Know Thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόν, transliterated: gnōthi seauton)


What does it mean to know yourself?

Does it mean to examine yourself and know your limitations? If we looked at the opposite end, how would it be possible to know your limitlessness (lack of limitations).

If one knows their habits (good or bad) do they know themselves?
If one knows the way they react to situations would that be considered knowing yourself? Does the phrase refer to knowing yourself on a physical level or knowing yourself on a spiritual or cosmic level?

The Suda, a 10th-century encyclopedia of Greek knowledge, says: "the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are", and that "know thyself" is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.

Is it knowing your interactions with your own thoughts, feelings, and actions that would lead someone to know who they are?

In psychology the term used is "self-knowledge" and this is only relating to the physical aspect of self or brain, concerning, thoughts, actions, motivations, self-consciousness etc., but is this enough to know who you are. The term here expresses itself in the question "Who am I" "What am I". If asked this question, it is common to relate to simple physical real world examples and criteria of what makes up a person like "I'm a doctor, I'm a father of 'x' kids, and I like to study esoterocism" but is that who the person is? Does reflecting on aspects of real life commonalities make you who you are? What if you took into consideration non-physical aspects of what makes you know who you are... like your beliefs, your inner-motivations, the way you emote, those things that make use of imagination and creativity.

Self-perception and Introspection are looking at ourselves from at times a 3rd person view. But is this enough to come to conclusion that we know ourselves? After all we might hold in perceptions and classifications of previous experiences of what makes a person who they are in physical aspects , or possibly question in other matters like kindness, love and other values. What of the internal make-up? The soul, is it the soul that makes us who we are. Is it the hidden force inside that pushes these things outward, the small expression the small voice leading us to act, think, and ask who we are and what our purpose is?

If I tracked everything of what I do and think, for example when I wake up, every action I take when I reach for my cup of coffee, took my vitals, logged as many thoughts possible, reflected on why I thought them, and anything else you can think of. At the end of the day would I know myself? Or would I just be better at knowing what I do?

Rumi once lamented “I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.” "The closer I get, the more I see how far I am" "When will I ever see that I am that I am?"

"Maybe you are searching among branches for what only appears in the roots."  

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Comment by Seth Edwards on March 13, 2014 at 4:43pm

Loved your Rumi quote at the end. Loved the entire post, to be honest.

Isn't "know thyself" the oldest philosophical directive from our Grecian forefathers? I could be wrong, but I'm thinking it is. It would be a beautiful beginning to western thought if it were.

When I see that old quote, "know thyself," I'm certain it has nothing to do with our physical selves. It's a spiritualistic directive. When we look at the things around us, from a tree, to our own bodies and thoughts, we can deduce that we are not those things that we see or feel or hear or think or smell. The fact that we can study and observe them means that they are not "us." For we are observers. We are that indefinable thing that is pure subject. It's inherently ungraspable by the intellect, and therefore inherently indescribable. When I look at a fellow human being, I'm not actually looking at them. I'm just looking at the external shell housing another pure subjective being. To know what you are, underlying your external shells, is to know what every other conscious being in the universe is. Stripped of our superficial divisions and appearances, we are all exactly the same.

Even all of that being said, it's still impossible to even faintly describe what we are. And thus the directive still stands, unanswered, pointing us upward and onward:

Know Thyself.

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