The Reified Self

Nick Williams
6 min readNov 6, 2021


There are two modes of existence, we might say — the ‘free’ and the ‘unfree’. Generally speaking, the unfree mode is the only one we know of, even though we don’t in any way see it for what it is. We don’t see it as being unfree at all, and as for the free mode of existence, we don’t know anything about that at all. Disguised freedom is the only type of freedom we are know.

We can take the unfree mode of existence first as it is the easiest to explain. In this mode our attention is attached to developments that aren’t really developments at all, but only polar oscillations. A <plus> face appears and we take this as being a ‘genuine event’, a ‘genuine development’, and because it is seen as a positive event or solution (with regard to whatever issue we are caught up in) we feel good about this. We seem to be obtaining some sort of advantage and so this translates into euphoria. Advantage doesn’t translate into euphoria because it is an advantage, it translates into euphoria because of the hidden logic which says ‘if there is an advantage then there must be a self.’ ‘Advantage equals self’, in other words. I love winning because winning proves that I exist, in other words.

Euphoria is all about the self, nothing else. There is nothing else it could be about, obviously enough! The euphoria we experience when we ‘win out’ is the euphoria that comes when we believe that we are this identity and this is the real reason we like winning. We think (naturally enough) that it’s the prize we are after, but the prize or reward is only a token. When we chase euphoria then we’re chasing the self, when we gravitate towards euphoric pursuits then we’re gravitating towards the state of ‘reified selfhood’. ‘But what’s wrong with this?’ we might ask. ‘What’s so bad about affirming this state of selfhood and making it more solid?’ Generally speaking, we would of course consider this a very healthy thing — we all want to ‘believe in ourselves’, after all! What kind of a situation would it be if we didn’t? How would we cope then? How would we get on in life without the reified central position or viewpoint of the defined self? This what we think, anyway…

Affirming and reaffirming the state of selfhood can however be seen to be not such a healthy thing after all when we consider that ‘being a defined self’ corresponds to the unfree mode of existence that we started off talking about. The reason this modality of existence is ‘unfree’ is because — as we said — chasing advantage is the same thing as chasing disadvantage, since both come out of the same very narrow way of looking at things. The presented scenario of <advantage versus disadvantage> appears to contain the possibility of a beneficial development for us (namely, ‘the possibility of obtaining the advantage’) and so — because of this — we will perceive there to be actual freedom in this setup. We will perceive there to be ‘freedom within the polarity of win versus lose’. It is this perception that keeps us hooked into the game, obviously, but since the only reason I see a obtaining the advantage as an expression of my freedom is because I have zero perspective on what’s going on, my perception (enticing as it is) doesn’t ever translate into anything real. Any actions that I undertake on the basis of this perception are pure undiluted folly — the lack of perspective is making a fool of me, as lack of perspective always does.

The game of Yes versus NO (or Advantage versus Disadvantage) doesn’t give us any perspective, not even the tiniest little bit of it. It would in fact be more accurate to say that the game gets to be the game precisely because there is no perspective in it, and never can be. That’s what makes a game into a game. That’s the whole point right there — there is always zero perspective in a game and there couldn’t be any such thing as ‘the game’ otherwise. Having no perspective is what causes me to see the ‘plus’ face of the coin of polarity as being an actual positive development or event and seeing the plus face of the coin is being an actual development is the essential prerequisite of me being able to play the game in the first place. It is because I understand ‘obtaining an advantage in the game’ to be an actual development (i.e. something that isn’t the game!) that I experience euphoria and it is the desire to obtain this euphoric reward that is motivating me so very strongly to keep on playing.

Advantage isn’t a development however — it is we might say — a type of development but it is the tautological type. It is a development that is actually ‘the same old thing being repeated over and over again’, with the proviso that we don’t see it as being ‘the same thing repeated over and over again’. The thing that is being repeated is ‘the game’; it is the game because the game equals advantage versus disadvantage (or as we could also say, the game equals ‘the false or misleading perception that advantage is not the same thing as disadvantage’). Or we could also say, that the thing which keeps on being repeated over and over again is the self, because the self is the game (or pretence) that advantage is not the same thing as disadvantage. Very clearly, there can be no such thing as advantage and disadvantage, gain and loss, without the central point of the self being there! It’s true that it is very hard for us to see that ‘gain equals loss’; actually — from the point of view of the self — it is absolutely impossible to see this. It is impossible for us to see this because by identifying with this POV we have made the entrapping polarity of ‘gain versus loss’ pragmatically real for us. The self can never see that ‘gain equals loss’ because the self is that assumed position from which gain and loss seem like two very different possibilities.

So, the game is that win and lose, advantage and disadvantage, are two very different possibilities, and when we play the game that they are then this automatically creates the self. Playing the game which is polarity creates the self. But — as we have already said — even to say this is to try to tease apart two things that aren’t really separate since ‘the game equals the self and the self equals the game’. Looking at this another way, the game that we’re playing is the game that the self actually has various different possibilities open to it, that it actually has ‘freedom of choice’. This is the critical illusion — the illusion that the game depends on. This is the illusion that we (when we’re playing the game) can’t for the life of us see through — the illusion that we have freedom of choice. If we were to see through this illusion then this would mean seeing the truth of the situation, which is that the self has no choice in anything.

The only ‘choice’ the self can make is the choice to keep on playing the game, and the game equals ‘the false or misleading perception that gain and loss are two different things’. The only ‘choice’ we have is the choice to keep on playing the game therefore, and yet at the same time we don’t have the faintest clue that we are playing the game, or that the game is the game. The only type of freedom the reified self has is ‘freedom within the game’, in other words, but ‘freedom within a game’ isn’t freedom. There simply can’t be any such thing as ‘the freedom to choose between advantage and disadvantage’ when advantage is the same thing as disadvantage! The (disguised) lack of freedom that exists within the polarity is relatively easy to talk about therefore — we have already said everything that needs to be said about it. The first mode of existence (the ‘free’ one) can’t be talked about, however. All we can say is that it is the mode of existence in which there is no polarity, in which there is no primary perception of there being a central point of reference called a ‘self’…