This article is an extended question: if self is the subject of consciousness, then what does it mean to identify with the objects of consciousness, given that everything is in consciousness (ie: everything), including the identification, its consequences, and the inference that there is a subject self?
The rest of this article clarifies this question.
Objects of Consciousness
Objects of consciousness are the things I’m conscious of, such as sight, smell, sound, touch, feelings and thoughts. But a moment’s reflection shows this is the same as saying consciousness = everything. Even the possibility that this is not true is itself an object of consciousness.
Some may object that consciousness is not everything, but simply everything FOR ME. Very well, but what do I know but myself? The existence of others — including their consciousness — may exist for them, but exists for me only as an inference in my consciousness. Indeed, to qualify observations with “I”, “me” or “mine” is to add another object of consciousness to the mix, an object of consciousness that may have arose as an inference to the existence of others.
I do not deny that others exist. I’m simply saying my world is the world and even when I act for others I still act and live in my world which is the world.
The Subject of Consciousness
An inference many draw is this: if there is consciousness, then there is a thing which is conscious, and that thing is me. Put another way, I exist not as a male, friend or husband — for these are all objects of consciousness — but as the thing that witnesses the thoughts of me-as-male, me-as-friend, me-as-husband, and even me. Yet this inference assumes the objects of consciousness are not all there is, It assumes the existence of an external world that at least consists of the subject, and often the world itself whose reality is what I observe in the objects of consciousness. Yet, if conscious objects were all, then there is no need for a subject.
This underlies a root assumption — the stability of perceptions, or perhaps the need for stability of perception gave rise to this and the subsequent myriad other thoughts and habits. For example, if I look at something and then look at it from a different angle, I see something different yet I infer it’s the same thing and try to explain the difference (via angles, light, etc…). Is this due to a desire for stability? Are my attempts to explain why the same food tastes different today, why I behaved differently yesterday, or even why I’m bored with something that I previously enjoyed all attempts at stability? Are these attempts at positing a stable self?
Identifying with something is taking that thing as “me” or “mine”. For example, identifying with social status, family and looks means I consider my identity bound with these things. This has been implicated in a great deal of pain, as it’s been suggested that it’s not the things that hurt us, but our identification with them. It’s not being insulted that hurts, but identifying with the insult (or the thing that the insult was meant to undermine)..
But if all things (including pleasure and pain) are objects in consciousness — if even the idea of “me” is an object in consciousness, then what does it mean to identify with them? What is the “me” that’s being taken as constitutive of these objects? Is an object of consciousness relating to other objects of consciousness? Is a “higher” object of consciousness relating these objects or defining itself by these “lower” objects? Is it the subject getting involved?
If I try to address pain by not identifying with the objects of consciousness, then aren’t I still identifying with other objects of consciousness? For instance, if I argue that I’m not X,Y, or Z, then have I not simply shifted identification to the concept of me as being not X,Y and Z? Even if I haven’t, the results I seek — pleasure, serenity, Nirvana — are in themselves objects of consciousness. At the very least, I’m still invested in objects of consciousness, right?
For that matter, what would it mean to identify with a subject self, a self that “I” cannot directly witness? Is this self irrelevant? If I’m trying to maximize a certain class of experiences, then by definition I’ve chosen to live in the world of consciousness, so of what relevance can a subject have for me? Not that there’s anything with living in objects of consciousness; I find for instance that contemplating all the above brings about a very pleasant serenity, so I intend to keep doing it!
Indeed, with solipsism, the idea of a subject itself vanishes, so is there even a “me” in an existential sense?
If self is the subject of consciousness, then what does it mean to identify with the objects of consciousness, given that everything is in consciousness (ie: everything), including the identification, its consequences, and the inference that there is a subject self?
What do you think? Feel free to deny any of these premises.