How to Deal with the Indefatigable Invisible Self

Arnold Siegel
5 min readAug 19, 2019

We’re in the world as authors and authorities intent on taking our lives to the next level. We can experiment with possibilities that benefit our unique intellectual and moral commitments and our one-of-a-kind natures. But we’re also in the world in just the way that we are, up and running, defined, often on autopilot.

Many values or authorities affect how we manage our lives. Authority means here the right to control, command or determine. The authority I refer to here is the invisible self or ego-function. Though it’s not a thing, this human faculty perceives the world in terms of what is presented by its immediacy, by what it senses or intuits.

All of us are constitutionally equipped by nature, with some added tinkering by nurture, to have an irreducible experience of life. Built into our living system is a raw intelligence that helps us to negotiate our way in the world. And it just keeps going, no matter what. We know very well that this front line of stored offensive or defensive responses is just waiting for a stimulus. It can make us blush, or angry, or quiver or alert and on our toes.

To this visceral intelligence, history and language have added this construct, the invisible self. Though purely imaginary, we can’t help but think of this invisible self as a little person inside our brains. It’s a director or producer, if you will, calling the shots based on a vision of and standards for a rich and rewarding — and maybe award-winning — life. However, in fact, not only is there no invisible self in charge of things in there, there’s no there in there either. No central information processer in the brain exists.

Still, using this function you and I can model ourselves for the purpose of reflecting on ourselves and our world. We can imagine what it would be like to move to Miami or to run a marathon or to stand up to a bully. But this ability doesn’t automatically make us a perfect fit for the world we live in.

  • First, at the same time that we are doing the sophisticated imagining, immediacy is having its way with us. All day long we are destabilized by its insistent programmed instincts. Out of “nowhere,” we can feel discontented, or anxious, or angry.
  • Second, many of us think that our invisible selves are…
Arnold Siegel

Philosopher, Contemporary American thinker, Founder of Autonomy and Life