Inside an Existential Identity Crisis
The following is an experimental essay which documents the process of creating a pseudonym. A relatively simple affair, by most accounts, however, when I began writing about it, the words suddenly came alive and the essay turned into my own Pinocchio Story.
I’ve endeavoured to condense it as much as possible, however, it’s still laboriously long and although I won’t be offended if you choose to skip through it, I will warn you that it’s best read from beginning to end and if read otherwise could prove incomprehensible.
I’ve tried to recreate the feeling that I had while going through the experience and the decision to read it demands your participation as much as it did mine when writing it.
The essay itself underwent three re-writes, each textured by the process of integrating three different endings which were explored throughout its lifetime. And to make it more consumable, references have been made to those earlier versions where applicable.
Although I plan to write several shorter, more universal pieces which explore some of the ideas discussed here, I thought it was also important to publish the raw evolution of thoughts for future reference.
And, true to my previous pieces, it travels there and back again, so I’ve provided a short TL;DR at the end for those of you who haven’t a spare hour.
What’s in a name?
Throughout history there have been many cases of individuals, who, for one reason or another, have decided to change their name. It’s a big part of ones identity and I’ve come to learn that it not only affects how you’re perceived in the world, but also how you perceive yourself and the world.
The act of changing your name is common for those in the public eye and in part motivated by the desire to save face. Eric Arthur Blair changed his name to George Orwell at the age of 26, and in the following excerpt from his Wikipedia page we can see such an incentive at play:
He wished to publish under a different name to avoid any embarrassment to his family over his time as a “tramp”. In a letter to Moore (dated 15 November 1932), he left the choice of pseudonym to Moore and to Gollancz. Four days later, he wrote to Moore, suggesting the pseudonyms P. S. Burton (a name he used when tramping), Kenneth Miles, George Orwell, and H. Lewis Allways. He finally adopted the nom de plume George Orwell because, as he told Eleanor Jacques, “It is a good round English name.”
To go back further, François-Marie Arouet changed his name to Voltaire following his incarceration at the Bastille, and is known to have used at least 178 other separate pen names.
The origin of the name isn’t clear, however imprisonment provides the incentive to change it. One other possible reason, to which I relate, is expressed in a letter Voltaire sent to Jean-Baptiste Rousseau, in which he requests Rousseau to address him as Monsieur de Voltaire, explaining; ‘I was so unhappy under the name of Arouet that I have taken another, primarily so as to cease to be confused with the poet Roi’, both of which apparently have a similar pronunciation.
And so it was that I also sought a pseudonym for a similar reason.
From as far back as I can remember, I’ve always created online profile’s with my full name of ‘Alexander’. I can’t exactly be sure of why, except that I like the aesthetic look and feel of it over the abbreviation. I actually go by the abbreviation in real life, but it’s always been something that I’ve enjoyed writing in full.
Accordingly, when I began writing on Medium, it was under my full name of Alexander Ryan.
However, a world away in reality, on odd occasion I would be called ‘Ryan’ instead of Alex, which isn’t particularly surprising considering that they’re both common first names.
And, in confirmation of this, when I searched the Medium community for ‘Alexander Ryan’, it returned ten Ryan Alexander’s and only one other Alexander Ryan. However, upon searching ‘Alex Ryan’, nine Alex Ryan’s and one Ryan Alex appeared.
Could I perhaps be the other Alex Ryan to bring balance to the universe?
Instead, I decided that the best course of action was to come up with a pseudonym to clear up any confusion.
Perhaps a simple task for some, however I have an obsession with meaning that’s borderline unhealthy, so it took me almost half a year and included an investigation into the very nature of Self.
Fingerprints of a ‘Me Inc.’
Initially, the nature of my search wasn’t very rigorous and reflected my motivation, which was more concerned with actually writing than by what name I wrote. I simply wanted to choose something and get on with it, and following the path of least resistance, I began researching the origins of ‘Ryan’.
It’s an Irish name and derived from Ó Riain meaning “descendant of Rían” and the given name Rían is thought to mean “little king”. Upon making this discovery, my short foray into ‘pseudonym creation’ ended with a name change to Alexander Little King.
I probably wouldn’t have bothered to mention this, but thanks to the hyper-public world we live in, such a change seldom goes unnoticed and in my case was actually emphasized when Medium tweeted out one of my articles, leaving behind the fingerprints of the mysterious Alexander Little King:
Thankfully, the link within that article still directs people to my profile, which is lucky because Little didn’t know, his exploration was just getting started.
A.L.K. lasted for quite some time, before I visualized what it would be like to be known as ‘Little King’ and how the preface of King with ‘little’ felt like an inference of status which was far to generous for a peasant such as myself.
I erased as much of the name as possible from the Internet, and went back to the blackboard.
Back in 2014 I purchased a copy of the Australian magazine NewPhilosopher, which was themed around the Self, something I’ve questioned before and which has always interested me. Again, those questions arose within me, and, as I still had my copy, I decided to have another look at it.
One article in particular jumped out at me, titled, Personal Branding, the rise of Me Inc., which isn’t surprising really. Over the past year I’ve been building an online business, which has slowly blurred into more of a personal exploration and resulted in the germination of questions around where a business ends and a person starts.
In today’s modern techno-culture we’re seeing a rise in Me Inc.’s; people seeking to create an incorporated self which they can then market to the public. It appears to be a phenomenon that has evolved out of the capitalist society that we’ve grown up in and is likely, in part, a reflection of the way we have come to see ourselves.
The following excerpt is from the aforementioned article, which left me with an interesting question:
“But the creation of a false self – in today’s case the incorporated self – is concerning when many personality disorders involve a conflict between a person’s two selves. Since Me. Inc is a marketing construct, a false self, where then is the true self? Where has it gone?”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I read that, as I’ve been writing this essay for several months, but it was definitely at the beginning, which means that the question ended up being somewhat prophetic.
Why I didn’t pay it more attention at the time might puzzle those who read the whole essay, however, upon reflection, the only thing I can think is that perhaps I didn’t relate to it and had no experience with which to grasp its meaning.
The online landscape within which most of these constructed selves dwell, is full of easy-to-say, memorable names, à la Face-book, Snap-Chat, In-sta-gram, Goo-gle, You-Tube. As humans, we like to simplify, and such an intention was likely behind the reason I sought a change of name in the first place.
As I’ve already alluded, our environments and their contents have significant impact on the way in which we perceive and express ourselves. Considering this, it seems only natural that my thoughts then turned toward names which were easy to say, read and remember.
I narrowed the search parameter down to names based on how many syllables they contained, thinking that three, with a maximum of four and ideally two syllables, was the foundation to the perfect name.
And so it was, that although I had no idea what was ahead of me, I decided to dive headlong into the search for such a name, convinced that I couldn’t become any sort of writer without first establishing a stable/marketable identity.
Round and round the garden
If you’re thinking of doing something like this, it should be noted that the possibilities really are limitless, as I soon discovered in a box of English Breakfast tea.
I drink a lot of tea and so it wasn’t surprising when the thought of it and my pseudonymic dilemma infused in my head. Aside from how funny it would be to name myself after a box of tea, I also felt that ‘English’ looked nice and was incredibly recognizable.
But I couldn’t be known as such on its own, I needed a first name.
As English has two syllables, and considering the parameters defined by the market, I only had enough space for one more and therefore needed a short ‘one syllable’ first name.
The first I thought of was Tom, which was short and went well with English. It also presented a chance to raise awareness for Tom Bombadil, who, much to my dismay, wasn’t included in the The Lord of the Rings films.
Not a bad first attempt I thought. The name sounded pretty writer-y and it had a comforting feel to it, but there was something about writing under a name completely foreign to my own that unsettled me. I wanted to hold onto and keep some kind of attachment to the ‘identity’ I already knew.
Again, I looked in on myself for answers and found ‘Ali’, as it’s a known nickname for Alexander. However there were also a few other reasons behind its consideration:
- First, Ali is pretty much universally recognizable and paired with English, it sounded like the greatest name.
- Second, Ali is kind of a unisex name from the Western perspective and could very easily be mistaken for a girls name, so that could improve marketability, appealing to both sexes etc (I know, it sounds hilarious but #marketing).
- Third, and most controversial, I thought that combining Ali with English would make my writing appeal to both the East and West, which was also driven by a marketing strategy.
However, since I’m Australian, I thought that it could be seen as cultural misappropriation, which was enough to make me throw away the idea. The name ‘English’ was also beginning to wear on me and although I thought it kind of fitting for a writer, decided to start over.
My next inspiration came in the most unlikely of places, when, for the first time, I watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I decided to watch it as part a recent campaign of mine, where I’ve been destroying my prejudices in an effort to discover personal biases.
To give you a fly-by review, I actually thought it was a great movie and was thoroughly surprised. I think I was mostly drawn to how slow it was and the way in which people spoke to each other.
Anyway, there’s quite a theme of identity throughout that movie, but in particular I related to Paul’s frustration at being called Fred, so I thought it would be funny to write under Fred Baby. It was nothing more than a brief flirtation, however, and somewhat indicative of the attitude I had developed towards pseudonyms in general.
And, as if to confirm this, one day I changed my name to Alex Ryan. It was four syllables and there wasn’t really anything wrong with my own name to begin with, and anyway, further deliberation was starting to feel tiresome.
If I’m correct, and I’m writing this in retrospect, I believe I thought that back in November last year, and if only I knew what was to follow it might have been the last thought I had on it.
The change back to my real name only lasted a few days, however, until my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to search whether there was any existing ‘Alex Ryan’ authors, which, unsurprisingly there was. Ironically, however, the main Alex Ryan wasn’t an Alex Ryan at all, but rather a pseudonym for the collaboration of two other authors.
After discovering that, my ego spoke up, insisting that competition with someone who wasn’t even real was absurd and beyond bearable. No offense to Brian and Jeffrey, who I’m sure are much better writers than I.
I wasn’t sure where to go from here and had begun to question whether or not my search for a pseudonym was masking my true intent and that I was, in fact, searching for an identity.
Then, in a Zoolander-like moment, I began to question my ‘Self’ and who, or rather what, I really was.
Who am I?
The line of questioning led me to a two part lecture series where Swami Sarvapriyananda investigated the question of “Who Am I?”. The length of the lecturers are three hours together in total and for those of you who are interested, you can find them in the links below:
- “Who Am I?” according to Mandukya Upanishad-Part 1
- “Who Am I?” according to Mandukya Upanishad-Part 2
It might seem a long time to spend on something, but when it comes to your identity, and particularly if it’s on the edge of crisis, you’ll look for anything, or anyone, to throw you a rope.
Although raised under the Christian faith, I now consider myself adhering to Eastern philosophies a lot more, and would no longer consider myself a Christian. That said, I wouldn’t consider myself a Buddhist either. In fact I would go so far as to say I’m not sure what I am — which likely contributed to this whole identity crisis, while also making it somewhat existential.
The lectures mentioned above focus on the Upanishads and specifically on the Mandukya Upanishad. The Upanishads are ancient Sanskrit texts that contain some of the central philosophical concepts and ideas of Hinduism, some of which are shared with Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
The Mandukya Upanishad is the shortest of all the Upanishads and it’s written in prose, consisting of twelve terse verses. It discusses the syllable Om, presents the theory of four states of consciousness and asserts the existence and nature of Atman (Soul, Self).
I’m not going to go into great detail on the text, as it’s not the main focus of this article, however, I’ll briefly explain it in the way that I understand it. It should be noted that certain people have dedicated their entire lives to fully understanding these texts, so I’m not pretending to grasp the entire meaning of this specific Upanishad. Nonetheless, enough comprehension was possible in my view to help with my mental development.
Hopefully you will be able to follow it and the evolution of my thoughts regarding it and the connections I make to identity and existence, but if not, the lecturers are there for you to explore for yourself.
The way the Swami explained, there are four states of consciousness, two of which you’re probably familiar. The first three states of consciousness are as follows:
- Waker (knower), one who experiences the Waking World
- Dreamer (knower), one who experiences the Dream World
- Sleeper (knower), one who experiences the Deep Sleep
The deep sleep is described here as a sleep blankness, where one does not know anything and experiences no dreams. Swami makes reference to the saying, I slept like a log, which basically means you experienced deep sleep with no dreams.
Now, these are conscious states which are experienced separately, but they all share something in common. Aside from these three states, there is a fourth. How do we know this? Because we say, I am the Waker, I am the Dreamer, I am the Sleeper. So the question then becomes, who is that I?
The Swami then explains that the I is pure consciousness and refers to it as Turiya, or the fourth state. The background that underlies and transcends the three common states of consciousness. He describes it as our true nature and that it does not exist apart from the other states, but in and through them.
He goes on to say that we are not the Waker, Dreamer or Sleeper, but actually, in reality, in yourself, you are Turiya, or, the fourth. And that instead, we, the Turiya, appear as either the Waker, Dreamer or Sleeper. To my understanding Turiya is not a state, but transcends this cage to encompass all. It’s reminiscent of what God says when asked by Moses for his name, to which he replies, I Am that I Am.
To help you understand it, here is a diagram, or visualization for what I’m talking about:
Turiya illumines the experience of the other three states of consciousness and it is in and through them all.
Okay, so that is as much as I will explain, again, I don’t pretend to completely understand it, but the idea fundamentally makes a lot more sense than a lot of other ideologies I’ve come across, so for now, it’s what I believe.
Come to think of it, Tom Bombadil could represent a physical embodiment of the idea of Turiya, adding to the speculation of who and what Tom is.
Although Tolkien sought to address the speculation in a letter, writing:
I don’t think Tom needs philosophizing about, and is not improved by it. But many have found him an odd or indeed discordant ingredient. In historical fact I put him in because I had already ‘invented’ him independently (he first appeared in the Oxford Magazine) and wanted an ‘adventure’ on the way. But I kept him in, and as he was, because he represents certain things otherwise left out. I do not mean him to be an allegory — or I should not have given him so particular, individual, and ridiculous a name — but ‘allegory’ is the only mode of exhibiting certain functions: he is then an ‘allegory’, or an exemplar, a particular embodying of pure (real) natural science: the spirit that desires knowledge of other things, their history and nature, because they are ‘other’ and wholly independent of the inquiring mind, a spirit coeval with the rational mind, and entirely unconcerned with ‘doing’ anything with the knowledge: Zoology and Botany not Cattle-breeding or Agriculture.
Additionally, and in support of Tolkien, Swami reveals that one cannot directly describe Turiya because any description introduces the idea of boundedness. So you see, if I am Turiya, but while I’m awake I’m Alex, then my illuminated identity of Turiya is Alex.
In so far as I could tell, my search for an identity led me to discover my true nature, however, in doing so, I caught my own reflection in the same puddle where the pondering began.
At this point I changed my name to Alexander7.
The idea came to me as I was lying in bed, and actually woke me up, as I was on the edge of sleep. It twisted out of the darkness in my minds eye and I could see lines begin to slide off it’s angles, like a geometric triangle taking shape.
The next morning I decided to explore the idea further.
It might seem odd to slap a number on the end of your name but the occurrence of the number seven is so prolific in my life that it verges on preternatural. So it’s difficult to distinguish who’s slapping who.
I was born on the 7th of the 7th, 1991, which is a Sunday, or the 7th day of the week. You would think that’s enough sevens to validate the application of it to my name, but I wanted to go further and dabbled into Numerology for more.
If you haven’t heard of Numerology, it’s essentially any belief in the divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events, along with the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas. It’s largely regarded as pseudoscience, and I can’t say I believe in it, but none-the-less it’s interesting to contemplate.
In the quest for more sevens, the first thing I calculated was my Life Path Number. You can do this by adding the numbers in your birthday and add the resulting numbers together. In my case, again, you end up with 7.
- 7+7+1991=2005 (2+5=7)
- 7+7+1+9+9+1=34 (3+4=7)
You can also derive the numerical value of a name using Gematria, a system of alphanumeric code that assigns numerical value to a word, name or phrase. Using an online Gematrinator I reduced my name (Alexander Ryan) to 7.
Additional meaning was coaxed from the name in the form of my ‘Expression Number’, which, for ‘Alexander’, is 3, and when added to 7 = 10 or 1, which is also my Balance Number.
Also, aside from the relevance of seven, I thought the name was a nice bridge between the world of letters and numbers. I’ve talked about how language shapes our reality before and it appears that mathematics makes up the actual underlying reality.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a bit of a junky when it comes to meaning, and not least with this latest creation. In fact, I was plastering myself and my identity with so much meaning at this point, I was liable to end up as a faceless manikin.
The origin and subsequent evolution of this identity/persona goes to show how, over a relatively short period of time, the complexity of an identity can grow. By this stage I was focused solely on its cultivation and began to think I had found what I was looking for.
I remembered the vision of the triangle and sought its elucidation in Microsoft Paint:
As I mentioned earlier, the name bridged the world of letters and numbers, and now, by incorporating all aspects, it added the third language of symbolism, which was rather aesthetically pleasing.
I then set out to explore this newly incorporated language and started to research what an upside down triangle meant. As was the case with my investigation into Numerology, I’m not at all versed in Symbolism, even though I’ve always had a general interest in the Occult.
It wasn’t long before I discovered Alchemy, and found that the classical element of Water was symbolized with an inverted triangle. The synchronization of all aspects was uncanny, given that I’m a Cancerian and the Zodiac element for Cancer is Water.
Everything was coming together in a kind of symphonic harmony, with all three languages woven to express a meaning beyond which any could describe on its own.
And then, I fell off the edge.
It was here that the identity creation process progressed to another stage which went on to shape much of the themes explored throughout the following weeks and months.
See, I was pretty confident that Alexander7 was the pseudonym I would go with, and set about changing all my social media profiles to reflect that.
And, as far as I can tell, it was specifically this action that made the change of name somewhat real, leading to visualizations of what it would be like to introduce myself as Alexander7 irl and subsequent thoughts of how ridiculous it sounded.
Accelerating the avalanche, I was also researching the process of self publishing and began to wonder whether, by writing under such an unusual name, I was making things unnecessarily difficult for myself in real life.
At that point, I felt like the Identity began to break down and the meaning behind it started to dissolve, almost as if it only ever existed in my head; alive in the same suspended intellectual state that I had also been living in.
The thought of introducing myself under such a pseudonym and subsequently having to explain its meaning, was enough for me to discard the entire idea.
Note: the above series of thoughts and revelations happened in rapid succession and were only meditated on retrospectively during an archeological project, which, dear reader, you will also make sense of retrospectively.
A good friend of mine once said in regards to human psychology:
“Peoples minds are messy places.”
Tulpas and the Integration of Self
Some years ago I read an article featuring Erik Davis, who mentioned Tulpas, an idea I had never heard of, but which I found utterly fascinating. It’s a concept whose foundations are found in Buddhism and which means, of a being or object which is created through spiritual or mental powers.
It’s still very much an underground culture, with various communities and of course a subreddit.
One such community describes the process as follows:
…you can create an entity in your mind, acting independently of, and parallel to, your own consciousness. They are able to think, speak and have their own free will, emotions, and memories.
The site goes on to add:
In short, a tulpa is like a sentient person living in your head, separate from you. It’s currently unproven whether or not tulpas are truly sentient, but in this community, we treat them as such. It takes time for a tulpa to develop a convincing and complex personality; as they grow older, your attention and their life experiences will shape them into a person with their own hopes, dreams, and beliefs.
It’s not to much of a stretch to associate this idea with Schizophrenia or a dissociate/multiple personalities disorder etc., however, the argument is that a tulpa is a carefully created psychological construct, whereas Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to understand what is real.
The original roots of the word are schizein (to split) and phrēn (mind), and given what I’ve written about in the past regarding attention, perhaps the only difference between both ideas is the knowledge of whether or not you’re participating. If this were the case, you could look upon a Tulpa as an Attention Integrator and if not developed correctly, could very well result in a splitting of mind or selves.
Schizophrenia is obviously more complicated than a simple definition, but keep in mind that such definitions are important. Japan recently changed the definition from seishin-bunretsu-byō (mind-split disease) to tōgō-shitchō-shō (integration disorder). The change of name increased the percentage of people who were informed of the diagnosis from 37% to 70% over three years.
This is an example of how language shapes the world we live in. Also, in my opinion, there is far less stigma associated with having an integration problem vs having a split mind. It’s almost as if Japan engineered the word with hope, giving individuals the option of re-integration, whereas the former definition is devoid of such a possibility.
During my exploration of the various facets of identity, I stumbled across Carl Jung, and even though I studied psychology in high-school, I can’t remember being taught about him at all and feel like we focused much more on Freud.
I did, however, know of his existence in the general sense and in my mind I had tethered him in fragile association with psychology.
Anyway, the following quote is in relation to Archetypes and the part they play in the development of individuals:
“For the sake of mental stability and even physiological health, the unconscious and the conscious must be integrally connected and thus move on parallel lines. If they are split apart or ‘dissociated,’ psychological disturbance follows.” – Carl Jung
Interestingly, between the years 1915–1930, Jung wrote a book called the Red Book, that recounts and comments on what he describes as his ‘most difficult experiment’. He would deliberately evoke a fantasy in the waking state and then enter into it as into a drama. Essentially he would talk to his own imagination. However, he had a rule; never to let a figure or figures that he encountered leave until they had told him why they had appeared to him.
Near the end of his life, Jung spoke about the Red Book and the process which yielded it:
“The years … when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time in my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.”
Even though I don’t understand the ideas of Jung in great depth, as I’ve only just discovered him, I can’t help but think that the idea of integrating your unconscious with your conscious sounds like it could help to resolve some of the mental health problems we’re seeing in society today.
On top of that, a lot of the ideas that Jung presents sound similar to the ideas talked about in the Upanishads. Anyway, the most important thing to note is that I was able to find way from the Upanishads, which are thousands of years old, to Jung, whose lifetime is relative to mine.
The importants of which is such that I’m able to identify more easily with Jung’s world. He lived through the early 1900s, which means I’m not dealing with a completely alien civilization.
On an somewhat related note, I’m developing conceptions around the benefits of finding historical figures that one can employ as mentors, therefore Jung’s discovery in relation to my current exploration of interests, could be an example.
We all encounter big influences throughout our lives and in contemplation of the ideas so far discussed, and with the search for a pseudonym in the back of my mind, I reflected on the first time I discovered Eastern Philosophy.
Who was Hermann?
It was three years ago, and I happened to be at home on the farm when my older brother James arrived from one of his many overseas trips. He had with him a curious little book, called Siddhartha, which he gave to me. I wasn’t much of a reader then, and I’m still a pretty terrible one now, but I read that book in a matter of days, over which time my eyes were opened to a whole new world.
In commemoration of that experience and with the intention of paying homage to the great writer himself, I then created the pseudonym Hermann Alexander.
I retained the Germanic spelling of the name in order to stay true to the original name and reference and there wasn’t any concern about feeling like an imposter either, as my grandmother was half German. Also, the return to a traditional first and second name displaced the unsettled feeling that had surfaced during my last attempt.
The name Hermann has various general connotations. Personally, when I think of Hermann I think of a very old man, who is most likely a hermit, which is what I feel like, and pretty much am. The associations must be somewhat collective, as my younger brother commented, “Hermann sounds like a 200 year old man”.
The etymological meanings behind the name Hermann and Alexander also go together quite well. Hermann means Man of War, coming from the Old High German heri “war” and man “man”. Alexander, a more common name, is known to have several variations on the meaning Defender of Men/People, and so it is, that I could become a man of war defending the people.
At that point, however, I felt like I was more at war with myself than anyone else, but if you pause for a moment to think about it, isn’t that exactly who we’re all fighting?
It’s often thought that a third world war could wipe out civilization, and given our experience with the end of WWII and the Cold War, no one really suspects this war to be mental, but I’ve got a feeling that’s exactly where the battle ground is.
As with my last identity ‘Hermann’ began to evolve rather rapidly and I even came up with a video intro to go with the Patreon page I’m building:
“Hello, my name is Hermann and welcome to the Hermitage inside my head”.
The idea was synonymous with and sought to embrace the following words from Hermann Hesse:
“Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time.”
The ambition was that I would publicly develop my sanctuary in the hope that it would inspire others to do it also, leading to better understand ourselves.
“Doesn’t your learning reveal to you that the reason why I please you and mean so much to you is because I am a kind of looking-glass for you, because there is something in me that answers you and understands you? Really, we ought all to be such looking-glasses to each other and answer and correspond to each other.” – Hermann Hesse (Steppenwolf)
I was so taken with the idea of building this sanctuary that I almost published this essay early, but in fear of neurosis, decided against it. The idea had been to publish it on the 31st of December 2017, allowing me to start 2018 as Hermann. However, something didn’t feel quite right and in hindsight I was just looking for a way out of the chaos I could feel myself falling into.
You see, throughout this experience I’ve engendered a slight, but terrible feeling that most of all of this is meaningless and after months of halfhearted attempts at ‘discovering myself’ I was beginning to feel like I’d lost myself in a nihilistic wasteland of undulating platitudes.
It felt like a nightmare that I used to have as a child, in which nothing existed but a swirling sea of TV Static. There was always an eerie silence, in which I couldn’t tell anything apart, and was left simply to drift in a feeling of hopelessness.
It’s not the most pleasant feeling to have, especially while awake in a world so full of meaning, as I was on the day it returned.
Up until that point I had been playing in intellectual sandboxes, and as such the vision took me by surprise, and gave me a real physiological feeling that made me want to throw up. I’m not being overly dramatic either, it’s really a wonder what you can feel while in an apparent state of well-being.
Also, when you’re exploring identity, to the depth and extent that I was, you’re almost paralyzed to do anything else, as it’s from your identity that everything begins and is built. So when the thought that what you’re doing is essentially worthless, just waltzes into your head, it’s difficult to ignore and even more difficult to overcome.
It wasn’t long before I came across Nietzsche, who I didn’t know much about, except for his being a philosopher. Forgive me, until recently I’ve been quite preoccupied and rather obsessed with making money, chained to the idea that I couldn’t explore what I was interested in before attaining financial security.
Anyway, back to Nihilism and I only needed to read as far as the following paragraph in order to set the course:
Interestingly, Nietzsche himself, a radical skeptic preoccupied with language, knowledge, and truth, anticipated many of the themes of postmodernity. It’s helpful to note, then, that he believed we could – at a terrible price – eventually work through nihilism. If we survived the process of destroying all interpretations of the world, we could then perhaps discover the correct course for humankind.
Hmm, destroy all interpretations, eh? … it didn’t sound like much fun to me, but I was intrigued and decided to look into such a radical statement and the man behind it.
One could argue that perhaps I needed to get to know Nihilism a little more before moving on, but I was at a point where I only really cared about the antidote. No longer particularly concerned about finding a pseudonym and instead seeking a resolution to the constant self analysis of the past several months.
Apparently there just might be a rainbow, and there’s also a chance that there’s a hoard of gold waiting at the end of it. The question was, who could lead me down this road to riches? The answer, at least at that moment, was Nietzsche.
He appears to have been a rather prophetic fellow, saying in regards to the experience of Nihilism:
I praise, I do not reproach, [nihilism’s] arrival. I believe it is one of the greatest crises, a moment of the deepest self-reflection of humanity. Whether man recovers from it, whether he becomes master of this crisis, is a question of his strength. It is possible. . . . (Complete Works Vol. 13)
Taking another excerpt from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the following hints at a possible step in the right direction:
… it is agreed that he (Nietzsche) suggested a plan for “becoming what one is” through the cultivation of instincts and various cognitive faculties, a plan that requires constant struggle with one’s psychological and intellectual inheritances.
In response to this and in particular how Nietzsche also talked about ‘finding your values’, I decided that perhaps the best way forward would be to write under a temporary name until I could find/create myself.
Nietzsche claimed the exemplary human being must craft his/her own identity through self-realization and do so without relying on anything transcending that life — such as God or a soul.
Again, I came back around to Identity, and regardless of any realizations I had experienced thus far, I felt far from exemplary.
As though to highlight this, by stumbling upon such a man as Nietzsche, and upon a path of Nihilism no less, the reaction is to assume that whatever it is you think you knew is a grain of sand in comparison to the beach on which he spends the Summer.
Therefore, in another attempt to escape and summarize my quest for a pseudonym, I thought that perhaps the answer was hidden in an abstract identity. One that would allow me time to study the pile of mounting homework.
Abstraction in Reaction
While on my expedition I came across another field of study, or rather, phase of a lifespan, called Emerging adulthood. It was first proposed by Jeffrey Arnett, a professor of psychology, in an article he wrote in the American Psychologist, entitled, Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties.
According to Wikipedia, it describes the following:
Young adults who do not have children, do not live in their own home, or do not have sufficient income to become fully independent in their early to late 20s. Arnett suggests emerging adulthood is the distinct period between 18 and 25 years of age where adolescents become more independent and explore various life possibilities. Arnett argues that this developmental period can be isolated from adolescence and young adulthood. Emerging adulthood is a new demographic, is contentiously changing, and some believe that twenty-somethings have always struggled with “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between”. Arnett called this period “roleless role” because emerging adults do a wide variety of activities and are not constrained by any sort of “role requirements”.
Now, as at 26 years old, perhaps I’m on the edge of such definition, although in fairness I don’t identify with all categories. For example, I don’t live with my parents, and therefore am not dependent on anyone, although I haven't bought the house I live in and wouldn’t have sufficient income to do so.
However, that’s due to my recent career change from finance into creative arts, which is like switching from Sushi to bread and water. It also likely classifies me under the roleless role, as I’m experimenting with employment options.
In addition, I tick the box of not having kids and I also live in Australia, which seems to be a classification as the demographic primarily describes people living in developed, or OECD, countries. There are various reasons put forward to explain this, including; significantly higher median incomes and educational attainment, lower rates of illness, disease and early death, as well as attitudes towards career and favoring it over marriage/family.
On top of this, Emerging Adulthood only occurs within societies that allow for occupational shifts, which makes a lot of sense, as we usually attach our identities to our job and if that job is questioned, the question of who you are soon follows.
Somewhat in support, although also in possible counter-position, Bruce Lee says the following in regard to maturity:
There is no such thing as maturity. There is instead an ever-evolving process of maturing. Because when there is a maturity, there is a conclusion and a cessation. That’s the end. That’s when the coffin is closed. You might be deteriorating physically in the long process of aging, but your personal process of daily discovery is ongoing. You continue to learn more and more about yourself every day.
As such, I would posit the hypothesis that what I’m currently going through is not restricted to an age bracket, but more so dependent on how stable the various identity axis are in your life. When considering the impact that technology is having on individuals’ jobs, whether they’re in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or even 60’s, it’s not difficult to imagine a destabilization of that axis.
After coming across this information, I thought that perhaps the answer to my pseudonymic search was to create a temporary kind of identity. Something that would represent my state of becoming.
The first consideration that fell into that category was Metamodern Man.
I first discovered Metamodernism around 2014–15 and was instantly intoxicated. It seemed to represent the feelings that I had at the time and still do. That said, if you know anything about my background, it’s certainly not in art/philosophy, so I never even studied Modernism or Postmodernism.
Because of this, I’ve got a very limited understanding of the context and complexities of Metamodernism, and, as such, my conceptualization of it must be taken with a grain of salt.
Below is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page:
Metamodernism is a proposed set of developments in philosophy, aesthetics, and culture which are emerging from and reacting to postmodernism. One definition characterizes metamodernism as mediations between aspects of both modernism and postmodernism.
I can’t remember specifically where I first came across the idea, although I will credit Luke Turner for setting my brain on fire with his Metamodernism // Manifesto and especially when I read the following:
 Just as science strives for poetic elegance, artists might assume a quest for truth. All information is grounds for knowledge, whether empirical or aphoristic, no matter its truth-value. We should embrace the scientific-poetic synthesis and informed naivety of a magical realism. Error breeds sense.
As I’ve alluded, there exists, within me, a struggle between what I know and understand regarding Metamodernism and what I actually feel. Part of me thinks I understand it and another part of me thinks I’m not an artist and I don’t really know what I’m talking about. Nevertheless, and although I’m perhaps not licensed to express a Metamodern perspective, I’m going to do so anyway and hope that I write a sentence of sense.
Taking into account the principles of Metamodernism, Metamodern Man, would be a temporary pseudonym under which I could write, as the identity that goes along with it would also be temporary in nature.
It would constantly oscillate between that which I know and that which I’m becoming, until such a time as I become more of who I am; kind of like how a quantum system in superposition must choose between one of two states, when measured over time.
On top of that, it’s a commentary on the idea of Turiya that I wrote about earlier. In a sense you could say that my state of consciousness oscillates between the Waking State to that of Sleep Blankness, all while alluding to a state beyond both while also being a part of them, i.e. Turiya.
It also speaks to the idea of Emerging Adulthood, as I evolve from being an uncertain form of nothing into a certain form of something. However, the ambiguity of what that form is, prevents me from being certain I’ll ever know, and, as such, I ascribe more to Bruce Lee’s perspective on maturity.
The assignation of an age bracket, from which one eventually escapes, and, outside of which, magically becomes ‘mature’, seems patently absurd to me.
In my mind, to be a Metamodern Man is something anyone can be, so long as they’re alive and ‘becoming’, which I think more or less includes everyone, supposing you aim to grow and evolve.
If I had chosen to write under the title, it would have only been for a number of years, or until I figured myself out and decided on my aim and who I was going to be.
See, one of the difficult things that I’m finding as I try to navigate through a change in career, is that I don’t know anything about the field(s) that I’m venturing into, other than I’m naturally attracted/interested in them. This poses the problem of being unsure of who you are in relation to ‘making something of yourself’ within those fields, but it also begins to establish where you’re positioned within the hierarchy, which thankfully strengthens the ‘who’.
Ultimately, the decision to discard the pseudonym/title was due to that very reason. I didn’t, and don’t, think I know enough about art and thought it presumptuous to claim such a title (not that I would have sought to stop anyone else from using it, the whole point was to abstract my identity, which would have been helped by others in that instance). Aside from that, I was afraid of restricting my identity to such a specific set of developments before I really knew what they were.
After my first failed attempt at abstraction, I began to re-consider a concept that I created around the 15th of January, 2015. The specific date remembered because I also registered a domain name along with it.
It was a name that was directly influenced by what I was reading in regards to Metamodernism, and it also represented how I felt about myself at the time.
The concept was created using Google definitions:
- (of a creative work) referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referential. (adjective)
- make or become unclear or less distinct. (verb)
- a thing that cannot be seen or heard clearly (noun)
The thought process behind it was that, I, as an individual, represented a creative work of art, which had the ability to refer to itself.
The prefix meta was used with the traditional sense in mind, which means that it differed from the way in which Vermeulen and van den Akker used it in their Notes on Metamodernism. However, in my opinion, that didn’t preclude it from being Metamodern, because I was referring to myself in the context of Solipsism, the influence of which could be traced to my reading The Kybalion around the time.
So although the meta in metablur was referring to myself, it was also referring to the world/universe as well, and therefore the addition of the verb blur meant that it created an infinite feedback loop between myself, the universe and back again. Expressing the sense that it was everything and nothing at the same time.
“We are the universe experiencing itself.” – Carl Sagan
In the context of being metablur, the following process was involved:
- Express your Self through writing
- Engage and interact with the world
- Resulting in a ‘blurred’ sense of self, which you then have to express again
It represented a kind of dance between myself and the world, with the next move hidden within the next interaction, leading to further revelations of Self.
Fast forward three years and I’ve moved on from a solipsistic view of existence and the best reason I can figure for my re-engagement with it, is that the domain was expiring and the email reminder simply coincided with my current investigation into the Self.
To elaborate and for those who are stuck on the idea of Solipsism, my choice not to participate and engage with the idea, as if it were true, was partly motivated by the fact that to hold such a belief creates an unstable and chaotic foundation to your life, and, on top of that, isn’t productive to your local ambitions.
It’s like hearing Elon Musk say that there’s a one in billions chance we’re living in base reality. Even though it’s an interesting idea and it makes you stop and think, you’re still presented with the choice to believe which it is.
In regard to my specific ambition of finding a pseudonym, I saw metablur as the ultimate abstraction into which I could escape the responsibility of an identity, but after a few days of deliberation I decided that ‘metablur’ looked, felt and sounded as though it would create distance between myself and others, which is the last thing I wanted as I traveled further into myself.
The NewPhilosopher magazine also had a piece of particular interest, written by Patrick Stokes, and aptly titled Finding and losing yourself.
In it, he exposes how odd both ideas are, writing:
“We set off to far-flung places on voyages of ‘self-discovery’, in order to ‘find out who we are’, and come back having ‘found ourselves’ without ever stopping to think just what that might mean.
“It’s a phrase that suggests each of us has some ‘real’ self out there waiting to be discovered, a core being that we set out to track down, like some pith-helmeted explorer hacking through the jungle with a machete before stumbling upon The Lost Treasure of Authentic Selfhood.”
It was after reading this and realizing that I was me and always had been, I changed my name back to Alexander Ryan.
During the first 2–3 weeks of January, I didn’t write a thing and considered deleting the entire essay as I had come full circle and wondered who in their right mind would spend an hour reading something so ridiculous?
But then I thought, ‘No. If this recounted story could help someone see what I saw or perhaps feel less alone, then it’s worth publishing.” And so, I soldiered on, and although I had yet to realize, I continued just as much for myself as anyone else.
As I began to work on a conclusion, however, old thoughts and feelings crept back to me, and I felt like any resolutions held were dissolving like sand castles, washed away on a rising tide.
The nihilistic thoughts again dampened my spirits and I turned to a Jordan Peterson lecture, titled Existentialism | Authenticity, in hopes of solace. JP had helped me think through and conceptualize things before and I thought that perhaps he could again come to the rescue.
It turned out to be exactly what I needed. There I was, writhing about in a cage of my own creation, and Peterson opened with the following:
“It’s very common for modern people, especially intelligent modern people, to identify themselves with the contents of their intellect. But that’s a strange thing to do in many ways because first of all, you’re not just the contents of your intellect. You’re also your emotions and your motivations and your body and so-forth and you’re embedded within a social context, but especially if you’re intelligent it’s tempting to identify yourself with the contents of your intellect. But there’s no reason to assume, whatsoever, that those contents are in fact congruent with the programming of your body or even with its natural inclinations. And that’s partly because the fact that you can abstract also means that you can learn abstractly. And that means that you can pull in concepts from the world at a level of abstraction that may have virtually nothing to do with you.
And that’s certainly the case if you’re educated, because you read all sorts of things. And, you know, the reading and all the investigating you do at an abstract level, allows you to have theories about ‘being’ and theories about your ‘self’, but there’s no necessity that those theories about being and your self have any basis in who or what you actually are.”
It was pretty incredible, to the point where I just laughed out loud at how ridiculous it all was. In seventy-two seconds Peterson had diagnosed the state of affairs and I was once again back in the reality of the real world.
He was right, I’ve essentially done nothing but write this essay for the past three months, developing intellectual identities with which to identify.
But that wasn’t all. Towards the end of the essay, Peterson proposed a kind of ultimatum to the nihilistic sinkhole I was in, saying:
[1:00:17]…here’s two options. One is, it doesn’t bloody well matter what you do, who the hell cares, it’s not going to matter in a thousand years and everything’s relative. Well you think, ‘God, nothing could be worse than that.’
Well, I can tell you something that could be worse than that, it’s easy. Let’s take the reverse. Everything you do matters. Okay, so what’s the downside of that? It’s like, you don’t get to get away with anything. Everything you do is important, it’s linked to everything else. It’s like, okay, now choose. You got a choice.
You can either choose to believe Nihilistically that nothing has any meaning. Well you get to be depressed and anxious and maybe you’re impulsive because that’s the only pleasure you can find, but the advantage is, you don’t have any responsibility. You can do anything you want. And a psychoanalyst would say, ‘Hmm, maybe that’s why you believe it.’ That’s a secondary gain, right. You think you believe it because you’ve derived it logically but you believe it because it’s in the interest of the worst aspects of you to believe it. Because it justifies sloth and cynicism.
Well the opposite is, ‘Yeah, what you do matters.’. It’s like, well why not believe that? Well, try believing it seriously and see what happens. If you take the existential claim seriously, one of them is, ‘You make a mistake, especially one that you know is a mistake, you will absolutely pay for it. And worse, you’ll never get away from it. And worse than that, it will domino out into the world. So not only will you pay for it, but the people out in the world will pay for it. There’s always a price. It’s like, well you decide which of those things is more terrifying.
I decided to opt for the second option, because, after all, the depression and anxiousness brought on by the belief that nothing has any meaning, has, in and of itself, a meaning. It’s just not a very nice meaning. And so, ironically, there isn’t really any point in being a Nihilist because you undermine your ability to believe through the experience of the human condition.
I strongly recommend watching the entire lecture to those of you who are going through similar feelings. It helped me a great deal and I was reading in the YouTube comments that it helped save someone from killing themselves. Which is interesting as it’s not often said of lectures, in fact, their effect can be quite the opposite.
After listening to it myself and contemplating the knowledge that was imparted, I decided that the most beneficial thing for me to do was wrap up the essay I had been writing and get on with living my life.
As a writer, I’ve learned a lot from writing this essay, and not only of the ideas I’ve written, but also of writing itself. It’s important to refresh, as I pointed out at the beginning, I’ve re-written the essay three times. It’s polished and makes a bit of sense now, but when I first began writing the essay, it was only ever meant to be written up to Hermann Alexander. I started writing it having made the decision that that was the pseudonym I would write under.
Therefore, the only time I was ever writing this essay with a clear idea of the ending, was then. However, as you read, I chose not to publish it back then and instead I flew into and out of abstraction until I found my way back to my own name again, and here we are.
At this point, writing the essay started to become as much a part of the whole experience as the actual experience itself. I hadn’t come to any conclusions and instead of trying to write another one, I decided to go back through the whole essay and weave it together like a tapestry of conscious thought. If I was going to publish anything that would make any sense, it would have to be that.
A daunting jumble of 10,000 words, with scattered ideas and half formed thoughts, confronted me.
Where to start?
The Existential | Authenticity lecture had pulled from the intellectual state that I had again drifted into and I was reminded of the first time I had been shaken from that almost virtual reality.
If you recall, it occurred whilst in the midst of developing the meaning behind Alexander7, at the end of which I briefly made reference to the meta-analysis you’re now reading, termed as an archeological project, and now here we are, making sense of that.
It must be noted that the progression from one pseudonym to another occurred so rapidly at times that I wasn’t aware of the details and there was something about the way in which I was jolted from my reverie that made me go back and investigate when it happened the first time. Asking myself exactly why I had suddenly stopped developing the Alexander7 identity.
Upon doing so I decided to revisit being that pseudonym for two specific reasons:
- the first was influenced by the above lecture which made me think that the pseudonym held far too much meaning to be ignored, and
- the second was based on the discovery that the real reason behind its dissolution was hidden in the fear of what others would think and also how an unusual name, which didn’t conform to the traditional standard of a first and second name, would actually make my life rather difficult
Taking into account the additional information extracted, I changed my name back to Alexander7 and set about completing the essay under that pseudonym.
Keep in mind that I had already tried to finish this essay while writing under the pseudonym Hermann, under which much of an ending had been written and now had to be re-written, which is the reason why this essay has taken so long to complete.
Also, I originally wrote about this experience chronologically, but, as you can imagine, the choice to revisit a pseudonym broke the linear continuation and resulted in a mountain of additional explaining (which is what you’re reading).
After changing my name back to Alexander7 I became re-invigorated and felt a sense of progress, which inspired me to write about Tulpas and led to the discovery of Jung, which was never part of the original essay.
I was writing with such radical transparency and truthfulness I was able to follow exactly where my stream of conscious (then unconscious) thought had flowed, tracing it back through Hermann and into and out of abstraction.
All the while I was writing my way back to this point in the essay and once I arrived I began working on an alternate ending which led me to question where the fear of others’ opinions actually came from, and within what mechanism it operated?
An alpha-numeric pseudonym is quite individualized and definitely stands out from the crowd. In the 8 months of being on Medium I haven’t come across anyone else whose done it and when I deliberately searched for numbers and people, the only result was NY Times writer Jennifer 8. Lee, who explains the meaning behind her name here.
The uniqueness of Alexander7 would no doubt garner attention purely because of its individuality. So what was it about that individuality that gave me an unsettled feeling and why did I want to run from it?
At this point in time I was writing down some pretty personal details, and the documentation had become so radically transparent, that the question of whether or not to publish the essay came up again.
Writing your thoughts out into a coherent stream of consciousness does have its advantages, however, some of the information I wrote revealed too much and because of this I decided that I wouldn’t publish the essay. The decision might sound a bit extreme after writing so much, but by this stage I had already obtained so much value from the experience personally that I didn’t mind whether anyone knew of it so long as I could grow and learn more about myself.
However, the process of bleeding out on a page is quite a cathartic way of expressing yourself, even if it’s only to yourself, and so I decided to continue writing for myself, fueled by the ambition to complete the essay and discover its ending.
You’re obviously reading the third edit of this essay, so it remains to be seen what made its publication possible, but I will note that the decision not to publish it at the time released me and made it possible to explore an idea that I had so far avoided — the Jungian Shadow.
Shadow Work and The Designed Self
I had encountered the idea of the Shadow numerous times but had resisted looking into it because I didn’t think it was really something I would want to write about. But now, since I was free and could be completely honest with myself, it felt like a natural progression.
I learned that the Shadow is a dark side to ourselves which we all harbour and which is a repression of all the character traits or qualities you develop as an individual that are deemed unworthy by society.
Jung said that to ‘complete ourselves’ we must seek to integrate this Shadow into our everyday persona by getting to know ones Shadow. Now, I’ll only be touching on it lightly, mainly to retain the continuity of the story, however, there are also two other reasons:
- Again, I’ve only looked into and understood the Shadow intellectually, and even though this has helped me to move forward, it’s a very superficial experience of a process which is said to take years, or even consistent work throughout your entire lifetime
- For anyone who knows anything about what a Shadow is, you’ll know it’s not exactly something you throw out on the Internet, as it’s a coagulation of all the things about yourself that you’ve repressed, which are mostly negative but can also be positive
I redacted pretty much all of what I wrote about my own Shadow in the third edit of this essay, and have only included the experience of it, because, as I said above, it was an important part of the story and led me to the final realization.
We all have demons. What separates us is our ability to recognize and try to integrate them as part of what Jung calls the process of Individuation. The main reason I’m trying to face my demons now, is that I believe that they’re somewhat manageable, or at least those that I’m conscious of.
It’s interesting to contemplate what one might be like if they failed such a process and were instead consumed by their Shadow. I visualize it ending in suicide, or, for those who aren’t capable of such an act, a slow death through the destruction of oneself with substances.
I wouldn’t put myself past the latter, to be honest with you.
Such a proclamation is not a threat, but it is a reality, which is why I need to figure myself out now and try to integrate my Self, lest it disintegrate first.
What’s interesting to note is that we live in a culture that places a high importance on public image, or persona, which results in an over-identification with ones persona.
The public display of that persona is most prevalent on social media platforms, the realization of which led me to delete both Facebook and Instagram, because of the perfectly curated alto-ego’s constructed there. I may re-create profiles again in the future, but for now, I’m instead re-focusing my energy towards sorting myself out.
If you’re interested in looking into this further, I would recommend an outstanding YouTube channel called Academy of Ideas and more specifically this video entitled, Introduction to Carl Jung — Individuation, the Persona, the Shadow, and the Self.
I bought and watched his two part series, titled, Carl Jung and the Shadow: Integrating the Hidden Power of Your Dark Side. It consists of two videos, with mp3 and PDF versions, which cost a total of $10 (USD). The first talks about how and why your Shadow develops, and the second talks about how to go about integrating it.
Unable to help myself and bubbling with new information, I conjured another pseudonym, even though I was still active on Medium under Alexander7.
This time it was the dark and mysterious Howl Hyde. A combination of Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, and Hyde, from Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It’s a play on meaning, which you may guess if you know the stories but I won’t go into it as I only briefly entertained the idea.
Initially, I wondered whether such an identity would allow me to explore my Shadow and perhaps even express parts of it, however, I discarded it when I had the revelation that the name was only a reflection of where my attention was directed at that moment.
I’ve recently learned that where, and on what, you pay attention, has an incredibly powerful effect on what reality you create for yourself and how it influences your creative works. The effects of which are no less evident in the innocuous task of creating a pseudonym.
The best way I can conceptualize this mechanism is through the idea of Ontological Design, or, everything that we design, in turn, designs us back.
When you’re trying to come up with a pseudonym you’re not necessarily thinking about designing it, you’re more so thinking about just coming up with a name that makes sense, but in a way that is design. You’re infusing it with meaning and that meaning infuses back into who you are, and in this case, what you write about.
Jason Silva puts it eloquently:
Everything we are, is emerging, is unfolding, is being created by the active engagements between mind and world and the feedback loops therein. Our creative and linguistic choices, transform, literally, transform our minds from within.
So from that perspective, you have to ask yourself, what would being Howl Hyde be like? What would it feel like? And where would it lead me?
I decided it wasn’t a very good representation of me as it only expressed a part of myself, which was certainly not positive or constituent of the whole. As such, it didn’t feel like it had a lot of growth in it and that’s what I was looking for.
The Eternal Return
And now for the final decision, which is slightly complicated. See, I initially wrote part of this section under the Alexander7 pseudonym, after thinking that I made the wrong decision to discard it because it was based on caring about what other people might think.
And, after spending some time looking into the Shadow and various Jungian ideas around the Self, I decided the pseudonym represented the most individualized version of myself that I could be, which cemented its re-adoption.
But that wasn’t the only reason. The original meaning behind the title of this section was in reference to the theory of Eternal Return and a fairly irrational moment in which I convinced myself that I would go forth and experience the narrative of having made the choice to be Alexander7.
I think it’s important to note that the above decision was made in a pretty emotional state, whilst feeling utterly spent and exhausted by the whole experience.
Thankfully, it was a solitary affair and a moment, now among countless others in history, swallowed up in the great silence.
It’s curious to think that one could get so worked up about something that doesn’t exist outside of their own head, but I think it was in part a reaction to the realization that the investigation had come to a close but also the affect of feeling as though I had the weight of the world on my shoulders because I had chosen to ‘be’ someone.
I saw all my plans stretching out before me on a path through the mines of Moria, and, after pulling myself together, I tentatively ventured forth with no further reflection, lest my mind fell back into the abyss.
Upon finding a resolution to my crisis and making a decision, I again skipped ahead and began working on the ending. I find that sometimes it’s easier to write the end of something before writing the middle and so, I went on to write all sections following this one as Alexander7.
They’ve since been re-written, as has this one, although the essence of what I learned can still be read. I’ve chosen to include these meta-details because it’s authentic to the original progression of thoughts and even though the final ending is now alternative, just bare in mind when reading the following sections that they’ve been influenced by my being Alexander7.
Before entering into this crisis of identity, I discovered another potential mentor by the name of Alfred North Whitehead. My interested in him was due to his hypothesis that there is no fundamental ‘stuff’ to reality, writing in his book, Science and the Modern World:
“There persists … [a] fixed scientific cosmology which presupposes the ultimate fact of an irreducible brute matter, or material, spread through space in a flux of configurations. In itself such a material is senseless, valueless, purposeless. It just does what it does do, following a fixed routine imposed by external relations which do not spring from the nature of its being. It is this assumption that I call ‘scientific materialism.’ Also, it is an assumption which I shall challenge as being entirely unsuited to the scientific situation at which we have now arrived.”
Before I started writing this essay I ordered his magnum opus, Process and Reality, but decided to leave my curiosity toward him alone as I didn’t think he would have much to say about my exploration of identity.
However, as I was writing the second ending to this essay, his name came up again and so I decided to include him in the adventure.
The following is an excerpt I read while writing that ending under the pseudonym Alexander7, which directly influenced my decision to change my name back to Alexander Ryan:
In Whitehead’s view, there are a number of problems with this notion of “irreducible brute matter.” First, it obscures and minimizes the importance of change. By thinking of any material thing (like a rock, or a person) as being fundamentally the same thing throughout time, with any changes to it being secondary to its “nature”, scientific materialism hides the fact that nothing ever stays the same. For Whitehead, change is fundamental and inescapable; he emphasizes that “all things flow.”
In Whitehead’s view, then, concepts such as “quality”, “matter”, and “form” are problematic. These “classical” concepts fail to adequately account for change, and overlook the active and experiential nature of the most basic elements of the world. They are useful abstractions, but are not the world’s basic building blocks. What is ordinarily conceived of as a single person, for instance, is philosophically described as a continuum of overlapping events. After all, people change all the time, if only because they have aged by another second and had some further experience. These occasions of experience are logically distinct, but are progressively connected in what Whitehead calls a “society” of events. By assuming that enduring objects are the most real and fundamental things in the universe, materialists have mistaken the abstract for the concrete (what Whitehead calls the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness”).
To put it another way, a thing or person is often seen as having a “defining essence” or a “core identity” that is unchanging, and describes what the thing or person really is. In this way of thinking, things and people are seen as fundamentally the same through time, with any changes being qualitative and secondary to their core identity (e.g. “Mark’s hair has turned gray as he has gotten older, but he is still the same person”). But in Whitehead’s cosmology, the only fundamentally existent things are discrete “occasions of experience” that overlap one another in time and space, and jointly make up the enduring person or thing. On the other hand, what ordinary thinking often regards as “the essence of a thing” or “the identity/core of a person” is an abstract generalization of what is regarded as that person or thing’s most important or salient features across time. Identities do not define people, people define identities. Everything changes from moment to moment, and to think of anything as having an “enduring essence” misses the fact that “all things flow”, though it is often a useful way of speaking.
Whitehead pointed to the limitations of language as one of the main culprits in maintaining a materialistic way of thinking, and acknowledged that it may be difficult to ever wholly move past such ideas in everyday speech. After all, each moment of each person’s life can hardly be given a different proper name, and it is easy and convenient to think of people and objects as remaining fundamentally the same things, rather than constantly keeping in mind that each thing is a different thing from what it was a moment ago. Yet the limitations of everyday living and everyday speech should not prevent people from realizing that “material substances” or “essences” are a convenient generalized description of a continuum of particular, concrete processes. No one questions that a ten-year-old person is quite different by the time he or she turns thirty years old, and in many ways is not the same person at all; Whitehead points out that it is not philosophically or ontologically sound to think that a person is the same from one second to the next.
A second problem with materialism is that it obscures the importance of relations. It sees every object as distinct and discrete from all other objects. Each object is simply an inert clump of matter that is only externally related to other things. The idea of matter as primary makes people think of objects as being fundamentally separate in time and space, and not necessarily related to anything. But in Whitehead’s view, relations take a primary role, perhaps even more important than the relata themselves. A student taking notes in one of Whitehead’s fall 1924 classes wrote that:
“Reality applies to connections, and only relatively to the things connected. (A) is real for (B), and (B) is real for (A), but [they are] not absolutely real independent of each other.”
In fact, Whitehead describes any entity as in some sense nothing more and nothing less than the sum of its relations to other entities — its synthesis of and reaction to the world around it. A real thing is just that which forces the rest of the universe to in some way conform to it; that is to say, if theoretically a thing made strictly no difference to any other entity (i.e. it was not related to any other entity), it could not be said to really exist. Relations are not secondary to what a thing is, they are what the thing is.
It must be emphasized[why?], however, that an entity is not merely a sum of its relations, but also a valuation of them and reaction to them. For Whitehead, creativity is the absolute principle of existence, and every entity (whether it is a human being, a tree, or an electron) has some degree of novelty in how it responds to other entities, and is not fully determined by causal or mechanistic laws. Of course, most entities do not have consciousness. As a human being’s actions cannot always be predicted, the same can be said of where a tree’s roots will grow, or how an electron will move, or whether it will rain tomorrow. Moreover, inability to predict an electron’s movement (for instance) is not due to faulty understanding or inadequate technology; rather, the fundamental creativity/freedom of all entities means that there will always remain phenomena that are unpredictable.
The other side of creativity/freedom as the absolute principle is that every entity is constrained by the social structure of existence (i.e., its relations) — each actual entity must conform to the settled conditions of the world around it. Freedom always exists within limits. But an entity’s uniqueness and individuality arise from its own self-determination as to just how it will take account of the world within the limits that have been set for it.
In summary, Whitehead rejects the idea of separate and unchanging bits of matter as the most basic building blocks of reality, in favor of the idea of reality as interrelated events in process. He conceives of reality as composed of processes of dynamic “becoming” rather than static “being”, emphasizing that all physical things change and evolve, and that changeless “essences” such as matter are mere abstractions from the interrelated events that are the final real things that make up the world.
The search for a pseudonym simultaneously lost all meaning while becoming more meaningful than ever. I could be one or all of the identities explored and it wouldn’t matter. It was all simply a choice of what I wanted to experience.
And so, I decided to change my name back to Alexander Ryan simply because it’s the closest representation of who I am in reality, and beyond that, it became clear to me that the real Eternal Return was the repeated realization that I was in fact, myself. Something that had been revealed to me three times while writing this essay.
Even though it was now obviously the only decision left, it was still rather difficult to make because it once again rendered most of what I had written meaningless and presented me with a seemingly hopeless task of transcribing the experience onto paper.
However, the decision to be myself actually enabled me to step outside of the Alexander7 character and write about the experience as though I was observing it from the outside, which made the publication of the essay again possible.
The decision to write under Alexander Ryan (which by now almost felt like a pseudonym itself) was actually a lot less emotional than the decision to be Alexander7, probably because it’s just easier to be yourself than it is to be anyone else.
I had returned from my far-flung voyage of self discovery only to discover what it meant and realize that my most authentic self was a guy who sits at his desk every day and writes an essay about Identity.
And what of that essay?
Well, you’re reading it aren’t you, so it must be finished? I suppose it is, although it’s gone through various stages of evolution in order to become what it is today.
It’s not really anything like what I started with, however, I do want to keep some of what I’ve written, so I’ll ask you to kindly continue onto a topic which I began to explore while originally ‘becoming’ someone else in this section.
Responsibility and Co-Created Meaning
To become someone, to really take ownership of yourself and become an individual in the world, means taking on a whole lot of responsibility. The act of which means also means becoming a leader in order to develop an ability to bare that responsibility.
I first began thinking more deeply about leadership two years ago after reading an essay written by Anna Montgomery, titled, Metamodern Leaders: 21st Century Avant-Garde. I’ve probably read it 5–6 times since, and if read, you will notice its influence on my work.
In it, she explores the innovation of leadership, co-created meaning and the creation of a complex self-construct. Although all of those themes are visible throughout this essay, of specific relevance now, is the idea of co-creation and the reality that one does not really have a choice over what their identity is and that it is instead negotiated between you and other people.
Although I’ve created pseudonyms, and applied various meaning to them, there’s no knowing how they would be interpreted and subsequently whether or what they would morph into.
At the moment my identity is preserved in some sort of cocoon, which is synonymous with how developed my public identity actually is. Until now, I haven’t really taken on the responsibility of being anyone. Sure, there is an idea of who I am, however, it’s far to complex for me to currently understand, let alone represent in a complete state.
My decision to start being has taken me on an adventure to discover who I actually was to begin with and now I’m opening up the dialogue to others and welcome any feedback on who it is people think I am, and also their thoughts on the following questions:
- Which one of the pseudonyms did you like?
- Do you write under one yourself?, and if so, why?
I’m sure there are benefits to a pseudonym. I mean, I felt like I was able to write more honestly when writing under Alexander7, which is rather ironic because I wrote all the Jungian Shadow content under it and in hindsight it’s almost as if I was masking myself from myself.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to again contemplate George Orwell and Voltaire. Both had reasons to hide their identity because of their socially unacceptable behavior. Almost as if they were escaping their repressed ‘real world’ identities in favour of an identity which was free from themselves.
I think you can probably learn from being different versions of yourself and in some cases doing so might give you the ability to express yourself in ways otherwise inaccessible, take Tony Clifton AKA Andy Kaufman.
I’ve found that if you experiment with your identity and nurture the ability to express different parts of yourself, it’s also possible to start seeing yourself in others as well.
One of the most transformative things that I’ve read while reading Jung, is the following:
“Everything that irritates us about others, can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
After reading that, and taking mental notes on what/who annoyed me, I was revealed to myself several times through other people, which was really quite enlightening but also rather confronting.
If it’s one thing I’ve learned through this experience, it’s that when undertaking any Self study or critical analysis of oneself there’s a risk of falling into a deep neurosis that suffocates the life from you.
Personally, I can usually navigate my way out of neurosis with a ‘Fuck it’ attitude, but that’s hardly a healthy long term strategy, as it doesn’t cultivate much conscientiousness.
There’s a video of JP talking specifically about how to overcome neuroticism, or at least begin to manage it, in which he talks about cultivating your conscientiousness, which is the personality trait of being careful and vigilant.
One could argue that the essay you’re reading is quite low in conscientiousness, as it introduces a lot of ideas which the writer is not familiar with and therefore not at liberty to write about, however, I will say that the point of this essay was, and is not, concerned with its information, so much as the way in which I came across that information.
Identity Experimentation and Finding Direction
Earlier I mentioned an article interview featuring Erik Davis. His response to the following question sums up my experience and also presents the key to it’s resolution:
“The phrase ‘follow your weird’ has been associated with you. What do you mean by that?”:
It’s what I did instead of getting a normal job. I followed weirdness and wrote about it. The exploration of the unusual became a way of being. Most of the interesting people I’ve met did the same thing; characters like Terrence McKenna and Robert Anton Wilson — those guys were very good at following their weird.
To me, this period of life is one for experimentation and exploration, not only of your world but of your Self. The Self doesn’t wait either, it’s developing every day, with everything you do and see.
My recent focus of attention has taken me to the very edge of chaos where I’ve discovered the maximal amount of complexity I have the strength to absorb and that I now seek to integrate.
It’s come as a surprise that I’ve fallen head over heels into identity exploration, but none-the-less it’s proven to be interesting and I personally think I’ve made progress.
As is evident in my other writing, I spend a lot of time experimenting with different parts of my life and it didn’t occur to me until after the second edit of this essay, that that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with Identity.
Sometimes the greatest experiments are those you’re not even aware you’re participating in. The above experience has shown me that much like anything else in your life, Identity is just another thing you can both play with and be at the same time.
What makes this experimentation different from the others is that it’s subjective and depends a lot on the internal feelings of the individual, your world view, beliefs, values and morels etc. The exploration of various types of identity can actually help you to further strengthen and expand on these and even clarify what they are to begin with.
The more I looked into Jung’s ideas the more I can see similarities to them and Quantum Physics. I won’t go into further detail on that here, as it’s spawned a whole other essay, but suffice to say it provided me with insights into the interpenetration of the Individuation Process, Quantum Entanglement, and Metaphysics.
One of Jung’s ideas that really connected with me was the symbolic communication from the unconscious in the form of dreams and visions.
However, another, perhaps more subtle method of communication, is Synchronicity and cultivating your ability to notice things in your everyday life that shine, sparkle or grab your attention.
One might think that given Jordan Peterson’s rise in prominence, the fact that he’s a clinical psychologist, and the many references he makes to Carl Jung, that he is responsible for sparking my interest in Jung, however, that wasn’t the case.
I didn’t start watching JP until late November, however I took the below screenshot back at the beginning of October, which in a way was prophetic to this entire experience.
I remember thinking, ‘Hmm, that’s an interesting idea, I didn’t think Jung was anything like that.’ and I took the shot to remind myself to look into it later, and then forgot about it until I began researching synchronicity.
Was it a mere coincidence, or perhaps a sign of things to come?
Another example, although perhaps classified as more of a communication from my unconscious, the message of which I’ve only just deciphered, was hidden within a piece of art.
Alfred North Whitehead said that ‘Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self.’, which goes some of the way towards explaining why it was that I was inexplicably drawn to this piece of art by Ruben Ireland.
I bought it at one of those posters and prints shops about three years ago for reasons of which I wasn’t quite sure, but something about it spoke to me and I’ve kept it in my bedroom ever since.
There’s a certain submission in the immediate impression, from her downcast look to the way her mouth is covered by darkness, which expresses an inability to speak. I believe that in order to grasp what she’s trying to say, the observer must look into her eye, which simultaneously expresses a defiant but calm nature and collected state of controlled reflection.
Looking again at her whole being, you might notice that the submission has been replaced by a distant, almost untouchable nature, wholly unconcerned by the possibility of such a reality.
In light of what I’ve learned, perhaps there could also be something deeper — a meaning more analogous to the Conscious and Subconscious relationship, represented by the light and dark.
Here, although the conscious mind appears to have control, it is actually the subconscious that has it. An interpretation that can be correlated with Jung’s model of the psyche, represented in the below diagram:
In reference to the artwork, the aspects in light are representative of her consciousness, the Personal Unconscious in dark represents her Shadow and the Collective Unconscious is represented by what we cannot see (outside of the frame).
I’m not sure, but this could be why I was originally subconsciously attracted to it at first glance. Either that, or I glimpsed my Anima reflecting the unknown back at me.
Being relaxed and confident in expressing yourself is notoriously difficult in today’s society and even discouraged to a degree, in my opinion, because of the flaws revealed when one does so.
I’ve noticed that through my growth and discovery, I’ve become more understanding of others and slower to judge someones way of being. In fact, whenever I see someone doing something authentic I’m immediately attracted to it and go out of my way to encourage and support them, because I know how much one has to overcome to begin to feel confident in sharing themselves.
Beyond this, I’ve noticed that I’ve learned to encourage and support myself more, as opposed to discouragement and self-sabotage.
Earlier I introduced myself to Nietzsche, and when I first heard that Nietzsche had prophesied that millions of people would die, I thought that it would be due to a third world war — however, I’m beginning to think that it could be by the hand of themselves that vast numbers of people will die.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way and it’s not very hard to find evidence. It’s an often quoted statistic that 800,000 people die every year by suicide and it’s the second leading cause of death in 15–29yr olds.
We all hide things from others, as well as ourselves and it’s our inability to express, or integrate them, that could possibly explain the rise in these statistics. Perhaps the lack of attention given to integrating our Shadow side and subsequent lack of Anima/Animus development, leads to apathy and death.
For me, life is worth the ups and downs, the love and hate. It’s an experience, just as death is also an experience. What’s important is that, when alive, you give yourself the chance to experience it, wherever it takes you.
As I begin to create, it’s sad to feel like there is an inevitable tsunami of hate fast approaching those creations. However, a comforting thought to bear in mind is that just as with the formation of tsunami’s, it is likely the result of a tectonic shift in understanding.
My current intuition is that I shouldn’t express my thoughts so publicly, as I haven’t undertaken any formal study in psychology or philosophy and that my thoughts feel undeveloped and perhaps in their current state could actually damage me.
However, I’ve decided to express them regardless, as I’m in a state of becoming and I take comfort in knowing that I don’t know everything.
I think this feeling of hesitation is particularly pertinent in the current social infrastructure we’ve built, which engenders a fear of putting ourselves and our beliefs out there. It’s almost like the notion that if you or your beliefs are not perfect or completely developed, then they’re not valid.
Although, as Aristotle pointed out:
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
Here, I’m not suggesting that I’m educated, but rather that I would consider those who are reading this to be educated if they can entertain my ideas without my requirement of rigorous research and/or a degree.
You may notice that a lot of my references are from Wikipedia, and I’ve done that because it’s free information and it’s how I always begin my research. I don’t spend hours pouring through Scientific Journals or the like, so it’s not what I’ve presented here. Part of the reason is because this essay marks the beginning of my research into the various fields, so the research is of a cursory nature to develop context of the big picture, however, the other part is that I want to trust people. I think it’s important to build trust, and yes we have blockchain now, but it’s still vital to build trust outside of technology.
Also, the way in which I’ve discovered the information presented has given me incentive to conduct further research/study along the lines that my natural curiosity has taken me, which, in other words, is a direction (something I certainly wasn’t sure of when starting university).
Ideas and Belief
One thing I have to be careful of here is which, if any, of the ideas I’ve discussed throughout the essay, I actually believe in.
As Jung said:
“People don’t have ideas, ideas have people.”
Speaking to this, and although it’s a nice idea, I don’t know if I can believe in Reincarnation. The main reason being, I don’t feel like I’ve come from anywhere, I simply exist.
The closest approximation to how I feel is found in a passage from H. Rider Haggard in his book King Solomon’s Mines:
“Listen! What is life? It is a feather, it is the seed of the grass, blown hither and thither, sometimes multiplying itself and dying in the act, sometimes carried away into the heavens. But if that seed be good and heavy it may perchance travel a little way on the road it wills. It is well to try and journey one’s road and to fight with the air. Man must die. At the worst he can but die a little sooner…
Out of the dark we came, into the dark we go. Like a storm-driven bird at night we fly out of the Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of the fire, and lo! we are gone again into the Nowhere. Life is nothing. Life is all. It is the Hand with which we hold of Death. It is the glow-worm that shines in the night-time and is black in the morning; it is the white breath of the oxen in winter; it is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself at sunset.”
I think that those words are so beautiful and perfectly capture the essence of life, but I can’t help but think there’s something else, some kind of evolution that one can attain beyond death. I mean, death itself is just another idea that we’ve created in order to better understand life.
It’s an ending, which only makes sense if there was ever a beginning. So what of transcendence?
We’re always pushed to question things and usually the automatic response is turn on ourselves and what we know, which in my case and in relation to religion, was Christianity. It’s really just an idea, the same as Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam are ideas. What separates them, and in a sense, what transcends their nature from ideas to something more is our choice to believe in one of them.
The act of superimposing our beliefs on top of ideas, is, I think, the single most powerful process we humans have access to.
When I began looking into Eastern religions I started to identify more with the ideas and concepts within them. They were new and altered the individualistic perspective I had developed under Christianity but I’ve come to feel like a lot of religions are more or less the same.
That said, there are lessons to be learned, I just think we’re foolish to divide ideas up into such separate categories. It just creates unnecessary conflict. Idk, I’m off topic.
Religion’s are important, I think they’re almost necessary to have but at the end of the day I think they’re all just guides on how to be.
And this is part of the reason why I’ve chosen to no longer believe in Reincarnation, at least not absolutely, perhaps it exists alongside other possibilities. I have a sneaking suspicion that whatever you believe without doubt actually manifests itself after death, which is why I’m careful about what I believe. Part of me thinks there’s some evolutionary aspect to our experience that we’re yet to figure out, although perhaps past civilizations have.
I feel like I’m looking for a new religion, but I’ve grown to cynical to believe in the traditional ones available, so I’ve taken up Meditation and Calisthenics instead. But then again, it’s easy to say you believe in this or that and a different story to actually believe it.
Anyway, the point is, ‘ideas’ are powerful. So it’s important that you pay them attention and whether or not they’re an accurate representation of what you think.
A Final Realization
With hindsight of the third ending I was able to see that there existed another, broader tension within me between the identities of Artist and Professional.
Some years ago I wrote the following sentence:
“The world is a dream composed of ideas found crashing against the shores of our imagination.”
I spent over two hours writing it and in my opinion it’s one of the better things I’ve written, but it was a pretty strange thing to write considering that I was trying to come up with something to put in my bio for a profile I had created on Fiverr.
Then again, who actually knows what to put in bio’s anyway?
Personally, I’ve always found the line between creativity and professionalism to be pretty blurry and I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve stumbled into these questions of identity.
I’m currently transitioning from a traditional form of employment to freelance and in relation to identity, I’m constantly moving between defining myself by the business I’m building, the role of freelance writer and who I am personally.
So when it came to my LinkedIn profile, I didn’t really know what to say.
I’ve never really put much effort into the platform but have re-invested in it recently because of its publishing feature, as I was trying to increase the exposure of my work.
I re-published my piece on the future of employment, given its relation to a professional networking platform, but the problem was, I couldn’t get over how I couldn’t change my name on the platform (then writing under Alexander7), or that I couldn’t create a separate ‘author profile’ on which to publish my work.
As such, my online identities weren’t homogeneous across platforms and it created a feeling of anxiety. I couldn’t make things perfect, and whats left of my OCD kicked in and created a neurotic agitation that I couldn’t shake. I had experienced it once before, but that was with social media profile usernames, this time it was different.
LinkedIn is different.
LinkedIn is the professional networking site, it’s not social media. Its something to use in order to connect to other professionals.
But what if it’s not? The older I get the more dubious I become of who or what a ‘professional’ is.
I felt stuck again, but instead of throwing away the progress made, I decided to look into the origin of that feeling, which I had defined a ‘neurosis’.
I find that sometimes words are used within language without the user really knowing what they mean and they’re instead expressed because you’ve heard other people use it in a similar context. ‘Neurotic’ was one such word that I never really knew much about except that I thought it vaguely meant ‘thinking/behaving in a fixed or obsessive way’, which is not necessarily its meaning.
As such, I decided to take a bit of time to look into it and try to find a way out of this trap I kept falling into.
Considering where I had already found answers, I conferred with Jung to see what he thought, who readily informed me that he had a theory on it.
Here’s a Wikipedia introduction:
Jung’s theory of neurosis is based on the premise of a self-regulating psyche composed of tensions between opposing attitudes of the ego and the unconscious. A neurosis is a significant unresolved tension between these contending attitudes. Each neurosis is unique, and different things work in different cases, so no therapeutic method can be arbitrarily applied.
In appropriate circumstances the unconscious attitude can directly oppose the ego’s attitude and produce all manner of neuroses. These situations arise when the conscious attitude has been unable to recognize and effectively integrate issues important to the attitude of the unconscious.
Of which Jung said:
It may perhaps seem odd that I should speak of an “attitude of the unconscious.” As I have repeatedly indicated, I regard the attitude of the unconscious as compensatory to consciousness. According to this view, the unconscious has as good a claim to an “attitude” as the latter (Jung,  1971: par. 568).
When I thought about this, with regard to identity, the opposing attitude of my unconscious could be linked to ideas I have on ‘universal thought’ and that to apply a specific identity to myself could be directly attributed to my ego.
Which would explain my desire for an abstracted identity and the contrasting desire to ‘be’ someone which possibly led me to go back and re-consider Alexander7 as it was a half-human/half-abstract pseudonym. I think I saw it as more of a representation than a name for referential purposes.
Regarding the tension, ‘Jung considered the divided psyche normal even though it manifests itself pathologically in neurosis and, more especially, in psychosis.’
As a matter of history, it was the study of dreams that first enabled psychologists to investigate the unconscious aspect of conscious psychic events.
It is on such evidence that psychologists assume the existence of an unconscious psyche — though many scientists and philosophers deny its existence. They argue naively that such an assumption implies the existence of two “subjects,” or (to put it in a common phrase) two personalities within the same individual. But that is exactly what it does imply — quite correctly. And it is one of the curses of modern man that many people suffer from this divided personality. It is by no means a pathological symptom; it is a normal fact that can be observed at any time and anywhere. It is not merely the neurotic whose right hand does not know what the left is doing. This predicament is a symptom of a general unconsciousness that is the undeniable common inheritance of all mankind (Jung, 1964:23).
He hears and does not hear; he sees, yet is blind; he knows and is ignorant (Jung, 1964:33).
I’ve noticed a re-current theme throughout this essay, a contrast between two selves or places of existence. The Conscious and Subconscious, the Online and Offline. The material world and the immaterial online space.
The Internet almost feels like a place, a suspension in time and space that allows us to create idyllic versions of ourselves. Creating a tension between that which we display and that which we are.
Herein lies the suffering. Our direct experience of life in the form of a temporal being includes exposure to the ravages of time while simultaneously being able to express and display ourselves outside of it, which creates a contradiction, naturally giving rise to the creation of another self.
The key thing I came to understand is that this ‘other self’ exists on a completely different plane. On the Internet, the laws of nature are refracted, and, therefore, so are the versions of ourselves that we display there.
So then the question is, who is this false self and where has the true self gone?
It’s the same question I originally asked myself at the beginning, however, given what I’ve learned, I’m beginning to think that perhaps there is no true self and we simply don’t have the capacity to comprehend, let alone the tools to create, such a representation.
While writing the second ending to this essay I decided to go on a little holiday to visit a friend.
He happened to be in the process of finding a job and had been handing in his resume to various places etc., so I decided to ask him his thoughts on LinkedIn.
As he’s three years younger than me, and spends more time on social media, I thought perhaps he could give me an interesting perspective.
He replied that he didn’t really see the point in it, elaborating:
“I’ve applied for over 30 jobs online and haven’t received a call back and I’ve received a call for every single job I’ve applied for in person.”
‘Perhaps LinkedIn isn’t so different after all’, I thought.
And if so, then what does it mean to have a professional profile online? Is there a professional me and also a part of me I’m hiding because it’s ‘unprofessional’?
The question got me thinking about the Jungian Shadow vs the projected Persona and it suddenly struck me that perhaps online profiles, whether they’re social media or professional, are actually Technological Tulpas.
It was certainly a revelation that, in light of what I have learned, raised questions around what it means to create an online self, and has led me to question how healthy it is to pour so much energy and attention into our online presence.
However, even though it was thought provoking, I couldn’t help but wonder whether any of it actually mattered and that perhaps it’s just important to be aware that you’re creating those psychological constructions.
The technologies of today, although extremely beneficial in many ways, have shown us our own infancy. We’re essentially a group of inter-generational pioneers, traveling into our own minds. And it’s okay that we’re still learning, but it’s important to realize that we are.
According to Nietzsche we’re headed for suffering, with which a lot of us currently have an undeveloped means of copying. What I have outlined here, whether or not I meant it, is a method for doing so.
Over the past several months I’ve been traveling through a forest in my mind but living in a desert. When embarking on adventures into oneself, and exploring your mind, it’s hard to see progress on the surface. Any real progress I’ve felt, is represented in just that; a feeling.
It’s taken me about three months of working on this essay every day to get to this point and it’s common for a reader to ask what are the lessons learned, and in this case, how any of them can be applied to life in a practical sense?
It’s also tempting for the writer to try and sum up the experience into ‘main points’ or a ‘big takeaway’, however, as my editor pointed out:
“Why must there always be one main ‘takeaway’? Do you like to eat takeaway? Is knowledge as trashy as takeaway food to you?”
And so, although I will give you some personal growth points, the following will outline what it is that I’m intending to do in the following months and why.
I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from publishing so I can focus on reading, which is a habit I’ve struggled develop. All good writers should read and to start with I’ll be making my way through the 100ish articles in my Reading List. I’m living in a time where being a writer, especially if you’re writing online, means developing a culture around yourself and cultivating relationships that support and help you, and others, to grow. So it’s about time I invested more of my time back into the community.
But it’s not like I’ve completely neglected you. Although it’s been tempting, I’ve suspended further research into the ideas I’ve discussed in order to preserve the first moments of insight for you.
You see, one of the most important aspects of my developing mindset is that you must be honest with yourself and others about where you’re at in your development.
It’s okay not to have all the answers, or any at all.
The key here is truth and that it be your truth. It doesn’t have to be objectively correct because maybe you don’t have all the information. But if you can express the state of your being at a particular point in time, it could possibly guide you to the next step.
Throughout this investigation into the Self, I’ve discovered two of my historical mentors, Carl Jung and Friedrich Nietzsche, that will guide me on my path in the steps ahead. Also, my copy of Whitehead’s book Process and Reality arrived the other day, and, after the publication of this essay, I’ll be paying it quite a bit of attention.
I’ll need your help in deciding what to read of Nietzsche though. I’m tossing up between Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, and Beyond Good and Evil. To those of you who have read either, or any of Nietzsche, what do you think?
When confronted with the task of choosing something from Jung, however, I was baffled. If I was to take the advice of his editor, I should start with the Red Book, but I was also interested in Volume 9 of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, titled, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self. But before I could make a choice at all, my brother James returned to me, and, unaware of what I had been working on, presented me with the last book Jung published, Man and his Symbols, which is an introduction to Jung for the non-specialist.
Coincidence? I think not …
Now, you might be thinking, ‘Big deal, anyone can read a book.’, and that’s true, but I’m reading incredibly specific books, written by specific people. And the reason for doing so gets back to the ‘historical mentors’ philosophy I’m developing.
I’m incredibly under educated compared to the above individuals and part of my philosophy is that you can improve your level of education by simply investing time into the lives of others. I’ve based the philosophy on historical people who have died, because the body of work they’ve created is of a complete and fixed nature, which makes it easier to study and harder to tamper with. #fakenews
I would recommend studying people within the last 200 years because they’re relevant to the time that we live in and could hold answers to some of the problems we’re facing as a civilization. It’s all about progress really, and the first step is to follow your curiosity because it will lead you to the questions you want answered and help you to discover who you are.
We’ve arrived at an interesting point in history. Given the increasing standard of living we’ve got a lot of time on our hands to think, and we’re only going to get more. I can visualize a future with a Universal Basic Income which will allow us time to work on ourselves. And, contrary to the opinion that when humans are given free money they will do nothing but watch Netflix, I believe that we have an innate drive to create and contribute. I also believe that a UBI should not be a permanent income and instead people should be given 12–24 months in order to ‘figure themselves out’ and start contributing to society.
Because the Internet we have access to virtually limitless amounts of free information, and in case you’re not aware, that’s actually a pretty big problem. It leaves us vulnerable to a paralysis of possibilities, not to mention that it’s a pretty quick hope, skip and a jump into Nihilism.
So the question becomes, how can we overcome this and figure out how to utilize the information to improve our lives?
In my opinion, the second step is to slowly develop the ability to express your real thoughts and feelings. For me, and I’m guessing it’s the same for others, I feel most comfortable doing that through writing.
The important point I’m wanting to convey, is that if you want to learn more about yourself, it means that you have to be radically honest and transparent with yourself.
I’ve potentially sacrificed myself by publishing this essay because there’s a chance I’ll be written off as a bit of a mad man, but I’ve chosen to take that risk and share the insights anyway.
We’re inherently afraid of what we don’t understand. And that’s especially applicable of ourselves. Look where you least want to and trust me, you’ll find the right questions.
“Not Ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.” – Alfred North Whitehead
There seems to be a lot of chaos and conflict in the world right now, and I’m beginning to think it’s merely a reflection of the relationships that we have with ourselves.
“Well my sense is, is that if you want to change the world, you start from yourself and work outward because you build your competence that way. It’s like, I don’t know how you can go out and protest the structure of the entire economic system if you can’t keep your room organized.” – Jordan Peterson
Some of you might be wondering, ‘Okay, but why do you have to figure it out in front of everyone? Why is that part important?’
Well, it’s important because it creates gravity around you as an individual and that gravity is important because it pulls you together with a semblance of being. So it’s important if you want to be, and be recognized for who you are, which is equally important. People need to know who you are, and to some degree, what you’re up to.
And, more importantly, so do you.
During my travels I watched another video from the Academy of Ideas, this one titled Nietzsche and the Will to Power. It mostly talks about metaphysics and the rise of Materialism as the prominent paradigm.
Whitehead also features in the video and the narrator tells us that he called for the development of a new metaphysical system, saying:
“The field is now open for the introduction of some new doctrine of organism which may take the place of the materialism with which, since the 17th century, science has saddled philosophy … Such a displacement of scientific materialism, if it ever takes place, cannot fail to have important consequences in every field of thought.”
The narrator then goes on to say:
In order to create such a metaphysical system, Whitehead thought it was necessary to utilize a source of knowledge that is intimately accessible and familiar to us. One which scientific materialists completely ignored, that being, our own experience.
It’s my terribly uneducated opinion that one interpretation of what is meant by your experience being important with regard to a metaphysics, is that your own experience gives you a referential point from where your being can be developed.
It means exploring and expressing yourself in whatever manner comes naturally. For me, it’s through writing. Of course not everyone is naturally comfortable expressing themselves openly because they’re just naturally less open and perhaps have a higher sense of conscientiousness. That’s okay, but I’m more open, so I’m just setting out a way of doing things for people like me, I don’t really know the answer for anyone who’s not like me, so maybe those people who disagree with this method can set out another method where mine falls short.
Anyway, I believe that if people can express their every-day desires and motivations, in the form of stories or through related experience, it might translate to a form of progression that leads us to the next stage.
Of course, all of this is merely theory or perhaps a guide to navigating your mental landscape and none of it matters unless it enables you to live a good life.
So, what of my life? How has the investigation served in its enhancement?
First, I’ve deleted both my Facebook and Instagram. I don’t really have anything against other people being on it, I’ve simply increased my awareness around what I think it means to actually develop an online profile, which could be wrong, so do what you like I guess.
Second, I’ve taken up Meditation as a result of tackling these questions. By reading this essay you’ve been given some insight into the way in which I worked through things, and it probably reads as a complete mess but as my friend said, “peoples minds are messy places”. I’ve meditated for 10 minutes at the start of every day for the past three months and not only do I believe it’s good for you, I think it’s necessary.
Coincidentally, just as I was completing this essay, Andy, the Headspace guide, started talking about Self and Identity. One idea in particular resonated with me. ‘We can’t use the Ego to get rid of the Ego.’
Third, I understand those people on Grand Designs who, when asked if they would build their own house again, reply with ‘no’. I don’t necessarily regret this experience, but the timing of it was unfortunate and I was incredibly ill-equipped to answer some of the questions I was asking. Then again, I suppose we all come into this world rather ill-equipped.
Fourth, I discovered that Nihilism is real. So real in fact, that I think it’s probably the biggest problem facing our society today. I saw future narratives that scared the hell out of me and made me sick to my stomach.
And when I think about it, music was the only thing that really saved me from my Nihilistic depression and I think that it possibly holds the answer to us all collectively overcoming it.
Without music, life would be a mistake – Nietzsche
Fifth, and perhaps the most re-current theme of this experience was the understanding that I am not my mind. Once you realize that, you just want to get out into life and live it. So I’m going to do just that and dance about in the hope of seeing a flower that reveals the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.
Sixth, as with most of my other experiments I was simply left with a greater sense of awareness. ‘Awareness’ is kind of funny, it’s such a buzz word these days that it’s become easier to say than to actually feel. I’ve recently started to actually feel awareness more, perhaps because I’ve made it possible to reflect on my own experience through writing. The ‘Technological Tulpa’ idea is an example of this. It might not be true for others, but the idea has given me a alternative perspective on what online profiles are and their possible effects.
That, to me, is increased awareness.
Seventh, throughout each meta-analysis of this essay, I’ve come to understand my own thought process at a deeper level and even started to see some patterns within it. I’m currently reading Ray Dalio’s book Principles, in which he attributes his success to being radically transparent and truthful and I’ve come to realize that by writing in such a way I’ve shown myself some of my own characteristics. There are several examples in this essay of repeated signs, which, if meditated on, could be categorized and used to develop a guide to navigating my own mind.
One of the aforementioned ‘offshoot’ essays that I plan to write based on this experience will be an investigation into those signs, the analysis of which will be used to develop my own principles. A practice which Dalio recommends we all start doing.
Eight, I’ve learned that pseudonyms, like most other things I’ve studied, are a tool, and could, in themselves, be seen as a weird kind of Attention Integrator.
A name shapes the way you think about things and also how you express yourself. The very nature of a pseudonym acts as a mask to ones true identity, which can, at times, be of benefit not only to the bearer but also for those who yearn for the message that only those who hide have the courage to share.
I think that anonymity is important, especially in today’s world where you can still be killed for saying the wrong thing. But I also believe that, in paradox, transparency is equally vital, perhaps if not for others at least for yourself.
Ninth, my relationship with ‘change’ has improved greatly. I think I struggle with absolutism and trying to find something that feels substantial enough to trust, but the law of change always destroys it before I can build a relationship with whatever it is. It’s probably also the reason why I was trying to find an ‘absolute identity’ to work from.
To me, it feels like the paradigms, structures and systems of our society are dissolving right in front of us and we’ve been left to build meaning from the rubble lest we be thrown into the depths of despair.
I know, it sounds dramatic, but I believe there’s some truth to it.
We so readily distract ourselves from the abyss that we can no longer feel it’s gaze and instead run toward it with reckless abandon. We’ve created a fairly stable society in which to figure out solutions to our problems, but if that dissolves, so might our chances of finding them.
If you want to help in preventing such dissolution, I would recommend, as Peterson has, that you start with yourself and work outward. JP’s actually part of a team that’s developed a course that helps you to begin such an undertaking. I plan to work through it over the next few months and perhaps I’ll publish part of it in a future essay.
In closing, a word of advice from myself to those of you who are thinking about attempting the enterprise of mental development:
Simplify your life.
As Gustave Flaubert said:
“Be steady and well-ordered in your life so that you can be fierce and original in your work.”
- Clean up your room
- Follow Curiosity
- Tell the Truth