The “I” of the Beholder: What Is the Self?

The “I” of the Beholder: What Is the Self?
Brain Pickings, By Maria Popova
March 2014

“The fate of the world depends on the Selves of human beings.”

“I change every day, change my patterns, my concepts, my interpretations,” Anaïs Nin wrote to Harper’s Bazaar editor Leo Lerman in history’s most gracious turn-down of a major magazine profile, “I am a series of moods and sensations. I play a thousand roles.” And yet despite how much science may disprove it and philosophy may debunk it, most of us cling to the notion of the permanent self with unparalleled zest.

In her seminal book The “I” of the Beholder: A Guided Journey to the Essence of a Child (public library), education pioneer and Roeper School co-founder Annemarie Roeper considers the origin and nature of identity and of the self as it relates to developmental psychology and our formative years.

Roeper, who fled to America from Nazi Germany, was born in Vienna in 1918 and came of age in the aftermath of “the age of insight,” which had sparked a historic cross-pollination of science, the arts, and the humanities. This was also the dawn of our modern understanding of the human psyche, a movement that elevated Freud into one of the most influential figures in Vienna and the rest of Europe. Roeper was literally nursed on his theories — her mother would breastfeed young Annemarie while discussing Freud’s work with her psychoanalyst friends. The confluence of these two — a cultural climate that placed a great emphasis on thoughtful education for children and a keen interest in the inner workings of the human psyche — came to define Roeper’s life path, career, and influential contribution to education.

Roeper writes in the introduction:

[We have] a sense of the mystery of life, the mystery of the universe that surrounds us, and the mystery that is within us. It is within these vast unknowns that we try to establish our identities. We strive to carve out a place that is known, a place that we can manage, a place that is safe, a place that allows us to grow our unique Selves. This is nothing less than our struggle for psychic survival, a need for identity: tribal identity, national identity, group identity, a family identity, and finally, an individual identity.

For the full article see http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/02/24/annemarie-roeper-i-of-the-beholder/