The mechanics within my mind make a clunking sound, grinding wheels against each other, like fingernails on a chalkboard – the sound vibrates through my ears making my eyes weep. This pain occurs intensely, it’s sensory – losing control of reality.
Am I machine? Or is this mechanical device planted inside my head? Confusion bubbling inside, like a kettle steaming and churning, spilling over.
Reality seeming far away, too far to reach. Having found it before – I can find it again. Did I ever “have” reality? Was it something tangible, that I could touch and claim for myself?
The thoughts fizzing in my brain, as if someone has shaken me up like a soda can – eventually opening me, to explode.
My faculties are dimming, my sight is heavy and my limitations are apparent, there is no resolve in this paradox.
Soon my eyes start to close, lucid dreaming begins. Seeing myself step out of my body as if it were a costume, walking toward vagary.
Is this now my reality? Or was reality something I left behind?
Consciousness is waning, leaving me like an empty vessel.
The realisation that control was never in my possession – my last responsive thought before darkness.
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Are there two worlds, one physical and one mental?
Can we experience both with a conscious awareness?
What is introspection and how does one use it?
These questions were “in my mind” when creating this piece of art, as a student of philosophy and psychology the idea and practice of introspection – caused me to introspectively ponder the dualism of my body and mind, my consciousness of the physical self and the internal self.
Is my perception of what is thought in my mind governed by my external experiences?
Introspection is a process that generates, or is aimed at generating, knowledge, judgements, or beliefs about:
mental events, states, or processes, and not about affairs outside one’s mind,
or beliefs about one’s own mind only and no one else’s,
about one’s currently ongoing mental life only; or, alternatively (or perhaps in addition) immediately past (or even future) mental life, within a certain narrow temporal window.
Introspection is considered to be the process of “looking inward”, self analysis to understand and know ones self better. In fact this idea was what caused psychology and the theory of mind to branch out from philosophy with Wilhelm Wundt analysing the workings of the mind in a more structured way, with the emphasis being on objective measurement and control hence why he is considered the father of psychology.
“Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses, except the intellect itself.”
We do not continuously introspect and it is not an automatic occurrence such as breathing, it is a reflective task on one’s own internal mental state – not unconscious, as we are aware of this monitoring and analysis. Introspection is comprised of attitudes and conscious experiences; our beliefs, desires and intentions as well as emotions and sensory experiences.
How do we know our own minds?
It is our first person access which privileges us with the awareness of self – how can we be wrong about our own internal perspective. Other minds can not know other minds, it is an exclusive “way in” which only ourselves are attendees with unshared knowledge. However being aware of your own inner workings does not mean one can truly know our own minds with authority; as they are small internal universes with expanses of undiscovered planets and solar systems.
Is there nothing that we can know about our minds with authority?
The only philosophy which can be responsibly practised in face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique.
Introspection is considered by most to be a short lived state, some suggest from “The Inner Sense” view that our minds operate like a scanning machine which monitors certain thoughts and sensations.
“The word introspection need hardly be defined – it means, of course, the looking into our own minds and reporting what we there discover.” (William James, Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 1890/1981, p. 85)
Is self knowledge achieved solely by introspection?
Many philosophers an psychologists have claimed that the only way we can determine our own mind is from the observations of our own behaviour; the way we determine others is no different to ourselves. Gilbert Ryle argued that our first person experience of our own mental states is due to the fact we can not leave ourselves, we are always present within ourselves – as ourselves.
Is self knowledge an epistemic phenomenon?
There have been many claims that self knowledge is infallible and that we are omniscient about our own mental states; that upon being in a particular state of mind and knowing this to be happening, is sufficient evidence that there is self knowledge of this state. However does this ring true; or are we really “all knowing” and in charge of our own faculties enough at all times to be omniscient about our mental states?
“I think therefore I am – je pense, donc je suis – Cogito ergo sum”
Descartes’ Cogito ergo sum argument (Descartes 1641/1895), is the proposition which demonstrates that if you (the thinker) is paying close attention to your own thoughts, that not even a “powerful evil genius” who is able to control your thoughts and deceive you – can not mislead you into doubting your ability to think and therefore confirms you existence as a thinking individual.
In 1641, Descartes published (in Latin) Meditations on first philosophy in which he referred to the proposition, though not explicitly as “cogito ergo sum” in Meditation II: (Latin:) hoc pronuntiatum: ego sum, ego existo,[c] quoties a me profertur, vel mente concipitur, necessario esse verum. (English:) this proposition: I am, I exist, whenever it is uttered from me, or conceived by the mind, necessarily is true.
Introspection literally means “looking within” in its description it illustrates a metaphor which expresses the split between the “inner” world and the “external” world. There is an opposite view called the “Transparency View” which suggests that by looking outwardly, into the state of the world we determine our own thoughts – by “looking through” the transparent (introspective) mental states we posses, reflecting what it is like to have an experience with mind-independent objects.
What is “the ghost in the machine”?
The phrase was introduced in Ryle’s book The Concept of Mind (1949) and was a criticism of the Dualism theories within philosophy especially from Descartes. Ryle rejected the idea that mental states are separate to physical states, referring to this idea and distinction between mind and matter as “the ghost in the machine”, his main criticism being that logically – mind and matter are not within the same categories:
“it represents the facts of mental life as if they belonged to one logical type/category, when they actually belong to another. The dogma is therefore a philosopher’s myth.”
A category mistake is the mistake of assigning something to a category to which it does not belong or misrepresenting the category to which something belongs. For Ryle this means that the term “mind” and other terms which refer to mental states are often categorised inadequately; treating the “mind” as a thing, an object or even an entity. When it could be believed that physical processes are mechanical, whereas mental ones are “para-mechanical”.
Ryle believed that there was a dogmatic “official doctrine” which leads to unchallenged views to their own detriment:
There is a doctrine about the nature and place of the mind which is prevalent among theorists, to which most philosophers, psychologists and religious teachers subscribe with minor reservations. Although they admit certain theoretical difficulties in it, they tend to assume that these can be overcome without serious modifications being made to the architecture of the theory…. [the doctrine states that] with the doubtful exceptions of the mentally-incompetent and infants-in-arms, every human being has both a body and a mind. … The body and the mind are ordinarily harnessed together, but after the death of the body the mind may continue to exist and function.
(Ryle, Gilbert, The Concept of Mind (1949); The University of Chicago Press edition, Chicago, 2002, p 11)
The difference between Descartes and Ryle is the “inner” or “outer” view of the mind. Are we a ghost in the machine or are our mental states dispositions, to engage in bodily activity?
For me neither of these view points are adequate enough to explain the concept of mind and introspection, however they draw light on further questions to be asked in order to find more answers.
Introspection is a tool none the less which our minds use in order to ponder ourselves from our conscious thoughts, beliefs and judgements (whether external to us through behaviour or internal to us in a dualistic sense). It is our secret window which allows us private access into our internal selves (which no other can experience) .
[It is] impossible for any one to perceive, without perceiving that he does perceive. When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will any thing, we know that we do so.
(Locke 1689/1975 II.27.ix)
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Hope was a young woman who carried around sadness, as if it were a suitcase of old belongings she had lost the key for a long time ago. Hope wanted to be free of this baggage that weighed her down each day; wishing she could take flight as if she were a bird heading for warmer weather.
One day Hope felt a pressure in her head as if something was trying to escape, it pushed at her temples and made her ears pop. The feeling was excruciating and left hope feeling overwhelmed and scared. Suddenly something was in her mouth, it had made its way up her throat and was now sitting on her tongue as if it were a pill waiting to be swallowed. Instead she went to the mirror apprehensively and opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue, to her disbelief a perfectly intact leaf sat there, she reached into her mouth and carefully took the leaf out to examine. It was an ordinary leaf, from a tree or plant and it was a glorious green. Hope was very much perturbed by this turn of events, feeling very tired suddenly and still suffering from an intense headache, the only thing left to do was go to bed.
Upon waking the next morning after what felt like a years worth of sleep, Hope opened her eyes and could only see green; she wiped them and blinked repetitively, hoping it was just a dream. As the green came into focus she realised that she was surrounded by branches and on those branches grew leaves like the one she had found in mouth the night before. Hope was unable to move as she was in so much disbelief regarding these events before her. In an attempt to move her head in order to sit up, she felt trapped; her head was heavy and felt as if it was tied to her bead posts. Hope reached into her bedside cabinet and blindly hunted for a small hand mirror she knew was there, finally she found it and opened it up to see what was holding her down. When hope looked at her reflection she did not trust what she could see; it was surreal. Hope had somehow – overnight, grown branches out of her head, there was no blood or pain and the tree looked the healthiest she had ever seen a tree to be.
Hope was able to free herself from her bed and navigate her way to her bathroom, she washed her face and brushed her teeth, rustling around as the leaves touched. It was a struggle to get dressed as her head weight pulled her down – if she was not careful, but eventually she was ready to go outside. Hope lived in the middle of nowhere and had acres of land beyond her garden. This was a relief to Hope as the idea of seeing anyone right now filled her with dread as she didn’t know how she would explain her appearance. The aim she had in mind was to go to the woods and see if she could find a matching tree and maybe this would bring about some sort of explanation.
Hope ducked under her door frame and stepped outside into her garden, she looked around and the world seemed the same, nothing obvious had changed so she proceeded down her path to her gate. As Hope closed her gate and looked back at her little home she felt a sense of loss but couldn’t put her finger on why she felt this way. With no further thought she walked toward the woods and was determined to find answers.
The trees looked dense and there was a darkness – that you would think would fill you with fear, however it was inviting. As Hope approached the edge of the trees, she stopped and heard a noise and felt something moving about “up there” on her head, in her branches. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out the hand mirror she retrieved earlier and took a look to see what was going on. It was a beautiful bird, sat there looking at her; before she could think of what to do the bird started to sing. The most beautiful of melodies came out of this delightful creature, she felt calmer and prepared to carry on. Thinking to herself:
I shall name the bird Journey.
Hope and Journey entered the woods and manoeuvred their way through the trees, trying not to get her branches tangled with the foliage. Inspecting each tree she passed, looking at each leaf desperately trying to find answers to her predicament. All the while listening to Journey sooth her with song. Suddenly she heard a new tune and it was complementing Journey’s. Once again Hope got her hand mirror out and glanced to see what was happening. Another beautiful bird was sat up there harmonising with Journey. Now hope thought it only fair to name this bird too:
I shall name this bird Duality.
Hope, Journey and Duality continued on their path searching and singing together in perfect harmony. Suddenly a clearing appeared, it was a circular clearing with one lonely tree in the middle, it was huge and looked to be well over a hundred years old. It was so big you could build a small home in its trunk. Hope continued towards it and could see something glistening in the sunshine, it was hanging from the tree. As she approached it another beautiful bird flew down from the other tree and it too had something dangling from its mouth, it was a key. Both items were keys and before she could process what was happening the bird dropped the key into her hands and took a perch in her branches. Hope compared the two keys and they were the same except for their colour – one being blue and the other pink.
what could this mean?
Hope thought to herself.
The third bird joined in with the singing and looked at home with Journey and Duality. Hope put both keys in her pocket with her mirror and started to inspect the tree before her, the leaves were the same as hers, the branches were identical and the aroma was a perfect match. But how and why had this tree which naturally grew from the ground, also grown from Hope’s head and what were the keys purpose. This thought was so tiring and complex to understand, as nothing seemed real or based on the natural order of things, so Hope surmised that if and when she needed to know these things, they would unveil themselves to her in good time.
The third bird seemed to complete the harmony so exceptionally, the sound was enchanting, it made Hope feel less weighed down by her past and her sadness, it elevated her to a place which felt unlike any other, it was as if she had found her home. Not the kind of home she had left behind earlier, it was not that of bricks and mortar it was the sense that home existed inside her – meaning that she was always home and this feeling made Hope feel whole.
Hope suddenly had a thought and said:
I shall call this third bird Transcendence.
This name felt fitting as this is what she felt upon meeting this bird and hearing the symphony this trio had created made her feel that she had gone beyond ordinary limitations. Hope sat beneath the tree and lay against it, with her branches touching the other tree’s, weaving herself into a comfortable position. Journey, Duality and Transcendence began to sing a slower melody, lulling Hope with a lullaby, soon she was asleep and the sun set. As Hope slept her branches curved around her creating a blanket of leaves and all three birds nuzzled into Hope and one another.
When Hope woke up the next morning she was alone and she felt different, she raised her hands to her head and all she felt was her hair and beneath it her head, simple skin and bone. It was a relief that she had returned to her normal state, however she was sad to loose her friends, Journey, Duality and Transcendence. When she stood up and turned to the tree she had laid under all night, she was shocked to find a door. In front of the door were three little parcels made out of leaves, one was filled with nuts and berries, the second was a cup shape with water and the third was a little growing bud, ready to be planted. Hope ate the berries and nuts, drank the water and carefully put the bud in her pocket, which is when she remembered she had two keys, she pulled them out and went to the door – but neither worked which perplexed Hope very much indeed. Then she had an overwhelming feeling that this door was not for her and she felt strongly that the blue key was the correct key, so she hung it on the door knob and decided to return home.
On Hope’s journey back she started to ponder what this all meant, knowing that her life had been filled with pain from her past she wondered if this was a wake up call from some kind of higher power – such as the force which aligns us and keeps the earth spinning, the sun rising and setting and the tides drawing in and out. Was it a window into the in between, with the duality of body and mind had she found the centre, the answer to – what are mental states and what are physical states? Had she experienced a mental state which took her to another world where trees growing out of heads, bird friends, keys, magical trees and little doors were the norm. Or were these things physically there, tangible and part of the order we know to exist, just undiscovered? Or possibly she had transcended, moving beyond physical needs and realities.
Before she knew it, Hope was at her gate and could see her little home which when she left yesterday she had felt such loss, today she felt excited to return home and be amongst the things she knew to be real. Once Hope had opened the gate and walked up the path she was met by a small trinket box with three beautiful feathers beautifully attached to it, as if they were a gift tag, she knew these patterns they were from her friends; Journey, Duality and Transcendence, this made Hope smile and she knelt down to open the box, inside was a tiny note which read:
Plant the bud, watch it grow – in dirt and darkness, watch it burst through to reach the light, tend to it, water it and even when nothing moves know that growth happens from within and one day you will have a tree which will nourish you with fruit and bring you shade when weary. This growth is part of you physically and mentally, it is your journey and being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge you have transcended from your past and hold the key to your future.
Hope felt a tear fall from her eye and she felt such relief, she reached into her pocket and got the pink key and placed it around her neck as a reminder of her lesson, she then hurried indoors to fetch her gardening tools so she could plant the bud. When she returned outside her three friends were all splashing away in the bird bath, chirping with delight. Hope knew this was the beginning of a new adventure and that there was no turning back.
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The giver of life and the carrier of the burden of death is how I see and portray my symbol of “Mother Earth”, she (unlike myself) can give life to anything and does so – with no pain relief, no support, it is simply her obligation to continue our species. With Mothering comes abandonment – for her strength is not in the nurturing it is in the facilitating of life. Feeding you when hungry or starving you when she wishes, giving you shade as well as ripping away all that comforts you.
To her life and death are justice, it a natural order or law which aligns us within the universe. Life and death obviously exist and she reminds us of this, with the scale tipping slightly lower for death – indicating how death is a consequence for living.
The devouring Mother who both produces and destroys everything is like our earth, like our solar system, our galaxy , our entire universe. However the representation of her as female is an interesting depiction, in most mythology goddesses and deities are depicted as troublesome but still have a complex persona which is shown through various symbolic personality traits, showing strength, virtue, rage, love and of course the most important of roles, the creator of life and nature. Matriarchal societies are prevalent in mythology, although they have been disputed to have ever existed in history as a female led society or civilisation. Patriarchal rule and ownership of women is the reality, making these mythological symbols even more important.
Depictions of women for most of our history as a species have been of the virgin, mother, obedient wife, whore, witch or old crone. With each woman being a one dimensional character, with no complexities or ambition. They were not even elevated as “creators of life” instead treated like cattle or a conveyor belt of babies.
Women can be anything and everything just as men can be, gender as a concept rather than a biological definition is on its way out. So these figures that we create and lift up – they must be more than just the roles assigned to us from birth, this earth needs all of us to be creators, destroyers, givers and takers. That is the essence of all existence – here today gone tomorrow, death does not discriminate even if you have the privileges that afford you a longer life, you will still die and return to the earth.
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I forgot about you – putting childish things aside,
although I would hear you at bedtime,
telling me our stories – leaving me horrified.
For what they did to us they must be evil,
or maybe they too are hurt inside,
with all this pain and upheaval,
maybe their inner child had died.
I feel you clawing at me inside my chest cavity,
weeping and screaming – asking to be set free,
is it you or I that acts with such depravity,
would you burst from within me just to be an escapee.
I shouldn’t blame you for hating me,
for I am but another bad parent,
however trying to hide from reality,
not wanting to be called aberrant.
You inhabit my mind and body,
controlling me in order to make me see,
requiring me to embody,
all that was lost at sea.
What is our inner child?
It is the child state that exists in all of us, which never disappears – we assume as we get older this younger self vanishes, but this is illogical. Yes, we are changed over time by our experiences but do we “grow up”? Or are the ideas of childhood, adolescents and adulthood merely symbolic of societies need to compartmentalise us into accepted groups, in order to sell specific products and life style choices.
Before the 17th century childhood did not exist as a concept, in fact children were considered “incomplete adults”. However in the west, English philosopher John Locke was one of the first to describe the stage before adulthood and change the perception toward children in general. With Locke’s theory of the tabula rasa – meaning “blank slate”, he believed we as humans are born “brand new”, a mind which is a blank canvas ready to be painted on. With this he urged parents that their duty was to nurture and guide their child toward adulthood. With the rise of the middle class and puritanism within the early frameworks of capitalism – a new family ideology was formulated as an ideal for an individuals salvation and the protection of the “innocence” within children.
“brief period of sanctuary before people encounter the perils and hardships of adulthood”
However for the poor this separation between childhood and adulthood was not attainable. Industrialisation saw children as a viable workforce and rejected that a “childhood” was precious and that their innocence needed to be protected. With the separation between the poor and middle classes becoming more apparent in the late 18th century and with reform being discussed, the idea that all children needed to be protected became an important issue, from the 1830’s onward the campaign eventually led to the Factory Acts, which mitigated the exploitation of children at the workplace. From this point the notion of childhood saw a boom in children’s literature and toys, leading us to where we are now , where childhood is seen as a sate that not only exists, but that our development is fundamental to us being functional adults, with compulsory education and more and more done to protect children from harm, childhood is now rooted in our identities as a society.
So how does this all relate to our “inner child”?
This notion and brief history explained above, further illustrates that the concept of being a “grown up” is adaptable. Our inner child is part of us – it… is us. We never “grow up” we evolve as a human through life stages but our mind is our own and doesn’t get switched through each birthday, it adapts to circumstances and learns – but we don’t lose our child within.
In fact the most adult act we can take is to parent our own inner child. Because contrary to what Rousseau states, childhood can be full of perils and trauma and without the experience we gain from living through the stages, most children are not able to protect themselves from abuse, neglect or abandonment. Which means this trauma is taken on and carried into their adulthood – often causing an individual to become mentally ill.
This is caused not only by the acts of unfit parents and abusive adults around the child, but it is also due to societies need to separate each life stage in an individual – suggesting only children cry, have tantrums, are unreasonable or selfish and so on… When in fact these are general human behaviours with no age restrictions. Yes children test boundaries and display these behaviours – which are perfectly acceptable in order to navigate societal norms and etiquette. However when a child is abused emotionally, physically or both, they often do not get to have these learning experiences and testing of boundaries, leading the child to mimic adult behaviour in order to survive. Which is why later in life when the child is able to move away from their abusers and try and function in the world these behavioural traits often arise again and again, playing out the scenarios in which they were denied at the “appropriate age”.
This is not something I know due to my degree in philosophy and psychology – this is me, I am a pseudo-adult. As if my body were a ship, the captain of my vessel is at times a 4 year old me, an adolescent me or the me who sits and writes this to you all. It took a long time to understand that I was steered by different parts of myself, but once I understood this my self management became easier.
With no children of my own and being the product of bad parents – from abuse (sexual, emotional and physical) I am probably thought to be the last person who would know how to parent my 4 year old self and 15 year old self. This is arguably true – however the first steps are listening to the children who have been through trauma, we know a lot on what not to do.
The rest is love…
Vivian C. Fox, “Poor Children’s Rights in Early Modern England,” Journal of Psychohistory, Jan 1996, Vol. 23 Issue 3, pp 286–306
“The Life of the Industrial Worker in Nineteenth-Century England”. Laura Del Col, West Virginia University
Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.
Brown, Marilyn R., ed. Picturing Children: Constructions of Childhood between Rousseau and Freud. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002.
If you feel you need to explore your inner child or are already aware but need some guidance here are some helpful links:
This piece of art and poetry addresses how it feels to be in a state of depersonalisation or derealisation. I experience both as symptoms of my anxiety disorders (OCD, GAD, CPTSD and AGORAPHOBIA) as well as my borderline personality disorder.
These sensations and feelings of being unreal or not being able to know what is real or not – have been causing me issues since I was a very young child. The worst times were when my voice used to speed up and I would hear myself speaking a million miles per hour, but others around me heard me speaking at a normal speed, or when I felt objects were to large or too small causing me to question all perspective, but by far the most disturbing is when you feel like an illusion, like a left over imprint.
As someone who has a degree in philosophy and who has studied philosophy for over 10 years now, “the theory of mind” was and still is one of my favourite subjects within philosophy. It has simultaneously helped me to accept that none of us truly know what reality is, as well as further perplex me and leave me questioning everything even more.
There is not a lot of understanding when it comes to these disorders, often when people do not understand something or have not felt the things being described – it is easy for them to dismiss. However – why would anyone assume their reality is the same as another? There is evidence that we all experience the world differently without having any kind of mental illness or neurological damage.
How am I to know what you see… and how are you to know what I see…?
When I am touched does it feel the same as when you are touched?
When I eat do I taste the same flavours and interpret the textures the same as you?
Do I see the world as a “glass half empty kind of place or half full”?
Do I think the same thoughts?
The list goes on and on…
It is never as simple as “reality is reality”.
So question these ideas more, never judge another persons reality to be wrong or fake and remember that 1 in 5 people will have a mental illness at some point in their lives and some of us will have it for life.
End the stigma and learn how to better understand others and their reality.
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