Ponder this

Which is the true self, the one a person perceives him/herself to be or the one that others perceive?

The two aren’t the same. If they were, then people in general wouldn’t be concerned about whether the world “gets” them. 

When I look in the mirror, I see a different image than what others see. I physically see a flipped version, which is why I think I look weird in photos. But, though I recognize myself in the mirror or in pictures, what I feel I look like does not match the image I see in either one.

The person within comes through in a person’s writing. And if that person within doesn’t match the person that the world perceives, then is the writing a fictional representation of self? To the writer, no. To the world, yes.

The inner self, itself, is formed in part by a person’s environment. So maybe the representation of a person through his/her writing is not all that fictional from either point of view.


If you, Reader, know me only by my ink, would you recognize me in casual conversation at a random bus stop? And if you knew me in the world, could you recognize me by my ink alone? 

But maybe the greater question is, given something that I don’t remember writing, could I recognize myself by my ink alone?


Author: uncaged

When Picasso painted a blue Seated Woman in a Chair, he was unconsciously thinking of me.

27 thoughts on “Ponder this”

  1. The person within comes through in a person’s writing. And if that person within doesn’t match the person that the world perceives, then is the writing a fictional representation of self? To the writer, no. To the world, yes.

    I sure don’t recognise myself in my writing. I don’t recognise myself in words at all. Because words are the blunt instruments I use to tell stories to others. My stories to myself are a fair bit richer than that. A lot of the narrative is essentially ineffable. You know what I mean. “The Tao that can be spoken …”.

    Getting into the question of fiction (or inauthenticity) is opening a whole new can of worms.

    Yeah, my own story of myself is something way beyond what I can express in words, but does that make it true? Or is it more like what Otto Rank and Joseph Campbell suggested? That I adapt narratives fundamental to my culture – or perhaps the human condition itself – into clothing I can use to selectively reveal what I’m comfortable with and hide what I’m not. Maybe I’m so uncomfortable with the inescapable fact of not only my physical death but the complete dissolution of everything I could conceivably identify as part of me that I need to construct mythical hero narratives that imply an eternal imprint left where I have passed. Maybe that’s central to the impulse that drives artists and writers.

    I don’t really think much of the concept of authenticity. It’s just another way of separating your universe into what you wanna identify as and what you don’t. I think those divisions are ultimately arbitrary, so authenticity becomes a self-defeating quest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fascinating reply. I read this and let it soak in, and then I read it again a couple of days later.

      Maybe I read certain authors because of how I feel about writing, or maybe I’ve always felt about writing the way I do because of who I read. And what I feel is that writers unconsciously expose humanity for what it is— good, bad, hypocritical, self-sacrificing, all of it—and that in doing so, expose themselves. So authenticity is inescapable.


      1. I probably overstated the ineffable bit. Mostly my problem is being inarticulate. But I still don’t think words can even come close to capturing the human condition. I also think there’s a real problem in that because we’re so used to communicating with others in words we think we communicate with ourselves the same way. We mistake our internal monologue for our thoughts when it’s just a tiny, clumsy subset of them. I reckon a lot of the mystique around concepts like ‘intuition’ and ‘subconscious’ arises because we’re so used to reifying our mental processes with words that we fail to acknowledge the bulk of the iceberg until we run up hard against it.
        I think most ‘powerful’ writing acts in the same way as aphorisms. It doesn’t really expose anything the reader doesn’t already know – otherwise she wouldn’t ‘get it’. It just offers a way for her to articulate some of her previously unverbalised ideas and beliefs to herself – turning them into symbols she’s more accustomed to manipulating and ‘owning’. That’s why some of the best writing seems ambiguous or incoherent if taken literally. It’s not the writer communicating to the reader, it’s opening a space for the reader to communicate with herself.
        I don’t believe in authenticity because I don’t believe in a core self that’s separate to everything else. I’m an onion. You can keep peeling layers of pretension away but all you’re gonna find is another layer. Maybe eventually the final layer will peel away leaving nothing at all. Then I’ll be free to be everything. No use for words then.


      2. I absolutely love what you say and how you say it. I could read you for hours. Really. And not because you say anything I’ve ever thought or felt before, though maybe deep down I have? I seriously am not trying to patronize you, it’s just coming out that way unintentionally because I don’t know how else to say it. I truly love your ideas. I don’t, however, agree with them entirely. What I do agree with is that when we read something written by someone in a way we feel we never could have and therefore never thought to bring the idea up, in that sense there is no authenticity. But I believe it’s that very connection that makes what we write as true to ourselves as what the next person writes, and in that way our writing is authentic.

        Our onions are indeed varied. My layers are not yours. Neither is my core. Mine is on fire. So where is the connection? I don’t know. I’m doing a study. And I love very much what you have to say. Please keep commenting. I don’t post a whole lot about this sort of thing, but comment when you find the subject relevant. Or on anything. Really. You fascinate me.


      3. My ideas aren’t particularly original, though they’re not often explicitly expressed in our culture.

        The concept of anatta (no core self) is central to most schools of Buddhism, though it’s somewhat de-emphasised in Tibetan Buddhism due to their Lamaism and even more so in some Western variants which teach Buddhist as self-realisation rather than self-annihilation. Several Hindu non-dualist and monist philosophies teach that atma=Brahma (or Shiva), which is to say the true Self is identical to the fundamental substrate of reality, which is without individuality, form or attributes. So in conceptual terms there is little to distinguish these positions and in practical terms they both suggest that any claim you can make for an ‘authentic’ or individual self is deluded or empty.

        I’ve played with those concepts for most of my life but they’re pretty slippery and abstract as intellectual toys. It’s been meditation practice and experiencing altered states during which the constructs of ‘self’ have collapsed that have made them real for me.

        But you don’t need to get your head around non-dualism or spend decades hacking your own mental processes to have some pretty serious doubts about the notion of a true self. You can try to think of any attribute – physical, emotional, intellectual, behavioral etc – that can’t be externalised without externalising ‘you’. Obviously you could imagine yourself without a leg or arm or kidney. Or without your main fear or hope or desire. Or with your memories of childhood gone or your social contacts wiped away. What about that ‘fire’ in your core? Would you no longer be you if it flickered or was entirely quenched? You can objectify and strip away pretty much anything about yourself you can imagine and still be ‘you’. So which bit is authentic?

        Likewise you can expand your borders of self to take in stuff way beyond your physical body. We all know people who act as if their possessions (car, land, clothes, etc) are part of them. We can see our books and favorite websites as extensions of our own memory and intellect to the point where we feel crippled without them. We can experience flow states where a tool or vehicle becomes an extension of our own body. We can see how our genes, family, experiences, neural architecture, education, culture all go into making us what we are. In fact our entire universe, everything physical, perceptual and experiential in our entire life – including the mental images we have of other people (which is ultimately all we know of them) – is what we are.

        So in dualist terms, the borders of self are arbitrary. You can shift them pretty much at will and are doing so all the time. The search for an ‘authentic’ self becomes a forlorn exercise in self-limitation that can only fleetingly hint at success without ever realising it. It’s chasing mirages.

        But it’s worse than that. The only way you can ever judge whether you’ve achieved authenticity is by finding some external criteria from which to do so. You’ve got to step outside yourself to evaluate yourself, thereby creating an immediate crisis of authenticity that renders the whole exercise hypocritical. It’s the corollary of judging yourself ‘flawed’ or ‘stupid’. If you’re flawed and stupid who are you to judge? If you’re not authentic maybe you’re such a fake you’ll be able to convince yourself you are authentic unless you can somehow stop being ‘you’, thereby abandoning any claim to authenticity.


      4. Wow. It’s late, and I have to get up early in the morning or I’d put some thought into an answer to this tonight, but I’m going to have to ponder this comment tomorrow. And I will.


      5. I am revisiting your argument and mulling…
        My argument partly involves revealing personal information, which is something I’m ready to do. But, without exposing the details, what I believe, as you and everyone else comes to believe, is a result of personal experience and reflection. My experiences have shown me that under the emotional clutter and beyond the neurology and chemistry, or even through each of them, are distinct individuals. I’ve never tried Buddhism or Hinduism, so I can’t give an opinion on those, but I find what you have to say about your experiences facinating.


      6. what I believe, as you and everyone else comes to believe, is a result of personal experience and reflection.

        Well, that seems irrefutable, as far as it goes. But how central to self – much less authenticity – is belief?

        If I converted to Mormonism tomorrow as the result of personal experience with carefully groomed Americans on pushbikes and reflection upon a rather odd book would I be a different person? And would I become more authentic if I then cut my hair and started wearing a suit and name badge? Given than my experience of Mormonism would have come to me via others and my capacity for reflection is probably also a product of external factors why would a resultant belief in the words of Joseph Smith be intrinsically ‘me’. People like Edward Bernays and Joseph Goebbels have argued fairly credibly that beliefs held by others is actually them.

        Lewis Carroll famously had the White Queen believing six impossible things before breakfast while Mark Twain had Tom Sawyer define faith as “believin’ somethin’ even when you know it ain’t so”. I’m pretty sure I hold lots of conflicting beliefs and shift between them according to circumstance. Does that mean I have multiple selves? Does it make me less authentic?

        How is a belief more central to authenticity than a hairstyle?


      7. Sorry for such a late reply. Someone brought up non-duality, which I then read a short explanation of, and it made me think of this conversation between you and me. I couldn’t think deeply enough to expand on this discussion at the time, so I took a break from it. And then I forgot about it. I have to put my brain to work now, especially since the subject has presented itself coincidentally (maybe) from two unrelated posts and readers.

        You make an excellent point, and I’m going to think more on your reply before I respond.


      8. I just read something that might interest you.
        Like the author I hear voices though unlike him I’ve never found the experience particularly unpleasant, which might explain our different attitude to them. Like him I’m also prone to resort to evolutionary theory to try to understand what it is to be human, though I wouldn’t take assertions like “the social development of human beings had taken place at around the same time that language developed” at face value. And like him I practice vipassana.
        Where I differ is that I don’t really know (or much care) what a ‘real’ me as opposed to a ‘verbal’ me might be, so I don’t have much use for his parasite metaphor. However I’m acutely aware that the verbal aspect of my thought (and how I remember) is only a small subset of my conscious mental processes (never mind about what’s going on that I’m not conscious of).
        To Freud a lot of the ‘evil’ (or at least primal, unsocialised and uncivilised) aspects of the mind are the bits that don’t get verbalised or otherwise brought into conscious awareness.
        But to Burroughs language is worse than just a parasite. It’s a destructive alien virus.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. I wish I had the time to fully delve into this. Though I haven’t clicked the link yet, what I get from your comments are that the contents behind that link directly lend themselves to my project. I guess at this point I’m in acquisition mode. Then I gotta process.

        I’m like a sponge over here. All take and no give. But keep giving.


      10. Does your brain ever take a rest?
        Nah. That’s the beauty of bipolar. You keep running it on full until it blows to bits then wallow in the wreckage while it slowly rebuilds itself.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Someone gets it!
        I didn’t know you are bipolar. I am too, which is why I’m all over the place in my posts. My readers, all two (three maybe sometimes) have come to expect it of me. Keeps things interesting, in any case. Depression hoards the writing time, and I really wish, since I have to have this stupid thing anyway, that I leaned toward the other end. My head is so full of shit I gotta get out but can’t. Though sometimes I can, hence the half-thoughts. My ups pass by quickly.


      12. I’m also struck by his final sentences –

        “That sense of what is real seems to come from that earlier-existing part of the brain, the one that was there before we developed the power of speech. That is the voice that I can really trust, even if it is always silent.”

        The New Atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett wrote a book called Consciousness Explained in which – to oversimplify – he uses rationalist symbol manipulation to ‘prove’ that consciousness isn’t real. Presumably he thinks rationality is though.

        Personally I think Dennett has strangled his intellect with his ideology but I can’t think of any good reason to believe non-linguistic thought is any more reliable, authentic or real than linguistic thought. Intuition can be just as misleading as rationalisation.


      13. My brain went in all sorts of directions when I reread this comment just now. I’ve often asked myself who I would be if I weren’t bipolar. I have at times wished desperately to be free of this disorder, but each time I thought of how lost I would feel without it, as though I would be ripped apart at the seams. I cling to it, partly because the disorder is a huge part of my identity, and partly because I know no other way of being. Which piece is really me? They all are. They work together like inseparable cogs in a machine. And those cogs are not yours. We may have similar traits, but the only true commonality we share is that we are part of mankind. Otherwise, we are unique.


      14. You don’t have any disorders because you are at the root no different than all humans, only exaggerated in your moods? or because you really aren’t bipolar?


      15. Because I don’t see anything particularly disordered about my thoughts or behaviour, whether or not they tick a box on a DSM checklist. They work for me.


      16. My moods are not consistent and stable enough for me to have that same outlook. Perhaps that is one of the main differences between us that give us different outlooks. So then, is it the experiences that define our individuality or our perceptions? One feeds the other it seems. So I think both.


      17. My moods aren’t consistent or stable, but neither is the world I live in. So I guess I’m well adjusted.

        I suspect the main difference between us is that I realised early on that I wasn’t going to make it through any of the long term socially approved projects where you’re expected to be consistent (family, career, etc). So I avoided them. I’ve had plenty of meltdowns of course, but with no-one else dependent on me I could afford to ride them out and see whether or not I make it through. If I fail I only fail myself. So I could take more risks. Some of them paid off.

        For some of us at least bipolar brings some incredible gifts. But they don’t come cheap.

        Liked by 1 person

      18. Well said. The world is indeed as chaotic as my moods, but the individuals who i interact with daily and those who depend on me are not. The price is high, and I sometimes want to smash that curse to pieces. But more often than not, I’m thankful for the good parts and for the empathy it affords me. I have to admit though, I often get angry that I’ve been forced into a career that requires that experience. I understand those who hurt or suffer from depression. The reward is beyond words, but the burden is great, and sometimes feels too much to handle.


  2. Just had an exchange with a long time friend who’s an artist.
    It occurs to me some artists think authenticity is the ability to sincerely express your own suffering. While I’d concede that to experience suffering is probably universal – therefore a potential channel of connection – I’d still have to say I don’t see evidence *the* experiences of suffering are communicable through art or anything else. I have no idea how much other people hurt. Just that they do.
    Who of us really believes others can feel our suffering?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is in my wheelhouse. But I’ve got a busy day ahead starting now, so I can’t respond yet. But by the end of the day, if sleep doesn’t claim me after being up all night, I will have much to contribute.


    2. None of us can know what the other is feeling—empathy is about as close as we can get. But empathy relies on our personal experiences, and we don’t all share the exact same ones. The experiences we appear to have in common are affected by other experiences that we don’t share.

      Art is an excellent example of how people experience empathy. Sometimes it’s as though we feel the artist. But maybe what we feel is the result of self reflection. I look at a painting, for example, and the artistic expression can evoke an emotional response in me that may be nothing like the emotion that drove the hand that held the brush. Or, more generally, my emotional response to a person’s expressions or experiences depends on what I make of what I behold. My interpretation is based on what I am familiar with. Take simulacra (the basis of this “ponder” post): the image we are exposed to overrides the true state of existence until the image becomes truth. Then consider hermeneutics. How do we interpret what we see? By our experiences? If so, then only at a broad level can we relate to each other, because each of us has a cocktail of experiences that is not identical to anyone else’s. So if we interpret the world differently, then we view ourselves differently. Or vice versa. You and I have bipolar disorder, but we experience the illness differently. And I have a host of other traits that work together to form my identity, but I am not autistic as far as I can tell.

      I was direct support for a low-functioning autistic child, and he and I had a bond. Something was there that allowed him to trust me, that caused him to respond to me differently than he responded to other people. But what about the two of us made us connect? When I moved away, he hugged me, and a barely verbal child whispered into my ear, “I love you.” No one believed me. But no one knows what he interpreted the word “love” to mean. All I know is the connection we shared, my emotional response to him, and his expressions of acceptance of me. I loved him deeply, and I felt he loved me the same. Perhaps our interpretations of love were different, but whatever those interpretations were, they harmonized.

      Did you know that Rothko sold his paintings only to people who expressed an emotional response to them? The type of emotion was irrelevant. His purpose was to draw something out of each observer, and he allowed his art to hang only on the walls of those people by whom his purpose was served.

      Our uniqueness seems to be defined by our natural responses to stimuli. How we perceive ourselves might be different than how other people perceive us, and how we perceive others, how we perceive the world, is perhaps a reflection of ourselves in one way or another. And perception is reality, is it not? Simulacra theorizes so.

      So maybe we are unique because we interpret the world differently. I have yet to meet anyone who agrees with me 100 percent on everything, and I likely never will.

      Artistic temperament is rooted in suffering. But art isn’t always a result of negative feelings. Either way, our interpretations of the art may swing an opposite direction of that of the artist.

      Keats expresses the eternal beauty of his urn, and that beauty, to him, is truth. To me that urn represents the futility of existence. My response to his poem is deeply emotional and deeply negative. Keats and I argue over an idea of his own creation. But who am I to argue with someone’s personal belief? His truth is not mine, though I see a glimmer of beauty in the urn. Regardless, my truth is opposite what I interpret his poem to mean. I do not believe that existence is futile (though sometimes I feel it is). So the beauty may be the same, but the source of that beauty is not, and each is a personal truth, which is a reflection of self, which in turn is a perception of the world.


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