Self-Recognition, fiction by Soramimi Hanarejima at
Ralph Nas



written by: Soramimi Hanarejima


When I get to the kitchen, I recoil in its doorway. There you are—like a student taking an exam on a school desk—at the little wooden table with the rice cooker, writing in your notebook.

You look up, making eye contact that compels me to explain myself.

“You said you’d be wallowing,” I tell you.

“I am,” you reply. “In my mind.”

“Oh. I thought you’d be on the floor. And I’d watch. Maybe join you.”

You point at the bulging bags of groceries that I’m saddled with, then ask, “Before or after cooking dinner?”

“While the soup is simmering. I don’t know if it’s good to wallow on the floor with a full stomach.”

“Well, we can lie on the floor once you’ve got the soup going.”

“That sounds nice. It’s been a long day.”

After I’ve got the nagaimo, garlic and ginger washed, cut and in a pot of vegetable stock heating over the back burner’s low flames, we’re on the living room carpet, you rocking from side to side, me just stretched out. A few minutes later, the electronic approximation of bells comes from your study.

“Ugh, I forgot to turn off the secret sharing system,” you say.

“Do you need to answer that?” I ask.

“No, the system should route the request to another listener.”

But the metallic ringing only continues.

“OK, I guess no one else is available,” you say. “I should get this. Whoever it is might need to urgently confide something.”

“Here, I’ll get it. You just keep wallowing.”

“Great, thanks. All you have to do is listen, maybe offer some support.”

I rise from the floor and walk over to your study. There, the secure-channel headset rhythmically illuminates the mess of papers on your desk with its pulsating icy glow. I put it on and press the button on the right earcup, the way I’ve seen you do a couple of times.

“You’re in my confidence,” I say, trying to sound natural—like I’ve done this before.

“Thanks,” the confessor answers in that soft, synthetic timbre immediately familiar to me as female46, the identity-obscuring voice that’s so en vogue these days.

“I needed to tell someone that I failed the mind mirror self-recognition test,” she—the voice/the confessor continues. “I can’t consistently identify my ideas as my own, and I feel awful about it. Especially because I pride myself on their uniqueness. I just can’t bring myself to talk about the test results with friends.”

“That sounds tough, but I’m not sure I understand the situation. Can you tell me more about this test?”

I sit down in your desk chair. This could take a while.

“So, new mind mirrors have a mode that reflects your ideas back to you in superficially different forms. Explained in other words by a different voice or rendered with images that don’t look like the one’s you’ve imagined. It’s sort of like hearing someone else read a story you wrote, or watching a play you’ve performed in that’s now produced by another director and a new cast.”

“I see. Kind of akin to a mirror that’s curved or tinted. That alters the appearance of objects it reflects.”

“Right, right. The test is to see if you can pick out these altered versions of your ideas when they’re presented alongside other ideas. I couldn’t. At all.”

“Oh, wow,” I murmur, then rush to clarify with, “I mean, that sounds hard. Don’t they say that in the thoughts of geniuses we find our own neglected ideas? Or maybe you’re just really open-minded and empathetic. You might have a knack for imagining the ideas of others as your own thoughts.”

“But that doesn’t explain why I ended up not choosing many of my ideas as being my own when they were recast in alternative phrasing or with other images.”

“Oh, that’s what happened.”


“Well, people say we tend to be the harshest critics of our own ideas. Maybe you did recognize your ideas unconsciously and were more judgmental toward them—to the point of disowning them.”

“That’s possible. But I didn’t recognize some ideas that I think are good and like a lot.”

The confessor goes on to tell me about one: the illumination of the mind with only its own thoughts, contemplation as though seeing by natural light—without the “luminance” of others’ thoughts coming from conversations or media. This “natural light” can seem dim at first, especially for someone who’s accustomed to the emotional garishness of movies and the jargony glitz of pundits’ opinions, but the mind soon adjusts to being roused by and responsive to its own brilliance.

That is a pretty good idea. Though it sounds familiar, so it might not be as unique as she believes.

“Maybe this new mind mirror feature disrupts our pattern recognition abilities,” I offer, and for a second I think maybe that’s the point—so our own ideas can be seen anew. Made strangers to us, our thoroughly familiar thoughts then have a chance to surprise and delight us.

“Maybe,” the confessor says, as though playing along while unconvinced.

Her tone prompts me to take another tack.

“Or this could mean that the way your ideas are expressed is part of what makes them unique,” I offer.

“Yeah, good point. But I should be able to recognize their essence—know that at their core, they’re my ideas. I mean, it would be appalling if I couldn’t identify my own children because they’ve dressed in some style I haven’t seen before.”

But would she recognize her kids through their artistic expression? Would they be identifiable by one of their paintings or poems? Though interesting, the topic of how well we know loved ones seems tangential.

Turning to something germane and specific, I ask, “Do you know what the base rate is for passing the test?”

“Something like thirty percent.”

“So the test is hard. You’re probably in good company then. Plenty of creative, intelligent people surely got the same outcome as you.”

“But I don’t want to be like everyone else! I’ve always been complimented on my ideas. They’re often called brilliant.”

This insistence on exceptionalism strikes me as narcissistic.

“I couldn’t even recognize this one about emotions as seasoning our thoughts. The way feelings accentuate what we think about. How attitudes and moods act as sauces or marinades that can emphasize nuances or smother them out, like gratitude sweetening the details of a quotidian moment. Or jealousy souring a friend’s success, and skepticism peppering an idea with questions.”

This has got to be Azalea. The visceral certainty sweeps through me as the confessor continues elaborating on the seasoning metaphor. I’ve only just met her through Virea, but this perspective has already come up several times in the way Azalea talks about ideas. She said her last trip to the art museum was “a banquet” with “countless dishes” prepared by artists for the public to savor and be nourished by.

And it is plausible that I’m talking with Azalea now. The system is supposed to form confessor-confidant pairs that grant the privacy of anonymity by matching people with little or no overlap in their social graphs, but the system may not have updated my social graph to include Azalea yet. Or has this conversation become a kind of mind mirror, reflecting how I think about Azalea—perhaps illusorily?
But does it matter if this is Azalea? That shouldn’t change how I relate to this confessor—or to Azalea the next time I see her. And does that mean the origin of our ideas shouldn’t change how we relate to them? Should we simply be hospitable to good ideas, then partake in the ways they enliven our minds? We’re probably better off regularly affording ideas calm attention, so we can listen to the kind of truth they share with us—instead of becoming preoccupied by how original they are.

Now, the confessor is telling me about another idea—meaningless hours: a designated period of time when everything can go uncomprehended, to give the mind a respite from sense-making. But all I can think about is what might be the real test here: whether we can let go of our claim upon ideas—set aside the instinct to be possessive. Raising this possibility in the conversation, though, risks launching us into a debate that could upset the confessor. And I don’t want to negatively impact your standing on this platform. I’ve heard that all it takes is a single vehement complaint to scuttle one’s status as a good keeper of secrets.

With the voice of female46 still filling my ears, I turn off the headset’s microphone and go to the living room to get your advice. But you are blissfully inert on the carpet—asleep or meditating—stranding me in this confessional wilderness, to make my own way through it. There seems nothing else to do but enact the idea that has presented itself to me: be open to ideas and by extension, be open with the confessor about my thoughts, hoping that she will be open to them.

Time to see how she treats my idea and transform this encounter into a test of my character and hers. I head back to your study and switch the microphone on. Here goes.

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