Philosophy of Selfies


We’ve all done it: that arm’s-length, high-angled facial snapshot (at least before the creation of rear-facing cameras) — but why? Are we really that selfish?

I peer into a mirror
To see just who I am
As the image fades it becomes clear
I may not ever understand

It’s tempting and simple to state yes, we are super-selfish creatures who are just totally in love with ourselves. Then I could introduce Ayn Rand’s worship of selfishness and reignite that age-old friction between service and self. However, methinks the issue runs a touch deeper than simple facial fascination.

Any talk of selfies must include a look at Self. The following is a modified excerpt of a fuller sketch concerning the true Self:

What we are serves as the outer shell of Self, given its objective essence. What we are is pretty much what’s written on our drivers licenses. Below the shell of what we are lies the core of who we are. This core is to what most people refer when they say “me” or “I”: an unseen entity molded by memory, our collective passions and fears, idiosyncrasies, and those culminating facets of our selves that define us.

In the common meaning, who we are is a unity of all of these. The parts combine to define an individual as, say a scientist or singer. Yet even this is not we who truly are, deeper down…

It is tempting to say the Self at its core is merely the will. But the will is merely the outcry of some deeper Self. The will is what we want, what we desire. The will is but expressed through force of action upon an external world — yet this will itself emanates from a deeper core creature.

We now approach the heart of my analysis:

The true Self is a static, unseen, willful, and perceptual entity.

Regardless of the Self to which most refer when using the term, it is my contention that the true Self is basically an unseen entity that never itself moves, yet expresses and reveals itself through thought and deed. We can travel to Mars, but our true Self remains seated the whole time.

This true Self is also perceptual, having the capacity to analyze, synthesize, and categorize experience. Furthermore, something like intelligence is merely a tool we possess. Sex is merely the payout from a gamble with the genetic lottery. Memory is merely the stored series of life events and knowledge to which the true Self has access.

Emotions, too, though they often run deep to the core, are merely indicia of a preexisting creature capable of expression. We’ve all felt emotions, yet had the will to overcome them. How then can we overcome ourselves? How can we disobey our own emotions if we are our emotions?

All these elements commonly associated with Self are secondary, and simply color the character of our primary being, the true Self, or are simply tools we may use.

Enter in the recent selfie phenomenon — voted the 2013 word of the year. No doubt there is much psychology (some take selfies for want of acceptance) and sociology involved (taking such photos has become an acceptable social norm); however, it cannot be the case that mere egotism and cultural influence account for all the reasons why we take selfies.

Based upon the work above concerning Self, following is my supposition:

Insofar as we possess the capacity for self-reflection in terms of observing our own thoughts and actions, we also possess the capacity for self-reflection in terms of seeing a separate entity mirrored in the external world.

The fascination with selfies may be due to the fact that we objectify our appearance, for better or worse. It may be because while on the surface physical beings that grow and decay throughout time, we may just be clamoring to chronicle our lives before we die.

Yet this all has a few implications: One, that we ought to give the Self more respect than it often receives. Matters that concern the Self are often made of lesser significance compared to other moral principles such as utility, duty, and altruism.

Another is that there is a part of us that exists beyond the physical (not simply mind-body dualism): When you snap a selfie, it’s not always the case that you are goo-goo over yourself; it’s likely because you are viewing a second person. You are not your reflection. You’re the operator behind that reflection, just as interested in that image as someone else might be.

To those who actually do take selfies because of a fascination with their looks, it may also be the case that insofar as you are not a physical creature, insofar as you are really a nonsexual entity [I’ll return to this issue later] that just happened to be born into a male or female body, you might actually be attracted to your outer self that walks the earth.

Social media have become very voyeuristic. We watch other people and want them to watch us. Whenever interacting with another Self, we are always at least two orders removed: your outer self stands between your Self and the outer self of another.

When we post selfies, we are so fascinated because we’re really watching someone else.

I think.