The first clue to answering the question ‘Who am I?’ is the question itself. Of all the species on the planet, we are possibly the only one that asks who and what we are, the puzzles at the heart of art, history, sociology, psychology and philosophy.
So let’s put the question into context, before we attempt an answer. When we ask who we are, the question implies a distinction between our selves and the world we inhabit. In a word, we have become intellectually self-conscious.
I love my dog Sophie. There’s no question she’s self-conscious. But I’m pretty sure her level of self-consciousness is in the physical and emotional dimensions (I’ll talk more about those terms when I post my thoughts on The Four Aspects of Living Being) – she’s aware of herself in response to stimuli and events in the world around her, but not as a being that needs any more definition than her responses offer. Her now is much more reactive than mine.
That doesn’t make me any better than Sophie, or either of us any less essential to the unfolding consciousness of the world, it just puts us at different vantage points.
How about the ‘lowly’ earth worm, or house fly? I don’t know what kind of consciousness they might be experiencing and expressing, but suspect strongly they live in a purely physical mode, responding to sensations that either attract or repel.
Again, there is no inherent superiority implied in this observation – earthworms and houseflies are as important to the biological ‘order of things’ as human beings. It’s just that we have different things to experience and express.
So when I ask ‘Who am I?’ it seems to me that at least part of the answer is ‘I am a creature who is intellectually self-conscious’: I want to define a dimension of my self – and by extension, my fellows – in intellectual terms, that is in terms that are theoretical, philosophical and scientific, and which can be expanded and explored.
Not only that, but by further extension, I want to define other living entities, and place myself in a hierarchy of evolved consciousness… that’s where our special role emerges, and where many of our troubles begin as we try to sort things out.
The problem with the question ‘Who am I’ is it has almost always been asked in terms of what separates me from other species, and even from other members of my own species. The hierarchical structure of most religions and the authoritarian style of most states up to recent times is a direct result of this mental framework. Increasingly, I believe, people are coming to realize it’s more important to ask what connects us to all other life forms, and hopefully that perspective-shift is taking place in time to save us from ourselves.
So who am I?
To resort to metaphor: I am a cell in the cerebral cortex of world consciousness – a being awakened to astounding new discoveries; and to concepts of infinity and eternity that will forever make my world-view tantalizingly incomplete.