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The Search for Intense Self-Experience

How intimately do we experience our emotions in relation with life?

Key points

  • Self-experience is at the core of our psychology.
  • Self-experiences guide all the choices we make and determine all the goals we set for ourselves.
  • We can only know our mental world directly from within our life.
Our search for aliveness
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Experiencing Oneself in Relation to Life

Right now, my mental world consists of seeing the warm hues of autumn colors in my garden, while tasting a blend of Ethiopian coffee beans and hearing the sound of Stan Getz's Bossa Nova in the background. This is one of my favorite mental states for writing and reflecting on the nature of the human mind; it is an experiential state that supports my creativity.

Currently, about 8 billion different self-experiential states exist, constantly shifting and changing. About four new human self-experiences per second emerge on our planet. We do not know whether self-experiences exist only on our planet. Perhaps variations exist on one of the many exoplanets that the ever-driving space telescopes are revealing to us.

If we include all possible self-experiences of animals, an enormous, ever-changing amount of self-experience exist. This raises some fascinating questions: When did self-experience arise in the living mind? Self-experience is at the core of our psychology.

The Search for Self-Experiences

All over the world, young people are experimenting with the search for intense self-experiences. In all major world cities, that quest consists of a combination of loud, palpable beats and intense sexual attraction and is sometimes mixed with a cocktail of psychedelic and alcoholic boosters. All over the world, young people are experimenting with the search for intense self-experiences.

Others seek peak experiences in extreme sports with intense challenges and high risks. Wellness became a trillion-dollar industry, but so did cocaine. Self-experiences guide all the choices we make and determine all the goals we set for ourselves.

So it is particularly relevant to ask what the quality of these mental states is. Are you a soldier forced to load a weapon in one of the new world wars? Are you a newborn in a just-bombed environment? Or are you a world leader deciding where the next bombs will fall?

The quality of our experienced self is more important than anything else. This applies to every mental world, regardless of gender, race, age or income. Even for animals, both wild and domesticated.

What goes on in the mental worlds of our minds: a rich variety of ever-changing thoughts, emotions, motivations, sensations, feelings, and memories. No two mental worlds are the same or remain unchanged.

How Do We Experience Ourselves in Relation to Other Life?

What do we know about all those mental activities that take place in what we call our mind? Usually they just happen and we become absorbed in their content. Do we have some degree of choice in the composition of our mental states, or are we forced to undergo them?

We have some methods of finding out what happens in the human mind. We can observe from outside the expressions and behaviours of the minds of others. We can listen to the stories they bring us about their self-experiences. We can use a wide array of technology to observe the brain in action. But what we observe is always a representation of what is happening in our cells and neurons.

There is no way to step out of our mind and observe it. We never directly observe another mental state. So, to some extent, we always guess what the other person is thinking and feeling, We filter: We add and omit, we enlarge and diminish. Only our own mind can we observe directly.

But what we see is only the upper layer of many underlying layers of cellular and neuronal activity. All the culturally formed memories and habits that we have accumulated during our life history lie beneath that observable mental world, and we do not see them. We see only a fraction of our own mental content and only indirectly the mental state of others. Psychology faces an epistemological barrier.

We can learn to refine our observations and our technology. We can train the internal perception or our self-experience. Whatever our technology reveals, we are always left with our own self-experience. We might call this an existential barrier: We can only feel and experience the quality of our own mental state.

And in that, what is our own? What belongs to us? Our brains are intertwined with our bodies. Our bodies are interconnected with nature’s processes of photosynthesis and ATP synthase, which are extremely complex events resulting from billions of years of evolution.

So what can we do to create healthy self-experiences and make choices that improve the quality of others’ self-experiences? We can learn. We can start by learning to observe our natural state of consciousness. We can observe our ever changing mental states without being absorbed in them.

We can learn to enjoy the simple natural states of existence: watching our children play in the warm shades of autumn’s colors. We can watch our grandchildren play, while tasting a mixture of tea leaves and hearing the whispering leaves of the trees in the meantime.

We can start by composing simple, qualitative, interoceptive states and choosing from there. What do we choose? What are the mental states we want to experience: Psychedelic bliss, the ecstasy of sex, the emptiness of meditation, or just the natural state of the healthy mind—many possible self-experiences exist.

Whatever we choose, our self-experience always arises from the interoceptive state of a mind deeply and intimately embodied and embedded in life. The quality of our self is inherently linked to the quality of life of others and other life. Because who we are is this intimate life-consciousness connection.

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