Topics Worth Investigating

  1. What does it mean to have the goal to recognize Atman (the universal soul or inner essence present in each individual)? Siddhartha wonders, "…where else but in one's own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible part, which everyone had in himself…where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part?" Investigate the distinctions among Atman, Self, self, and ego.

  2. Morris Berman writes

    Central to Jungian psychology is the concept of "individuation," the process whereby a person discovers and evolves his Self, as opposed to his ego. The ego is a persona, a mask created and demanded by everyday social interaction, and, as such, it constitutes the center of our conscious life, our understanding of ourselves through the eyes of others. The Self, on the other hand, is our true center, our awareness of ourselves without outside interference, and it is developed by bringing the conscious and unconscious parts of our minds into harmony.[1]

    Are the subconscious or unconscious parts of our mind the "innermost self"? Or are the habits which make up our character or our essence, the "innermost self"? What do you think is this "innermost self"?

  3. Since Siddhartha seemed to have everything going for him, why is he so discontent? Is he simply seeking the independence of adulthood? Would it be for Siddhartha, as Emerson writes, "Discontent is the want of self-reliance; it is infirmity of the will"?[2] Clarify why Emerson's description of discontent would be an inappropriate characterization of Siddhartha's state of mind.

  4. What do you suspect are the psychological effects of referring to ourselves in the "third person"? In your answer, take account of the following remark in an article by a Princeton astrophysicist and a Stanford psychologist:

    "The 'hard problem' is not the 'third-person' problem of providing a scientific account for how a physical system, such as a human brain, can come to carry out the information processing necessary for intelligent behavior. The reason that this is not the 'hard problem' is that no physical limitation has so far been identified concerning what a sufficiently complex physical system might be capable of … The 'hard problem' is, instead, the 'first-person' problem of understanding how the subjective quality of experience (including, the seemingly nonphysical 'qualia' of pains, colors, odors, etc.) can be explained or understood as arising from any physical system as described in the objective terms of present day physics…"[3]

    In writing, the third person point of view expresses a more objective selection of the thoughts and feelings of different characters as observed from an outside, impersonal perspective. The first person viewpoint confines understanding to the thoughts and feelings of the writer and what the writer knows from other sources. How could our understanding of ourselves differ by constantly referring to ourselves in the third person in our thoughts and speech?

    Finally, is the third person perspective a denial of Rainer Marie Rilke's well known stance quoted below?

    And I certainly should have known that this third person who appears in every life and literature, this ghost of a third person who never existed, has no significance and must be denied. He is one of the pretexts of nature who is always intent on diverting men's attention from her deepest mysteries.[4]

    Discuss whether personal truth about ourselves is lost through a third-person (or objective) point of view. Specifically, try to state as clearly as possible what is lost.



Morris Berman. The Reenchantment of the World. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1981.


Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Self-Reliance" in Essays: First Series. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1942.


Piet Hut and Roger N. Shepard. "Turning 'The Hard Problem' Upside Down and Sideways," "Journal of Consciousness Studies". (1996) 3, No.4, 313-329.


Rainer Marie Rilke. The Notes of Malte Laurids Brigge in Walter Kaufmann. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. New York: Meridian, 1956. 114-5.