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With the introduction of the smartphone and front-facing cameras, the selfie, or self-portrait, has become an incredibly popular phenomenon with millions of photos taken every day. But why do we take selfies? Blogger and neuroscientist Joshua Sariñana explains in this guest post.

The Origins: Selfies are ancient

The selfie dates back to 10th century England when St. Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, created a self-portrait of himself worshiping Jesus – that’s 1,200 years before the modern camera was invented. Today, the self-portrait is simply the selfie, and instead of elaborate paintings or long-exposure film, a selfie happens with a mobile phone and goes global in an instant via social media.


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Modern philosophy: Selfies & our ability to function

Western philosophy is based on the idea of thinking about thinking, which is basically the human consciousness that sets us apart from other species. French thinker Rene Descartes started to explore the idea that we could be aware of our own existence, and became famous for the phrase “je pense, donc je suis,” or “I think, therefore I am.”

In the 1930s, fellow French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, noted that we, as conscious beings, are heavily aware of the unpredictable future. This causes great anxiety about uncertainty, and the very state of being alive and “conscious” makes us anxious because we can’t control the future—and then perhaps nothing else as well.


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So what can we control?

The selfie may be only pixel deep, but it is a way for us to preserve our sense of self. Selfies are, in a way, their own mirrors: they show our image for the world to see as we want to be seen, and they safeguard against the fear of losing control of our minds and lives.

Selfies, as it turns out, are one of our natural instincts to reduce anxiety.

What do you think? Are selfies essential to our well-being, or are selfies at the risk of becoming devalued and silly? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

Joshua Sariñana is a neuroscientist, photographer and blogger. Check out his EyeEm portfolio and website to see his more of his images as well as writings about the brain, photography and culture.