Descartes said, cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”…
Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan discusses the importance of the thought process that Descartes went through to get to his conclusive statement: “I think, therefore I am.” He explains that it is the act of doubting that leads to the conclusion that one is thinking: “by the virtue of the fact that I doubt, I am sure that I think”.4 Lacan tells us that a central theme in the thought of Sigmund Freud is also “doubt”. Lacan says:
“In a precisely similar way, Freud, when he doubts…he is assured that a thought is there, which is unconscious, which means that it reveals itself as absent. As soon as he comes to deal with others, it is to this place that he summons the I think through which the subject will reveal himself. In short, he is sure that this thought is there alone with I am, if I may put it like this, provided, and this is the leap, someone thinks in his place. [He continues his thought] It is here that the dissymmetry between Freud and Descartes is revealed. It is not in the initial method of certainty grounded on the subject. It stems from the fact that the subject is ‘at home’ in this field of the unconscious. It is because Freud declares the certainty of the unconscious that the progress by which he changed the world for us was made.” (Book XI)
While Descartes centers his inquiry on the subjectivity of the one who is thinking, Freud focuses on the deeper subjectivity emanating from the unconscious. In doing so he recognizes two distinct focal points of subjectivity: the ‘I am’ and ‘the subject.’ This subject within is a subjectivity that is larger and more vast than the speaking and thinking subject which declares “I am”. It is a subjectivity not directly accessible, but known only through dreams, free association and active imagination. It is the ‘subject of the unconscious.’ We might call this subjectivity ‘the Self.’
“Let us pray to God to be free of ‘God’.” –Meister Eckhart.
We exist in a shifting ground, and outworn symbolic notions need to be re-imagined. Outer, worldly, changes provoke a response from human beings, and this response takes place as a shift in the collective psyche. This shift is not a quick and sudden shift, but instead a slow and gradual shift, as people begin to rethink and re-imagine their relationship to each other and life. Some of this shift in thinking takes place consciously and some of it unconsciously. The unconscious cultural shifts can be interpreted though our collective beliefs, fashions, images, and sayings.
There are two basic views of the divine. The first perspective sees the divine as transcendent to life; the other sees the divine as immanent to life. The word transcendence is from the Latin transcendens meaning “surmounting, rising above.” The word immanence is from the Latin immanere meaning “to dwell in, remain within.” Transcendence views the divine beyond; Immanence views the divine within. Self-realization is the simultaneity of both of these perspectives. Immanence and transcendence form a core dialectic of the Self.
We see such a realization in Vedanta, where the self is the self of every being, and yet is beyond any individual being– as the supreme Self.