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Towards an Integrated and Integrating Model

of the Self: Psychological and

Phenomenological Perspectives
by Stuart Devenish
accessed at 2/9/2016
Who is the I that knows the bodily me, who has an image of myself and a sense of identity
over time, who knows that I have propriate strivings?" I know all these things, and what is
more, I know that I know them. But who is it who has this perspectival grasp? It is much
easier to feel the Self than to define the Self (Allport, 1961, p. 128).
In this paper we (a psychologist and a phenomenologist/theologian) attempt to develop an
integrated and integrating model of the Self, using Allports questions as agent provocateurs.
We observe that Allport's questions allude to Augustine's observation that "I have become a
question to myself" (Confessions, X). Augustine was no stranger to the inward-turn,
confiding to his readers that: The field of my labours is my own Self. I am not now
investigating the tracts of the heavens or measuring the distance of the stars or trying to
discover how the earth hangs in space. I am investigating myself, my memory, my mind
What then am I, my God? What is my nature? (Confessions IX).
The question of who or what is the Self is the great unanswered question of psychology
(Craik, Moroz, Moscovitch, Stuss, Winocur, Tulving, & Kapur, 1999; Gallagher, 2000;
Kihlstrom, 1997; Klein, 2001). Moreover, despite the centrality of the Self to psychology,
much of psychology conveniently ignores the Self, focussing instead on mental
representations of the Self (e.g., Klein & Loftus, 1993), affective feelings about the Self (e.g.,
Higgins, 1987), processes deemed to be regulated by the Self (e.g., McGuire & McGuire,
1988), or psychological conditions attributed to health or otherwise of the Self (Reisner,
2005). This strategy is convenient both because it allows the Self to be implicated (as it must
be) in psychological phenomena of all kinds, whilst at the same time it avoids the hard work
of actually defining and describing the Self, often leaving this work to other disciplines (see
Bernett, Kern & Marbach, 1995; Fauteux, 1994, Zohar, 1990).
As a result of the planned ignorance described above, there exists in psychology no agreed
definition of the Self and no agreed organising model(s) of the Self (Gallagher & Shear, 1999;
Nystedt, Smari, & Boman, 1991). One key consequence of this lack of agreement is that
psychology has become a fragmented discipline, spawning various schools of psychology
each with its own sub-fields of research nested within separate, non-articulated

philosophical, theoretical, conceptual and empirical frameworks. Moreover, with each

successive generation of scholars, these frameworks become more complex, sometimes more
convoluted, and typically more inaccessible to scholars working with and within other
In contrast to previous approaches, in this paper we propose a specific definition and model
of the Self and one that transcends classical psychological conceptions of the Self. This
transcendence occurs by adopting a transdisciplinary psychological-phenomenological
approach which incorporates first-person perspectives from philosophical inquiry (Nenon,
2007; Valle, 1998), and combines these perspectives with a model-based approach that is
common in psychology and which forms the basis of psychometric modelling and empirical
investigation. Specifically, the model combines key psychological constructs such as selfconsciousness and self-concept, with key phenomenological entities such as the Knowing I
and the Reflective Self, showing how these constructs and entities interact and interrelate
within the self-system to form the substance of experience, perception and cognition.
Transdisciplinarity and the Self
It is not our intention here to argue extensively for transdisciplinarity as a mode of
approaching studies of the Self. However, we do note that transdisciplinarity may be critical
in studies where complex phenomena such as the Self are explored because:

Unidisciplinary approaches can and often do lead to reductionism.

Transdisciplinarity in contrast helps avoid reductionism because reductive theories and
constructs are not easily transferred across disciplinary boundaries. Instead, theories and
constructs that are transferable across disciplines are less prone to a disciplinary blindness
that can lead to reductionism.
Multiple disciplines provide access to interacting conceptual, methodological and
theoretical structures that enhance the study of complex phenomena. These interacting
structures facilitate a fuller and more complete comprehension of observation, experience
and meaning than is available within mono-disciplinary frameworks.
The particular form of transdisciplinarity used in this study involves the integration of
psychology and phenomenology i.e., the integration of first and third person accounts of the
human Self. In broad terms this form of transdisciplinarity is not new (see the Journal of
Phenomenological Psychology and Giorgi, 1985 for two examples). However, there are
several elements of our particular psychophenomenological approach that are distinct from
previous examples.

We seek to achieve an authentic disciplinary balance by neither attempting to

integrate psychology into phenomenology (e.g., Giorgi, 1985; Valle, 1998), nor attempting to
integrate phenomenology into to psychology (e.g., Freud, 1901/2008). Instead we seek to
frame a fully integrated psychophenomenological approach whereby the substance and the
methodology of both disciplines are preserved and valued.


Whilst the urgency for transdisciplinary investigations of the Self is

increasingly recognised (not least in the theme of the conference of which this paper forms
one part) explicit and focussed transdisciplinary models of the self are curiously absent from
the broader psychological literature. More typically, the Self as Self is taken for granted in
investigations of the Self, without actually studying the Self per se, but rather studying how
the self operates in the world (e.g., Csordas, 1994). In contrast, our study focuses on the Self
itself, including the Selfs fundamental structures and processes. Thus, our study is a firstorder transdisciplinary study of the Self, rather than a second-order study of the Self where
the nature and structure of the Self are implied from its action in the world.


Our transdisciplinary approach is deliberately designed to be transcontextual

i.e., the psychophenomenological constructs in our modelling and discussion are not derived
from, or said to apply specifically to, any particular context. In other words, we suggest that
our construction of the Self is universal. This claim needs to be tested. However, the point
here is that we have not, unlike psychophenomenological approaches typical in recent
scholarship (e.g. von Eckartsberg, 1986), attempted to design a study with specific contextual
generation and application.


Our approach is centred on a model of the phenomena we describe and

analyse. Modelling is not typically used in phenomenology, but is widely used in psychology.
However, the particular type of model we propose is a descriptive-theoretical model thus
also distinguishing our model from the analytical-statistical models commonly used in
empirical psychology.


We explicitly use our descriptive-theoretical model not only to integrate the

discussion throughout our paper, but also to explicitly integrate the different but
complementary understandings and insights from psychology and phenomenology we
access. In this way, our model is both integrated and integrating (as is our claim in the title of
the paper). Thus our paper represents a model-based approach not only to the subject under
investigation (the Self) but also to our transdisciplinary methodology.


Our descriptive-theoretical model, common to other models of its type, has

the additional functionality that it is, at once, a more abstract and a more concrete
representation of the phenomena under investigation than is possible to construct using
language alone. Visual representations of reality get at reality in a different way to
language. Notably, however, this feature of our model is particularly important in the study
of the Self. Judge Willhelm (one of Kierkegaards characters in Either-Or) writes: "But what
then, is this self of mine? If I were required to define this, my first answer would be: It is the
most abstract of all things, and yet at the same time it is the most concrete....." (cited in
Taylor, 2000, p. 243-4).Thus, the abstractness and concreteness of our model is not just an
interesting artefact of the model itself, but directly reflects the abstract-concrete nature of the
phenomena the model is said to represent.


We recognise that Freud first used a model of the Self (implicating the id, ego and
superego) that was built, at least in part, on phenomenological (or quasi-phenomenological)
investigations of dreams, memories, mental representations of relationships, etc. However,
Freuds model was essentially antagonistic, focussing on the ever present possibility of the
disintegration of the self as a result of the id being in more-or-less continuous conflict with
the superego mediated by a sometimes overwhelmed ego (Evans, 1984). In contrast, our
model focuses on the positive integration of various elements of the Self and the way these
elements work together to enhance the functioning of the I as a stable, effective and unified
Structure of the Paper
In this paper we discuss five key aspects of the psychophenomenological approach we have
taken to the Self. The first three of these points emerge as psychophenomenological
constructs from Allport's questions i.e., (1) the knowing I; (2) the reflective Self; and (3) the
relational Self. The remaining two aspects utilise the foundations (or bases) provided by the
first three aspects in: (4) developing and describing a proposed model of the Self; and (5)
delineating potential tests of the model from psychological and phenomenological
Section 1: The Model
Combining Psychology and Phenomenology
Although psychology has forged a well-earned place within the academy, its core-business
has been to objectively explain and account for phenomena which are not separable from
subjective human experience. Thus, there is a central tension (some would say a fatal flaw
e.g., Husserl, 1970) in psychology whereby psychology attempts to objectively isolate certain
elements of subjective experience for the purposes of gaining greater understanding of both
the objectified elements and the subjective experience itself. In this paper we disagree with
criticisms suggesting that: (a) there are no objective elements implied in subjective
experience, and thus (b) that attempts to objectively isolate elements from subjective
experience are untenable. However, we agree that objective elements posited to be part of
subjective experience that are not consistent with, or not tested against, subjective
experience are questionable. For these reasons, we propose a combined psychologicalphenomenological perspective that allows for analytical investigation of subjective
experience, but tests the analysis against first-person phenomenological references to human
The Knowing I

Phenomenology implicitly recognises the subjectivity and subjective ownership of human

experience, and seeks to describe this experience in and on its own terms. Thus,
phenomenology recognises that the human Self owns its own experiences, and so the Self is
'expert' in its own affairs. This epistemological foundation provides a logically consistent
basis for phenomenology. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the expert nature of the Self also
provides a firm evidentiary basis for the Self-reports (in both clinical and research settings)
commonly used is psychology. Thus, psychology that focuses on the ordinary person's
knowing I is a psychology drawing on a consistent epistemological foundation namely the
epistemically privileged knowledge of the I about the Self.
Despite the epistemic authority of the I in regards to the Self, a purely phenomenological
account of the Self remains at the level of description and, thus, leaves the Self largely outside
the reach of analysis and analytical conceptualisations that might drive a clearer
understanding of the actual nature, structure and operation of the Self within the human
person. Put another way, phenomenology (and related philosophical approaches) fail to
transcend descriptions of entities and processes implicated in subjective experience.
Psychology, on the other hand, takes the Self-reports of the I as evidence that can be analysed
to generate an understanding of the Self beyond the level of description. The test of these
analyses, however, is the extent to which they concord with description. Thus, description is
not superseded by analyses, but neither is analysis limited to description (Giorgi, 1985).
In the preceding sections we have identified limitations of both psychology and
phenomenology in analysing and describing the Self. However, we suggest that the
limitations of both psychology and phenomenology are complementary i.e., the descriptive
limitations of psychology and the analytical limitations of phenomenology are each
addressed by the strengths of other discipline. Moreover, the common epistemological basis
of phenomenology and psychology (self-reports generated by the Knowing I) allows for the
integration of both disciplines in addressing the limitations of the other. Moreover, Selfreports, in this framework, represent the common data of phenomenology and psychology,
with which each discipline does something different.
Importantly, the Knowing I also knows something of external experience. This knowledge is
partial, because the I cannot perceive and attend to the totality of its experience (Evans,
1984). However, the Knowing I is able to know something of external experience because of
the operation of identifiable psychological processes such as perception, memory (especially
episodic memory), and differentiation (awareness of not-I). Thus, the Knowing I knows both
the Self (through the Is subjective experience of the Self in the Is internal world), and
external experiences i.e., experiences of objects, actions and entities external to the I (what
Schutz (1973) refers to as the province of everyday reality). Moreover, Schutz (1973) makes
that point that these different types of knowing require different modes of perception and,

hence, the activation of qualitatively different systems of cognition. We return to this point
later in the paper.
The Reflective (Knowable) Self
The Self exhibits the reflective ability to (at least partially) be seen by the I, thus allowing the
I to generate Self-analytical intuitions concerning its Self. Moreover, this reflective ability,
combined with the Is ability to report data provided by the Self, provides the empirical basis
of psychology and phenomenology. In particular, the Self provides the I with emotional and
motivational data that allows the I to construct its personality and identity (or identities, see
Pembroke, 2002) i.e., the Selfs reflective ability enables the I to understand what type of I it
Moreover, within this reflective framework, Self-exploration becomes a natural and
fundamental aspect of being i.e., the Knowing I operates continuously under the condition of
its knowable Self, and so exploration of the Self is not just a scientific and philosophical
activity but is a natural activity arising out of the reflective nature of the Self and the desire
of the I to know its Self. Put another way, describing and analysing the Self is simply an
expression of the Is underlying desire to know its Self, and thus the scientific/psychological
quest to describe and analyse the Self is not divorced from the experiential/
phenomenological expression of Self-exploration. Here again, the worlds of psychology and
phenomenology are seen to be compatible, complementary and mutually supportive.
The Relational Self
The I and the Self are distinguishable entities with differing characteristics. The Is primary
characteristic is that it knows, the Selfs primary characteristic is that it is knowable by the I.
Despite this distinction of characteristics, we do not define the Self separately from the I, but
rather identify the knowing but unknown I in relation to the knowable but unknowing Self,
thus locating both the I and the Self in reciprocal relation to each other. Fundamentally,
then, we define the both the Self and the I in relational terms. In fact, our model of the Self
shows how the Self is not only in relation to the I but (extracting Kierkegaards (1846/1992)
idea) the I is also a relation of the I to its Self.
Allport asked the question who is it that has this perspective grasp? Our answer to this
question is that the who is the I who, by being partially and subjectively conscious of its
Self, is able to infer things about who it is as the object of its own attentions. These inferences
are often incomplete and erroneous (Evans, 1984). However, the important point for now, is
that I am able to make these inferences because my knowable Self is in direct, unitary
relationship to I (subjectively me). Critically, if the Self was not in direct relation to the I,

no valid inferences about the I could be drawn from Self-examination. Thus, the relational
nature of the Self to the I provides the ontological (state-of-being) basis for answering the
question: Who am I? Thus, when the I asks the question who am I it draws on subjective
data provided by the Self which is valid because the Self is in unitary relationship to the I. In
other words, the identity (who-ness) of the unknown I is disclosed to the I, because the
knowable Self is in an identity (or unitary) relationship to the I.
Descartes asked the complementary question: "But what then am I?" with the answer "A
thing that thinks. What is that? A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, is willing,
is unwilling, and also imagines and has sensory perceptions" (Descartes, 1996). Our response
to Descartes is that the only way that a thing that thinks can know that it is a thinking thing
is if: (a) the thing that thinks is able to construct an objective representation of itself (and
thus refer to itself as what rather than who), and (b) this objective representation
corresponds to the reality of the thinking thing. In fact, our model shows how the I
constructs an objective cognitive representation of its Self and, in doing so, is able refer to
itself objectively as what. Moreover, this objective representation of the Self has validity for
making inferences about the I because this representation is built on data supplied to the I by
the Self which is in an identity relationship with the I. Thus, the inseparable relationship of
the Self to the I (and vice versa), provides the ontological basis for constructing an objectified
(although not necessarily complete) self-knowledge, and thus provides the pathway for the I
to come to an indirect knowledge of itself.
Descartes, therefore, missed (or perhaps just obscured) the critical insight in his famous
formulation: I think, therefore I am. More accurately he might have said: I relate,
therefore I am or (more fully) I am in an inseparable relationship to my Self, therefore my
subjective experience of, and my objective thoughts about, my Self have ontological validity
in determining that, whom and what I am.
Bases for Investigating the Self
The above sections have indicated how the nature of the I-Self actively supports a
transdisciplinary psychological-phenomenological approach to the modelling Self.
Specifically, the conscious, reflexive, and unitary I-Self provides different bases for the study
of the Self as indicated in Table 1.

Table 1
Bases for a Transdisciplinary Approach to Modelling the Self

Aspect of Psychophenomenological Approach

Basis Provided

Knowing I


Reflective Self (Knowable Self)


Relational Self (Identified Self)


Table 1 indicates that I knows thus providing the knowledge (epistemological) basis for
Self-knowledge. The Self is knowable, and provides data to the knowing I, thus forming the
empirical basis for Self knowledge. The Self is in direct relationship to the I, and thus
knowledge of the Self provides the ontological basis for the I to know itself.
Proposing a Model of the Self
Utilising the insights above, the model of the Self we propose is represented in Figure 1.

The proposed model is comprised of some basic structures and implies a range of Self-related
processes. These structures and processes are described in both psychological-analytical and
phenomenological-descriptive terms below.
Basic Structures of the Model
The I is synonymous with the whole-person (Gallois, 1996). The I has the capacity for Selfperception and Self-reflection. These perceptive and reflective capacities are embedded in,
and constitute a (perhaps the) key element of, consciousness. However, the I is aware of
(perceives and reflects on) more than just its Self (Bandura, 2000; Kihlstrom, 1997). Hence,
why the consciousness circle is larger than the self-consciousness circle in the Model.
The Self of which the person is consciously aware is the internal boundary or internal surface
of the I. In other words, the Self is the I perceived from inside the I (Klein & Loftus, 1993;
Sherman & Klein, 1994). The I calls this internal perception of its Self me. Moreover,

because I cannot go outside of my-Self to observe the outer boundary or surface of myself I
can only infer what I must look like to other Is. This inference is made on the basis of
cognitive, affective, and behavioural information supplied to the I, about the I, by other Is.
This information is stored in memory, and processed in conjunction with information about
the Self gained from Self-reflection (Jackendoff, 1994; Wyer & Carlston, 1994). Any
knowledge of what I look like to other Is (persons) is, then, always gained indirectly from
other Is who observe (what I call) me and provide person-al feedback to me about me.
Similarly, other Is cannot see me directly they can only infer what I am really like on
the inside from information I provide to them (verbally/non-verbally,
intentionally/unintentionally) about me (Smith, Coats & Walling, 1999).
The I perceives the Self through the Is capacity for Self-perception. However, the Is
perception of its Self is imperfect and incomplete (Gur & Sackeim, 1979; Kihlstrom &
Hastie,1997; Rapp, 2001). This limited Self-perception is represented in the model by selfconsciousness circle in Figure 1 being of smaller diameter than the Self circle.
Importantly, these conscious Self-perceptions include cognitive (thought) and affective
(feeling) elements (Higgins, 1987; Blechman, 1990). Moreover, conscious means that
certain Self-perceptions are available to consciousness not that these perceptions are
always the focus of conscious attention. Nevertheless, under certain unhealthy psychological
conditions, perceptions of Self may become all-consuming i.e., excluding all, most or many
other perceptions on an acute or chronic basis.
Based on its imperfect and incomplete self-consciousness, the I through consciousness
constructs a more-or-less organised and relatively stable set of mental representations of its
Self. This mental representation is the Is (my) self-concept. The self-concept represents the
Is most accessible information about itself, and may be interpreted as the Is working
mental representation of its Self. When a person describes themselves they most easily utilise
information about the Self stored schematically in the self-concept (Schell, Klein, & Babey,
1996; Symons, & Johnson, 1997).
The self-concept (like the rest of self-consciousness) includes both cognitive and affective
elements. self-concept also includes mental representations of the Self in relationship to
others i.e., relational representations. These latter representations are developed by
combining (relating) information about Self in the self-consciousness with information about
others contained in the wider consciousness. These others may include God, thus showing
how the model can incorporate psychological representations of metaphysical relationships
(Hall, 2004, 2007; Kirkpatrick 1997, 1999). In this way, self-concept represents information
from within the whole of consciousness as this information relates to Self. In all cases, the
self-concept is a limited, although ideally functional, representation of the actual Self that
allows the I to direct the Self in ways that are Self-consistent.

Some Processes Implied in the Model: Relations to Phenomenological

Descriptions of Self in Plain Language
The I is an active agent and so the Self (which is just the I-perceived-from-the-inside) is also
active. Part of the Is activity is the exercise of control over the Self (i.e., over its Self) through
consciousness. This is what is meant by Self-control. However, the Self can also control the I
by over-riding conscious Self-control. This is what is meant by being out of control or
demonstrating a lack of Self-control. A central tension within the person is the extent to
which the I through consciousness will control the Self or vice versa (e.g., Hyten, Madden,
& Field, 1994).
The I receives information from its physical and social environments (Adolphs, 1999; Frith &
Frith, 1999). Some of this information directly relates to the nature, characteristics and
capabilities of the I (and, hence, indirectly of the Self). When this information is consciously
recognised as new information, the person is said to be discovering more of themselves
(equivalently, discovering more of their Self). This Self-discovery expands or extends selfconsciousness and, hence, consciousness as a whole. The person may also discover more of
themselves (their Self) through Self-reflection (Conway & Dewhurst, 1995; Dretske, 1999).
Self-reflection describes the process by which the person intentionally seeks to:

expand their self-consciousness from within (through some form of thought and/or
action perhaps such as prayer or meditation) that makes additional information about the
Self available to self-consciousness; and/or
seeks to better integrate, organise or reorganise information about the Self so that
Self-schemas become more complex and information-rich and presumably more
representative of the actual Self.
Not all stored Self-related information is retained or integrated into the self-concept.
Moreover, integration of Self-knowledge into the self-concept does not guarantee that Selfknowledge will be retained over the life-span of the person (Kihlstrom & Klein, 1994). To
complicate matters, the Self-as-active-agent is not static but itself changes over time. Thus, a
persons knowledge of themselves can be made redundant due to changes in the Self. For
these reasons, knowledge-of-Self needs to be renewed and updated over time. If this renewal
does not happen a person may lose their sense of Self and/or report not knowing who they
are anymore.
The act of retaining Self-knowledge, and of subsequently adjusting the self-concept to match
retained information about the Self is, at least partly, under the volitional control of the
person (Babey, Queller, & Klein, 1998). So, a person may choose to ignore new information
about the Self especially under certain affective conditions e.g., where retaining
information about the Self results, or is perceived to be likely to result, in emotional pain or
discomfort. Moreover, the individual may choose (or not) to organise any retained

information (new or old) about the Self into the self-concept for precisely the same reasons.
In this case, the self-concept may be under-developed and, if so, will be less useful and
functional in integrating and directing the Self. Whatever the potential reluctance of the
person to retain and assimilate information about the Self, the extent to which selfconsciousness and self-concept matches the actual Self is one measure of mental health.
Persons with robust mental health know themselves and have strong sense of Self. In
contrast, persons with poor mental health typically report having a poor self-concept and/or
a weak or fragmented sense of Self. Phrases such as I dont know who I am anymore reflect
an incomplete and/or poorly organised self-concept. Moreover, the self-concept whether
an accurate representation of the current Self or not acts as organising force for personal
behaviour and action. Thus, a person is more likely to act in ways that are congruent rather
than incongruent with their self-concept with negative or positive psychological and other
consequences depending on the congruence between self-concept and the actual Self.
Conversely, uncontrolled by consciousness, the Self will act according to its own volition i.e.,
as its own agent (Bandura, 2001). In such cases the Self may act in congruence with the
persons Self-knowledge and self-concept in which case the psychological harmony of the
person is maintained. Alternatively, the Self may act in ways that are incongruous with the
self-concept. In such cases psychological disharmony results until the self-concept is
rearranged to better reflect the actual Self or vice versa.
The extent to which a persons consciousness of Self represents their actual Self is also a
measure of the persons ability to exercise Self-control, Self-direction and Self-regulation
(Mele, 1997). Persons with limited and/or inadequately organised self-concepts typically find
it difficult to define values, goals and purposes that direct the Self in productive and
organised ways. Such individuals may describe themselves as being all over the place
feeling lost, not knowing which way to turn, living from day to day, etc. Persons with
poor Self-knowledge and hence poor Self-control, direction and regulation may be described
by others as being impulsive, erratic, or directionless. Because Self-knowledge (the sum
total of information about the Self contained in self-consciousness) is intuitively understood
by the person to be critical to a sense of person-al wellbeing, the individual with poor Selfknowledge will often be preoccupied with developing their Self-knowledge. When this is the
case, the person may be described by others as being Self-centred - although the persons
real problem is that the Self is not centred enough i.e., the persons self-concept is so
inadequate that it is failing to provide the individual with a sense-of-Self that is sufficiently
defined and internalised (centred) to sustain healthy psychological functioning.
Shifts of Consciousness
The function of consciousness in the model of Self is critical, and implies some important
additional processes to those described above.

The default mode of consciousness is for the I to be focussed on the external world:

acting more-or-less automatically yet at the same time purposefully - in accordance

with stored procedural and episodic memories, and
reacting according to incoming data from the external world (experienced through
sensation), and according to internal data generated from somatic sensations, emotions, and
ongoing cognition.
This mode of consciousness will continue until data from the external world enters
consciousness in such a way as to trigger a shift from externally oriented perception to
internally oriented perception - such that the I is now focussed internally on the Self rather
than externally on the world. This data reaches the I through normal attentiveness to the
external environment, but the quality or quantity of the data triggers a shift to the internal
mode of perception because the external element or event is recognised by the I as either:

unrecognised (new) data that needs to be consciously processed in some way,



recognised (old) data that triggers a stored memory that needs to be consciously
processed in some way.
[NB: A shift to internal perception may also be triggered by internal somatic sensations such
as hunger, or very familiar external settings and situations that require so little conscious
external attention that the I drifts (as much as shifts) to internal perception. Subjectively, this
latter shift may be described as daydreaming. In the following section, however, we are
concerned with more radical shifts of perception as these shifts hold greater implications for
the Self - as will be examined below.]
In either case, the incoming data is instantly, and often automatically, processed in
conjunction with information available from procedural and episodic memory. On the basis
of this cognitive processing the following general pattern occurs.
First, processing provokes an initial (sometimes very strong) emotional response from the
Self. [NB: Implicit here is that the Self is the source of emotion within the I, and that
emotions are generated in response to (often automatic) cognitive processes within
consciousness.] The I responds to this emotional response by shifting perception to the Self.
The I will also attend to physiological reactions that arise in association with emotions
generated by the Self. These physiological reactions may, in turn, directly give rise to further
emotions, or indirectly give rise to further emotions by stimulating cognitive processes that,
in turn, stimulate downstream emotional reactions. In this way a cycle of physiological,
emotional, and cognitive responses may form which can act to maintain, escalate or
eventually decrease the emotionally aroused state of the I.
Whilst the primary attention of the I is on the Self, the I may rapidly shift its attention back
to the external world depending on the nature of further incoming data. Alternatively, the I

may become so focussed in its Self that the Is attention to the external world is largely
terminated. Internally focused attention (of varying degrees) may last from seconds to
months and perhaps even years. In some extreme cases, emotional destabilisation within the
Self may be so great that it becomes a more or less permanent feature of the I (e.g., in post
traumatic stress disorder through to full-blown mental-breakdown or insanity).
In less extreme circumstances to those described immediately above, the Is assessment of
the Selfs emotions can, broadly, be dealt with by the I in one of two ways: assimilation or
accommodation. Under conditions of assimilation, the I is able to reconcile the incoming
data with the Selfs emotional reactions to the conscious processing of that data in a way that
does not fundamentally alter the Is self-consciousness or self-concept. Under these
conditions, the Is self-consciousness and self-concept are sufficiently congruent with the
Selfs emotional reactions that no substantial change in self-consciousness or self-concept is
required in order to maintain a sense of psychological equilibrium within the Self.
Under conditions requiring accommodation the incoming information, and the emotional
reactions of the Self resultant from cognitive processing of this information, provokes the I to
fundamentally alter its perception of itself. Under these conditions, the incongruity of the
self-consciousness and self-concept with the Selfs emotional reactions is so great as to cause
ongoing psychological disequilibrium until the Is perceptions of its Self are changed to better
match emotions emanating from the Self. In other words, the I reorganises its selfconsciousness and self-concept in order to reach equilibrium with its Self.
The pattern above implies that the I seeks equilibrium between its concept of its Self and
data provided to the I by the Self. When there is a large perceived discrepancy between the
perceived Self and self-concept, internal psychological tension arises which the I seeks to
resolve. This resolution may occur by the I:

Deciding that the emotional data received from the Self was disproportionate to the
original external data. Phenomenologically this situation can be described as an overreaction by the Self.
Deciding that the Selfs emotional reaction was not disproportionate but represents
important (non-ignorable) data from the Self that implies some aspect of the Self not
previously part of self-consciousness not integrated into self-concept. Phenomenologically,
this situation may be described by the I as the I learning something about its Self
equivalently learning something about my Self.
Once new data from the Self is located in self-consciousness it is available to be integrated
into self-concept. Importantly, the association of this new Self-data with the recent memory
in consciousness of the Selfs emotional response may mean that the new Self-data is more
likely to be integrated into the self-concept (if for no other reason than the Is desire to avoid
future emotional trauma if possible). Alternatively, the psychological pain involved in

integrating new data about the Self into the self-concept (which may involve the explicit
recognition by the I of some unpleasant realities about its Self - and hence the I itself) may
cause the I to postpone integration of new Self data into the self-concept, including attempts
to forget or indefinitely ignore the data itself. In such cases, psychological disequilibrium
may persist with a variety of negative (and sometimes serious) psychological consequences
Revisiting the Self-Concept
Based on the analysis above, we can revisit the self-concept and somewhat redefine this
concept as the Is cognitive representation of itself not strictly speaking the Is
representation of its Self.
Specifically, the I cannot know itself in the external world because the I cannot venture
outside its Self to view itself. Thus, the I cannot make itself directly the object of its own
attentions. However, the I can indirectly make itself the object of its own attentions by:

constructing an objective cognitive representation (a mental prototype) of itself

called the self-concept,
deriving from this concept what it (the I) might look like to the external world, and
continuing to assess the validity of its self-concept through intersubjective enquiry.
Thus, the self-concept is really the I-concept but is perhaps not totally misnamed because
the I-concept is inevitably built upon data provided to the I by the Self in response to the Is
cognitive processing of external data. Thus, the Self provides the raw material from which the
I constructs its I-concept and, in this sense, the I-concept is at least co-authored by the Self.
Emphasising the critical nature of this co-authorship, if the I for whatever reason loses
touch with the Self (under conditions of self-alienation), then the ongoing development of
the self-concept is threatened. Under these conditions, phenomenologically, the person may
say: I dont know who I am anymore. Analytically, the Is I/self-concept has become
indistinct because the ability of the I to sense the Self through consciousness has been
interrupted or impaired in some way.
A Second Shift in Consciousness
Importantly, the Is attention to itself as object represents another important shift in
consciousness (the first being the shift from an external to an internal orientation in
consciousness). When the I is sensing its reflective Self it is relating subjectively to its Self
because the Self is providing the I (through consciousness) with direct subjective (emotional,
motivational, feeling) information in response to external information processed
cognitively by the I. However, as indicated previously, implicit in the emotional and
motivational reactions of the Self is data about the Self itself - what was called above Self-

data as distinct from the raw (explicit) emotional data from which Self-data is extracted. The
I extracts this data about the Self and uses it in constructing its self-concept. Critically, in
doing so, the I shifts from subjectively experiencing the Selfs incoming reactions, to
objectively decoding and manipulating embedded information about the Self in order to
construct its objective representation of itself. This objective representation of the I then
becomes the Is Internal Working Model (IWM) of who and what it is.
On the basis of this objective representation of itself, the I is able to answer the question:
Who and what am I?. Moreover, revisiting the Knowing I, the Is objective mental
representation of itself represents the Is objective self-knowledge and is the basis for selfanalysis by the I and hence provides the epistemological basis for the discipline of
psychology as whole. Conversely, the Is subjective experience of it-Self forms the
epistemological basis of phenomenology. The first cells of Table 1 can thus be expanded and
rearranged as represented in Table 2.
Table 2
The Knowing I (Epistemic Bases) Revisited

Key Entity

Mode of Consciousness

Data Received by the I

Appropriate methodology for







Explicit/Emotional (i.e., data about Implicit/Ontological (i.e., data about

the Selfs reactions)

the Self itself)



investigations of the I-Self

Table 2 indicates that both phenomenology and psychology are firmly rooted in different
aspects of the Is experience and analysis of the Self. Thus, turf wars between
phenomenology and psychology are unnecessary because both disciplines are legitimate
expressions of the nature of the knowing Is relationship to its Self.
States of Consciousness

The discussion above has highlighted two important shifts in consciousness (external to
internal and subjective to objective). These shifts in consciousness represent four distinct
states of consciousness as outlined in Table 3.
Table 3
States of Consciousness




Conscious I attending to the external world Conscious I attending to the self-concept


Conscious I surmising the nature of the I

Conscious I attending to the Self

based on its objective representation of the I.

Table 3 indicates that four distinct states of consciousness can be derived from the shifts in
consciousness identified.
The Full Model
On the basis of the preceding discussion, our Model of the Self can be amplified to include
some critical additional processes.

Section 2: Testing the Model

Testing a model of the self is, by its nature a difficult proposition. We suggest, however, that
three tests of the model may be appropriate:

The model should be consistent with plain language (phenomenological)

accounts of the Self communicated through Self-referential language. This test is not just an

anecdotal test, but an authentic first-person phenomenological test because of the Is

epistemic privilege in describing and referring to the Self.


The model should also be consistent with psychological/scientific language

about the Self. This test is critical because the Model utilises Self-related psychological
constructs and variables and should do so in a way that is congruent with the way these
constructs and variables have been developed in the psychology literature. One way of
demonstrating this congruence is to show that Model-derived definitions of key psychological
constructs and variables are consistent with corresponding definitions extant in the


The Model should broadly comply with the qualities and characteristics of a good
social scientific model. Any particular selection of these qualities and characteristics will be
necessarily subjective. However, various qualities and characteristics can provide some key
criteria by which to evaluate the relative worth of models.
The Plain Language Test
With respect to the first Point above, we have already indicated how our Model is consistent
with various self-referential statements drawn from plain language. Further testing of this
sort could be usefully carried out in further examinations of the congruence between the
Model and various examples of self-referential language. However, at this stage, we do not
foresee any particular self-referential statements that would be particularly problematic to
deal with in terms of the model. Nevertheless, as an additional plain language test of
theModel and its ability to accommodate and clarify language used in referring to the I-Self,
we revisit Allports quote that began this paper - deconstructing this quote in light of our
Model in a way that clarifies Allports meaning and demonstrates how the Model may be
applied in psychological and phenomenological discourse.
Allport: Who is the I that knows the bodily me,
Comment: The I knows me only partially and me implies all of me not just my body.
...who has an image of myself and a sense of identity over time,
Who has constructed an objective I/self-concept from which my subjective understanding
of myself in the world may be derived.
...who knows that I have propriate strivings?"
Who knows the Self as supplying emotional, motivational and volitional data.
I know all these things, and what is more, I know that I know them.
I know these things because the fundamental capacity of the I is its knowingness. I know

that I know these things through the dual functioning of consciousness and the reflective
ability of the Self to respond emotionally to self-knowledge held in consciousness.
But who is it who has this perspectival grasp?
It is the I but only indirectly known through reflection on the objectified I/self-concept.
It is much easier to feel the Self than to define the Self
It is much easier to feel the Self than to define either the Self or the I. Nevertheless, explicit
emotional data emanating from the Self contains implicit data about the Self from which
the I can construct indirect definitions of both the I and the Self.
The Scientific Language Test
With respect to scientific/psychological language, Table 4 indicates how important several
important Self-related constructs derived from psychology are consistent with, and may be
defined in terms of, the proposed Model.
Table 4
Model-Based Definitions of the Self-Related Constructs




elf Disclosure


Extant Definitions*

The full realization of ones potential.

Model Based Definition

Realising the potential of the Self by maximising selfconsciousness and constructing a self-concept that is
congruent with the actual Self.

Conscious knowledge of ones own character, feelings, Knowledge of Self that has entered consciousness.
motives and desires
Revealing otherwise undisclosed self-related

Verbal and non-verbal communication to others of th

information to others

content of self-consciousness.

Feeling of trust in ones abilities, qualities and

Positive affective reactions by the Self to the Is


evaluation of the ability of the Self to act effectively in

particular situations.






elf Talk

The exertion of one's own will on personal self -

The exercised ability of the I in directing the actions o

including the wilful direction of behaviours and

the Self -especially when the Self wills differently to

thought processes.

the I.

Actions of the self to the extent that these are actions

The ability of the I to cause and direct actions of the

directed by the self.


A person's belief concerning

An aspect of the self-concept that containing

their abilityand capacity to accomplish tasks and

internalised beliefs about the ability of the Self to act

respond to challenging situations.

effectively in particular situations and with respect to

particular tasks.

The extent to which a person likes, accepts, and

Positive evaluations of the Self by the I based on the I

respects themselves as a person.

conscious knowledge of the Self.

Self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and self-

The Is ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the Self

reinforcement especially as these are deployed in the which may result in self-control or other self-directive
pursuit of particular personal goals.

processes by the I.

The persons automatic internal dialogue deployed

The Is use of internally directed language and though

when influencing the persons actions, thoughts and

to elicit certain actions and/or reactions from the Self

* derived from and related sources
Table 4 indicates that important Self-related constructs can be defined in terms of the model.
Moreover, these definitions are consistent with extant definitions from the literature. Again,
more detailed testing of the model is required in this area particularly with respect to a
more thoroughgoing analysis of key constructs and their congruence with the proposed
Model. However, we think that the congruence of the sample of definitions above provides
evidence that the Model is congruent with some existing psychological constructs and, as
such, may be congruent with others.
The Good Model Test
The representational status of models in philosophy and science is hotly debated (e.g., BailerJones, 2003; Da Costa & French, 2003; Frigg, 2006; Morgan & Morrison, 1999). However,
there is some consensus that good models fulfil several key criteria. Amongst the most
important of these criteria, and the extent to which the current Model addresses these
criteria, are those outlined below.


Salience: No model can represent everything. Hence, any model should

selectively represent only those elements that are most relevant.
The present model is limited to five key elements (I, Self, consciousness, self-consciousness
and self-concept).


Parsimony: The model should be as simple as possible, without being

The present model is simple in the sense that it involves relatively few variables, but is
arranged in such a way that several key relationships between variables are identified
thus not over-simplifying the representation of the Self and its related processes.


Insightfulness: The model should concisely capture the relevant dimensions

of the problem in a way that facilitates creative and original insight.
The present model originally and creatively addresses key dimensions of the Self problem
- particularly including the relationship between the I and the Self and how this
relationship, mediated by various states of consciousness, defines the Self-system as a
unified whole with distinct but clearly interrelated parts.


Coherence: Models do not exist in isolation but within interlocking systems.

Thus, any particular model should be coherent with other related models.
The present model draws on constructs from existing theoretical frameworks, but
demonstrates in a more integrated fashion than previously how these is constructs are
operationally and ontologically related to each other thus enhancing the coherence of our
current knowledge of the Self.


Intelligibility: The model must be intelligible and, in doing so, should build
on previous knowledge.
The present model uses language, structures and processes familiar not only to researchers
and theoreticians in many fields, but also to the common man. Thus, the model should be
easily understood in a variety of scholarly and everyday contexts, enhancing the potential
of the model to contribute to previous knowledge.


Predictive Capacity: The model should predict future events; or at least

provide insight into future possibilities.
The present model can be used to predict future events given certain initial states. For
example, if the self-concept is represented as a small circle (thus indicating an
underdeveloped and potentially unstable self-concept) then predications about the overall
functioning and psychological stability of the I may be made.


Falsifiability: From a scientific perspective a key test of any model is the extentto
which it can be falsified. In one sense all models are falsified by definition i.e., all models
represent incomplete abstractions of reality (Da Costa & French, 2003). The test, then, of any


model is not whether the model is right or wrong but how wrong the model is. In the present
case, the model could be falsified by demonstrating that:
the models theoretical categories are vaguely defined or arbitrarily chosen;
the model fails to account for one or more plain language statements used
phenomenologically to describe Self-understandings;
the model fails to accurately account for, in terms of the model itself, one or
more psychological concepts related to the Self;
one or more existent theories (drawn from any discipline) relating to Self are
incompatible with the model and/or inexplicable in terms of the model;
the model fails to provide any additional insight or integration to definitions
of Self and Self-related structures and processes.
The present model, in contrast to the statements above, represents a theory-driven account
of Self that is congruent with, corresponds to, complements, and extends existent plain
language and scientific accounts of the Self in an insightful, integrated and thoughtfully
structured manner.
For the reason above, we suggest that the Model may be accepted a good model of the Self
and, as such, may be used in a variety of contexts and across (at least two) disciplines to
systematically, parsimoniously and insightfully describe and analyse the Self.
Developing an understanding of the I-Self that holds water is an exceedingly difficult task.
However, in this paper we have utilised a transdisciplinary, model based approach to the Self
as a way of addressing Allports most provocative questions about the Self. In doing so, we
have clearly explicated the model, shown how the model is consistent with existing
phenomenological and psychological accounts of the I-Self, and also shown how the model
arranges and explains key self-related constructs and processes in order to develop an
integrated and integrating understanding of the I-Self that may be utilised in the fragmented
field of psychology and, hopefully, in other disciplines as well.

We gratefully acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Dr. Maureen Miner and Dr.
Marie-Therese Proctor in the preparation of this paper. This paper was jointly sponsored
by the Australasian Centre for Studies in Spirituality and the Australian College of

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