The Reality Institute

Why-to have a name:

The universe is an endless canvas of things and those things blend seamlessly into one another, making it difficult to differentiate them. Almost serendipitously, perception makes it possible to call out what appear to be sensory borders between the elements of the larger canvass in such a way that we may label them, categorize them and refer to them in speech.

Among those things are human beings, or Homo sapiens, which fall under the genus of Homo, family of Hominidae, suborder of Haplorhini, order of Primates, class of Mammalia, phylum of Chordata, kingdom of Animalia, living between the Middle Pleistocene and now on the planet Earth in the Solar System of the Milky Way Galaxy within the Local Group on the outskirts of the Virgo Cluster, within the Virgo Supercluster, which is a lobe of the greater supercluster Laniakea, situated at the basin of the Great Attractor, which is in the universe, which may be possibly one of many within a larger multiverse.

When speech was just beginning to percolate in the nervous systems of humans way back on the African plains some 100,000 years ago, it probably made sense to distinguish between the individuals within a pack. Perhaps the tribe grunted at a specific member in such a way as to form a nickname based on his or her or zir body hair. That way, when descending on a mammoth during a big hunt, it was possible to indicate, “Hey, Harry, you get his left leg and I’ll get the right.”

Why-to gain self-awareness:

Somewhere along the line, names may have helped human beings develop self-awareness. With someone calling you the same thing all of the time, you eventually come to identify yourself with that utterance. You can imagine Harry peering directly into the reflection of a pristine lake—before manmade toxins were routinely deposited into it without fear of legal retaliation—and seeing his or her or zir face peering back.

At one time, Harry’s face, covered in hair, is a part of a pristine lake looking upward and a part of the icy sky above looking below. Language is still new and, so, may not cloud Harry’s mind with anything that might force his or her or zir conception of the world into a narrow set of linguistic parameters. As if a single point at the peak of a precipice, that individual scratches his or her or zir chest and recognizes him or her or zirself as Harry.

In order to keep track of various collections of people, surnames also developed, sometimes referencing individual bloodlines or entire tribes so that, when encountering another herd of humans, one could introduce his or her or zirself, “I’m Harry Henderson of the Ebbsfleet Hendersons.” This trend of naming people has since continued into the present moment, at least in this universe. Names have gone on to carry with them historical and familial significance, referencing professions or honoring deities.

Time moves slow, so, there still exist some of these trends of the past, but, at the time of this writing, names have become quite flexible. A name like James Taylor may allude to a character from a holy text and James’s family roots in tailoring, while a name like Del the Funky Homosapien might be invented by the individual himself.

Why-to name oneself:

In the vast majority of scenarios, a person is given their name by someone else before they’re even given a chance to form a sense of identity. Therefore, some individuals take it upon themselves to create their own names or have others do so, upon reaching some level of self-awareness.

A case in point relates to the victims of the African slave trade, which saw many displaced peoples from the African continent violently and forcefully brought to new lands as subjugated labor. In the United States, enslaved people were often made to take their white slavemasters’ names.

Free from the chattels of their inhuman masters, former enslaved individuals often changed their names as a symbolic means of self-ownership, a practice that was passed down to the descendants of slaves, as well. For this reason, some people will name themselves, like human rights activist, Malcolm X, who said of his name change, “For me, my ‘X’ replaced the white slavemaster name of ‘Little’ which some blue-eyed devil named Little had imposed on my parental forebears.” After traveling to Mecca and separating from the Nation of Islam, X later went on to change his name once again to el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz. He said at the time, “When you become [a true] Muslim, you don’t look at a man as being black, brown, red, yellow. You look at him as being a man.”

Similarly, heavyweight boxing champion and activist Muhammad Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay upon his conversion to Islam. Of the act, Ali said, “Cassius Clay is a name that white people gave to my slave master. Now that I am free, that I don’t belong anymore to anyone, that I’m not a slave anymore, I gave back their white name, and I chose a beautiful African one.”

He even named his son Muhammad Ali Jr., which resulted in his son’s detention at a U.S. airport in 2017, due to the Islamophobic Muslim ban instituted by former reality game show host, President Donald Trump.

On top of that, people will earn a series of nicknames throughout their lives, with each one almost as significant as the rest.

I’m named after my mother’s cat, Michael J. Cat. My middle name is Daniels, after my grandfather and about four other Daniels Hamants before him, plus a whole host of Bostonians with the last name Daniels before them.

My last name, Molitch-Hou, is strange not because it’s the combination of my father’s last name and my mother’s, but because my mom actually got her name from a previous marriage to a Taiwanese man. So, everyone expects to meet someone who looks at least half-Chinese when they meet me. My dad’s name is Russian Jewish, truncated by Ellis Island officials when my family fled the violence of Russia, imposed by the Czar, in the early 1900s.

I like my namesakes—the cat, my grandfather, Mr. Hou (though I’ve never met him, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt

Why-to give someone the benefit of the doubt:

From all outward appearances, it doesn’t seem as though any of us asked to be born. At least, I don’t remember asking to be born and I have not yet come across anyone who consciously remembers asking to be spontaneously formed by the joining of sperm and ovum.

Why-to ask to be spontaneously formed by the joining of sperm and ovum:

I suppose it’s possible that, before one becomes a blastocyst and grows into a human being, they could somehow will to be born. Say, as an energy, a piece of some lifeforce that is guided through a colorless chasm of interdimensionality to a uterus that has just experienced implantation or a test tube about to fabricate life.

The reason for doing so is something that just about every religion, philosophy, and has science has wondered about since, one can guess, the beginning of human civilization. Proffered explanations include: a divine energy dividing its consciousness throughout life so as to experience an infinite game of hide and seek with itself; a sort of teleonomical impetus on the part of the Universe to spawn consciousness; meaningless chance; reasons that cannot be expressed using human symbols and language; and whatever it says in The Bible.

For that reason, it’s hard to hold anyone accountable for their actions. After all, they had no idea they were going to be getting themselves into this mess and, given the pain involved, they may be too afraid to get themselves out of it.

Why-to hold people accountable for their actions:

That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t hold people accountable for their actions, even if they’ve never asked to be born. For a society to function with some level of predictability, it may be necessary to attribute blame for the results of certain behaviors. For instance, if a someone were to punch someone else, at the very least, it should be pointed out that hurling fists can cause pain. Depending on the rules and norms of a given society or social scenario, actions may be taken towards the person hurling fists.

Why-to not hold people accountable for their actions:

If our experiences are the result of the Universe teleonomically forming beings with consciousness, it’s difficult to even say that an individual throwing a punch is actually responsible for their actions. Instead, that punch may have been less of an act of will and more of an event triggered by the preceding events, every neuron firing within that person’s brain the result of some previous experience that conditioned the individual to punch when encountering a certain experience.

Just as the physics of the situation might have caused someone to punch someone else, the physics of the Universe might also guide societies to enact rules and norms that cause individuals, whether or not they have any control over their actions or asked to be born in the first place, that would hold people accountable.

And it’s impossible to really know where that person came from, what their life story is. They could have just been released from a terrifying stint in prison, returned from a traumatic war, graduated from law school or instantiated by a creature from another galaxy.

About Mr. Hou, I know very little. I know that my mom met him while she was teaching English in Taiwan. She’d gone there to a.) exercise her Mandarin skills, a subject she received a Masters in at Harvard and b.) be closer to the socialist revolution taking place in China at the time. They were married for about five years, I think.

I’m not entirely sure, but, while they were in the process of separation—this was after my mom came back to the United States with him—she met my dad and procreated my sister. It sounds like her divorce from Mr. Hou might have been a kind of ugly one, but I’m told that Mr. Hou was happy to be absolved from any responsibility to care for my sister.

) and my dad’s family—but I’ve never been too attached to my name as a whole. Throughout my life, I’ve been given a number of nicknames, too, from “Mikey” to “Michael Michael Motorcycle Turn the Key and Watch Him Pee”. The advent of the internet has provided a slew of aliases, as well. None of those names seem to quite fit either.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with any of them, except maybe the motorcycle one. It’s just that I don’t feel like me, if that makes any sense. There is plenty of external, material evidence that indicates that Michael Daniels Molitch-Hou, or some variation of that, represents the thing that I am: bills, IDs, birthday cards, paychecks.

But that sign just seems to label the collective concept of “Mike” as a person. I’m also a set of experiences, sensations, organ systems tied to an unconscious landscape of incomprehensible whatever. Even beyond that, my own conception of myself falls short. It’s almost as if any attempt to wrap my head around my own subjective experience of myself is inadequate. Because beyond my unconscious is a collective one, plus everything that ever happened to anyone and also things that didn’t happen to anyone and some things that may not have even happened at all. Looking into a pristine lake, this would lead not to a recognition of myself as “myself” but to the realization of “what is that?”, to which there may not be an answer that would ever satisfy.

Regardless, my name, or any name, serves to wrangle that whole thing into a subjective experience that I can call Michael Daniels Molitch-Hou for, if nothing else, the sake of convenience.

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