In the Mind of the Other

Posted 2009.08.21 14.58 in Family/Friends, Pointless Blather by Stephanie

In a recent comment on her blog, my friend Lezley said:

I’ve always wanted to know what goes on inside animals’ heads. What do they think? Feel? How do they see the world and us? […] Human beings always judge animal behaviour through our own lens – resulting in no real understanding at all. Stupid humans.

This is one of those things that interests me.. the Mind of the Other, versus the Mind of the Self. Several decades ago, author H.P. Lovecraft wrote that there can never truly be a story told from the point of view of the vampire, wolf-man, or alien, simply because such things existed entirely outside our frame of reference. In the case of an alien, something truly that far outside our own experience would be so Other that we’d probably have a difficult enough time recognizing it for what it was, let alone understaning or relating to its emotions and thoughts. I believe Lovecraft’s story The Colour out of Space is an ideal representation of how our limited experience leaves us unable to fully perceive or understand things that are far from our own frames of reference.

Back on the subject of the minds of animals, I do beleive wholeheartedly that when we try to comprehend the thoughts or responses of animals, our understanding must to be biased by our own perceptions and experiences. There is no option, we cannot separate our perceptions from our experiences, and both in turn guide and are guided by our ability to understand.

Taken to the extreme, how well do we truly know anyone, or any thing? We may try to ‘put ourselves in someone else’s position’, but doing so successfully relies on having sufficient common or shared experiences. The more diverse and unique a persons’ experiences, the less one has to go on when attempting to put ones’ self in their position, until finaly there is nothing to go on beyond the most basic human traits.

Our senses are nothing more than electrochemical stimulation. How we interpret these stimuli are based upon our past experiences, which were themselves recorded based on internal interpretation of external stimuli. There is no such thing as common perception, every one of us may perceive the same event in our own unique ways, coloured by our own experiences. Douglas Adams illustrated this at an extreme with his character the Man in the Shack, an individual who seemed not to sully his perceptions with experience, by virtue of not accepting external stimulus as reality. So if we cannot accept that which we see and hear with our own eyes and ears to be reality, then where does that leave us? Just what the heck is reality anyways?

Without knowing if anything is real, do we even know what’s going on in our own mind – let alone those of Others – other people, animals, aliens? If all our thoughts are based on experiences, and our experiences are based on perceptions, and our perceptions are based on our thoughts and experiences, where does it start? What is the original spark of thought that gets the ball rolling?

In his book The Large, The Small, and the Human Mind, physicist and philosopher Sir Roger Penrose suggests that the spark of creative thought has its origins in quantum physics. Quantum particles can spontaneously exist, and should they choose to do so inside our heads, that can lead to a cascade of electrochemical action, resulting in what we understand as an original creative thought. If this is the case, then I think it would be egotistical of us to assume that this quantum-level creative spark is restricted to human brains only. Though it is undeniable that having the spark of thought does not automatically mean acting upon it — or even understanding or interpreting it.

At this point, I’ve babbled enough and asked many questions without answering any. To summarize, I don’t believe it is possible for us to know what animals might perceive, without that knowledge being clouded by our own perceptions and experiences. I’m not even certain it’s possible to truly know what our fellow humans perceive.

One Comment

  1. Lezley says:

    I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of writing.

    Slow down and let me catch up.


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