✉️ Good Thought 6

Three Phenomenologies of Self

Welcome to Good Thought, a newsletter about fresh ideas for purposeful living in the 2020s.

I’m Aaron Nesmith-Beck. I founded Atman, one of the first legal psilocybin retreats, and my writing at Freedom & Fulfilment has over 1M pageviews. You can learn more about me here.

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Three Phenomenologies of Self

Thanks to Matt Southey & Milan Griffes for help with this idea
Art is Death and Life by Gustav Klimt

How does it feel to be you? How might it feel? Today I will share three phenomenologies of self.

1. Self as subject

Self as subject is “me in here, the world out there”. You’re inside your head, behind your eyes, a barrier (your skin?) insulating you from the outside world. Self is subject, that which is not self is object. This is the default mode (network doing its thing) for most people, most of the time. In the self but not in the world.

2. Self as object

Self as object is the third person, top-down. The self development/self improvement frame is one example of self as object. The self as a project to be worked on, something to schedule and create routines for, to tweak and optimize. A mechanistic being of inputs and outputs, the goal to become a better functioning system. “Life as a video game.” Perceived problems (with the self or with the world) are met with “I need to work on this”. The self is an object and experience is also an object, rather than something firsthand. Not in the self and not in the world.

3. ???

I might call this first-order engagement or relational participation. I’m still working it out for myself, so instead of a description I’ll offer a few handles.


Relating to parts of the inanimate world as if they have living spirits inside of them, or as if they are the physical aspect of a living spirit. The feeling of being in nature as of relating to another being. The feeling of consuming a substance (caffeine, cannabis, mushrooms) as interacting with the spirit of the plant. Greeting, thanking, or saying goodbye to objects or spaces.


In the Pixar movie Soul the main character says, “Music and life operate by very different rules!” One of the messages of the film, of course, is that the opposite is true. So perhaps this is like living jazz – improvisationally.


The opposite of whatever Taleb (Nassim Nicholas) means when he says “sissy”.


Self explanatory (also, nice barefoot shoes!)


Modernity as a crisis of endless mirrors, endless self-reflection. The world, then, not as something to be held up and examined, but simply engaged with, and engaged with in a non-reflective way. Being in the self and being in the world, or being in the self in the world.

Collective effervescence

A festival, concert, maybe with drugs, openness, freedom, lack of responsibility, energetic flow from music and other people. The feeling of being in a crowd, which is actually the feeling of being a crowd, but without the crowd. How about this feeling when walking down the street, typing on the computer, eating a sandwich?

Less virgin, more chad

Why is the meme funny? Because it points to a deep truth about modes of being in the world. The virgin overthinks; his self-consciousness leads him to self sabotage. Things don’t go well for him because his interiority is in a negative feedback loop with the world. The chad hardly thinks at all and simply engages. His interiority is in a positive feedback loop with the world, and things work out great. The virgin is always going in, the chad is always going out.


“The categories are better understood as denial and embrace.”

Final words

These may all seem like they’re pointing at different things, but hey, that’s the point. I’m trying to triangulate a subjective feeling that translates to a mode of being that is hard to describe, although “you know it when you see it”. Perhaps you have better language – reply and let me know?

Last, this quote from Alan Watts:

“We thought of life by analogy with a journey, a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end — success or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along: it was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.”

Until next time,


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