I asked my students in a thought experiment to pretend that they had an extravagant, but not unlimited amount of money. I think the term I used was "pretend you're worth anywhere in the 10 figure range but can't round up to 11 figures".
In this thought experiment I asked them to imagine that they had the choice between buying an original painting of their favorite artist for a billion dollars. They could choose, alternatively, to buy a perfect forgery that would be attributed to that artist for one tenth of the price. It was so perfect that nobody would ever know that it was a forgery since the forger would have an unfortunate accident an hour after he delivered the forged painting to your home.
Despite the fact that it would be, for the whole world, completely undetectable as being fake, none of the students wanted to buy it. None of them felt that saving 90% on the cost was worth it.
But why? The main purpose for buying such ridiculously expensive art is to flex that you have the ability to do it. I'm sure the crown prince of Saudi Arabia is an art fan but the reason he spent 450 million on an original Da Vinci was to be able to say that he owns a Da Vinci.
When I asked the students to explain - even when I impressed upon the students that nobody would ever know their response was unanimously "but I would know!".
They couldn't explain why that matters but I think if we can solve why it would matter we would get closer to understanding what does it mean to be authentic, why is it rare and why do people spend so much time attempting to manufacture it even though we claim to value it so much?
Humans are drawn to two seemingly opposite things; novelty and familiarity. The familiar is "safe". We know what we're getting when we go for the familiar. That's why American's will eat McDonalds in a foreign country; we aren't taking a risk that we will get sick or worse, we won't like the food. It's why we order the same 4-5 things on the chinese food menu that has hundreds of options. It's why Marvel movies are so popular; even if you never read the comics you know what you're getting from a Marvel movie.
But we also love novelty. Novelty stimulates our brain in a different way than the comfortable does. When we see something unique or something pleasantly startling we are incredibly pleased. Novelty is the source of inspiration, new opportunities, new directions. Good novelty opens up possibilities.
But novelty is so rare that we tend to let it become stale. The meme "for eveery gorgeous woman there's a man who's gotten tired of having sex with her" is probably universally true. That's why we are always after the next "new" thing.
But how does that help us understand authenticity? I think authenticity might be the middle ground between novelty and familiarity. When something is authentic it gives us a kind of pleasure that straddles both kinds of desires. We appreciate that we are seeing a genuine expression of something or someone.
The problem is that authenticity can be faked a little bit easier than we would like to believe. We are good at spotting something that is obviously phony but the gap between recognizing something that is fake and something that is real is wide.