The Myth of the True Self | Gnosticism | The Power of Arguing-to-Learn

Hello everyone, I hope you all had a wonderful week! Here is a journey into the mind that hopes to provide you something to contemplate.

Admittedly, this week’s thoughts are more on the practical side. Some weeks…I’m just a bit less in my feelings, so practicality is what manifests.

As always, thank you for your support on this mind exploration journey I’ve taken, I truly appreciate the support and your kind words.

Please note, I’ve had some reach out wondering why the email isn’t showing up…if this is the case please check the promotions section on Gmail or your junk mail folder, then mark these as important(if you find them so)!

This week has a common theme is around the self, how we take that sense of self into conversations, how we alter that self, and then some ideas around Gnosticism. I hope you enjoy it!

Table of Contents:

  • The Myth of the True Self

  • The Power of Arguing-to-Learn vs Arguing-to-Win

  • Our Modern Cultural Connection with Gnosticism

Also, the podcast episode that these segments were built from will be dropping in the next day or so…you can subscribe to the podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. Also below…

Podcast


The Myth of the True Self

After reading enough Carl Jung, having the media tell you to “just be yourself,” and watching films where we witness characters become their true self; our minds become convinced that we must find ourselves, or even better, our true selves.

But what does this even mean?

Is the idea of a true self…fiction?

And does it truly matter if it’s fiction?

I mean modern capitalism has brought us a culture that has latched onto this desire that people have for finding their perception of a true self! But that’s the point, is it simply a perception? A made-up fiction brought to us by the human myth-making mind.

We now have a ripe consumption culture that feeds upon this desire for a self that people hold, just ‘buy my book so you can become who you want to be’ which is another way of saying ‘allow me to show you how to find your true self.’ Oh yeah, and join their masterclass so you can become who you’re for the low, low price of $100 a month.

Oh, you cannot afford that?! Well, who are you without this course? Not YOU. So you better join up! You can’t afford it? Oh yeah. Well, that’s what credit cards are for. You need your true self remember!

This is life-changing content they tell you. Bullshit. Lies. It’s feeding off our desire for finding ourselves.

We find ourselves, remember that.

The Perceiver

But is this true self really fiction? And a better question, does it matter even if it is? What value can we pull from striving for achieving our sense of a true self?

Your true self is as deep down within you as you want it to go. Why? Because it’s completely fucking made up. Post over. The self is a lie.

Just kidding.

The journey of self-discovery is to accept a path without a destination. Any perceived destination is one completely made up by you, the perceiver.

You become who you truly are by simply perceiving who you are in those moments.

And the lessons we learn from moment to moment are what we build upon to create our true self, or create the perception of our true self.

The Myth of the Self

I say all of this while acknowledging that I myself pursue this sense of a true self. The choices I make, from the art on my wall, tattoos on my body, the clothes I wear, and the stuff I create…are all extensions of my journey towards finding my true self.

I do this while knowing one fundamental thing, I’m the creator of the myth that is my true self. It’s not objective; it’s not me; it’s a character. I actually really like it this way.

It only exists because I want it to—within my own mind.

Sometimes it’s kind of difficult to accept, but the idea of me finding ‘who I really am’ to be a lie—that’s kind of scary.

We seem to imagine, as we try to understand ourselves, that we are pulling from some central ‘you’ beneath all that consciousness you have within yourself; all that conscious experience you witness throughout life is simply, chaos.

As though the mosh-pit that is a central void within yourself—is your true self—hidden away, waiting to be found and awakened.

A central thesis of the popular professor of literature is Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which I enjoy contemplating within the realm of myth, which is based on this idea of finding your true self.

The idea that the myths surrounding us can help us find our true selves.

And a pearl of central wisdom around the true self is the idea that this ‘journey’ towards this self, is important, as in necessary for finding peace in life.

“How can man know himself? He is dark and veiled thing; and whereas the hare has seven skins, the human being can shed seven times 70 skins and still not be able to say: ‘this is really you, this is no longer an outer shell.’ — Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations

Your Self; Your Myth

So maybe it’s not about whether it’s true or false, instead, it’s about how we utilize it.

But that’s just it! I think that might be true. The best films, music, and art I consume have me walking away considering perspectives on life and provide me an internal perception that I’m inching closer — down within myself — towards actualizing who I really am.

And I tell myself, as I inch closer and closer, to pulling myself — my character — from the void within, the closer I come to achieving the good life.

But that journey is my myth. It’s as impactful and meaningful as I want it to be. Why is this such a tough truth to accept or embrace, even? Is this truth of the self, made up?

Another thought I’ve had is this perception of a true self is important for evaluating new information. We need a mechanism of comparison to analyze new information coming in.

So we have this perception of the self — a true self — within our minds, yet what if it doesn’t exist?

However, I put the belief in the self in the same category as a belief in God or free will, where it provides us insight into the world around us, the experience we have, and the values we hold (or wish to hold).

It’s a belief that transforms how we interpret the world we are constantly experiencing.

Most of us agree, that the human mind is wired for meaning-making, it’s our mind’s mechanism for making sense of everything. Part of this meaning-making is seeing the perception of ourselves as meaningful. The next step of a meaningful sense of self is the creation of that true self that is strived for, which then leads to a greater understanding of our thoughts, perceptions, and meaning in our life.

Why? Because we have created a mythical comparison to compare our decisions and thoughts, too.

This sense of self can become the tether to our own internal sanity.

We even see this in research, where people who claimed to be in more touch with their true selves were more likely to be satisfied with their lives.

Imagine a person that switches careers, where one person presents their reasons for switching careers based on higher pay and easier work. And a different person says they switched careers because it aligns with work they see themselves doing and aligns more with their values; in other words, it aligns more with their true self.

Who, in that situation, do you foresee being more at peace with their career change?

Takeaway

So, we will probably never know if a true self exists, where we will identify some internal entity that holds an “I” for you. However, we know the sense of a true self is often an important tool for guidance in our walk towards making sense of our existence. Our belief in right and wrong, our use of a moral compass, and our perception of how we connect with our fellow humans are based on this connection we have with our perceived self.

And we find this connection vitally important to finding true peace.

But I think an important idea to remember is even the true self is based on your creation, which means it’s in a constant state of flux. We find ourselves on a never-ending battle of inching closer and closer to the end state of us, while knowing the end never comes, until our death of course.

So maybe, it’s about finding a sense of a true self, accepting that self, yet always looking to alter it when necessary.

I leave you with this quote to think about:

“I recognize that I am made up of several persons and that the person that at the moment has the upper hand will inevitably give place to another. But which is the real one? All of them or none?” — W Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook


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The Power of Arguing-to-Learn vs Arguing-to-Win

Understanding the power of belief

Take a moment to consider this question, what are taboo topics that come to mind around family and friends? Your mind probably went immediately to religion and politics. Many opt to avoid these topics of conversation others embrace them.

But why should they be taboo…for anyone? Why should any topic be for that matter? Why are they taboo in some circles? To put it simply, they can get heated, fast.

We allow ourselves to enter conversations by believing we already hold all the answers, which prevents us from even being able to entertain the idea that our position is wrong. So, we don’t allow ourselves to understand the position of others, because we are so consumed by protecting our already established beliefs.

All of this shows…we fear being wrong.

The Power of Mindset

Fortunately, a new study from the journal, Cognitive Science at Yale University, found that altering our mindset as we enter conversations can help prevent us from being so stubbornly steadfast in our positions.

Turns out, how we approach social interactions influences our understanding of truth.

In the study, Matthew Fisher found two main mindsets relating to argumentation that shape our willingness to alter the positions we hold:

  • Arguing-to-learn mindset

  • Arguing-to-win mindset

The learning mindset puts a priority on a cooperative approach to debates and discussions. On the flip side, the “trying to win” mindset enters the conversation with a competitive one.

This distinction is made in the study by saying:

“participants who engaged in cooperative interactions were less inclined to agree that there was an objective truth about that topic than were those who engaged in a competitive interaction.”

Essentially, people alter their perception of objectivity vs subjectivity based on their approach to a conversation — their mindset. If someone looks to argue with the purpose of learning, they’re more likely to see the truth as more subjective or complex; keyword being the understanding of the complexity of a given topic.

On the opposing mindset, if someone goes into a conversation with the mindset of ‘debating to win’ they are more likely to see an objective truth around the topic, and the consequence of this is they’re not likely to perceive their opinions and ideas as incorrect.

Those with the ‘debating to win’ mindset become more closed off to altering their opinion on a topic. Not necessarily because they’re right! Simply because their mindset has made them fixate on not backing down from their reestablished beliefs!

What does this mean?

  • One, it provides information on the power our mindset has on our perceptions.

  • Two, it demonstrates that we must embrace the learning mindset, not the winning mindset.

Why?

Well, we must embrace the idea of being willing to be wrong or we will never be right. This study is evidence that our desire to be right over a desire to learn creates a bias within ourselves that prevents us from reliably taking in and considering new positions.

Plus, this shows the importance of holding this more open mindset if we wish to grow in our understanding of ourselves and the world — and the people — around us.

Takeaway

We must internalize the importance of maintaining an open and cooperative mindset when having debates with others. Instead of going into the conversations around politics and religion with the mindset of assuredness in your position, go in with the desire to understand the position of the other person.

If we enter conversations with the willingness to learn, we vastly increase our chances of coming away with more nuanced and developed opinions. And when we allow ourselves to have more thoroughly developed positions, those topics we once found to be taboo feel much less confrontational — and instead — beneficial.

The objectivist/arguing-to-win position transforms our mindset into ‘I’m right, so you must be wrong.’ Where the subjectivist/arguing-to-learn position transforms our mindset into ‘I might be right, so why might you be wrong.’

Mind you, this isn’t a debate about what is objective or subjective, it’s a commentary on what our belief on those terms in certain contexts has us perceiving in the world.

So ask yourself, which mindset should you embrace in your next debate?


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Our Modern Cultural Connection with Gnosticism

And how traditional religions can learn from this connection

Although many traditional sects of Christianity want to proclaim Gnosticism as heresy, the teachings of this religious school of thought have made their way into our modern culture.

Gnosticism saw a revival after the 1945 discovery of Egypt’s Nag Hammadi library, which was a collection of rare early Christian and Gnostic texts. These newly discovered findings had translations spreading throughout the West in the 1960s and 70s.

Now, Gnosticism is a general collection of religious ideas that date back to the 1st century amongst various Jewish and Christian groups. Meaning, these ideas have been around since the start of these traditional religious understandings.

Also, Gnosticism itself isn’t a unified religion.

The idea of Gnosis is the process an individual takes to earn a direct connection to the divine, and various Gnostic groups believed this could be achieved in various ways. The central idea is the individual connects with this divine energy of God or gnosis.

I find this idea of gnosis fascinating, as it’s the central idea I want to focus on in this article and how we see this central idea throughout our modern culture.

The idea of gnosis puts a supreme value on personal spiritual knowledge and your own unique spiritual journey. An idea that we see many connecting with in modern spiritual practices.

This is something we see with the rise of people using the description of themselves as, “spiritual but not religious.” Evidence that our culture has made this shift towards Gnosticism over traditional religious understandings found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Gnosticism in Modern Culture

Gnostics call this pursuit of understanding your spiritual self — the journey of finding your gnosis.

I find these doctrines to have a humbling awareness of the human condition, as it understands something fundamental about the human experience; it understands that certainty isn’t something that we humans are blessed with, as we are under the constant pressure of uncertainty.

So a religious ideology that tells its followers to embrace the pursuit of their own subjective understanding of spirituality and God has my attention.

And it has caught the attention of many in our culture.

Something our own culture alludes to often is this idea of finding your own spiritual connection with the divine — your gnosis.

Philip K. Dick was known for his novels that made commentary on the rise of mega-corporations and governments that push us away from finding our true selves.

You see, these authoritarian social structures alienate us and divide us, which prevents us from becoming our true selves — or connect with our higher selves. Thus, the more materialistic ideas that have been perpetuated in our culture prevents us from achieving our gnosis.

This idea directly correlates with the psychologist Carl Jung, who held the belief that every individual holds their own unique consciousness with traits specific to each person. But once we find our true selves, we begin seeing the layers that are deeper down into the self. Beyond the true self is where the collective unconscious is — a collective mind.

For Gnostics, they would view the collective mind as connecting with the highest form of God.

We see Gnostic themes in the film Blade Runner, where it asks the questions of what is it to be human? And must you have a soul to be human?

The film implies that the answer to the question of, “what is it to be human?” goes much deeper than simply being human.

So in a sense, the connection with your gnosis is making a connection with a collective gnosis. This can translate into what we would call a deeper level of knowledge that binds a collective consciousness — one that maybe binds all humans.

Now, you might be wondering, what does this mean?

In a sense, finding your gnosis is about:

  • Finding your truth.

  • Becoming closer to a deeper collective truth.

We see this even more thoroughly expressed in the film, The Matrix. Where Neo must wake up from being plugged into the virtual world that he once thought was real. He recognizes he was living in a simulated reality where robotic technology trapped humans in a false reality.

But Neo and his friends wake up, unplug, and realize a deeper truth about their existence. The truth they find is that they live in an apocalyptic world controlled by machines.

Now, here is the key point within The Matrix that relates to ideas in Gnosticism; Neo is able to re-enter that false reality with newfound knowledge and wisdom — a new truth. One that allows him to bend the simulated reality to his will!

How did he do this?

He became connected to Gnosis, a deeper form of mind that — in a sense — is God.

Takeaway

I have found Gnosticism fascinating because it expands the concept of God beyond the traditional understandings found in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

But this is where we find my point, as we can see this more broad concept of God and the idea of connecting with our higher self in modern culture; the idea of finding your own spirituality and your own understanding of God.

Yet, we must remember, Gnosticism has doctrines that date back to the original founding of Christianity. The idea of finding your gnosis is one present in more accepted religious traditions (they just have more restrictive rules about how to achieve it).

I think Gnosticism can show those that lean more atheist or more towards a traditional and established religion that understanding Gnosis is your journey; it’s a spiritual journey.

It’s the pursuit of understanding your consciousness and finding the wisdom that you connect with.

So maybe Gnosticism can be seen as another example of the importance of keeping an open mind, pursue a truth that you connect with, and in the end, maybe you can find your gnosis.


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Until next time,

With love,

Brenden

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