like God, Jesus, Allah, etc. is a way people believe they can know themselves. That perspective is missing from my post.

      Thanks for the comment, Connie. FYI: I removed the link in your comment, since people can link to your website by clicking your name.

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  2. Good post (in other words, I agree with you!) I was struck especially by the line: “Maybe it involves taking multiple paths, simultaneously, from different directions.” I think that’s exactly what one needs. The Self is a complicated thing, too complicated to roll it up into one word; we need to “divide and conquer.” The other important points are about truth and achieving self-knowledge. The truth is, as you point out, that our cognitions are always distorted (because of emotion). And the road to self-knowledge is always under construction.

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      1. Our family upbringing, the context of the culture in which we were raised, the “education” system we experienced as children, the media we’re exposed to in our daily lives are a few of those things. Maybe these are all tied to emotion on some level, but I think that all our prior experiences determine how our mind views the world as each individual knows it. We all have our own custom-made lens for viewing the world.

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  3. I think if you’re “pursuing” self-knowledge, then you’re already on the wrong path. At least in the Eastern sense of the word. What I mean is, if you’re pursuing, then you’re wanting to attain something. And by wanting to attain, you’re focused selfishly on an end goal. An end goal that is extremely difficult to articulate and grasp. I think by detaching oneself from any kind of aspiration to, for a lack of a better word, chase some kind of ineffable understanding, the more open you become to the many different perspectives, experiences, and viewpoints that one encounters along the many paths towards self-knowledge. Detachment however, is not an easy thing. I have no idea how to achieve such a thing. At least not wholly. But I dig the concept. I do agree with you when you talk about self-knowledge being an ever-evolving journey- and that in essence, it’s about the journey more than the end goal. And that no matter what, our own ideas and concepts of knowledge and knowledge of our own self in particular, are always going to be conditioned by how we see the world- such as what we’ve experienced physically, emotionally, and psychologically. And that will always make our understanding of ourselves conditional.

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  4. Yes, the journey matters most in all this. At times I feel uneasy that it’s a road with no end, but I try to let go of this desire to “know” it all. I try to reflect and acknowledge the things about myself and my “world” that I have learned over time; yet, I have not come close to being able to detach and accept the things before me as they are. Maybe one day.

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