I think the reason we attempt to construct our own self-portrait, why we strive for security in identity, is because we want to reassure ourselves that we are discrete individuals living a real human life.
I think there’s always a doubt in the back of everyone’s mind that this isn’t real. Maybe it’s a dream. Maybe it’s the Matrix. Maybe it’s the Truman Show. Maybe it’s a computer simulation.
Whatever shape the doubt may take, I think we all struggle with this existential questioning. And this manifests in our desire for an identity. For something to believe in, to ground us into our perceived reality.
Clothes, speech, environment, likes, dislikes. We all want to frame ourselves as someone unique and someone that the earth (if it exists..) has never seen the likes of before. All of this in the hope that we will silence the restlessness within that never seems content with our own existence. We project a particular construction of ourselves out, and when other people recognise it, we feel validated. We feel that we’ve been recognised as somebody with a completely irreplaceable footprint on this planet. We think for a split second that maybe things wouldn’t be quite the same if I weren’t here. But it’s only a split second. And then returns the wave of nausea that marks our own discomfort within our shell.
Because when we look in the mirror we see flesh. We see a face. And a body. And we’re not entirely convinced that it’s really us. Maybe we’re old but feel young, and the appearance of wrinkles always reminds us that the soul doesn’t quite match the skin. Maybe we’re male but feel female. Maybe we’re temporal but feel immortal, feel transcendent. There’s this unease that perpetually permeates throughout our being, this subtle disbelief that that thing is not really us. That we’re something more. Or maybe something less. Whatever it may be, surely it’s not this.
It’s difficult to reconcile being a soul within body. At least that’s the way I see it. I’m not a body with a consciousness. I’m a consciousness temporarily inhabiting a body. But it’s hard to identify with something incorporeal. I can’t see my consciousness, and neither can anyone else. So maybe I settle with identifying as this body, but that doesn’t feel quite right either. Nothing feels quite right.
Maybe identity is illusory, merely a trap our ego sets to fulfil it’s own selfish desires. Maybe we’re not discrete beings, maybe this really is a simulation. How could we know.
My mind is muddled and I felt spaced out today. Waiting for my bus I thought about the chapter I just finished in Immortality by Kundera.
“We are thrust into this world just as we are, we first have to identify with that particular throw of the dice, with that accident organised by the divine computer: to get over our surprise that precisely this (what we see facing us in the mirror) is our self. Without the faith that our face expresses our self, without that basic illusion, that arch illusion, we cannot live or at least we cannot take life seriously. And it isn’t enough for us to identify with ourselves, it is necessary to do so passionately, to the point of life and death. Because only in this way can we regard ourselves as not merely a variant of the human prototype, but as a being with its own irreplaceable essence. That’s the reason why the newcomer needed not only to draw her self-portrait, but also to make it clear to all that it embodied something unique and irreplaceable, something worth fighting or even dying for.”