Know Thyself

I just listened to a Philosophy Bites podcast about self-knowledge.  The ancient philosophers gave this as an important aphorism, and Socrates urged that we examine our lives.  This podcast explored how well we can know ourselves.

I’ve often been struck by how different some other peoples’ views of my personality and character are than my own.  I see myself as basically a happy person, but my wife often thinks I am depressed, especially before she took me in hand.  I have had what I considered a simple question seen by an acquaintance as being very aggressive and attempting to show him up in comparison to myself.  This can be quite disturbing to hear.  It makes me wonder who is more accurate in their perceptions.  It isn’t something we often discuss with our friends, what our views are of their personality, for fear of hurting them or alienating them.

We know that in studying people’s estimates of their own abilities, normal people will overestimate their ability, whereas depressed people are more likely to give an accurate assessment.  It is like we are normally looking through rose-colored glasses.

We know that on a neurophysiologic basis, that the brain quickly habituates itself to sensory stimuli that are repeatedly presented.  We can learn to ignore trains if we live near the tracks, we don’t smell our own stinks, etc.  Could we be so biased by living in our own brain that we are poor judges of our own consciousness and characteristics? If you actually wear rose-colored glasses, you will stop noticing it after a few days.  (In fact, you can wear glasses with inverting prisms and after a few days, you will start seeing the world right-side up again.)

How then do we profitably examine our lives, do we solicit the opinions of others?  Obviously, many people seek the aid of psychoanalysts to help them know themselves.  This sort of thing doesn’t much appeal to me, as I have problems accepting the basic tenets of psychoanalysis, considering it not scientifically based (see my old friend Adolf Grünbaum’s book: The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique).

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