Are you ready to go on a journey that has been going on for at least 2400 years and will never end? “Nosce te ipsum!” / “Gnothi seauton!” / “Know Thyself”. Although there are people who think you heard this word for the first time, I can swear that you didn’t come across it for the first time! However, because of our selectivity in perception in the objects we encounter, as human beings, we often bypass it instead of questioning the meaning deep in what seems simple. Don’t worry, you are not alone.
This is a “more modern than most sentences today” aphorism from the people we have described as “primitive”, which lived before the 4th century BC, 2400 years before us. This is written at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo in the modern town of Delfi, Greece. People of that time cared about this word so much that they wrote it in golden letters. However, today, most of us do not even know.
Despite the past centuries, we still have not come across the existence of anatomy in the world that fully fulfills this counsel. All we did was find this aphorism very ‘simple’ and move on to more ‘concrete (!)’ topics without questioning it. However, where did we come across this word, I said that I can swear that you did not meet for the first time:
– Most of you have watched the movie “The Matrix”, this word is intentionally embedded there. Another Latin version is written as “Temet Nosce” and this statement is consciously emphasized in the movie:
– The famous English Poet Alexander Pope has a poem that begins by saying “Know then thyself”:
“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan,
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a God, or beast;
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;”
– Sometimes a quotation from Benjamin Franklin:
“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”
– Even the verses of the famous Turkish poet Yunus Emre express this, that knowing himself is the science itself:
“Knowledge should mean a full grasp of knowledge:
Knowledge means to know yourself, heart and soul.
If you have failed to understand yourself,
Then all of your reading has missed its call.”
– The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu has the same opinion as philosophers in the West:
“He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened.”
– Cervantes also includes this statement in that famous Don Quixote:
“You should put your eyes upon yourself, that is, you should know yourself, which is the most difficult knowledge of all.”
– The famous Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard also stands on this point:
“One must learn first to know himself before knowing anything else.”
– And one of my favorite writers ends one of my favorite books with the following sentences:
“Once a man has found himself there is nothing in this world that he can lose. And once he has
understood the humanity in himself, he will understand all human beings.
– Stefan Zweig/Fantastic Night
And many more aphorisms, quotes, movies, series, people, books… This word may have appeared in our lives many times. However, how successful are we to care about this word first, understand it later, adopt it as a third step, and finally implement it? Most of us certainly stayed in the first step, and I do not think that those who passed the first step can skip the second step Because this word contains more than two words. Trying to get to know yourself means the beginning of someone’s adventure of getting to know and understand the universe. Man has always tried to recognize the universe he has been in since the day he existed, he has developed various ways and led to the formation of various fields. However, he was the least known entity in this search for meaning, which he adopted as a blessed path.
We have so much embraced our behavior, emotions, spirits, and bodies, and embraced their belonging so much that we accept it without any question. However, based on the answer to a single question I will ask you, I can say that most of the things that we think are ours are not ours, and we are not even aware of their real meaning. Do you think that you are the first person to be able to fulfill the “know thyself” aphorism so far? If you objectively said no, we can go into a loop like this:
1) Can a person know what s/he doesn’t recognize? Can s/he recognize something he doesn’t know?
2) How can a person realize something s/he doesn’t know/recognize?
3) How does one understand something that s/he does not realize?
4) How can a person have something s/he cannot understand?
Just like Goethe said: “Whatever you cannot understand, you cannot possess.”. We do not have the right to claim ownership over ourselves if we do not know ourselves. All the features that we claim to have consisted of lifestyle and values that were imposed from our social environment, consciously or unconsciously, with or without awareness.
What we need to do is try to know and make sense of ourselves by making use of our limited possibilities in this world and our capacity to constantly observe ourselves in the everchanging environment. If we can do that, we will have the chance to shape our lives. Just as we are trying to meet our security needs, even though we cannot fully provide security and we will never be able to provide it, we must do our best to target the top of the pyramid and reach that point. Let’s make a difference from other breathing creatures in this world.
If we want to portray “knowing yourself” in a concrete way, we can define it as follows: “It is a long way that will never end between the living we are now and the living we want to be in the future.” You do not think so? Take a moment to think about in the past, which day you thought there was no definition of the person you want to be in the future anymore. Have you ever thought that you can reach the personality you want to be? Will you be able to access this thought and decision in the coming days?
In this never-ending journey, of course, this blog post can be described as the beginning of the beginning. If you think it is useful for you and want it to continue, your feedback and comments are very important to me. There will be a lot to learn and share together on this long journey. But at first we had to realize this need. To express it with a Persian verse that I love so much:
“He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool… shun him.
He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is willing… teach him.
He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep… awaken him.
He who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise… follow him..”
Before reading this article, we were fool, we were not even aware of the existence of a centuries-old message that we encountered in a moment of our lives and that had such an important place in our universe. We didn’t know that we didn’t know. After reading this article, nothing has been solved, now we are just like a child, we are willing. We still don’t know, but at least we know we don’t. All we have to do is try to be wise, to know. However, at this stage, we should be careful not to fall asleep in our adventure of learning and knowing. Because we may not find any urge to wake us up again.
Even if we will never know and understand anything completely, this should not prevent us from our adventure of knowing. From now on, you can start your journey of understanding yourself. How you do this depends entirely on your methods and experience on trial and error. Books and other people’s adventures have the potential to be an important resource for you during the trial and error process. But before the books, let’s try to read ourselves. Because reading ourselves will also affect our choices of books and our perspective on them.
Never stop questioning, wondering and thinking! Hope to see you again in my next blogs; healthy, happy and peaceful days…
Here are a few examples of videos that can be useful to understand the subject: