At age 5, she pondered existence. Now, she wants to study it at Berkeley

August 29, 2023

Photo of Esther Cannesson standing beneath a tree on UC Berkeley campus

"I really like the existential movement, where nothing really has a purpose, apart from what you make of it," says new first-year student Esther Cannesson.  

Brittany Hosea-Small for UC Berkeley

Berkeley News: What year are you, and where are you from?

Esther Cannesson: I'm a first-year student from L.A. — Silver Lake.

What kind of things are you interested in studying?

I'm interested in philosophy and history. And criminology, but that’s not a major here. I'll try to see if I can do philosophy — ethics, morals, those types of courses.

What do you like about philosophy?

I got into it last year, just thinking about different ways people view existence and life and values. I want to study that more and understand different perspectives. 

What different ideas of existence did you learn about?

I really like the existential movement, where nothing really has a purpose, apart from what you make of it. Sometimes I can't believe I'm just existing as a person. It's in the back of my head at all times. If I look in the mirror too long, it gives me a weird feeling, thinking, “This is my face, my actual face. This is what people recognize me as.” It just has always been that way.

How old were you when you began to think about existence? What did you think about?

I was about 5. It would keep me up at night. I would think about outer space and ask, “Why am I here? What is my consciousness? How can I make the most out of what I have? Is there actually a purpose, or is it just a coincidence?” I would lie in bed, and these thoughts would circle in my head. I mostly kept them to myself. One time, I was sleeping in my brother’s room, and we talked about death and stuff. It was like a big thing between us. And then I never talked about it again.

After studying philosophy, what path do you hope it leads you on?

I'm not 100% sure. I maybe want to do criminal law or forensic sciences. I have always been interested in true crime. My dad and I have a tradition of watching a true crime documentary together once a week. Over the summer, I worked on a documentary that was related to crime. When I watch interviews with forensic psychology or criminology, I’m always amazed that they can put pieces together and help solve a crime. One of my favorites is called Killer Sally, about a woman named Sally who killed her husband, and then it goes on to explore the bodybuilder community. There was one part where my dad and I both cried. It’s very touching.

What sort of connection do you see between philosophy and criminology?

I think it's mostly about ethics and morals and asking, “How can we define something as wrong and bad?” Some people, they perform violent crimes and don't realize how wrong it is. And then, other people will view that as something heinous, which it can be, but I’m interested in that gray space and how we decide, morally, what’s right and wrong.

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