Saturday, September 27, 2014

How to Know Thyself

"Know Thyself." Carved at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, location of the Oracle. Repeatedly used by Socrates and Plato. The very foundation of philosophy. Philosophy -- from phila-so-phos -- love of the inner light -- love of wisdom.

But what does it mean to know yourself? Socrates, to know himself, didn't sit around in caves contemplating his navel. In Phaedrus, he specifically rejects that, saying he prefers to be around people in the city of Athens. He learns about who he is through conversation with others. Through dialogue -- dia-logos -- through speech/information. He compares himself with others, learns about the similarities and differences and, through the latter, questions himself, compares himself, tests himself.

We can know ourselves today, but we have at our fingertips a variety of methods. We can delve deeper than before, with evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, Gravesean psychology, cognitive psychology, economics, sociology, anthropology, neuroscience, etc. We can learn more about the natural variations among human beings, and find where on several spectra we lie. In doing so, we can find out the degrees to which others are the same or different from us, the sources of those differences, and thus learn to relate to those others better, knowing better who we are.

If you want to grow as a person, you have to know who you were and who you are -- only then can you learn where you are going.

Who am I? I have been a boy raised in rural Kentucky with family living in South Bend, IN (whom we visited on occasion) and Kentucky. I have been a child and young man with Asperger's, not knowing it. I am now a middle aged man with Asperger's knowing it. I have learned evolutionary psychology and sociobiology and Gravesean psychology and economics and some anthropology and sociology and cognitive psychology and neuroscience. I know who I am as a fellow human being, and I know in what ways I differ from so many of those fellow human beings. And, knowing the latter, I am more patient and understanding of what in the past I have considered the stupidities and irrational ideas of the vast majority of people. I have learned they are not stupidities and irrational ideas, but rather the natural way of thinking of neurotypical people, while my own natural way of thinking is what is rare, and seems odd to most others.

The above hardly covers it, but it does begin to get at what I'm talking about in trying to know yourself. It necessarily involves knowing who you are as a human being, as a species of social ape, as a social mammal, as a vertebrate, as a living thing. It necessarily involves knowing one's culture (and others'), one's economy (and others'), one's society (and others'), one's history (and others').

What does knowing all of this make you? I've been called a polymath. In the past, such people were called philosophers (and those we now call philosophers would likely not have fit the bill).

Will knowing all of this help you find your avocation? Will it deepen who you are? Will it help you understand others? Will it make you a better person? I hope it has done all of these things and more for me.
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