THE FEAR OF BEING UNKNOWN
April 1, 2022
Let’s look back. Before everything.
You witness the Big Bang bring space and time to fruition. You wait billions of years, and galaxies start to form. A few billion more pass, and the Milky Way galaxy is born. Constellations form. The sun forms. The earth and moon form, everything forms. Then comes the miracle child: life. Give it enough time to develop and evolve. Eventually you’ll stumble upon the crown of creation…
Humans happen. Humans develop. Society evolves, and culture colors the lines of history.
And well, along the way, you’ll find humans pondering their own existence. Which is, arguably, fantastically pointless because of humanity’s relative insignificance. Organisms born with brains, cursed with consciousness, dwelling over their impossibly small lives, trying to justify the space that they’ve filled.
You’ll come upon a woman, in a coffee shop, at 7:33 p.m., just now realizing the fact that nobody knows her.
I mean, of course people know her. People know her name. Her birthday. What city she lives in. What school she goes to. What sport she played in high school. Her parents know what hospital she was born in. Her sister knows her middle name. Her brother knows which room is her bedroom. Her friends think she’s happy-go-lucky. Her best friends know that she romanticizes optimism as a coping mechanism.
But that’s all. No one really knows her. Nobody knows the “true her.” Whatever that is. Is she saying this just to satisfy some… individuality complex? No, nobody knows the version of her that exists in her own mind. Nobody knows what she is thinking at this current moment. Slim chance, seeing as over 99.999% of the world isn’t even aware of her existence.
She thinks that this makes her sad. The fact that she is alone in awareness. It scares her. No matter how much she wants someone else to understand her, she will never be able to be fully understood by an entity outside of herself. She could overshare to oblivion, write a thousand-page novel about how she thinks and works and feels, have someone pore over it, and still not be fully understood.
Then you realize it’s not just her. The entirety of humanity shares this condition. No one truly knows anyone to the fullest capacity. Because their minds are not transparent, humans are confined to infinite secrecy. They are perceptible only to a limit.
You turn away from the woman. Only she knows what she knows—what she is thinking, feeling, loving, and hating all in a moment.
But to everyone else, she is subjective. Her reputation is defined by how she is perceived. And people only perceive in angles and bits and pieces. That’s all they can do.
And this is why she takes up hobbies, takes up friends, takes up religion—to fill in that identity and purpose hole that exists in her own mind and in the minds of others. A lot of the things she does, you observe, are attempts to create character—to define herself with actions, careers, achievements, and so on.
Whether or not she is truly in control of her own identity does not matter. No, she’s taken it upon herself to try to control her meaning and give definition to herself.
Isn’t it interesting?
She begins to write…
“There will always be parents and siblings, friends and best friends, therapists and mind readers, astrology and personality tests. But no one will truly know who I am.
And what’s more, even I don’t understand myself most of the time.
And this has to be a collective experience. Why?
Well, I think the existence of art is enough evidence to believe that humanity has realized its complexity.
Why do we laugh? Why do we cry? Why do we love? Why do we like surrounding ourselves with things we enjoy? Why do we sacrifice? Why does betrayal hurt so much? Why are we smart enough to ponder but not smart enough to arrive at conclusions? Why do we feel jealousy and guilt? Why do we write poetry? Why are we obsessed with our image?
This haunting unawareness is why I believe people are drawn to art. Music, poetry, paintings, literature, and the like. Songs about heartbreak, love poems, tragedies, comedies—they all exist as forms of imitation. Art imitates human emotions, experiences, and dreams. They replicate and capture feelings. They’re cathartic triggers, bookmarks of life, emotions manifested into a medium that can be digested.
And I know that I will never truly be able to understand every human in detail, but if all of art is an attempt to know or to be known, I will never stop listening to music, studying poetry, visiting art museums, and searching fiction.”
She stops. She smiles and is satisfied. She is satisfied with seeing herself on the screen. She decides to publish her thoughts on an unimportant website on the internet.
You turn away and admit, it must be interesting to identify yourself—to see yourself outside of your mind.
In a weird way, you sort of hope that someone stumbles upon what she wrote. In hopes that someone will find comfort in commonalities.
Because they’re there, we can take comfort in partially understanding one another.
We can still wink at the parallels. We all breathe. We all shiver when it’s cold. We get sunburnt. We flush when we’re embarrassed, and we bleed when we fall. We love things, and we hate others. We all live, and we will return to dust.
We are all portions of the universe attempting to understand ourselves.
And perhaps… in the most basic sense, we aren’t truly unknown.