Know Thyself

Alone in his flat, flashes of memories flooded his cave of creativity. He closes his eyes and imagined what it must be like to be an atom or quark with some sort of fundamental consciousness as it travels through space and time. Lost in the thought of passing particles crashing and colliding, then thoughts of the indivisible bits fade away and he rested his eyes.

All thought of the external world had faded away and now Daedalus has turned inwards. Daedalus blinks once, then twice, and a third time to realize he is standing in a dimly lit room with a candle sitting atop a table. Its flame was faintly burning the wick. Looking around, he noticed the room is round, in the shape of a globe. He wondered what lurked in the darkness. As he walked towards the candle, he saw a shadow of a being. It was an old man with a grey beard. He had a pensive look.

“Sit,” he said.

Wondering what he has in store, Daedalus curiously sits down.

“Who are you?” The old man asks.

“Who are you?” Daedalus snapped back.

“Who I am doesn’t matter, this is your play, you’re the one center stage.

“My name is Daedalus.”

“Name is but sound and smoke!” He slams the desk with his palm, looking me in the eyes, he asks again but with a heightened, scholarly, timeless meter, “Who are you essentially?”

“I’m the mortal sitting here before you. What do you want from me?”

“Do you mean bodily constituents? For all mortals share a common biology, and ancestral roots. Dear Daedalus, you’re going to have to dig deeper than that.”

“I am the collection of all of my memories, experiences, and thoughts.”

“You’re just scratching the surface, young man. Who owns these ideas? Do you own them? Could they be someone else’s? Maybe you’re living the life of a brain in a vat, where these thoughts are being sent to you via electric stimulation through wires.”

With a furrow brow Daedalus sits there in contemplation. He looks back up and says, “I am that irreducible conscious awareness of a unified being. I am that active, organizing, creative self that knits my memories, experiences, and thoughts together.

“This is true. However, every person has this aspect of the soul. This is one level of who you are. This central part of your soul where everything else pivots.” He leans forward, with a painstaking look and says, continue on.

“Under scrutiny of the supervision of the soul is a self-identity. This self-identity is what selects what I see, and under the fairest conditions, what I come to think. Furthermore, this self-identity has an influence on how I behave and color the world. It’s what makes me a moral being.

“This spark within is what gives you rational autonomy when well. You also have a personal identity. This one wrapped in the hurly burly of family, friends, society, and civic life. Still, we’ve come this far and haven’t come to answer your most intimate self, your spiritual self.”

“I consider myself an hopeful agnostic when it comes to god, is that what you mean?
“No, Daedalus. It’s the self that is stable throughout time. It consists of your personality, outlook and conscience. It’s where you take a dive inwards towards your morals and intellectual questions.”

“I’m driven to reach upward even when looking inward. However, my personality can’t seem to find that balance, that harmony, that fitness it once had. My mind has been shattered in pieces. There are more spaces between the cracks than there are of a once spotless reflection of myself. That once serene lake that I could look at to see through the bottom of any idea or myself is now murky and disturbed.

“I know this, Daedalus. But as time passes, your personality can repair the parts and pieces, the bumps and bruises, so you can be whole again. This task just takes time and effort.

He leans forward, folding his hands, with his head slightly bent downwards so that he can look above his frames at me, as if this question would determine whether I get a passing or failing grade. “The question I offer to you is this: are you going to enter into a life of despair or integrity? That is to say, are you going to look at the shattered mirror and think that this is what your life has amounted to, give up the fight, and throw in the towel? Or are you going to move on from what you’ve endured, and instead point to what you stand for, what you’re all about? We all have low points, Daedalus, in that regard you are like nobody else, but it’s where your high points are that you should look up to and never lose sight.”

Daedalus sits in silence as all his past regressions consume him. They fill his once harmonized heart and head into a spiraling depth that is tough to master after such a disaster. Closing his eyes with head bent downward, he then raises his head, opens them, and fighting for the heart and the soul, he looks at this old man in front of him, his head slightly bent downwards, his hands folded.

“Integrity,” Daniel says.

“Well now, you have this titanic head filled with knowledge and an inclination towards all things made of sweetness and light. Now what?”

“I don’t know.”

With a concerned look, and a furrow brow, with eyes that expected more. He tarries a moment. “The central part of your soul is what makes you one particular entity.
Only when one abandons individuality, which is materiality itself, can there be an eternal life. As an individual entity you’re a material particular entity, and it is in abandoning that, and surrendering oneself to the good of the whole that the possibility of a life that transcends mere materiality becomes possible.” (Daniel Robinson, The Great Ideas of Philosophy)

Daedalus watches the flame dance in the darkness. One candlestick barely illuminated the desk. Daedalus leans back, and takes in what the old man had said.

Before he could respond, the old man said, “Daedalus, do you realize that you’re a character in a Greek tragedy right now, that your future needs to be be worked out in a better way very soon? Through great works one can see in the lives of others, immortalized by the great authors, something that needs to be seen, understood, and felt. You certainly have the weight of the world on your shoulders—bearing down on you—but you mustn’t stop fighting. You can’t give up.” And with a serious look, he says,

“You’re better than that. So let me ask you, one last question. What are you going to do with your life?”

Daedalus sat there in silence for a long while until the candlestick burnt out and all was black.