Retconning life

Re-reading my searching for continuity post, I find it somewhat amusing how easy it was for me to construct a story that fits my previous patterns of behavior. The story of our self is always miraculously consistent, no matter how our motivations shifted and changed along the way. It reminds me of the comic book fan practice of retconning.

Retcon is an abbreviation for retroactive continuity. It comes up a lot in comic books, where the writers on a given series will change, and then write something that is clearly inconsistent with what was written by an earlier writer. The diehard fans would notice the inconsistency and complain. So Marvel started giving No Prizes to fans who could make up a creative explanation for the apparent inconsistency, retroactively making the gaffe consistent with the known history. Hence, retroactive continuity. It’s basically a geekier way of saying 20/20 hindsight.

What’s interesting to me is that in my previous post, I was retconning my life. There is no real theme in the things I was interested in, no “prime directive” that was motivating me. I was trying to retroactively create a thread that tied all of my different interests together, rather than just admit I am a dabbler. And it basically worked. By only choosing the details that supported the point I was trying to make, and ignoring other inconsistencies, I created a story that unified my life. Sort of.

This is yet another example of how our mind fills in the blanks, which is a topic I’ve been meaning to get back to for months. There are so many degrees of freedom that I could come up with many different stories, all of which fit the stated events of my life. Which is oddly liberating. There is no One True Me. There are a multiplicity of me’s, waiting to be called into being by my actions. The actions I take moving forward define the story I want to tell about myself, and I can find a way to fit all of my previous actions into that story through the power of retconning. Of course, it’s also terrifying, because it means I can be anybody. Who do I want to be?

8 thoughts on “Retconning life

  1. Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
    – Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”
    US poet (1819 – 1892)

    I haven’t ever read Whitman, but this quote will drive me to break down and read him someday.

  2. That’s a good way to explain it. I think it’s also the key reason why Popperian science just *doesn’t* exist: science also works retroactively. You do your experiment with the aim of finding out about something — and maybe, indeed, you do prove some hypothesis — but often you fill back in later on what the hypothesis you proved happened to be, and it’s often not what you intended.

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