There’s a semi-permeable membrane positioned between the inside and the outside. Call the inner surface of this membrane Self; call the outer surface Reality.
From the inside come instincts, desires, memories, thoughts, behavior patterns. From the outside come affordances, objects, events, other people, social systems. The membrane is the place where, for a given individual, outside and inside interact, continually and proactively reconfiguring itself through attention, perception, intent, behavior, thought, speech.
Self and reality too are continually and actively recongfiguring themselves “on the fly,” anticipating and responding to the ever-changing situations on either side of the membrane. Selves and realities are interdependent and are meaningful only with respect to one another. A self is the continually-changing inner situation that’s activated relative to a reality in which it is embedded. A reality is the continually-changing outer situation that’s activated relative to a self that engages it. Motivation and action come from the self and are aimed outward. Reality consists of those affordances toward which the self can take effective action in pursuit of its motivations.
On the inside is hunger. On the outside is a ripe apple. The membrane recognizes the hunger as an inner motivation, recognizes the apple as something toward which the motivation can be directed, creates an intent to get the apple, initiates a behavior sequence to achieve the intent. During this brief interval self and reality are meaningful with respect to the hunger-food interaction across the membrane. An effective membrane recognizes both the self’s motivations and the reality’s affordances, both the self’s capabilities for acting and the reality’s amenability to being acted upon. So: I am hungry and there is an apple that I can eat; I can pick apples and that apple is within reach.
Selves and realities aren’t restricted to simple stimulus-response situations. On the inside is a set of desires and interests and a set of personal moral standards. On the outside is an opportunity to do or not to do something. The membrane recognizes the relevant moral considerations triggered by the opportunity, as well as the particular desires and interests afforded by the opportunity, and generates an intent to act or not to act, as well as a rationale for arriving at this intention.
Selves and realities are two sides of the same membrane. A self is embedded inside the reality it constructs — and so the self can be made an object of evaluation as if it was on the outside. A reality is assembled from phenomena that acquire their salience from the self that constructs that reality — and so reality can be evaluated subjectively, as if it was on the inside. Psychotherapy takes advantage of this ability to turn the membrane “inside out.”
The membrane can lose permeability, blocking flows of information and action between inside and outside. It may not recognize the presence of a particular inner desire or interest, or it may fail to attune to affordances for satisfying that desire or interest that are present in the world. The membrane may become overly sensitized to a single inner desire or set of outer affordances, which then override other desires and affordances that might otherwise become salient to intentional action taken by the self in reality. These impedances and overrides may come from inside the membrane, the result of repression, denial, obsession, habit, unformulated experience; they may come from outside through legal prohibitions, social norms, marketing. Typically both the inner and outer blockages operate beneath the threshold of awareness.
A psychological practice would focus on restoring the membrane to full permeability, flexibility, and attunement. It would attempt to identify specific areas in which the membrane is “clogged,” then try to “unclog” them. Attention is focused on both sides of the membrane: self and reality, desires and affordances, intention and accessibility. Awareness, formulation, meaning, flow: these are the foci of interaction between practitioner and client.