Beyond Biology – Chantal D’Arcy
One of the hardest aspects of moving away from home and into the real world – whether it be university or anything else – is the realization that you’re not as special to the rest of the world as you are to your mum. Every day I find myself overwhelmed with the crippling fear of being astoundingly average.
Humans seek comfort in the idea of the ‘self’; the concept that we are something more than just brains and tissues and bones and hair, that there is something else, something ethereal within us that makes each and every seven billion of us unique. And this something is so special, so abstract that we do not even know where it resides within the body, what it looks like, or what happens to it once our hearts cease to beat. We want to believe that there is something more than darkness after death, that there is some continuation of our selves, that once our eyes close for the final time we do not simply disintegrate into nothingness. Are we merely fooling ourselves into a false sense of comfort, so that death might not seem so terrifying and final?
And yet the large majority of humans desperately cling to this concept of a self, a soul, a pure essence of who we are, no matter what their religion, faith or beliefs. So does this not speak volumes, the fact that so many minds from completely different cultures, backgrounds and evolutionary lines have all coined the same theory? Must there be an element of truth to this theory of the self?
From a biological point of view, maybe this “self” simply boils down to the unique combination of nucleic bases that resides in your cells. If this were the case, monozygotic twins – who are genetic clones of each other, and usually brought up in nearly indistinguishable environments – would be identical in every aspect. And yet they enjoy different activities, have different routines and habits, and while they can be strikingly similar, they can also be equally different from one another.
So, clearly there is something more at play than the environmental and genetic factors that biology considers to be the sole elements to affect someone’s phenotype, or visible characteristics. And whatever it is, we all feel it sometimes – when you look into someone’s eyes and you see a little piece of yourself in them, you know it’s something that can’t be explained by a periodic table or anything of the like. It’s too beautiful.
The Self in the Selfie – Emma Prevignano
How much time do we spend thinking up witty tweets? How much effort do we put into editing our LinkedIn profile so that we look more skillful, self-confident, and clever than we actually are? What is the Instagram filter that best covers our imperfections?
Social networks provide us with much more than effective procrastination means. They give to virtually everyone the chance to create their own persona, to remove the mundane bits from their lives whilst polishing up the good ones. Selfies allow us to rehearse poses before shooting and to capture the once elusive alter-ego in the mirror. We don’t stutter on Facebook, we don’t blush and we are never left speechless, unless we want to be. People know our Instagram profile better than they know us. The self we create is the new criterion for judgment. Is that it, then? Have we finally gained control over ourselves? Has the duck face put an end to one of the greatest ontological questions?
Or maybe that’s just the surface and it will fade away as all surfaces do. We might be powerful enough to create a mask and to put it at the forefront for everyone to see. We cannot control how the others look at it and, after all, we were not alone in building it in the first place. We are taught what we want, by the movies we watch, by the books we read (or don’t read), by the advertisements we see on the Underground, by conformism and by anti-conformism.
Natural inclination merges with upbringing to create someone who is perceived differently by different ‘others’, who acts differently in different environments. The oversimplification is an illusion. The Self remains the elusive and amorphous fluid that narcissists and philosophers love to contemplate. The mess remains, let us rejoice.
Who are we really? – Natasa Christofidou
Lucretius, a Roman poet and philosopher was quite comfortable in defining our human existence as a mere assortment of different atoms that come together to form individual beings. However, I’d much rather chose to view our existence in a much less cynical and impersonal way. I’m not necessarily suggesting that we should glorify our human consciousness as an end in itself, but we should undoubtedly use our lived experiences as a positive way towards a form of self-discovery.
When confronted with questions about our human identity, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a list of all our memories, past relationships, hobbies, activities, and even eating habits. Sooner or later, we start to realise that over the years, our experiences have changed, consequently shaping who we are today.
Most of us would probably agree that we’re not the same person as we were when we came to university. Sure, we still have similar interests and passions to our past self, but everyday human experiences alter who we are to a certain degree. So, not only do we physically look different as we grow older and mature, but our intellectual capacities expand as our perceptions of the world around us change.
Our identities are understood through our consciousness, as we observe the world through our subjective experiences and adjust our lives by adopting different cultures, customs and behaviorisms. Throughout our life, we’re constantly burdened by a burning desire to find purpose and meaning in our lives and the world around us. Yet, how are we supposed to find a distinct definition that can describe us when all our ideas and knowledge come from sources that are both read and understood by others around us? Does this therefore mean that nothing about us is actually as distinct as we thought it was?
If our lives are representing an endless loop of influences and ideas picked up from our social surroundings, ‘the self’ then appears to have become a complete illusion. The food we eat, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the phrases we speak, and the ideas we think of are all derived from external resources.
Surely we’re unique, in the sense that we chose a distinct combination of habits and activates that we want to be defined by, but all the concepts that surround our identity pre-existed. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that in the midst of ordinary life, we all get caught up in exciting inner adventures of self- discovery that are unique for each and every one of us.
You are not your degree – Anonymous
Is this the first time you’ve read an Exeposé article?
That might seem like a fairly off-topic question when discussing what makes you “you”, but contrary to what it might seem, it’s actually one of the only questions that matters. Theage-old conundrum of “what makes a person a person” is just that: age-old. As long ago as three-hundred-and-something B.C., a dude called Aristotle was tossing this question around in his head, and he came out with a simple answer: you are what you do.
So, is this the first time you’ve read an Exeposé article?
If so, then congratulations: you are a first-time Exeposé reader. If not, well, how often do you read your esteemed student newspaper? Once a fortnight or so? You’re a biweekly reader of Exeposé. Every day? You’re a daily reader of Exeposé, and also someone who needs some new hobbies.
You can see where I’m going with this. The idea of a person being composed of what they do isn’t just a stuffy Aristotelian ideal. It was rather eloquently summarised by Greg Graffin of Bad Religion a few years ago, actually: “You’re actions speak so loud, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” Ask around; most people, when pressed, will concede that a person is what they do, not what they say (or even worse, what they say they do).
So, to adapt Fight Club to Exetah: You are not your degree, you’re not how much money is in daddy’s wallet, you’re not your position in your society, and you are definitely not what you post and share on Facebook. You are whatever you repeatedly do, so either go do what you want to be, or face the reality of being whatever it is you’re doing.
Sounds like pretty solid New Year’s Resolution material, really.