We Are Invisible

Note: I originally posted this on my Facebook™ page many years ago, and while not motorcycle-themed, it does fit the purpose of this blog, so here you go:

Over this past summer, I read (among other things) a book entitled I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas R. Hofstadter. It is an exploration of the nature of human consciousness. (The basis of the title is the cyclical nature of awareness: all sensory input is of necessity self-referential, like an enormous feedback loop.)

I cannot wholeheartedly endorse the book in question, as Hofstadter makes what I consider to be a number of errors (for example, using the terms “brain” and “mind” interchangeably, or by dismissing contrary viewpoints with the “well, that’s obviously nonsense, so let no more be said about it” method), but his premise that our personalities are essentially patterns has great merit indeed.

Consider: think of someone. Anyone. You don’t just think of what they look like. Everything about them is summed up: their habits, their favourite things, their reactions, their…you get the point. You are, in effect, storing copies of everyone you know in your mind. (Oddly enough, while this seems to endorse my long-standing belief that the mind/soul is independent of one’s physical body, Hofstadter insists repeatedly that it proves just the opposite. But I digress.)

Here’s where the title of this little missive comes into play: To other people, you are only the copy that they store. And people are notoriously lazy. So those copies are imperfect, and 99 people out of a hundred can’t be bothered to develop a more accurate copy. Have you ever fallen victim to, for example, saying something and then having someone, seconds later, insist that you said something completely other? It is, I now believe, because whatever you said triggered a meme in their mind that they associate with the subject; this, being easier than analysis of your current actual statement, is what takes the fore in their mind, and becomes what you said. They’ll swear to it in court, no matter how wrong they are.

As a concrete example, I’m a big fan of train-wreck TV. (TV shows that you really shouldn’t watch, but just…can’t….look away from….) One such was “Tough Love.” Basically a six-week dating course by an outspoken matchmaker. Anyway, there was one participant who received, as everyone else did, some non-sugar-coated advice on her personality, which was not designed to entertain the notion of the serious relationship she supposedly was looking for.

Her response was to crash. She began moaning about how she’d been told that she was a horrible person who’d never be loved. It wasn’t even close, and everyone thought she was nuts.

It illustrates a few points; number one, we all know someone like this. Number two, the whole pattern-oriented awareness works both ways: the host’s comments triggered a deeply-ingrained set of patterns within the participant that she associated with herself rather than with anyone else, and became what he said…subsequently her attacks on the man (and satisfaction derived thereof) were easier, but ultimately less beneficial, than addressing these ideas within herself.

And number three, we really do make the world that we live in–in this particular woman’s feedback loop, an assessment and alteration of her own pattern is clearly what she’s seeking (hence the attacks on it when she externalized them)…but, again, it is easier to sublimate the desires by projection than to actually take control of one’s own pattern (hence the externalization). And we are, by nature, lazy.

So.

On the face of it, this can be quite a depressing notion: Very few people in our lives are going to be capable of (or willing to) storing an accurate copy of ourselves in their minds–we are rather stuck being caricatures of ourselves as far as others are concerned. For all practical purposes, invisible, in some cases even to ourselves, since the patterns are imperfectly, simply, copied. (Or, in self-referential cases, something that we do not wish to notice, at least not directly, as in the case above.) People are, no matter what, going to see, and hear, the pattern that they’ve constructed to represent you, rather than you. And since that pattern is derived not simply from you, but from every other pattern stored within the observer–if A, then B (think stereotypes), you might as well not be there at all, for all the actual impression that you’re making.

Among other things, this means that I can no longer believe in love at first sight, as I once did as a foolish, younger man. There is simply no way that one can “learn” another person enough for that in a short period of time, much less instantly.

On the other hand…

Anyone who does “learn” you to any degree is very special indeed. Plus, awareness of this patterning habit is the first step towards developing more accurate copies of your own, of paying attention, and of being able to eliminate habits of self-unawareness in oneself; these patterns are malleable, after all. We can change our minds. Literally. (Another book I read over this past summer, The Evolving Self by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, refers to this as “lifting the first Veil of Maya.” That book I can endorse wholeheartedly.)

So take heart. And please, look carefully.

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