“Knowing reality means constructing systems of transformations that correspond, more or less adequately, to reality.”
Self as System
The corporate systems self is a paradigm in which to understand the construct of ‘self’ in a broad context. A system is defined as an ‘organized whole, a whole compounded of parts.’ The organized whole is a product of the compounded parts. Remove any of the compounded parts, and the whole, as it was, no longer exists. As human beings, we are more than we know in the same way the human body is composed of many component parts we hardly understand; for example, there is the ‘component of digestion’ and the ‘component of circulation’, or consider the ‘component of immunity’ and the ‘component of reproduction.’ Each of these components is also a collection of sub-components. The body is a collection of systems within systems. The forms and functions of bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, organs, glands, chemicals and neurotransmitters, skin and hair, all work together each with their own ‘instructions’ to sustain the organized whole. From a psychelogical perspective, the aggregate parts consist of thoughts (cognition), emotions, beliefs, biases, prejudices, fears, values, conclusions, assumptions, hopes, dreams, wishes, goals and desires. There are parts dedicated to protection, and parts dedicated to expansion. There are parts that may be atrophied, or banished; there may be wounded and hurting parts and parts seeking love and acceptance, approval and recognition; there may be parts that are excessively in command or overly productive, even at the expense of comfort, health and balance in life. These parts can be at odds with one another, such as in the case of desire being in conflict with values or beliefs in conflict with dreams. There are also sociological components, such as common language, cultural norms, customs and conventions, technology, economic, and social, commerce. ‘Self’ is a construct; an amalgamation of aggregates taken from the biosphere, psychesphere and sociosphere.
The exploration into the compound parts that make an organized whole is ‘science.’ Science is knowledge of the interaction between component parts gained from observations and experimentations. Or, in simple terms, science is ‘tinkering’ with the matter of things. In the search for the fundamental core essence of any organized whole, science has confronted the reality of ‘life as a system.’ There is no essential core. That which organizes compound parts into organized wholes is itself undetectable. However, observation of aggregate operations presents a remarkable degree of intelligence. Even a very simple living organized whole, such as a single celled amoeba, is composed of component parts such as plasma, protein, water, membranes, mobility and which function in a coordinated, coherent, integrated manner. A large primate mammal is that much more complex with more component parts, and yet the functioning amongst the aggregate parts remains quite well coordinated. A planetary whole is even more complex with more components, and yet, there is a coherent ecology, an integrated tapestry of life, all around the world. As long as the necessary ingredients and conditions are present, component parts manifest that which is more than the parts themselves.
Self as Cake
A simple way of grasping the notion of self as a system is to view self as a cake. A cake is a product of compounded parts, flour, eggs, milk, sugar, water, and heat. Remove any part, or add a part, and the cake is no longer a cake, as it was. A chocolate cake will have ingredient(s) that a sponge cake will not. One might think that the fundamental core essence of a chocolate cake would be the ingredient chocolate. But, without the other necessary ingredients, there would be no cake at all. It is the necessary ingredients and conditions which produce that which is more than the components alone, in this case, a cake. The quality of ingredients can make a difference in the experience of cake. But, if one seeks the fundamental essence of ‘cake,’ it cannot be detected. Cake is a perceived phenomenon predicated on a combination of necessary ingredients and conditions.
One’s own sense of ‘self’ is a perceived phenomenon resulting from the organization of necessary ingredients and conditions. Those ingredients and conditions are exceedingly complex and varied. Understanding the organization of them as a functioning form, in conjunction with other functioning forms, is the realm of science, of knowing. Just as the science of baking a cake is knowing how to combine the necessary set of ingredients in the proper set of conditions, so too the constructing of self is a science of knowing how to combine ingredients and conditions. To ‘know thy self’ is to know the ingredients and conditions necessary for the phenomenon of self. Just as there is no core essence of cake, so too there is no core essence of self. And, just as the quality of cake ingredients makes the cake what it is, so too the quality of self ingredients makes self what it is. What quality of solid food do you eat? What quality of liquids do you drink? What quality of air (gas) do you breathe? What cognitions (thoughts) do you harbor? What company do you keep? What information do you internalize?
Self as Corporation
Another way of grasping this notion of self as system is the corporation analogy. A corporation is corporeal, meaning it is “of a material or physical nature, not mental or spiritual,” and more commonly taken to mean ‘body, form, appearance.’ Like the cake, a corporation is a collection of combined ingredients and conditions. For example, ingredients that makes a corporation what it is might include various departments such as human resources, marketing, accounting, management, etc. Each of these departments are, of course, housed with people who themselves are a complex amalgamation of aggregate parts. Although corporations often have a ‘logo’ to represent itself, the essential core of a corporation does not exist. There is no single fundamental component that can produce a corporeal form, a corporation. A corporeal form, a corporation, requires a combination of ingredients and conditions which when organized can produce that which is more than its parts. Self is that which is more than its parts. Self is a corporation, made up of many parts, departments, ingredients, and conditions. How do you represent self? What is your logo? What is your flag? How does your corporate systems self live in the world?
Just as a cake, and a corporation, is a perceived phenomenon comprised of ingredients and conditions without a core essence of its own, so too is self, a perceived phenomenon comprised of ingredients and conditions with no substantial essence of its own. That does not negate the functionality of a corporation, or any corporeal, physical, material form, including self. A cake is baked to be eaten. A corporation is formed to do business. Self is configured to explore, experiment and come to know itself as phenomenon predicated on ingredients and conditions, organized by……intelligence. From an amoeba to a man, from the microbiome to the largest of mammals on the planet, intelligence organizes necessary ingredients and conditions to support the myriad forms and functions of phenomenal life. It could then be postulated that the fundamental essential core nature of all phenomenon, including ‘self,’ is intelligence; comprehensive, coherent, pervasive, systemic, wholistic Intelligence.
Self as Relations
A way to encapsulate this understanding is to grasp the self as relational. It is often said, ‘you are born alone, and die alone.’ If you were born alone, where was your mother at the time? We are all born into relationship. From our very first breath onwards, relationship defines us. Our identity is forged in the fires of relationship with parents, adults, teachers and peers. To take away relationship is to remove the very fabric of relational self, relative self, identity, which is all we know. For this reason, seekers of truth seek solitude to know the self that is not relational, and not knowable in the context of relationship. What underlies relational identified self is that organizing principle of intelligence which coordinates all the moving parts into a functional whole. Although the term ‘wholistic self’ is useful, it is also an oxymoron in that ‘self’ is a defined form and ‘wholistic’ is not, in the same way that kinetic energy is in motion, and potential energy is not. The relative identified self is all about ‘becoming’ in the context of relationship, with others, with the environment, with the past and future. The wholistic self is all about ‘being’ in the context of existence as it is, phenomenal, without inherent, intrinsic, absolute, form. To live in the world well is to live both at the same time such that formal defined relative becoming and formless, undefined existential being co-exist in consciousness. The absolute, eternal foundation of all motion, the silent still nest of potential, is ever present within relative, temporal phenomenon of kinetic becoming within all relationship.
“… when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it. “