The Psychoanalysis of Self-Awareness and Understanding Yourself

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In everyday life, there is no moment that passes without us changing: my body changes, my character changes, my opinions change… And yet we consider ourselves and others like a unique person even though we are constantly changing. But then, “who am I?” Consciousness is the capacity to represent ourselves and the outside world. As explained by Christof Koch “Consciousness is everything you experience.” (What is consciousness?) This is both what puts us in touch with the world and with ourselves. Another notion we use is unconscious. The unconscious is a hypothesis formulated by Freud which designates an instance of the external psyche independent of the consciousness which determines us without our knowledge. This hypothesis makes it possible to explain what consciousness can account for. Like Freudian slips or dreams. As designers, we can use Psychoanalysis to understand and evaluate which products are the most suited to our clients. People change every day and it is crucial to consider this in the process of design. First of all, we will see why designers have to understand psychoanalysis to create a user-centered design. Secondly, we will explain the point of view of Descartes saying that we are a conscience. Then, we will see Freud's theory arguing about the fact that we are determined by our unconscious. Finally, we will describe Sartre thought: “I am freedom”.

We can say that our consciousness is directly linked to everything we do right down to the objects we buy. Our mind, “ that guides us in a great part of what we do, that guides us in the choices and decision making, and that consequently also guides us in the use of the interfaces and other products in our day-to-day”. We as designers need to get to know the people that we are designing for. We cannot expect our products to be useful and valued if it does not fulfil a need our requirement. Psychoanalysis can become a direct link between mind and product, user and designer. The main aspect of any design is its usability, any product should fulfil three main aspects as explained by the Interaction Design Foundation, it should be easy for the user to become familiar with, easy for the user to achieve his/her objective and finally the interface should be easy to recall on the subsequent visit. Any great design requires usability which is directly linked to user experience “which is all about understanding and adjusting according to the psychology of the user.” (Chugh, he Psychology behind creating user centred Design)

Living in society gives each individual a specific identity: birth date, first name, last name, sex, social status, family status, and nationality. This is called a social identity. This identity allows us to live in society because it is easier to relate to each other. It's not enough to define yourself. Because first of all, it's not enough to know someone well. Hence the inner identity. René Descartes explains the fact of being who I am by 'I think, therefore I am'. Which means that even if I do not know exactly who I am, I know at least that I am a thought. This is the only certainty I can have about myself, I can doubt everything but not because I doubt, not because I think, not because I exist. Descartes also said that 'I knew that I was a substance the whole essence or nature of which is to think, and that for its existence there is no need of any place, nor does it dependent in a material thing… that is to say, the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from my body.” (Descartes, Discourse on Method IV). In the vocabulary of Descartes, thought is what we call consciousness, that is, the faculty of representing what is happening in our minds. For him, man knows himself as a conscience, that is to say, that the only thing he really knows is to be a conscience. Descartes thus posits an equivalence: thought equals consciousness equal Psychism. The answer to who am I according to Descartes is: I am a conscience.

Consciousness defines the human being but it does not help me to define myself as a unique person. Is my interiority reduced to consciousness? A revealing slip is a word that one does not want to pronounce basic and that one says in the place of another. It is called revealing because it reveals an unconscious, hidden thought that the consciousness does not see. We can then ask what is the status of this unconscious, in relation to our identity?

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Is Descartes telling us that consciousness equals psychism? We have an imaginary relationship with ourselves, for example, when we say 'I' or 'me', we think that we’re transparent to ourselves. And it is not Freud who will tell us the opposite. In his book “Introduction to psychoanalysis” he says: “The Ego is not master in its own house' (Freud, Introduction to Psychoanalysis, 1916). Self-awareness is not enough to answer the question 'Who am I?”. Because consciousness is a surface effect of the unconscious, the tip of the iceberg. We cohabit with another in us.

The unconscious is an area of our interior, unknown to the consciousness. But Freud shows that it is our unconscious that determines our conscious thought. And to achieve this he will distinguish three instances of the psyche: the Id, the Superego and the Ego. Id is constantly trying to satisfy sexual urges, libido and mortal impulses. They are unconscious and obey what Freud calls 'the pleasure principle'. Then the Superego, it prolongs the influence of our parents and society, it is the unconscious internalization of parental and social prohibitions. The Superego equals censorship. And lastly, the Ego, it is the surface being who makes the referee between the requirement of the Id and the prohibitions of the Superego. The Ego serves to transform the Id drive into a moral and social accepted desire.

We can, therefore, say that we are determined despite ourselves by an unconscious that decides everything for us. If we follow this hypothesis of the unconscious, the only way to know this would be to succeed in interpreting this unconscious. It is possible through the mediation of psychoanalysis that allows the unconscious to rise to the surface to become aware of it. We can, therefore, say that psychoanalysis allows us to understand what determines us to know us better. How much is the lucidity I have about what determines me enough to know me? Am I only what my subconscious does to me?

With Freud, to know oneself is to know what determines us. But is not man free to become what he wants? For Sartre, 'Man is defined only by his freedom'. To explain it he will analyze a simple object: the scissors. A chisel is an object that has a utility that the craftsman knows before making it. The essence is the concept of scissors, which precedes and determines its existence. It must be thought and defined before being manufactured. Since its existence corresponds to its essence. We can not make scissors if we do not know what it is. So the essence precedes existence. But the Man is not an object, it's not a concept conceived by a craftsman. For Sartre the Man is not defined in advance, he is not determined to be what he is because at the beginning he is nothing. He exists first, and only then, he defines himself by his acts and his choices. The Man is, therefore, the only being for whom 'existence precedes essence' (Sartre, existentialism is a humanism, 1946), it is built throughout its existence.

The answer to 'who am I?' It would then be devoid of essence, there is no fixed self to which one can refer. Instead of a species or a model, there is only one void. But Sartre defines this anxiety as the feeling of freedom. And the peculiarity of anxiety, unlike fear, is that it is not about a specific object. We are afraid of spiders for example, or clowns, but in anguish, we discover that what anguishes us is ourselves in our indeterminacy. Also for Sartre, there is another important fact is bad faith. For him to be in bad faith, it is to deny his freedom to escape anxiety, to invent an essence, to imagine an unconscious that determines us to appease this anguish of being free. For example when someone says 'I'm shy, but it's not my fault it's my nature' for Sartre it's a lie. Bad faith is an attempt to lie to oneself.

To conclude, to become self-aware is to doubt any exact and definitive answer to the question 'who am I?' I can become aware of what I am only when I accept that I am not what I believe to be and that I am always free to be something else. Psychoanalysis is, therefore, the study of human beings then we can relate it to design in a way that before creating any goods or services, the designer has to understand the user mind works, psychoanalysis is then a manner of interpreting different behaviours to improve the user experience.

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