Question about ego


I have been interested in the super-ego since I flipped out briefly a long time ago. There are quite few theories. But before I start, the theories that I have read most recently suggest that in order for there to be a super-ego, we must be unaware of it.

I guess that stands to reason. If there is someone else in here with me, then they or I must be a sort of role play type thing. And when you realise you are playing something, then the game or role ends, maybe. So maybe the super-ego is best not studied. I have anyway.

Philippe Rochat “Others in Mind” – this is the most recent and I would say advanced. He claims that infants create a super-ego type ego first and then later become aware of themselves as a pronoun/name or reflection. They don’t then rid themselves of their first ego, but view/listen to the new one from the point of view of the former. He also claims that we can’t be aware of this earlier ego, because that would lead to psychosis. This is a ■■■■■.

Kitaro Nishida is a philosopher of Zen and Phenomenology. His writing is pretty difficult to understand. He claims that we need to have made a devil inside us for us to have a self. I don’t think he is being religious in the usual sense of that term. I think he is saying that the super-ego has a very scary aspect and needs to have that nasty aspect to remain hidden. This conforms with my experience.

Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, back in the 18th century claimed that whenever we decide what to do, consciously, we have to split ourselves into the the the person that is judged and the person that decides/judges who he calls “the impartial spectator.”

Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian literary theorist (who has subsequently been used by social psychologists such as Hermans and Kempen) says that while we talk to imagined others in mind, e.g. to our friends before we write them a letter, we are always talking off to an extra someone in the wings as it were, to a “super-addressee” of our mental speech.

Vygotsky traces the way in which thought arises out of the babble that infants mumble to themselves and proves (?) that while the babble is self directed, it is also presumed to be heard, since if you put babbling infants in a room with other children that do not understand them at all (speakers of other languages) then after a while the babbling children become silent. Like Bakhtin, Vigosky argues that we presume that our self-speech is overheard.

Jacques Lacan goes on about “the Other” (which may be his version of the superego) but he is very opaque, to me. I spent years reading his books and did not gain much from them. The good thing about Lacan is that, like Nishida, and Rochat he raises the possibility of a visual (“mirror stage”) self, which may explain the Japanese self. Most Western scholars say that there is only a narrative self. E.g.

George Herbert Mead, the founder of social psychology, claims that self narration splits ourselves since when we hear our linguistic narrative of ourself in our mind we hear our words as the words of an other. Language, he feels, creates a split and eventually a “generalised other” in the self.

Thomas Jefferson may be speaking metaphorically, may be not, when he says that “Reason” is a woman that we speak to when we reason.

Late 20th century research on split-brain patients (who give bogus reasons for what their right brain is doing) and normal social psychology experiments (who deny that they were influenced by the experiment, and give bogus reasons for why they acted as they did) and the research of neuroscientists such as Libet, find that reasons and conscious “decisions” come after the real unconscious decisions, as Freud claimed. This leaves the question as to why we think at all.

A variety of recent researchers (Haidt, Rochat to an extent) who believe the evidence that thought comes after decisions, claim that thought is sort of excuse or justification making, so that we can provide excuses for our decisions to others.

However, Derrida, to an extent E Tory Higgins, and perhaps Adam Smith back in the day too, provide a different non-rationalist answer - we don’t split ourself to evaluate ourselves, but pretend to evaluate ourselves in order to split ourselves, to have a loving relationship with ourselves.

Derrida only hints at this. The biggest hints come in his books “Of Gramatology” where he compares writing to masturbation, and in “The Post Card” where he seems to be writing self-addressed postcards which are icky and sexual. He makes puns about “car sex.” Derrida never talks directly about this issue. It is though he too believes to study this issue directly would cause madness – indeed he almost says so in his book “The Ear of the Other.”

Adam Smith provides the evolutionary reason for having a this split in that it makes us greedy, active, and (before the current ecological problems) benefits the economy.

I am not sure what do about all this. I feel I am going to meet my super-ego again, and I am kind of scared, and kind of fascinated. I rarely talk to anyone except here (other than a yearly email to Rochat, which he ignores!). Oh and by the way, I think that the super-ego is very large! I look at Japanese Ultraman cartoons, and think, “yeah”. Freud’s original name for the “super ego” is “Uber Ich” which is more literally translated as “over I.”

Here is an incomplete Bibliography. Most of these only mention the “super-ego” and its varieties briefly in a down to earth way. Several are downloadable, but I am not allowed to post links.
Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds., V. W. McGee, Trans.) (Second Printing). University of Texas Press.
Derrida, J., & McDonald, C. (1985). The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation: Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida. New York: Schocken Books.
Freud, S. (1961). The Ego and the Id. Standard Edition, 19: 12-66. London: Hogarth Press.
Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: a social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108(4), 814.
Haidt, J. (2004). The Emotional Dog Gets Mistaken for a Possum. Review of General Psychology, 8(4), 283–290.
Hermans, H. J. M., & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The Dialogical Self: Meaning as Movement. Academic Press.
Higgins, E. T. (1996). The “Self Digest”: Self-knowledge serving self-regulatory functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71(6), 1062.
Jefferson, T. (1787, August 10). To Peter Carr Paris, Aug. 10, 1787. The Letters of Thomas Jefferson 1743-1826. American History From Revolution To Reconstruction and beyond.
Lacan, J. (2007). Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. (B. Fink, Trans.) (1st ed.). New York: W W Norton & Co Inc. (Original work published 1966)
Løvlie, A.-L. (1982). The self, yours, mine, or ours?: a dialectic view. A Scandinavian University Press Publication.
Libet, B. (1999). Do We Have Free Will? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(8–9), 47–57.
Mead, G. H. (1967). Mind, Self, and Society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist (Vol. 1). The University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1934)
Rochat, P. (2009). Others in mind: Social origins of self-consciousness. Cambridge University Press.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Harvard University Press.
Nishida, K. 西田幾多郎. (1965). 絶対矛盾的自己同一.


Here is one thing that comes to my mind regarding the super-ego. In my case I think my super-ego was developed by the expectations of my family. I was expected to be highly successful and in fact to be the very best at something. So I had to work extremely hard. Everything in my life was subjugated to achieving this success. I did not consider what I might enjoy. I never looked outside of the blinders. So my life became badly off balance.
I think of the super-ego as the “shoulds” in our lives. For some of us, the super-ego is punitive.
We may be unable to find a more objective description of the super-ego.


@timtak I apologize for seeming to minimalize your work on understanding the super-ego. I think it is not easy and you are putting in a lot of effort. You said so much and each paragraph could be studied. Briefly, you are looking into the origin and structure of the super-ego and whether it could be conscious. (Am I right?) However, I believe the concept is most useful as a construct in the practice of psychoanalysis.
Are you motivated by trying to see how it relates to schizophrenia and psychosis?
You have opened up to us and I did not want your work to go unnoticed. With all your work I think you need someone to respond. With any philosophy it can be a struggle to understand.
Perhaps we could focus on one question at a time. You have described years of study in about 300 words here.
One question I have is whether the super-ego could be an actual structure in the mind. I think Freud thought so.


What the heck is this


yes. My “work,” or rather fanatical interest, is primarily selfishly motivated through fear and fascination, but…

Rochat claims that an awareness of the super-ego, or the “Other in mind” as he puts it, can lead to psychosis, because the normal day to day self depends on it being hidden.

Interpreting “normal day to day self” as , the cogito, the normal voice of my mind and consciousness, and the “I” that identify with, then Rochat seems to be suggesting that rather than become aware of an “other in mind” who is listening, humans are inclined to populate their mind with other voices, other "I"s. It seems to me therefore, conceivably at least, an awareness that many scientists (if the above mentioned scholars can be called scientists. Lacan for one is iffy) claim there is an “other in mind” (super-ego, generalized other, etc), and to come to terms with that bizarre (it was bizarre to me) fact, might, again only conceivably, help to cease the other voices. I felt that the OP might be suggesting a similar sort of acceptance.

Yes, I think he did. I felt that my super-ego was more actual than I am.


First of all, what does “OP” stand for?
Now to reply to this post. That idea of the “other in mind” sounds plausible. I do not feel alone inside my head. Someone seems to be listening. I verbalize inside my head which is one aspect of my thinking.
I have begun to agree with you that the super-ego is “huge.” I discussed this with a friend who added that this is the inhibitory center that may get eased by taking a drink of alcohol. And we know how many people do that.
I agree that the super-ego is mostly unconscious, but over many years of personal introspection I feel it can be understood and brought into consciousness. The qualities of the super-ego can be elucidated.
I would say that something happens with my acute psychosis. The normal checks and balances get disturbed. The primary experience to me is believing some strange fantasy. I feel like I have been duped. I am not clear who is doing the “duping.” (Note that after writing this sentence I gagged profusely like I was sick for about 30 seconds.)
To me the psychosis is temporary but the illness of schizophrenia goes on.
Your ideas are fascinating if a reader is willing to try to understand.
Do you think we can describe consciously what the super-ego is?


OP stands for Original Poster I think. It means the person who started this thread, in this case, Gratitude.

I have been attempting describe consciously, at least to myself, or to it, what my super-hero is since I met it and have written here on the forums before under a spoilers warning.

It should make me gag too, but even more than that, the size and temporal aspects are I think yet more frightening and keep me from making it conscious. I can attempt to say it, but I can’t see it.

Freud says (in “A Note upon the “Mystic Writing Pad””, 1925)
“I further had a suspicion that this discontinuous method of functioning of the system Perception Consciousness lies at the bottom of the origin of the concept of time.”

That is to say, I think, the purported fact that we are playing another role, taking it in turns, in the blanks of our consciousness profoundly affects how we perceive time. I am not really sure what that means, but I fear that perhaps everything is all happening at once. This is uncountenancable to me at least, for the time being.

I drink too much.


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