Speaking of radio (there’s a deft transition for you), I keep meaning to recommend this In Our Time from last month. It’s on the Mind-Body Problem, and the contestants are – no, that’s not right – the people doing the talking are Sue James, Anthony Grayling and Julian Baggini. It gets very amusing toward the end when Julian and Anthony Grayling get in a punch-up. No, I’m only joking. But Grayling says a rude word to Julian in Latin, and Julian laughs – rough stuff for philosophy! No not really, philosophy is actually very aggressive; it’s more aggressive than squash. No, not really, nothing is more aggressive than squash. They were talking about how aggressive the squash game in Ian McEwan’s new novel is, on Saturday Review the other day – and Tom Sutcliffe was also talking about how boring it is (the squash game, not the novel, which they all liked a lot) (apart from Tom Sutcliffe and the squash game – he didn’t like that part). Anyway this Latin punch-up is all the more amusing because the rude word Grayling calls Julian just happens to be the title of one of Julian’s Bad Moves. Is that a staggering coincidence or what! Well maybe it’s not a coincidence. Maybe Grayling carefully studied the B&W page that has the most recent Bad Moves listed by title, and memorized a few so that he could inject one into the discussion. Anyway, you should give it a listen, it’s very interesting as well as amusing.
Speaking of Julian (another deft transition for you), I tripped over this article of his in the Guardian a couple of days ago. What I was doing was, I was looking (via Google) for that review of the Dictionary I’d been told about, just in case it had smuggled itself online somewhere after all – and I found this article. It’s about internet interaction, a subject which has interested me for awhile – ever since I started internet interacting, I suppose. Before that it bored me senseless. The three of us talked about it over dinner that time – you remember: last October, when I was over there. I told you all about it at the time.
This is the part that interests me:
Leading philosophers who have written on the web, such as Hubert Dreyfus and Gordon Graham, have argued that this is largely because face-to-face we interact with the whole person, whereas in virtual environments we only have access to a small part of what they choose to reveal. Therefore a purely online relationship can never be with a whole human being. It’s an intuitively plausible argument, but even if the most intimate of relationships require physical contact, in our working lives, we do not and need not deal with the whole person. For example, many people behave very differently at work to how they do at home. Personal identity is extremely malleable, and people play different roles at different times of the same day. That means it is simply not necessary to know “the whole person” in order to have a good working relationship with them.
And there’s a little more to it than that, I think. It may be that some people actually reveal less of ‘the whole person’ in the real world than they do in virtual or written interactions. It may be that real world interactions bring out hostility, aggressiveness, shyness, inhibition, suspicion, awkwardness, inarticulacy and similar qualities that are not helpful to social interaction, that are not really particularly central or important to the ‘real’ nature of the person who shows them. John Carey says something to this effect in his introduction to the Everyman edition of Orwell’s essays. After a few sentences about how prickly, and ill at ease friends remember Blair as being, he says:
George Orwell the writer, by contrast, is confident, relaxed, open, democratic. This is not to claim that his writing misrepresents his ‘true’ self. You could just as easily argue that the true self was masked by shyness or awkwardness in life and came out in the writing.
Just so. It’s an interesting question. Is the person that other people see more real than the one we experience from inside? In some ways, it seems reasonable to say yes. Some of those ways are related to recent studies on self-esteem that indicate people tend to over-estimate many of their abilities. It’s possible that we all think we’re kinder, pleasanter, more considerate, less rude and selfish and me-firsty, than we in fact are. (It’s also possible that a lot of us think we’re less boring than we are. I’m pretty sure of that. I have only to think of various people who have bored me into near-comatose states to realize that. They surely didn’t know how boring they were, did they? If they had surely they would have shut up, somewhere along the way.) In that sense, and no doubt many similar ones, people who can see us from the outside do know us better than we know ourselves. But in others…they don’t, at least not necessarily. There is always at least the possibility of a gap between appearance and reality, between what shows externally and what is going on internally. It’s the other minds problem. We think we know; especially in very close, intimate relationships, we think we know. And maybe we do. But, then again…