The Ego (Conscious Self — Phenomena) and Non-Ego (Unconscious Self — Noumena)

Richard Schutte
12 min readSep 24, 2023


“To my apprehension, the function of consciousness is to render self-control possible and efficient. For according to such analysis as I can make the true definition of consciousness is a connection with an internal World; and the first impressions of sense are not conscious but only their modified reproductions in the internal World”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

“I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself”…

— Immanuel Kant

“All the actual character of consciousness is merely the sense of shock of the non-ego upon us”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce


the conscious self

self as it appears to self (Phenomenal)


the unconscious self

ego as it is in itself (Noumenal)

Primacy of Human Consciousness

the axiom of the centrality of human consciousness in understanding and shaping reality

Primacy of Existence

the axiom that existence exists — the universe exists independent of consciousness — that things are what they are — that they possess a specific nature, an identity



The ideal superior man of the future who could rise above conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values, initially described by Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883–5)

The crisis in Modernity and Post-Modernity — the meta-crisis — was a crisis of metaphysics (the Study of Being) and the erosion of truth claims — stable beliefs and habits — that enable us to navigate an emergent complex World.

An orientation of our Modern and Post-Modern Society towards a post-Nietzschean Primacy of Human Consciousness grounded in the Human Ego (Phenomena) and the World we create.

Semiotic signs and logical abstractions (concepts & ideas) no longer needed to have any nexus to the practical effects or consequences in the World.

A Nominalism where reality is increasingly shaped by the Human Ego (Conscious Self), the Primacy of Human Consciousness and Second Nature.

“Marx’s idea is that materialism, in order to be consistent must forgo presenting itself as a philosophy of comprehension and must interpret thought not as revelation but as activity that transforms reality”…

— Augusto Del Noce

Our Ego (Conscious Self) is the product of the manifestation of our Will ( a metaphysical driving force — an essence of reality) in the Phenomenal World.

Our sense of self or subjective identity.

Our self-centred insatiable interests, actions, desires and motivations.

A Phenomenon of the Will.

The Pragmatic Maxim — Beliefs (Logic) and Habits (Semeiotics) — The meaning of a concept or idea can be found in its practical effects or consequences

“So we must start from this dual nature of intelligence as something both biological and logical”…
― Jean Piaget

Modernity and Post-Modernity were ignoring the important ideas of 19th-20th Century American Philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.

The philosophy of Pragmatism and his Theory of Meaning (Semiotics) where the meaning of concepts or ideas can be found in their practical effects or consequences (the Pragmatic Maxim).

A guiding normative regulating principle of logic and reason.

Our innate desire to bring a sense of order (coherence) to an ever-changing World.

The formulation of a stable set of beliefs (Logic Study of the Mind) that manifests itself in a stable establishment of habits (Semeiotic — Study of Signs, Signification, Meaning and Habits).

“A quality is something capable of being completely embodied. A law never can be embodied in its character as a law except by determining a habit. A quality is how something may or might have been. A law is how an endless future must continue to be”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

The Pragmatic Maxim — The integration of Semiotics (Meaning) with Logic — The meaning of a concept or idea can be found in the practical effects or consequences — The formulation of Beliefs and Habits

The Decoupling of Beliefs from Habits

“The decay of Logic results from an untroubled assumption that the particular is real and the universal is not”…

― C.S. Lewis

“The primary element in any civilisation is a stable relation between man and his environment. When man becomes the plaything of abstract decisions, a civilisation can no longer be created”…

— Jacques Ellul

“But it is not in Nominalism alone that modern thought has attributed to the human mind the miraculous power of originating a category of thought that has no counterpart at all in Heaven or Earth. Already in that strangely influential hodge-podge, the salad of Cartesianism, the doctrine stands out very emphatically that the only force is the force of impact, which clearly belongs to the category of Reaction; and ever since Newton’s Principle began to affect general thought of Europe through the sympathetic spirit of Voltaire, there has been a disposition to deny any kind of action except purely mechanical action”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

As outlined in Modernity, Post-Modernity and the Collapse of Metaphysics & the Semiotic Triadic there were multiple reasons behind the increasing decoupling of the Primacy of Human Consciousness and Primacy of Existence.

A World where the practical effects of Meaning, Beliefs and Habits (Self Consciousness — Ego — Phenomena) were no longer coupled to the Non-Self (Primacy of Existence) that are essential for human survival and flourishing.

An erosion in our Sense of Coherence.

The reasons for the decoupling included inter alia :

  • Nominalism — A metaphysical reality shaped by the Primacy of Human Consciousness and the Ego (Conscious Self);
  • Cartesianism — Cartesianisam had become the philosophy of Modernity and as it progressed reason had increasingly been abstracted and mathematised;
  • Deconstruction of Logocentrism and the Objectivity of Abstractions — The arrival of Continental Philosophy and Post-Modernism began the deconstruction of Modernity and Logocentrism — the objectivity of abstractions in the form of words and language as a fundamental representation of reality.
  • Repudiation of the notion of the Noumena and a collapse to a single consciousness anchored in Phenomenology, Ego (Conscious Self) and Will (Subjective IdentityPhenomenon of the Will — Second Nature).
  • The emergence of Scientism and a codified end state of Scientific knowledge known by a group of Elites and a Scientific Clerisy.
  • The Abuse of Reason and extension of the Scientific empirical truth Claims to areas where the Observer and Observed are entangled (e.g.Social Sciences). Beliefs matter as much as observations of behaviours.
  • Shift in the arbiter of Scientific Truth Claims from Primacy of Existence to Primacy of Human Consciousness (P-Values, Scientific Clerisy (Social and Political Consensus) and Peer Reviews).
  • The emergence of Phenomenology and Umwelt recognised the subjectivity of human consciousness and experience.
  • The explosion in the abstraction & decoupling of Meaning through Semiotic Signs — Growth of Media and other new Technologies (e.g. Ai) to communicate, store, manipulate, and transform Semiotic Signs (e.g.Computers Semiotic Sign Machines). Semiotics Signs can tell the truth but they can also be used to lie or obfuscate the truth. This can lead to propaganda, Hypernormalisation, Simulacra, Simulation, Metaverse, and HyperReality
  • The emergence of Knowledge Workers where the Abstraction (Knowledge and Semiotic Signs) and Actions (Habits) were increasingly decoupled — ideas & concepts from the practical consequences.

Peirce’s Triadic of Human Consciousness

“The reason lies in the fact that consciousness is the one and only reality, it is the first and only cause-substance of the phenomena of life. Nothing has existence for man save through the consciousness he has of it. Therefore, it is to consciousness you must turn, for it is the only foundation on which the phenomena of life can be explained”…

— Neville Goddard

19th — 20th Century American Philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce refined and further extended Plato’s and Kant’s ideas of Human Consciousness by developing a triadic framework.

  • Consciousness of Firstness (Primisense): Feelings — Mind experienced through the Senses — Logico Phenomenological
  • Consciousness of Otherness (Altersense): Two modes consisting of Will and Sensation — Duality (Dyadic) of Mind — Phenomena & NoumenaEgo (Conscious Self) & Non-Ego (Non-Self — Unconscious Self)Sense of Reaction
  • Consciousness of a process of bringing to Mind (Medisense): Abstraction, Association and Suggestion — A Consciousness of Means — Beliefs manifested as Habits (ways of behaving) and Knowledge.
Peirce Triadic of Consciousness: Primisense — feelings — is the consciousness of firstness; Altersense — two modes of sensation and will — is the consciousness of otherness, secondness; Medisense — abstraction, association & suggestion — is the consciousness of a process of bringing to mind (a consciousness of means), thirdness. Note: Logic can be defined as the science of the laws of the stable establishment of belief. Logic is the Study of the Mind. Semeiotics can be defined as the science of the laws of the stable establishment of habits. Metaphysics is the Study of Being. Phenomenology is the Study of Lived Experience.

“in perception, there is a double consciousness of an ego and a non-ego”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

It demonstrated the pivotal role that Perception and the Altersense (Double Consciousness) play in providing the gateway between the Mind (Abstraction) and the External World (Experiences) in Human Consciousness.

“To call perception unconscious reasoning is thus either a useless metaphor or a positively misleading confusion between two different things”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

It is through the interplay of a “sense of reaction” between our precedent State of Feeling and an Other (Non-Self) that we bring to mind our experiences in the World.

A dyadic tension between the Ego ( Conscious Self — Phenomenon of the Will and Sensation Subjective IdentityPhenomenological World ) and the Non-Ego through a Phenomenon of Surprise ( Unconscious Self — Non-Self — Noumena — Noumenon World).

“The phenomenon of surprise in itself is highly instructive in reference to this category because of the emphasis it puts upon a mode of consciousness which can be detected in all perception, namely, a double consciousness at once of an ego and a non-ego, directly acting upon each other”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

German 19th Century Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer believed that Will precedes and transcends rational thought.

“Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills”…

— Arthur Schopenhauer

Intelligence beyond a World of Thought (Logic) to one that also incorporated a World of Being (Metaphysics).

“Logical activity is not the whole of intelligence. One can be intelligent without being particularly logical”…

— Jean Piaget

Crisis of Modernity & Post-Modernity — Metaphysics — Orientation towards the Ego (Conscious Self — Phenomenon of the Will) and the collapse in the Altersense Dyadic (part of Peirce’s Triadic of Human Consciousness)

“Knowing reality means constructing systems of transformations that correspond, more or less adequately, to reality”…

— Jean Piaget

In Peirce’s Triadic of Human Consciousness, the Altersense essentially transforms our experiences in the world in the form of feelings (logico phenomenological) into understanding (habits and knowledge) — a bringing to Mind (logico).

It plays a central role in ensuring a Sense of Coherence and the development of habits and knowledge that align with the practical effects essential for human survival and flourishing.

The Altersense is the Consciousness of Otherness (Secondness) — that entangles our:

  • Ego (Conscious Self) — Will and Sensation as it appears in Phenomena — Something Within Our Precedent State of Feeling — Ways things appear to Self; and
  • Non-Ego (Unconscious Self) — New Feelings that come in spite of the Self (Ego) — the Non-Ego (an other). A reaction to objects outside of us ( Non-Self and Non-Ego).

“Experience precedes understanding”…

— Jean Piaget

The collision of the Ego and Non-Ego results in a Phenomena of Surprise Sense of Reaction.

World of Thought (Logic) & World of Being (Metaphysics) Double Consciousness Ego (Phenomena) & Non-Ego (Noumena)Phenomena (Self) & Noumena (Non-Self )

“There is a definite opinion to which the mind of man is, on the whole and in the long run tending. On many questions the final agreement is already reached, on all it will be reached if time enough is given… This final opinion, then, is independent, not indeed of thought, in general, but of all that is arbitrary and individual in thought; is quite independent of how you, or I or any number of men think. Everything, therefore, which will be thought to exist in the final opinion is real, and nothing else…

This theory of reality is instantly fatal to the idea of a thing in itself, — a thing existing independent of all relation to the mind’s conception of it. Yet it would by no means forbid, but rather encourage us, to regard the appearances of sense as only signs of the realities. Only, the realities which they represent, would not be the unknowable cause of sensation, but noumena or intelligible conceptions which are the last products of the mental action which is set in motion by sensation”…

— Charles Sanders Peirce

Phenomena (Self — Ways things appear to Self) and Noumena (things as they are in themselves — Beyond the Conscious Self).

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”…

— Arthur Schopenhauer

A two-sided element of consciousness of Ego and unconsciousness of Non-Ego.

Altersense Double Consciousness Phenomena (Ego — Conscious self) & Noumena (Non Ego — Non-Self)

As Modernity and Post-Modernity progressed, the non-ego or non-self (Unconscious Self—Noumena) was increasingly absent in the Altersense (Secondness of Consciousness).

The collapse of a Double Consciousness into a Single Consciousness anchored in the Human Ego and Nominalism.

The Conscious Self and a Phenomenon of the Will.

Single Consciousness

A Single Consciousness Nominalism.

“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true”…

- David Bohm

Despite the Noumena being a foundational concept of Immanuel Kant’s work — Critique of Pure Reason — Modernity was increasingly being influenced by the ideas of Nietzsche who was dismissive of the concept.

It was also an embracement in Modernity and Post-Modernity of Hegel’s Idealism, an Absolute Mind (unconditional self-knowing and reality as a dynamic evolving process) and a Nietzschean rejection of traditional religious and metaphysical conceptions of reality (the Death of God).

The decoupling of the dyadic relationship between the Ego ( Conscious Self Will & Sensation as it appears in Phenomena) and Non-Ego ( Unconscious Self — Phenomena of Surprise Sense of Reaction)our double consciousness of perception.

Double Consciousness (Physical & Metaphysical — Phenomenal & Noumenal) — Ego & Non-Ego (Kant & Peirce) — Double Consciousness shown (Top Left Quadrant) as part of a Metaphysical Idealism & Epistemological Realism Framework

“Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?”…

— Jean Piaget

By increasingly re-orientating towards the Ego ( Conscious SelfWill & Sensation as it appears in Phenomena) our Medisense and the formation of habits (Thirdness) were no longer about reflection and learning.

“The first type of abstraction from objects I shall refer to as simple abstraction, but the second type I shall call reflective abstraction, using this term in a double sense”…

— Jean Piaget

Instead, we had a Will & Sensation (Ego) without Surprise & Error (Non-Ego).

An absence of a sense of reaction and struggle between oneself and non-self.

No longer was the meaning of a concept or idea found in its practical effects or consequences that represented the entanglement of the Ego (Conscious Self) & Non-Ego (Unconscious Self) and the Self (Primacy of Human Consciousness) & Non-Self (Primacy of Existence).

Meaning was now solely anchored in the Primacy of Human Consciousness — Human beliefs.

Truth claims were now a subjective process anchored in sensationuniversal relativism — and societal truths derived through whatever a community with various opinions convinced each other was true through the process of rhetoric (Sophism).

“Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not”…

— Protagoras

Life was increasingly meaningless (nihilism).

Nothing in the World had a real existence.

A Phenomenal World anchored in the Ego (Conscious Self) without a Noumenal World of Existence (Things in themselves) anchored in the Non-Ego (Unconscious Self).

Metaphysical Idealism & Epistemological Realism

A loss of our childhood innocence (Non-Ego — Noumena ) as we grow older and become absorbed by our ego (Phenomena — Conscious Self).

Learning and curiosity were being replaced by will and a desire for power.

“Every observer has noted that the younger the child, the less sense he has of his own ego. From the intellectual point of view, he does not distinguish between external and internal, subjective and objective. From the point of view of action, he yields to every suggestion, and if he does oppose to other people’s wills — a certain negativism which has been called “the spirit of contradiction” — this only points to his real defenselessness against his surroundings. A strong personality can maintain itself without the help of this particular weapon. The adult and the older child have complete power over him. They impose their opinions and their wishes, and the child accepts them without knowing that he does so”…
― Jean Piaget’



Richard Schutte

Innovation, Intrapreneurship, Entrepreneurship, Complexity, Leadership & Community Twitter: @complexityvoid