The Ancient Greek aphorism ‘know thyself’, or the Latin version Temet Nosce - thine own self know, is a relatively familiar term, appearing even in the Matrix movie, and it was originally inscribed at the front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
To hear those words evokes both mystery and allure; most of us have a natural intuitive respect for the adage even if we don’t fully grasp the profound potential such an invitation has to offer the individual.
In the comfortable modern materialistic lifestyle, especially in the west, it’s easy to overlook the significance of this ancient wisdom; there’s a great deal out there to distract ourselves, and yet perhaps more than ever, it is a responsibility, if undertaken, that best addresses the problems in the world.
Issues such as climate change, including what to do with all the plastic, and the loss of wildlife all over the world, and not just in faraway places, has now thankfully entered the mainstream consciousness. For too long these concerns have been kept on the fringe and ignored or debunked in the hopes that these problems would just solve themselves.
Capitalism has been a prime driving factor, and although it appeared to offer the individual the most freedom, it is becoming obvious now that there are some negative effects we need to address. Our world is now less about the pursuit of democracy and more about the threat of plutocracy - a world ruled by the powerful, and the powerful are those with the most money; those that control the banks and own the corporations. There’s no escaping from the fact that we live in a corporatized world, and in a world whose meaning is based solely on making money and an ever-expanding market. This is why even now we are losing invaluable rainforest to palm plantations and industrial meat production.
As individuals we are bombarded with signals from a very early age; advertising increasingly targets young children and uses young children to sell products. Billion-dollar industries thrive on selling us their idea of who and what we should be. Some of us may still think that the idea of social engineering belongs in a dystopian novel, but it has been with us for decades.
It is precisely because we don’t know ourselves that corporations and governments can so easily manipulate our thoughts, feelings, and desires. I think one of the greatest illusions we have is the idea that we have free-will. I think it’s more accurate to say we have a will, but to assume it is free is another thing altogether; there is much scientific understanding now that strongly indicates that most of our actions are not free-will actions at all; we make choices but they are never independent ones. Every choice depends on a lot of biological, social and personal conditions that we cannot determine for ourselves; our eating choices, relationship attractions, and even political leanings have much to do with genes, biochemistry, gender, family background, the culture of origin, etc.
We live on the threshold of artificial intelligence (AI) and it will soon be possible for corporations to know more about you than you know about yourself; soon they will have the data on a great deal of personal behavior and be able to manipulate the masses even more than at present.
If personal freedom matters, then now more than ever, we need to cultivate self-knowledge; we are going to have to know ourselves more than the corporations with AI do, otherwise we won’t be able to discern when we are being manipulated or not.
To accept the invitation to ‘know thyself’ is to undertake a change in life orientation; it's to engage life at a wholly new level, one that opens one up to new levels of meaning. Anyone can begin at any time, and many already have begun, and we can all help each other.