I’m putting the mind-body dichotomy series on hold for a while in order to read some more on the subject. Currently I’m Kindling my way through Stephen Pinker’s How The Mind Works, which has astonished me and lost me a dozen times already. You’re all disappointed at not getting to hear my half-baked theories on a subject the human race has been debating for thousands of years, I know, but be patient. Some day, the pablum will return.
But I can discuss why this matters to me.
My friends regularly exhort me to open up more, to them and to others. “That’s what the website is for,” I tell them, but they insist this doesn’t count. They insist that I’d meet more interesting people and get less frustrated at my internal dialogue if I “took off the mask.” But this suggestion never really speaks to me.
So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about masks.
If all behavior arises from consciousness, then we’re always choosing to present some face to the rest of the world. In social settings, we put on our charming face; when we’re tired and distracted, we put on our bitter face; when we’re overwhelmed and confessing fears to the ones closest to us, we put on our vulnerable face. But we always make a choice which side of ourselves to present. There’s no “true face” that emerges when we stop choosing to present. It’s masks all the way down.
At the same time, though, the idea of a “true self” makes sense to us. We distinguish between the world Out There (people and streets and hot dogs and engraved pens) and the world In Here (memories and fears and imagination and fantasy). That’s what it means to be self-aware: to distinguish between Self and Other. It’s an experience that everyone who can put thoughts into words has in common. So we all think that there’s something true or ideal inside our heads.
But is an experience that everyone calls the same thing necessarily real?
That’s what my experiments in auto-epistemology have been about. I’m curious as to whether the notion of an “unmasked self” is part of the same cognitive illusion as the Cartesian homonculus, or whether it’s something with a real basis in biology and psychology. As I said, I’ve got some reading and some thinking to do. Thanks for bearing with me.
“Great,” the audience muttered, shifting in their seats and checking their cell phones. “Someone tells the Professor to open up more and his response is to read a book.”