[‘What am I?’]

“The reality of the soul as the true core of our being makes a vital difference to the idea of personal identity, that is, how we answer the question ‘What am I?’ From what can be said about the soul’s role in perception, it can be seen that there is one way in which soul and body are not only complementary realities [transcendent and immanent], but that each is exactly the inverse of the other. For the common sense idea of identity—based on the body—the ‘I’ or self is one more physical entity among others, and it is wholly contained by a physical world which is made up of other such things. It is a certain kind of organism which runs about on the surface of a certain kind of planet, and is therefore relative by definition.

Conversely, for the soul, the body and the whole physical world which the body belongs to, appear as content. While the body is essentially something contained, the soul is essentially a container of phenomena. Its content is a world-representation which has the body or ego at the center. This does not mean that the common sense idea of the self as a physical entity is false in itself, only that it is extremely one-sided. The complete ‘I’ or self is indeed this physical entity plus the world-containing and world-representing soul. The world, as it appears from one’s unique point of view, is in a real sense a part of one’s identity as well, therefore.People are aware that Gilbert Ryle applied the dismissive expression ‘the ghost in the machine’ to the idea of mind or soul as a substantive reality, but we can now see the irrelevance of this remark once the soul is understood as the container of the representations which make up for us the body and its relations with other physical things. An alleged soul which could be contained by the body, therefore, like an internal organ or an actual ghost in a house, would, on this basis, be just a contradiction. By reason of the soul, therefore, the true and complete self cannot be a passive item in the flow of natural phenomena. A vital part of its being is in effect the stage upon which this flow of phenomena is represented and privately made known, in a way which is distinctive to the person concerned.

The full development of personal identity, which includes the activity of the soul, points towards the traditional idea of the self as microcosm. The idea of the microcosm is that of an epitome of all realities, from the most subtle to the most material, comprised in a separate unity or ‘little world’. This idea has been revived in recent years in the Anthropic Principle, which seeks to explain our ability to understand everything in the universe on the grounds that all cosmic realities are present to some degree in each human individual.”

Source: Robert Bolton, Self and Spirit, pp. 58-60


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