I am headless? A new way of looking at life?

Douglas Harding came to the realization that he has no head. What I understand him to be saying, is that he can’t see his head through first person. His whole perception of his identity has been 3rd person and that’s what our whole identity was based on. I’m not sure what he meant when he starts talking about our identity being only a small part of the universe.

So can someone explain this to me? How can I come to this awareness? I try to but I can’t. Have any of you been able to do this?

Here’s a website for those of you who are curious about it.


Someone please explain it to me.

I took a look at the website you offered, and it seems that Harding’s problem was one that many encounter: who am I in relation to the rest of the Universe? As he observed, if you were to break him down into smaller and smaller components, you’d have very small particles and a lot of empty space. Conversely, if you were to “zoom out” from him, you’d see the figure of a man, and then gradually a vaguely human-shaped form, and then a small blurry moving dot, and eventually, the human eye would only be able to see landscape, then just the actual landmass, etc etc.

It seemed to trouble him that he hadn’t found anything very permanent about his existence. Very up close, he was only made up of particles. And from very far away, he’d barely be recognizable as human, let alone as ‘himself’. So when he talked about our identity being only a small part of the universe, Harding seemed to be perhaps a bit paranoid about this idea, or at the very least, uneasy.

It’s the classic “man’s search for meaning”. Once he came to the understanding that each individual human takes up little space in the universe as a whole, he decided that at the very least, his ideas would take up as much space as possible. That’s what he seems to mean by the idea of ‘headless’. The world he sees through his eyes is everything he observes. He can take it all in, process it all. He becomes almost a “seeing eye” floating above the rest of him. I find this idea amusing, because you certainly CAN see your head, or parts of it, even without a mirror. If I move my head, I can see my hair. If I look to the extreme right or left, I can see my nose. Since those are parts of my head, I’m not too alarmed about seeing very little of the rest.

I haven’t tried the exercises suggested, but I see no need to. For one, I’m not uncomfortable with the idea that I’m one small human in a gigantic universe. I’ve been one all my life, and my life still has plenty of meaning. And secondly, I’ve always been wary of rituals that invite you to reach ‘enlightenment’ through any one particular means.

Anything in particular that you need explained?

Zizek goes into this a lot - eg how “the other” can see “more of you” or a “beyond you” then you can and also how your actual shape or presence in reality is that bit of reality you have no direct access to.
He has some lovely bits on when you catch an accidental glance of yourself in the mirror and see yourself as another might and get quite stunned.
Its all based on Lacanian psychoanalysis (which is quite philosophical) where self is constituted to yourself mostly as a deep underlying “lack” in your more real “underneath” self

  • Yes I haven’t really grasped it myself but seems pretty depressing…

It’s a debate that goes on and on as to how much of “you” you can have for yourself or even “create” for yourself - (as in Descartes cogito or an absolutely self defined “I”) and how much is created by language, others definitions of you, history, culture, class position, family, friends, genetic make up etc etc.
In Lacan’s view “I” and consciousness is actually generated by a much more complex structured sub consciousness underneath which creates an “illusion” from an early age of a strong subjective “I”. The “real” I underneath is fractured and complex but does have its own structure and logic (which he thinks is ordered like Sausare’s (?) structuralist lingustics)

hmm as you can see I’ve still only half digested this stuff - dunno if I’m that into it either - but have a read of Zizek’s Organs without Bodies - at least its well written and entertaining thereby beating most philosoph

I was going to comment before krossie and Histosophy but I didn’t want to risk bursting your bubble. Now that these two posters have so skillfully and gently deflated it I think I can tell you my thoughts. I did the experiments. They didn’t do anything for me. I read about Harding’s moment of enlightment and wanted to read more so I clicked and found a list of books I could buy for I think about $40 Cdn. Then I recalled among the experiments reference to a workshop handbook. What’s a workshop worth, $500 a weekend? That was my moment of enlightenment. I think you have to pay to understand. I do recall an experiment where 2 pariticipants stick there heads in the ends of a short tube. Under the right circumstances that could be worth the price of admission; but I wouldn’t take the chance. Personally, I think insight should be free. Keep looking inside.