The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Opinion > Culture and Education


Culture and Education

Getting along with Your “Other” Self

Seigen Nasu
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

A self “splits apart” for the self to emerge. This is inaccurate. Rather, it is correct to say that a self emerges because “something splits apart.” “Splitting apart” does not necessarily imply mental breakdowns but refers to the original state of human beings. Among animals, human beings are thought to be unique because of our self-awareness. However, self-awareness is elicited in an extremely incomplete way. Let us think about why this is the only way we become self-aware.

In the Old Testament, Chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis dramatically illustrates portrays how human beings acquired self-awareness. A man (Adam) and a woman (Eve), who was created from Adam’s rib, ate the forbidden fruit, making them realize that they were naked and feel ashamed. This feeling of shame is the very proof of wisdom and indicates their acquired self-awareness. Because Eve was created from a part of Adam, she is subordinate to Adam, but simultaneously, she is also an independent human being. In other words, Eve is Adam’s “other self.” In this case, the other self is not a complete stranger but instead another person inside that is related to the self.

“The split of one self,” namely the creation of Adam’s other self, Eve, is the origin of self-awareness. The sweet temptation of the forbidden fruit is the only other necessary factor in the equation. Such temptation makes Adam and Eve consider themselves as a mirror to each other.

The feeling of shame strikes Adam and Eve because they are naked for others to see. A self develops from grasping its image reflected by others; that is, it cannot exist without others. This point that the self cannot emerge without others is exactly what Sören A. Kierkegaard was trying to say when he said, “The self is a relation.”

For human beings to have self-awareness is a truly ambivalent thing. There are two equivalent perspectives to a single matter in ambivalence. The very self-awareness human beings attained is symbolic of their glory, but at the same time, it is also the cause of their unhappiness. Religion regards self-awareness as a tremendous burden. In fact, it assumes that self-awareness is at the root of all human suffering. The Lost Paradise, as described in the Old Testament, inflicts penalty on human beings for becoming self-aware. Buddhists believe that complete selflessness is the highest statement of mind to be achieved by human beings.

Religion depicts the “other world” and presents various ways to reach there because people wish to free themselves from the fetters of self-awareness. Such liberation allows them to return to where they belonged before “splitting away.” This place is the Garden of Eden, the Land of Ultimate Bliss, as paradise.

Why, then, were human beings exiled from such a beautiful world? That is because until they left, they did not know where and how precious it was. This is similar to realizing how important someone was to you only after when he or she is gone. Whenever we recall the fond memories of our childhood, the bygone days are sweet and nostalgic because we remember them after they are gone. Time generates another self, which is what we call the “past.” As long as it is within that moment, nothing happens in the moment we refer to as now. Yet, time does not allow moments to linger. Immediately, the moment passes, becoming the other self of the present. The other self of the present (the past), although it “exists” in the present, is deemed as something before the present, which is the past.

Plato’s theory of Idea (or Forms) refers to a world that existed before we were born, the very world that we have completely forgotten about at birth. We are trying to return to such a world we consider as ideal. At this time, the ideas of time, the past and the future, correspond.

“Earlier, I mentioned that “splitting one self apart” does not equate to having a mental breakdown. As we have self-awareness, most of us have already experienced this split. The relationship between the “self” and the “other self,” which is the result of splitting away from self-awareness, is to “assert themselves on each other.” The “self” in this relationship is regarded as the core called the “subject,” and the “other self” is subordinate to the “self.” However, as long as self-awareness is the relationship, there is neither core nor subordination. If the “other” surpasses the “self” as the subject, integration dysfunction syndrome (schizophrenia) appears. Conversely, it signs of autism could start to show if the “self” almost completely ignores the “other.” Truth is that it is probably normal to establish self-awareness by allowing the “self” as the subject to coexist with the “other,” moderate to the extent to which they do not cause harm.

Sigmund Freud and Carl G. Jung revealed the existence of unconsciousness, the others existing in one self. It is absolutely impossible to eliminate unconsciousness and live with only consciousness. How should we humans with ego (self-awareness) live with our other selves? This is the greatest challenge for people living today.

Seigen Nasu
Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

Professor Seigen Nasu was completed the doctoral course at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Letters, Arts and Sciences in 1977. He became assistant professor at the School of Social Sciences in 1985, and later professor in 1990. His major publications include The Bounds of a Sacred Place and the Hollow World (Kojinsha, 1982) and Logic for Darkness (Kojinsha, 2012). He retired this spring.