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Last Updated: 2013/11/16
Summary of question
In every case or instance of knowledge, the knower must be different from the known object. In order for myself to know the self, how can "I" know the self?
In every case or instance of knowledge, the knower must be different from the known object. In order for myself to know the self, how can "I" know the self?
Concise answer
First of all, it should be mentioned that knowledge or recognition has several degrees and stages, so does self-recognition.  At every stage of recognition, it is not necessary that the knower be different from the known. For instance, man's non-detailed [ijmali] knowledge of his own self is knowledge by presence. In this kind of knowledge, the knower and the known are united and form a single entity.  There is no duality in this kind of knowledge as everybody knows through knowledge by presence that he exists.  However, when he takes a deeper look into himself and how he exists, he attains a superior form of knowledge. That is where he deems himself to be ignorant of himself making the individual realize that there are two things when it comes to recognition of the self, the subject of recognition turns out to be obscure and vague in nature. That is why we see people asking questions as to "who am I". This is one of the most fundamental questions which have given rise to philosophical and Gnostic inquiries and contemplations as affirmed by the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (AS) who said:
نَالَ الْفَوْزَ الْأَكْبَرَ مَنْ ظَفِرَ بِمَعْرِفَةِ النَّفْس[1]
"Whoever succeeds in knowing himself, has achieved a great victory."
It can be said that when it comes to self-recognition, there are two kinds of "self", the lower or inferior self and the superior self.  Man is not satisfied with the inferior (poor) self and consciously knows that he has distanced himself from his reality or has become oblivious of it.  Hence, insofar as the feeling of strangeness continues to exist between these two kinds of "self", such contemplations about self-recognition would be meaningless. In the first stage, man looking for his reality does not find a convincing answer; Am "I" my body? Am I a social consideration? Am I my thoughts and mentalities? Who am I and where have I come from?
We must know that every individual's value is to the extent of the answer he has found to this question and has ultimately reached unity. Some from the very beginning hold that self is nothing but the body, eating and sleeping etc but truth-seeking men feel estranged in the world. It is as though what is and what they are never satisfy them. It is as though they are alienated with their reality and that they must recognize their reality.
Insofar as man has not attained the ultimate response to this question, he has not done anything valuable in his life. As a matter of fact, the superior and real self of man is the breath of God blown into him whereas, in fact, man has become negligent or oblivious of this status of himself because the sins and actions hinder him to forget his own self-made character and to become in unison with his real self. Unless he uses an artificial way to forget himself and feel happy for a short while, he will get deeper into misery and wretchedness without self-recognition and unison with the real self. If a person remembers his own self and what he has been in the past, what is his reality and what he has done to his own self, he will regret his previous actions which lowered him and he will know himself more and more until he will finally attains his real self, his real abode and lost paradise feeling prosperous and happy. This is the end of self-recognition and unison with the real self as well as the end of contradiction and duality.
It is pertinent to mention that in Gnosticism [irfan], the last thing about which man reaches an answer to the question "who am I?"is that "I am not and God is"; Ya man la huwa illa huwa.

[1] Amadi, Abdul Wahid, Ghurar a-Hekam wa Durar al-Kilam, p. 232, Islamic Propagations Office, Qom, 1366 (solar calendar).
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