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The word “I” is one of the most commonly used words in the English language. It is a simple word,  that reflects one of the most obvious subjects in human language and human experience. It is absolutely self evident to each of us that the I exists. We are all “I” to ourselves.

As I’ve started to dabble in psychology, first in the online Yale lectures and then reading the many books that I’ve recently grabbed of Amazon, the recurring sub-text of these rudimentary investigations is the curious emptiness of I. If anything, the trend in empirical psychological research as disseminated to the book reading public seems to be that the person who least understands ourselves, our past and our future is ourselves.

Yet this is a proposition that seems to be eminently sound. I know that I’m not my thoughts. It’s a lesson that I’ve discovered personally through a series of personal revelations that have rewritten my world view step by step. I am not my emotions, because these too are mine to control. I am not my past, because what I did has no effect on what I might do, or what I could do. I am not my future, because by definition I cannot be something that does not exist yet because I do exist now. 

For all these things, thoughts, emotions, past experience, future hopes, the “I” stands apart. It is the subject to which these things happen. I think. I feel. I did things. I will do things.

In a sense, this is the ultimate paradox of a brain capable of thinking about itself. How does the machine that is both subject and object come to form any real concrete grip on what it is when it is in this meta-narrative position. When your brain is thinking about itself thinking, or assessing how it is feeling, it is inherently impossible to split where one process ends and another begins.

I know that I’ve not stumbled on a new problem, the problem of whether the mind can be analysed by the mind is as old as Decartesian dualism and as intractable today as it was then.  After all, we have no minds available but our own with which to approach the question. Of course, I could be wrong, in which case I’d like to learn the answer.

It is liberating to know that my thoughts, emotions, past and future are not me. I am not bound to any destiny by biological programming or the diktat of things past. I am free to choose my own way, my own thoughts and my own future.