Here is a wonderfully written piece by my dear friend Balakrishnan Satyam on the interesting subject of personhood. There are many takeaways in there, so read slowly and carefully.
It suddenly hits you at times that grasping what personhood is, is what ‘realisation’ is about, than a studied understanding of a doctrine about Creation or Reality. Everyone has this grasp at some level, a few more acutely and clearly and consciously than others.
At one level, it is an individuality – knowing oneself in a degree of independence from others, and possessing an available extent of freedom. At another, it is knowing one’s strengths and limitations so as to operate more efficiently and suitedly and owning up what one has in one’s uniqueness.
But this ‘personhood’ phenomenon as such is quite pervasive and has certain characteristic identity components studied well by modern psychology. Tradition and family milieu too have a great part in it. There’s also, from community experience, much learned behaviour on engaging with other persons of various backgrounds (religious, geographic, linguistic, economic etc.). There’s a great practical application of a good understanding of such behavioural dynamics.
These persons have certain ‘dominant quests’ – wealth, power, physical satiation or stupor, fame etc. etc. In a sense, we are all machines that can sense the configuration and clock-speed and current CPU task objectives of another machine in the vicinity.
Trying to understand this “human reality” or “social reality” of which we are a part is a large part of what we may end up believing about the Universe, though as quantity of matter, humans are not such a large percentage of all space-time existents.
Every currently perceivable running task informs us about the operative configurations of Nature – there is first hand experience to refer and reflect, a meditation that looks at people and flowers and clouds and feels the breeze and somehow senses that many sensate creatures (including the humans) are receiving and processing similar information.
And sometimes, we feel particularly close when out of a zillion items in the world, someone says, ‘the expression on the face of the guy in the painting ‘American Gothic’ ‘ and we have “shared attention” on a highly specific and unique item about which our interpretations overlap to an extent. (This may explain the delight of the ‘quiz contest’ phenomenon or the crossword.)
A doctor understands my heart condition in terms of arteries. Others familiar with me may associate other aspects and concerns, and empathise to an extent. I wonder how many of us have tried to pattern firsthand data in an unfiltered (to a possible extent) way to get to a schematic understanding of a relative or friend. Do we need schema really?
However, we have far too many uncontrolled reactions to someone’s words or looks or tone or actions or attitudes so the ability to register the information and identify a pattern in an ‘objective’ way is nigh impossible. Knowledge is rarely possible because of the welter of reactions/feelings which are from blind instinct.
This is perhaps why Oriental jnaanis of various sects have emphasised quiescence, a calming before any enquiry can be launched. Perhaps things become clearer, and we see better so even an enquiry doesn’t need to be launched! A way to prepare for all kinds of knowledge. Often overlooked in schools which teach use of the syllogism and theorising about the object-world as a path.