Sunday, February 24, 2008

Real Character(s)

So, here's what I spared you from having to suffer through at the end of the last blog.

Thing is this: if, as I have repeatedly suggested, it is true to say that basically everything having to do with our thinking, mental world building, sense of 'self' and relating to others, is basically about 'narrative'--endless loops of stories whirling around our brains as we meander through life--then what, one might pause to ask, is the difference between a relationship one has with a 'real' person and that one might have with, say, a character in a computer game. Or, to modify this slightly, what's the difference between being a witness to what we might consider a 'real' set of events and being a witness to something entirely fictitious. Especially if, as if often the case, we actually have no way of checking up on the reality or fiction of whatever it is we're witnessing.

After all, for whatever we know, anything presented to us in a narrative manner, including that which passes itself off as 'real', might actually not be real at all, and vice versa. The most obvious example for this is religious narrative, a blending of fiction taken as real.* Dismissing it all as an aberration is disingenuous, unless we want to be arrogant enough to dismiss mental events taking place in the majority of human beings as somehow abnormal; which makes a mockery of the definition of 'normality'.

Confirmation of the 'reality' value of any narrative is a process of connecting it to whatever is defined as 'real'--usually meaning something like 'true experience', 'waking experience', or something like that; stuff connected to what is called the 'physical world' and so on--and asking oneself if it 'fits' into that reference context of the 'really real'. As long as it does, there's no problem. Actually, it's probably more accurate to say "as long as it doesn't actually and perceptibly conflict with" the reference context. After all, that's how most religion manages to survive: by avoiding acute and actual conflict with demonstrable, everyday, in-your-face physical reality. It might not make sense, but it doesn't actually 'conflict' with--excepting some of the more bizarre aberrations, of course.

The same situation existed, of course in Blade Runner (yep, coming back to it; how could I not?). On the surface it looks like this bunch of people have 'real' memories:

On the other hand, this bunch doesn't.

And this guy, not aware of the ultimate irony in his own life, is trying to use some magical device to try and figure out who's what, unaware that, as Rachael hints later, he might do with having the same test run on himself.

"You're talking about memories!" Deckard says after Tyrrell explains to him that it was necessary to stabilize the minds of Replicants after their creation. Actually, it would be more correct to say 'narratives', like Rachael's: the ones Deckard tells her about, and which she is able to complete. These memories are supported by lots of photos to provide documentary evidence of some solidity.

Actually, photos, as the studies of Elizabeth Loftus (e.g. this) have shown, will prompt people to create narratives to contextualize the fact of the existence of said photos, even if the images are fabricated, such as through montage or other contrivances. So much for becoming the victim of apparent 'evidence'!

I'll continue this in the next blog. For now I leave you with this thought, which might be unfamiliar, but it's something to think about:

All 'memory' is 'narrative'.

* The second most obvious is, of course, journalism. And I know, that that was a cheap shot. But it was so-o-o-o easy!

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