Others as narratives

I was having lunch today with an old friend, and the subject came up of how each of us, whether we want to or not, tends to create elaborate narratives about what is going on with other people.

It’s not that we really have a choice. Last time I checked, our species had still not developed mind reading technology. So we are stuck with nothing but the available evidence, plus our own theory of mind, to piece together the mystery of what thoughts are actually transpiring inside someone else’s skull.

What makes this far more difficult and interesting is that most people are themselves not quite aware of everything that goes on in their own brains. As I noted in a recent post, our selves are far from monolithic. Or as Whitman so elegantly put it: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Perhaps this is a good thing. After all, if it weren’t for the elaborate dance we must all do in the face of the unknowability of others, most literature as we know it would not exist.

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