Reflections on Awareness of Who Am I?


(Today’s article is by guest writer Herman Matthews. For a brief bio, see below.)

This is my attempt using logic to look at Who am I?

We are all aware of the world. We are all aware of ourselves. And some of us ask questions like: Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing here? These are universal questions, so there are many “answers” in different cultures and traditions. But ultimately these questions cannot be answered with our limited linear languages.  It is beyond words, but that is what we have to work with. So I will use words and “logic” and do the best I can. 

I start with a universal statement, which everyone will agree is correct: I am aware of myself. And then follow the logic as far as the language takes me.

I am aware of myself.

I am aware that I am (am not) the External World.   I may have moments when I feel that I am part of or connected to the external world, but then I see and feel the boundaries of my body. I know that this is me and this is where I live. I interact with and enjoy the External World, but I am not the External World.

I am aware that I am (am not) not my physical body.  In the waking state, my physical body is the vehicle that gives me sensory data (sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste) and interactions with the External World. In the dream sleep state, I do not have access to the External World or my physical body. My physical body is asleep. But when I wake up, I say “I was dreaming.” So one possibility is that there are two I’s: a waking I, which is the physical body and is aware of the external world and a sleeping I, which is unaware of the physical body or the external world. But I am also aware that there is a continuity of I from waking to dreaming to waking. So I am aware that the waking I and sleeping I are the same I. Therefore, I am not my physical body.

I am aware that I am (am not) my thoughts.  In the waking state, my thoughts allow me to live and be in the External World. In the deep sleep state, I do not have access to the External World or my thoughts. My physical body is asleep and I have no thoughts. But when I wake up, I say “I slept like a log”. So again there is the possibility that there are two I’s: a waking I and a sleeping I. But again, there is a continuity of I from waking to deep sleep to waking. I am aware that the waking I and sleeping I are the same whether I am dreaming or in deep sleep with no thoughts. Therefore, I am not my thought.

I am aware that I am (am not) . . .  I cannot finish this sentence no matter what word I use because it is a thought. And logic has shown that I am not my thoughts. I can put in words like awareness or consciousness or whatever. They may be useful and insightful, but these are just models of the Mystery, which is beyond words.

So Who am I? Since there are no thoughts or words that I can use to answer this question, I ask another question: Where am I? Following this logic, in the sleep state, I cannot be located in time and space with words or thoughts. Therefore, I am either nowhere in time and space or everywhere in time and space. I am limitless.

But, it is ridiculous for me to say that I am not my body or my thoughts. I live and am aware of myself at a particular location in space and time. I interact with the External World — I explore, have experiences, learn and grow.

So what does I am aware of myself mean? Is this the waking self that is limited in space and time? Or is this the sleeping I that is not limited to space and time? My simple solution using words and thoughts is as long as I am alive in time and space, I am both I’s. The limited I in space and time changes and I am always the limitless. This duality is beyond words and logic. 

Now is this logic or is this mental masturbation? That is a valid question. At the present time and with my limited cognitive structure, this is the best I can do. A more important question for me: Is it useful to end a logical sequence in a duality? 

In every culture and tradition that explores these types of universal questions, there always arise dilemmas. But embedded in any language structure that I am familiar with is what Aristotle called the law of the excluded middle. Something is either A or not A, there is no middle ground. This is very useful in mathematics, physics and other explorations, but not in exploring fundamental questions of existence. So cultures, traditions, organizations, and institutions have generated right/wrong answers to the dilemmas. These answers then become concretized into belief systems. This is right because I believe . . .  

But my logic with words shows that as long as I exist in time and space, I am a duality. I am aware that I am limited by living in time and space and I am aware that I am limitless. I am and I am not and I am not and I am.  

Is that a useful duality for me? Yes, I have more knowledge of who I am. I embrace my life in space and time completely. I play the roles with all my resources and know that I am the actor with many relative identities. I see that Life is a Mystery. I see that there are many, many models of how the world works. And when my roles, my identities, my location in space and time changes, I know more about who I am: I am a duality. For me, that is useful. I can hold the tension of the dichotomy.  It works for me.           

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Brief Bio: Herman Matthews has a PhD in Physics and was on the faculty at four major Universities in the US. He then resigned from academia and was self-employed for 35 years. He was a consultant, produced video and designed and facilitated several hundred workshops and seminars using experiential and non-traditional learning. Herman has worked with many, diverse corporations, organizations, cultures, traditions and individuals both in the US and India.

1 thought on “Reflections on Awareness of Who Am I?”

  1. A bit like the duality of particle and wave! With me, it depends from where my train of thinkin/feeling start…if it starts from the assumption the Big Bang, the universe evolves and produces my brain which thinks and has self awareness, I end up with a standard scientific world view of my identity and consiousness. If I start from bedrock personal bedrock experience without the assumptions of “duality”, objective/subjective, etc. I become immersed in an oceanic, mystical sense of existence. I have learned to leave them alone, accept the duality, don’t attack one side when ensconced in the other. Teleology/nihilism? Both! Particle/wave duality!


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