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A History of the self-containing structure of the mind

The Letter, Issue 34, Summer 2005, Pages 63 - 69


Kazushige Shingu

There exists an epistemological tradition in which the mind is conceptualized as something that contains itself. Pascal's reed is contained within the thinking subject.[2] Kierkegaard's self entails a relationship in which the self relates to itself.[3] The Freudian subject of psychoneurosis is a being narcissistically attached to itself.[4]

This conception of the mind as a self-containing structure originates in a period of Western history during which the presence of God withdrew, as if God had vacated his seat and gone on holiday. During this period, an awareness grew of the distance between entertaining a belief and true certitude of belief. One learned to doubt one's own belief. Belief no longer came to one of its own accord; instead, one had to obtain it by one's own devices, as in Pascal's Wager.

Madness is inherent in this self-containing structure. As Pascal defined it, the thinking subject contains the entire universe, but what can this subject be, if it is not contained within the universe? Because it does not exist within the universe, it must be transcendent, and hence, divine. Yet to believe oneself to be divine is to be in proximity to madness.

Moreover, the thinking subject must be "one," a unity, since it must have a discrete identity. But to the extent that it recognizes itself as being a reed within the universe, it is "two," doubled between the reed and the subject that thinks of the reed. Nonetheless, it still counts itself only once, and views these two categories of being as integrated within itself. Counting two things as one is clearly a deviation from reason, reflecting another way in which the self-containing structure of the mind leads to madness; it is itself a madness.

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