From ancient Egyptians to classical Greeks, the maxim “know thyself” has been a long-revered approach to self-inquiry and understanding.
But what if “know thyself” means knowing you can’t actually know yourself?
Although we’re self-reflective beings, we’re never able to cross the boundaries of comprehension. The human mind, limited by its own capacities of understanding, cannot “know” anything beyond its limitations.
Consciousness seeking to understand itself is like judging a standard using that same standard as the basis for judgment. Or like defining a word by using the word as its own definition — this results in an explanation that’s circular and reflexive, and which doesn’t provide substantive, meaningful insight.
(Confused?!?! That’s OK… we all are! 😉 )
The point is, for all the time and energy we devote to psychology and metaphysics, we really don’t know the root causes of our being; we don’t — and can’t — know what underlies our perception and cognition. We must, as philosopher Alan Watts puts it, “become vividly aware of the real impossibility of self-knowledge.”
In an age where information and knowledge are primary currencies of human interaction, and where science and technology continually steer us toward logic and rationality (influences that increasingly affect our lives)… can we learn to be comfortable with the fact that, in the end, we’ll never really know ourselves?