The Role of the Observer, the Self and Detachment

The world exists as a thing in itself and as an appearance through the senses of the observer. The world of appearances consists of things as we know them by the ordinary means of sense experience and scientific investigation, in other words the empirical world. For Kant these experiences are the phenomena that make up the world. This nature of duality in the world reveals our limitation of knowledge as we can never know the world as it is in itself, but merely how it could appear to us as scientists, philosophers or ordinary perceivers. As Schopenhauer beautifully puts it- “The world is your idea”.

The experiencing subject is the creator of his world, as he is the holder of the necessary structure in order for the world to be perceived. The backbone of the world and the structure lies in time and space, which have systematic effects one upon the other, thus allowing the world to be ordered and apprehended. However, these basic rules according to Kant do not exist in the world as itself, but rather they are simply rules about how the world must be if we are to be able to experience it. So space and time, cause and effect, relate only to the way things have to appear to us. Without the experiencing subject, the world’s structure would collapse onto itself. Our relation to the world is purely that of a spectator sitting and observing the act displayed in a theater, as it is he, the observer, who gives the act its meaning. Through its contact with the observer the abstract Dionysian world begins to transform into the Apollonian.
As the Observer experiences the appearances he goes about naming them by the use of language. Just like the first man Adam was depicted in the Bible as being granted the gift to name all the living creatures of the earth. The world is segmented and named by language. All perceived objects, actions and qualities are sensory inputs which your brain encodes as a percept, then abstracts as a concept which is in turn encoded and ‘known’ under the auspices of language. If time, space and cause and effect are the backbone of our knowledge, then language is the opposable thumb which allows us to grip and create objects in our human-like way.
But yet, a fateful flaw exists, like a snake slithering in the Garden of Eden, which is that of all the objects in the universe which are named, one is floating about like an unnamed and unguided missile in the Cosmos- that is the Self itself. The Self itself cannot label itself, it must identify itself through other objects and beings, thus Adam giving everything a name, but yet being himself named by God. Semiotically speaking, the human with the help of words is a sign user, and its world is a world of signs. The sign, as Saussure said is a union of the signifier (the sound-image of a word) and the signified (the concept of an object, action, quality). The self of the sign user can never be grasped, because the self locates itself at the role of the observer, the dead center of its world. There is no signified to which the signifier can be joined to make a sign. The self has no sign of itself.
From the moment the signifying self turned inward and became conscious of itself, trouble began as it perceived itself naked and needed something to identify itself with, thus the creation of religion. The self begins to identify itself through the penetration of the maya, as it escapes its nakedness by identifying itself with God a and a family of selves which will all reunite in the afterlife. But with the rapid growth of secularisation, individualism and technology, as well as the fading of cosmological myths, Christianity as a guarantor of the identity of the self for the modern man is no longer available. Thus the Self finds itself lost in this post-modern, post-religious, technological society.
The observer must look for alternative means of identification. In this century two methods have been most prolific- the self conceived as immanent, consumer of techniques, goods and services of society,  or as a transcendent member of a scientific new age community. The first achieves itself through work and participation in society, family, political process, cultural activities, and consumerism. The self is still problematical to itself but it solves its predicament of identification either by passive consumerism or by interactions with the other selves. The transcendence and identification by science is acquired by the objective posture when facing the world. He, the scientist is the prince and sovereign of this post-modern age, he sees the worlds as a series of interactions, and himself as a product of them. The scientist has the answers to everything, and if someone would object he would smirk and reply: “it’s only a matter of time” while experiencing a sense of flaky euphoria.
Every advance with an objective of understanding of the Cosmos and its technological control further distances the self from the Cosmos precisely to the degree of the advance- so that in the end, the self becomes a ghost which is bound to roam about in the space it understands perfectly. The scientific objectivity which explains all the processes of the universe alienates the self even more as the gap grows rapidly between the known external world, and the yet undiscovered internal world of the self. Walker Percy beautifully captures this paradox in his book Lost in The Cosmos by saying- “The self in the twentieth century is like a feeding vacuole of an amoeba seeking to nourish and inform its own nothingness by ingesting new objects in the world, but like a vacuole, only succeeds in emptying them out”.
Human progress and human evolution as seen from the perspective of the self can be seen as a history of attempts, both heroic and absurd of the signifying creature to escape its nakedness, and identify the self often by the other creatures of the world whether real or imaginary. The self is constantly looking for its true location, yet it is bound to roam freely uncaptured, unchained. The question remains- what do we identify ourselves with at these end times, where God is often no longer an option and scientific objectivity leads the self into nowhere?
This is truly a very intricate problem that we are faced with, I would not dare to even speculate on such definite truths, and thus I can only say that the self, while fully engaged in art or the contemplation of the self, for at least for a brief moment can be at a standstill without having the need to identify itself.
The artist transcends the world as he detaches from the physical into the deep subconscious of his self. He names the unnamed and reveals to himself what he had not known before, purely the abstract and raw energies which move his paintbrush along the canvas. He portrays his own predicament of the self, as while he is the creator he sees himself as a reflection of his work. This in turn acts like a Freudian psychoanalytic session, as the artist had witnessed the subconscious manifestation of what it is like to live in the world, which he was not aware of before, and through this he learns something about his predicament only while he is engaged in the abstract. The artist much like scientists have “the clear eye of the world”, but unlike the scientist who is always immersed in this state, the artist is there for a brief moment and brings into life the projections of his own self, and not the external.
The self is doomed to maroon aimlessly around the Cosmos, with the momentary chance to hold onto to the abstract. There is no resolution to the problem and this piece of work rather tries to identify and unravel the paradox of the self, and thus through it offering some sort of comfort.  For once again, you find strange comfort in identification of the self through philosophy and precisely in Nietzsche’s words- “We are unknown, we knowers, to ourselves… Of necessity we remain stranger to ourselves, we understand ourselves not, in ourselves we are bound to be mistaken, for each of us holds good to all eternity the motto, “Each is the farthest away from himself”- as far as ourselves are concerned we are not knowers.”


Christopher Janaway – “Schopenhauer, a very short introduction”
Walker Percy- “Lost in the Cosmos”
The 'Noumenon’ and the ‘Phenomenon' in Kant's Epistemology- R.A. AKANMIDU
Arthur Schopenhauer- “Will and Representation”
Roger Scruton- “Kant, a very short introduction”

by Mykolas Valantinas

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