How do we know who we are? Do we create ourselves, or do we discover who we are?
Philosopher George Berkeley, in the 18th century, developed subjective idealism, a metaphysical theory, also referred to as, “To be is to be perceived.” Berkeley is credited with asking the question, “”If a tree falls in a forest and nobody’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
If we are trying to know ourselves, we must take as true that there is a self to know. Beyond Berkeley’s question, what does it matter if something exists, if it doesn’t know it exists?
What does it matter if something knows it exists, if it doesn’t know what it is? Or, if we know we exists, what is it that we know is existing?
Berkeley’s “tree” cannot perceive, and the sound made by the tree falling, can not perceive; if the tree is instead a human being and can perceive, or the sound could hear itself as humans can, the question gets more interesting. But, would it change anything?
If a person was left in the forest as a baby and grew up without ever being found, would the person ever know they existed? They would hear, see, smell and touch, but what would they think of themselves? What would they think of reality? What, or who would they think they were? How self aware would they be? If they didn’t know who or what they were, or that anything similar existed, could they know they existed? Would they be an animal?
Berkeley’s theory, “to be is to be perceived,” at least as it pertains to humans, seems to offer only half the equation. What if we were perceived from a far away telescope? What if we are perceived by someone so much more perceptive, that we had no idea, all that was being perceived of us?
What about an extension to Berkeley’s axiom?
To be is to be perceived, to the extent, and in the way in which we perceive being perceived.
Berkeley’s theory, “to be is to be perceived,” may be sufficient for theorizing about whether a sound exists; but, with humans who can perceive themselves, is the theory sufficient? How do we know if we exist, if we don’t know who we are?
Who are we, and what are we that is existing?
Are we what others perceive us to be? Or, do others perceive what we are – as we become ourselves, independently? Do we grow by designing ourselves, and then choose relationships with those who’s perceptions agree and most reflect our vision of what we wish to be? Perhaps we have less control than we think, over becoming. Do we know ourselves by seeing other people’s perceptions of us, then grow by making adjustments, based on what we see reflected?
Sometimes how we think we are, or wish to be, is not at all what someone else is seeing. Someone is deluded, either they are not seeing correctly and we need to get away from them, or, we become aware of something we didn’t know about ourselves, and change accordingly.
We let people in for a closer look as we fall in love. We show lovers more evidence of who we truly are, and thus grant more authority to their perception of us.