An Attempt to Define the Self -- The Flashlight Theory
Updated: Jan 28
Unveiling the Inner Flashlight
We can be defined as lights of consciousness, awareness-directing beams, illuminating the landscape of existence, with all of its layers. Imagine our physical bodies as the flashlight casings, housing the vibrant energy that allows us to navigate and understand the reality of space and time. And it is through our intelligence that we are able to expend our understanding of the very things we illuminte with our awareness. The lower our intellect and intuition is, the harder for this reality-illumination to be effective. The combined effort of our cognition is what enables a certain degree of understanding, which itself could be increased as well with the application of lifelong learning.
Unlike external objects, which remain passively bathed in our internal light, our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs are not independent entities. They are dynamic reflections cast by the flashlight of our being, swirling within the inner field of our awareness, and are prone to change not only by the external world, but by this illumination as well. It is this ability to reflect and ask questions, ousing our impressions of our world and ourselves, that leads to the fascinating illusory construct we call the ego.
Like with our brains, that are constantly changing by their neuroplastic potential, we in essence, we are architects of our identity, constantly building and dismantling mental structures, incorporating and separating internal and external experiences in relation to the idea of who we are. When this mental illumination process is damaged, this can lead to identity and even existential crises, as with the case of a fictional character I analyzed once, called Metal Sonic. This process closely resembles a community erecting walls and constructing buildings, forging a collective identity by shaping the environment around them.
And while a regular flashlight merely brings something into light, the mental flashlight that is the human being is in a constant state of interaction with that which they bring to light (or awareness). That interaction doesn't necessarily have to be a social interaction, as even the very process of understanding, like when reading this very article, is an interaction between the brain and what it illuminates to itself.
To quote the American Philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler:
“Strictly, all reading is active. What we call passive is simply less active. Reading is better or worse according as it is more or less active. And one reader is better than another in proportion as he is capable of a greater range of activity in reading. In order to explain this point, I must first be sure that you understand why I say that, strictly speaking, there is no absolutely passive reading. It only seems that way in contrast to more active reading.
No one doubts that writing and speaking are active undertakings, in which the writer or speaker is clearly doing something. Many people seem to think, however, that reading and listening are entirely passive. No work need be done. They think of reading and listening as receiving communication from someone who is actively giving it. So far they are right, but then they make the error of supposing that receiving communication is like receiving a blow, or a legacy, or a judgement from the court.” -- From a Linkedin article by Rupak Shah
You therefore cannot say that reading isn't a passive activity entirely if some degree of understanding is required. And understanding isn't completely a capcity, but also an activity that can be done and even improved, as with the example with many activities that can be mastered.
This metaphor of the inner flashlight invites us to transcend the limitations of ego. By recognizing the illusory nature of self-constructed boundaries, we can embrace the fluid nature of experience without having to live from experience to experience (AKA, short-term), when we certainly can expend and improve of the illumination process of our understanding (which can be seen as the sum of our cognition types).
Ultimately, we are not, necessarily, priosners of the walls enclosing our consciousness, but the radiant light that illuminates both the "mental cage" and the world beyond the mind. It's a "light" that can break them, as well, forging new paths in both the brain and in what we are capable of ourselves.
Humans are, therefore, complex, multi-layered "flashlights" that can convert what they perceive into a synthesis of understanding.
Reclaiming the Self Beyond Objects
The tendency to identify with external and internal objects – jobs, achievements, emotions, and even our own bodies – is often born of an ability, perhaps an innate one, to see beyond them, as well. These objects, transient and ever-shifting, become the structures upon which we construct the "ego," that fleeting sense of self, which can easily be reduced using both logic and logical fallacies such as the Victory Fallacy.
But here lies the paradox: while these objects dance in and out of our lives, the true self, the observer of it all, remains constant, a steady beacon along the ever-changing, chaotic reality. This constant self persists until the final curtain falls, the parting from the world at death, which is the only certain thing we can technically accept. This is why clinging too tightly to specific objects, or even people, can be a call to partake in unnecessary dependences. They are not guaranteed to be by our side until our final breath. No one and nothing is.
We only have ourselves, our ability to bring things into the light of our understanding, and the certainty that both will end. These are the only three things we can be assured of entirely in this reality.
As such, both the self and its mental illumination processes, cannot be diminished by anything less than death itself. Any other object of association, however cherished, is subject to change, loss, or even complete eradication.
A job can be lost, wealth can vanish, relationships can dissolve – these experiences, while transformative, cannot touch the core of who we are. They are merely the shifting scenery against which our true light shines and observes.