“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.”

— Mahatma Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi



How we understand the world influences how we try to change it. Our understanding of the world is informed by our beliefs about how and why individuals, groups, and societies do what they do. And the ways we understand people reflect the ways we understand the self and the experience of being human.

But maybe the nature of the world can help us cultivate a better understanding of the nature of the self.

The emergence of life involves subatomic, atomic, molecular, and cellular levels of interaction. Subatomic particles give rise to atoms, atoms give rise to molecules, molecules give rise to cells. What if the emergence of self follows a similar pattern?

Among existing theoretical frameworks, cognition is commonly organized into three levels: perceiving the world, making associations, and conceptualizing ideas. It’s possible these levels of organization are best understood as levels of emergence.

Using a framework to outline emergent processes, we can describe how our physical awareness of the world (perceptions) gives rise to our emotional awareness of relationships (associations), which gives rise to our mental awareness of ideas (conceptions). That is, we can describe how the self emerges from physical, emotional, and mental levels of cognitive interaction.

This perspective of self and awareness provides new ways of imagining the integral relationships of body, heart, mind, and perhaps even spirit.

With new ways of imagining ourselves, we have new ways of imagining, being in, and possibly even changing the world…