In the act of thought, we often distinguish between the thinking itself and the awareness that 'I am thinking,' representing the thinker. But because the “thinker” is themself a manifestation of mental phenomena - their self exists as a product of thoughts, and is made of thoughts - could it be argued that the thinker is themself a phenomenon of the same category of thoughts; that the thinker is another thought?

Additionally, considering a child's thought process, where the awareness of 'I am thinking' may not be present, how does this dynamic influence our understanding of consciousness and self-awareness? Can a child even be conscious, if it is not self-aware or meta-aware of its own thoughts?

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    The question could be improved by adding background and context that led the poster to these questions, so as to help answerers intuit what answer or topics they might be looking for. For example, what motivated the idea that the thinker is themself a thought? Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 21:18
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    Look in to Nonduality.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 13:08
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    no, the "thinker" is not "aware" it is another "instance" (it doesn't/cannot use "words"..and), i call it "the observer" (when you "count" (e.g.), you "think" ..you can also observe it (the whole process of counting..and besides/beyond...!?)
    – xerx593
    Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 17:06
  • The question isn’t specific enough to be canonically answerable in the long run. The OP hasn’t added certain contextual details I feel were lacking. I would advocate closing this question until it can be reformulated with a more focused angle. Commented Dec 22, 2023 at 0:08

5 Answers 5


Your questions refers to the relation between thinking on two different hierarchical levels:

As you write, humans - old and young - have the capability to think. So let’s call it thinking on the first level.

At a certain age humans develop the capability to become aware at a second level that they think. Now they can simultaneouly think their thoughs, and think about their act of thinking: I think, I am aware that I am thinking about my thinking, I am aware that I am thinking about my thinking about my thinking my thoughts, …

In general humans can only think simultaneously on the first and on the second level, the meta-level.

On both levels the thinker is me, but the content of my thinking is different.

  • Right, we can actually have our attention on several things at once, like driving a car while adjusting the radio, talking with someone, planning the route and thinking about what to get at the grocery store. We evolved to be able to do that kind of thing.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 3:15

It is a good question. One can definitely argue that thinker is the thought. However this is not true because thoughts arise , change and vanish. Thoughts are impermanent. Thoughts can be profound or pleasing , thoughts can also be shallow and displeasing. Mad thoughts can arise. Thoughts can cease to come. Given such circumstances, it is better to say that thinker is not the thought otherwise it will lead to delusion and suffering.

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    "You are not your mind, but it is yours to use."
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 3:17

OP: Could it be argued that the thinker [the "I"] is, in essence, another thought?

Treating "the thinking" as Dasein, which does the thinking but also more (e.g. the living), the status of the "I" according to Heidegger is sketched out below. While able to be considered in thought, the "I" is posited as indeterminate, as a type or mode of being. Since Being founds Dasein and thoughts, Being is necessarily not a thought or thing itself. The "I" is part of Dasein's mode of being that "can embrace or own existence, or lose or disown existence," as in become lost to oneself in preoccupation, disengagement or inauthenticity.

From Being & Time, ¶ 25. An Approach to the Existential Question of the "Who" of Dasein

Perhaps when Dasein addresses itself in the way which is closest to itself, it always says "I am this entity", and in the long run says this loudest when it is 'not' this entity. Dasein is in each case mine, and this is its constitution; but what if this should be the very reason why, proximally and for the most [116] part, Dasein is not itself? What if the aforementioned approach, starting with the givenness of the "I" to Dasein itself, and with a rather patent self-interpretation of Dasein, should lead the existential analytic, as it were, into a pitfall? If that which is accessible by mere "giving" can be determined, there is presumably an ontological horizon for determining it; but what if this horizon should remain in principle undetermined? It may well be that it is always ontically correct to say of this entity that 'I' am it. Yet the ontological analytic which makes use of such assertions must make certain reservations about them in principle. The word 'I' is to be understood only in the sense of a non-committal formal indicator, indicating something which may perhaps reveal itself as its 'opposite' in some particular phenomenal context of Being. In that case, the 'not-I' is by no means tantamount to an entity which essentially lacks 'I-hood' ["Ichheit"], but is rather a definite kind of Being which the 'I' itself possesses, such as having lost itself [Selbstverlorenheit].

On this, William Blattner writes in The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger's Being and Time, ch. 14:

Heidegger is willing to grant that the word “I” designates in each case the “owner” of existence, but he rejects the subjectivist or egoistic philosophical baggage that the term often carries. The self who I in each case am is not a sphere of subjectivity, a domain of inwardness, or a field of self-consciousness. Rather, the “I” is in each case simply that which can embrace or own existence, or lose or disown existence.3 This contrast between owning and disowning or losing existence is the “terminologically strict” meaning of the terms “authentic ” and “inauthentic .”


3 Heidegger’s formulation also leaves open which existence is mine. That is, on a traditional subjectivist understanding, I am the field of experience that is in principle accessible to my self-consciousness. Heidegger problematizes the “boundaries of the self,” opening the door to potentially revolutionary reconfigurations of our understanding of the self.

Returning to Being & Time, ¶ 25.

Yet even the positive Interpretation of Dasein which we have so far given, already forbids us to start with the formal givenness of the "I", if our purpose is to answer the question of the "who" in a way which is pheno­menally adequate. In clarifying Being-in-the-world we have shown that a bare subject without a world never 'is' proximally, nor is it ever given. And so in the end an isolated "I" without Others is just as far from being proximally given. If, however, 'the Others' already are there with us [mit da sind] in Being-in-the-world, and if this is ascertained phenomenally, even this should not mislead us into supposing that the ontological structure of what is thus 'given' is obvious, requiring no investigation. Our task is to make visible phenomenally the species to which this Dasein-with in closest everydayness belongs, and to Interpret it in a way which is ontologically appropriate.

... If the 'I' is an Essential characteristic of Dasein, then it is one which must be Interpreted existentially. In that case the "Who?" is to be answered only by exhibiting phenomenally a definite kind of Being which Dasein possesses. If in each case Dasein is its Self only in existing, then the constancy of the Self no less than the possibility of its 'failure to stand by itself'1 requires that we formulate the question existentially and ontologically as the sole appropriate way of access to its problematic.

But if the Self is conceived 'only' as a way of Being of this entity, this seems tantamount to volatilizing the real 'core' of Dasein. Any apprehensiveness however which one may have about this gets its nourishment from the perverse assumption that the entity in question has at bottom the kind of Being which belongs to something present-at-hand, even if one is far from attributing to it the solidity of an occurrent corporeal Thing. Yet man's 'substance' is not spirit as a synthesis of soul and body; it is rather existence.

As the foundation of Dasein and beings, Being cannot be a present-at-hand thing, so the "I" cannot be a thought-thing.

  • Does anyone else find Heidegger's writing indistinguishable from schizophrenia? How can anyone learn anything from this hydra of indirect reference?
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 3:08
  • @ScottRowe This section on the Who is quite tricky. Easier than Kant though. The crucial point to bear in mind is that the foundation, that which facilitates conscious determination, cannot be determined, otherwise there would be an infinite regress of things determining things. The foundation is being, Dasein is a form of being and so is its owner, the I. They produce determinate things but are themselves indeterminate, from the point of view of Dasein. In the same way one could say one's unconscious is indeterminate and yet one can speculate that it produces determinate experience. Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 10:16
  • That makes sense, because things can only be explained in terms of things that are fundamentally different. It would be interesting to see how these explanations line up with the Abhidharma, I haven't read it through yet.
    – Scott Rowe
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 13:05

Whereas most thinkers work within a bivalent, subject-object logic, Whitehead’s process philosophy assumes experience can adequately only be explained through polyvalent, subject-superject logic. As a process philosopher, Whitehead interpreted the world dynamically rather than statically. Which is to say, the world is not already made but happenings that are in the making.

This gives a whole new meaning to Descartes’ famous saying cogito ergo sum—”I think, therefore, I am”—because Descartes assumed that the thinker produces the thought, as if, the thinker is already there and ready to deliver their cognitive assignment. But Whitehead takes this to be a misconception of how Descartes philosophized about the nature of consciousness. Consciousness materializes through "higher phases of experience." The reality is that the thinker is a product or outcome in the production of a thinking process. Without the thinking there is no thinker! The energetic process of thinking produces the thinker, not the other way around. Whitehead determined that subject-object logic resorts to ready-made entities that are substantive and not process-oriented. This generated static or abstract interpretations of how rational experiences unfold. I quote Whitehead’s Process and Reality (1929/1978):

Descartes in his own philosophy conceives the thinker as creating the occasional thought. The philosophy of organism inverts the order, and conceives the thought as a constituent operation in the creation of the occasional thinker. The thinker is the final end whereby there is the thought. In this inversion we have the final contrast between a philosophy of substance and a philosophy of organism. The operations of an organism are directed towards the organism as a ‘superject,’ and are not directed from the organism as a ‘subject.’ The operations are directed from antecedent organisms and to the immediate organism. They are ‘vectors,’ in that they convey the many things into the constitution of the single superject. The creative process is rhythmic: it swings from the publicity of many things to the individual privacy; and it swings back from the private individual to the publicity of the objectified individual. The former swing is dominated by the final cause, which is the ideal; and the latter swing is dominated by the efficient cause, which is the actual (pp. 151, emphasis original).

The thinking cannot be without the thinker, but the thinker is a product of the process, in its superjective realization. The mind habitually prejudices the way experience unfolds by assuming a kind of “unthought thinker,” preceding all thinking like the way Aristotle assumes an “unmoved mover” being prior to all movement. If we question outside of the assumptions of substance metaphysics, we can begin to grasp how thinking arises out of a sequence of processes, which makes experience rich, meaningful, and unique.


I suggest that it is helpful to think of consciousness or awareness on a spectrum. If panpsychism is correct that fundamental particles have some form of consciousness, I propose that we call this awareness. An entangled particle may be aware of the position of its partner. This is the limit of its awareness. Living things have sentience, they are capable of awareness of multiple things and reacting appropriately. Humans are conscious. We are sentient, but we are also aware of our own sentience. We have meta-sentience or self-consciousness. As for when this activates in the development of a particular human, this can be determined by tests like the mirror test. The child recognises itself in the mirror. Interestingly, other primates also pass the mirror test, as well as dolphins, elephants, and magpies. In my view, an entity needs to be self-conscious in order to distinguish thinker from thought. But it may not be sufficient.

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