In the video, who am I, I said that every experience is, in fact, a composition of two parts:
- The Object of the experience (E.g. a thought, an emotion, a physical sensation)
- The Subject of experience. (I call it observer, experiencer or consciousness)
Yet from feedbacks I have received I saw that many find it difficult to understand why must there be such a separation. Every thought, emotion or sensation is a conscious experience, so why can’t we say that consciousness is a natural quality of every thought, emotion or sensation? Why do I claim that there is a separate observer or experiencer, that experiences the thoughts, emotions and sensations?
The real answer is that the discovery of this separation is a result of an observation.
It is like asking Newton, why do you distinguish gravity as a force? Isn’t gravity just the way reality is? Everything falls down. End of point.
But Newton made some observations and found evidence that gravity has the same qualities as any other force (like the force a horse exerts when pulling a cart). These qualities were a correlation between force, mass and acceleration that were valid also to gravity. So he concluded that gravity is a force.
So let me explain what are the evidence that brings me to claim that an experience requires an experiencer, and that those two are not the same. Later I will address this issue also from a philosophical point of view. (Please note that when I use the word “separation”, I do not mean that the experiencer and the experience are disconnected. I only mean to emphasise that they are not the same. Like that the sea and its waves are not the same, even though they are united)
The distinction between the experiencer and the subject of experience can clearly be seen using a certain meditative technique that I will explain later on. In order to simplify this technique, I have constructed the exercise of observing a mental image of a house. Watch the exercise in the video below, and do it. Then I will discuss the results.
Now, If you have done the exercise seriously, you may have experienced yourself observing the mental image.
It feels like you are in the background and the mental image is in front of you. It feels like there is a distance between you and the mental image and it clearly feels that you are, in some way, separated from it.
This is the first evidence you have, that supports the claim that you are something different than the mental image of the house.
Yet, how can we conclude that this “observer” is not another metal experience? As I wrote before, in the exercise we feel ourselves as an observer, different from the mental image. If we feel, it means this is another experience.
Here comes to our aid the meditative Technique I mentioned before.
This is a technique that can be called “silencing the mind” or “listening to the silence”. In this technique, we reduce all mental activities by focusing all our attention on a single point of reference – like the sensation of air flowing in and out from our nostrils.
In the beginning, we constantly lose the point of reference since we drift with our thoughts, emotions, or uncomfortable sensations like itches and pain. The more one practices this technique, and manages to focus all his attention on the single point of reference, the more silent the mind becomes.
When there are almost no thoughts or emotions on our mind, it becomes clearer to see that there is something else in the background of our mental noise, that is constant and was there all along. It is a subtle emotion that can be described by the words “I am“.
In other words, when there is no mental activity, no thoughts, no emotions and no sensations all that is left is the constant emotion of being.
You may suggest that this emotion is a response to the physical sensations of the body, but there are moments when we experience no physical sensations, like when we dream*, and you will find that this emotion is still there.
This emotion, as I understand it, is a direct reflection of the observer. It is not the observer itself, but its mental reflection in the mind. Like the reflection of our face in the mirror.
This is another evidence for the existence of an observer, that is different from the object of observation.
Here is why I believe that the emotion of “I am” is a reflection of the observer:
Understanding the observer and the nature of reality from a philosophical point of view
When we try to understand reality, we can immediately see that all there is – is an experience.
We see a tree. Is it there? We don’t know.
We can only see it (visual experience), hear its leaves shaken by the wind (auditory experience), feel its texture (kinesthetic experience), think it’s a tree (a thought experience) or feel we love it (an emotional experience).
So why do we conclude that there really is a tree out there?
- Because the mental experiences of the tree are constant. (They do not suddenly disappear or change into something else)
- Because we cannot change these experiences willingly, like we can do with our imagination.
All the experiences we have, in themselves, are real. They cannot be doubted. If you feel pain, you cannot doubt it. You can doubt that this pain came from the branch that fell on your head. You may be dreaming or you may be in “the matrix”, and so the branch does not really exist. But the feeling of pain is not deniable. You have a direct contact with it. (You cannot doubt it also because doubt in itself is a thought, that is, an experience. Can you deny the existence of thought by thinking?)
Now, the existence of an observer implies that it cannot observe itself. Just like we cannot see our own eyes. We can do it only indirectly, using a mirror. And in fact, if you try to observe the observer you will never succeed. You will only find thoughts, emotions or sensations that describe the observer. (Like the emotion of “I am”).
So we see that the external reality (The physical world), and the observer, have something in common. They both cannot directly be observed by us – only indirectly. So we have to conclude their existence from their reflection in our mind.
Remember the reasons, I mentioned, for which we conclude the reality of the external world?
It creates a constant mental experience, and we cannot change it by will.
The same is with the emotion of “I am”. It is always there, and I cannot make it disappear or change.
Therefore, I conclude it is a reflection of something that really exist and not a product of imagination. This thing, It the observer.
*While we dream we usually don’t experience physical sensations, but sometimes they can appear also in dreams.