Pure Self

Purity is usually related to sexual, moral, or religious life. However, this time ‘purity’ has a completely different context. “Pure Self” is quite a strange word for people unfamiliar with phenomenology. At first, glance, being pure or purity is worrying as an effect of some medical procedure which is unpleasant but necessary, like sterilization or amputation. Luckily, the term “Pure Self” has nothing in common with such a drastic experience.

According to Roman Ingarden, If an experience of time had been full, we would have identified Self with getting a new feeling of awareness all the time. This specific experience of Self is called “pure Self” by Ingarden. It is the current Self because it exists only in the present.

Because this Self has only the present, it cannot have any features shaped with time or experiences of the past, so it is a featureless Self. It is something beyond human imagination like the experience of the reality of a person with amnesia. Everyone has some set of features, which are likable or dislikable, but they do describe them. Here, it is equal to a lack of individuality and identity.

At the same time, pure Self expresses the surrounding reality, and contact with others. Unfortunately, the Self is changing all the time. In this sense, although pure Self is a subject of reality, Self as a human being does not exist. The self that exists should be unchangeable, shouldn’t it?

Unchangeable Self

According to a human interpretation of time, it is as a continuum of events. This idea conflicts with the understanding of time as a moment or a point in time. Everyone expresses oneself thanks to time directly, so, Self is inextricably associated with time.

Ingarden says:

 What I am now – as I presume indirect experience, without asking for an unequivocal justification, is defined by all that I was before and what has influenced me so far (Ingarden, 1987, 52).

Every person shapes their own past. In Ingarden’s opinion, this past is still direct and alive in primal, vibrant remembrance (Ingarden, 1987, 53). But, the memories of the past are not always a pure reflection of the people, events, and facts. For Ingarden, it is normal that knowledge about the past is a deformation of the experiences of the past. Some of them change their length, dynamic, distance, clearness, features, or even essence.

Mechanism of Changes

In this way, Ingarden’s observations are correct in the light of neuroscience. But, this problem is more complex. The discordances between experiences of the present and memories of them are an effect of the sophisticated mechanism of the human mind, which adjusts reality to our mental possibilities and condition. In the other words, we remember the past properly, only if we can do it because of the external and internal circumstances. Often mistakes appear when experiences are too intensive or too hard for the person.

Ingarden says:

And so not due to accidental reasons for mistakes or simple reminding delusions, which are also possible, but as a result of the necessary changes in the time perspective (Ingarden, 1987, 53).

When I write this sentence, I bear in my mind a proverb – Time is a great healer. These words are so relevant in the context of Ingarden’s reflection, aren’t they?  

Almost everyone has an experience that seems so dramatic at the time but loses importance with time and we can see ourselves from a different point of view. This new perspective is evidence of our mental and spiritual development. Why? It is connected to the changing of perspective which needs the capability to see the problem in emotional distance. It means that the emotions change, because of a different hierarchy of values.

The Living Self

In this sense, sometimes, what was noticeable as a great love with time can turn out the only fascination. Usually, the present has the most dramatic character. When they become the past, it luckily appears to be less tragic. Time shows alternative possibilities, and experiences that shape not only present but the past as well.

Ingarden emphasises:

Briefly: Self, who I used to be, and whom I still believe I am, takes a form that depends on the content of my every “now” and is appropriately adapted to it (Ingarden, 1987, 54). 

On the other hand, one feels better and more noble, because one looks critically at oneself from the past. This attitude gives oneself a feeling of being more wise than in the past and being on a higher level than before. It is always a pleasant feeling even if it is associated with shame, a sense of guilt or sadness. This is a positive aspect of time despite the aging.

It is interesting that the past is more real than what’s now, which is only a moment, sometimes blurry in our memories. We remember what we want, and how we want. In this way, our past is our story created by our mind, especially for us. Sometimes it is positive, but not always. In other words, we have Self in the timeline continuum, and Self as a phenomenon existing in the present which transcends own feelings.

Everyone’s knowledge and past hides a code of our pride, and our dignity, and our sense of guilt and shame. So, the past is a blessing but also a curse and a burden for everyone. There are people who have a real problem with their past, with self-forgiveness and understanding oneself.

Self and Emptiness

Ingarden categorizes humans as intentional beings. What does it mean? As intentional beings, they are a realization of some purposes and intentions, such as tools or artefacts. But, humans are alive creatures as other animals and plants. How can one be a natural and intentional being at the same time?

In this way, we can explain the duality of human nature. On one hand, it is rooted in the evolution theory and the biological heredity of humans. On the other hand, a human is a creature of oneself as a thought, a piece of art, or an article. In this way, humans shape their own personality by collecting experiences, by reflections, and an emotional confrontation. In all these situations, there are occasions for self-cognition, self-awareness, and self-control.

Being in Shadow

Human as the intentional being experiences the emptiness of not-being. As a creation, a human is also at risk to feel empty inside, because the intentionality is usually debatable. Furthermore, one is between an emptiness of the future, and the emptiness of the past, because only the present really exists at the moment.

Ingarden emphasizes:

Therefore, in this sharp cross-section, not only our present life is to fit in this way, but – what is more – in it the constitution of our human self is to take place, this complex purge and mutually conditioning processes that generate non-verbal perspectives , they are supposed to fool my Self, which with its existence and endowment goes beyond the course of conscious experiences and beyond my current present (Ingarden, 1987, 56).

In this sense, the present is a challenge because one creates oneself every single moment. This task is so difficult because everyone makes it in a conscious and unconscious way. Subjective feeling of confrontation with time makes it even tougher. Some people live more in the past where they mentally stuck with their experiences, and their present remains in the shadow of the past. In contrast, others concentrate so strongly on the future, and make their present unconsciously unimportant and ineffective in this way.


In our time, one of the ways of dealing with this problem is mindfulness. We can say that it is a meditation from the point of view of neuroscience, which is more and more popular in the 21st  century. Neuroscience analyzes brain structures, and its functions, physiology, and consequences of mind activity in human life.

Mindfulness teaches how to concentrate on the present, and keep human perception and other forms of mental activity in order, which makes life more effective. It is also an effective mean: enhance performance, develop insight and self-awareness, help with moods, feelings, and attitude,     increase the curiosity of new experiences and knowledge, restrain from the judgements in relation with others, take a friendly attitude in relation to others.

It is a well-known way of fighting stress and tiredness. In addition, mindfulness is effective in mental problems, such as depression, anxiety disorder, borderline personality, posttraumatic stress disorder, and obsessive- compulsive behaviours. Mindfulness is also used as a remedy against pain. Its positive impact is noticeable also in the case of many other diseases. There is even a theory that mindfulness has a positive influence on the genetic code, and can delay the aging process.

The Mindful Self

We can define mindfulness by a concept of three “A”: Ability to be fully present in our own life experiences, an awareness of our own acts, avoiding to be overwhelmed by the surrounding reality.

According to Rick Hanson, the neuronal network has an influence on the affective life. By connection among moods, feelings, and attitudes, the human mind creates an “inner movie” or forecasting system. Every human being has a variety of these movies. The mind wanders from one to another.

The inner movies are associated with the past and future of the person. It is an evolutionary adjustment that gives the possibility to learn from previous experiences and to plan the future. The wandering on the timeline of one’s own life is quite a stressful experience for everyone. For this reason, when the pressure is too overwhelming, the person can have a break thanks to daydreaming.

Different Perspective

Unfortunately, everyone learns from mistakes, very often making their own ones. For this reason, a described evolutionary adjustment is related to self-criticism which boosts the destructive tendencies: low self-esteem, inclinations to depression, and a feeling of anxiety. So, self-criticism can complicate human life.

A remedy for this problem is to calm down and to change perspective. Instead of focusing on the past and the future, concentrating on the present is more suitable. It is so important for a tired human to be relieved from responsibility, especially moral one, and social pressure.

To clarify, this is the beneficial influence of mindfulness. The fight with a variety of aspects of one’s own Self replaces self-acceptance which can merge a mental structure.

Phenomenological method and Self

We can notice some similarities between mindfulness and the phenomenological method discovered by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). His philosophy is based on the Greek word—“phenomenon” which means “something that appears”.

According to Husserl, coming back to the items (Züruck zu den Sachen) has a primary sense. How can we understand it? The first step is to describe something—the object of recognition. But, it is a special description. To do it, the subject of cognition must take in the epistemological brackets (epoche) of this object. In other words, it is necessary to observe the object as something that is new, without assumptions rooted in our knowledge, opinions, or prejudices.

The process of Cognition. Epoché

·         It is direct. It means that the cognition realizes thanks to senses. But, we concentrate on our consciousness of the object rather than on cognition. This attitude is intentional.

·         It is based on the transcendental reduction, which is taking the object into the epistemic brakes – epoché. But, the transcendental reduction can define as an equivalent of elimination of the influence of the past and the future as a source of knowledge and opinions. In phenomenology, like in mindfulness, concentration on the present has a crucial meaning. Although Ingarden rejected Husserl’s transcendental reduction, he remained faithful to the meaning of time, especially present in human existence.

In Husserl’s philosophy, a fascination of Franz Brentano’s (1838-1917) appears. Roman Ingarden was Edmund Husserl’s pupil, just like Kazimierz Dąbrowski was Ingarden’s pupil. Nevertheless, what is common for all these scientists? They are all focused on Self as the most meaningful aspect of human reality, which has an influence on the quality of human life.


Ingarden R. (1987). The Little Book about Human [Książeczka o człowieku] , Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie.


I have gained an MA in philosophy at UKSW University in Warsaw. Philosophy is my passion, especially existentialism. My second fascination is the Theory of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dabrowski as a connection of the psychological knowledge with a philosophical perspective.

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