SIX - MINED READINGS WRITING MINDS
There is no way that I can focus on my work right now. In the previous chapter, I made a commitment that I did not keep. I began this chapter one minute after having concluded the previous one. This constant excuse-making of mine is not good. I need to make up more creative and compelling excuses.
"Rhetoric, not philosophy" I mubled to myself.
I was not even halfway through logging in to my own computer, when, without even realizing that I was doing so at first, and then realizing it but not bothering with stopping.
I offer a pre-emptive apology to my inner Jimminy Cricket, and returned to Emma's thumb drive. From the filenames alone I could tell I was in for an interesting journey. Anytime there is knowledge to be had, it is justifiable to go and have it, because it may turn out to be of some value to my own project.
We all have our shameful, out-of-character moments, don't we? And when these transgressions of ours result in our having knowledge we didn't have before, and especially if that knowledge brings great advances to humankind, these outcomes eventually more than make up for the original transgression, I reasoned, as I flicked Jimminy Cricket hard, signaling to him that I have heard his complaint and made my decision.
The first thing I notice makes me smile right away.
Emma's file system uses The Dewey Decimal System to organize her notes! The DEWEY EFFIN' DECIMAL SYSTEM!
How did I not think of this myself?! I had been looking for something to make sense of my utterly disordered unstructured database of exciting insights swimming amidst chemist receipts, recipes, scanned articles about the most arcane things that I just know will come in handy all the more if I don't add it to the database.
When I first learned of the Dewey Decimal System in grade school, I think I was the only kid in the class who did not want to leave the class when it ended because I had so many questions for the visiting presenter (a librarian, who had in this session elevated the prestige in my mind of her profession to the status of noble calling). How delighted she was, too, as it was the rarest of students who ever gave the tiniest sliver of a turd about the Dewey Decimal System.
I, on the other hand, had the whole system memorized by heart (at least to one decimal point). I studied this chart every day for a few weeks until I had it memorized:
- 000 Generalities
- 100 Philosophy & psychology
- 200 Religion
- 300 Social sciences
- 400 Language
- 500 Natural sciences & mathematics
- 600 Technology (Applied sciences)
- 700 The arts
- 800 Literature & rhetoric
- 900 Geography & history
So Emma's directory had each of those 10 categories in directories - numbers only. Then within each directory, she had a drill-down system to get as specific as she wanted to, following all the Dewey Decimal protocols. Sometimes the file would be an ebook. Sometimes a picture of some diagram she saw on a poster in a coffee shop, according to the metadata. No matter what the knowledge artifact is, Dewey's got a place to put it. In fact, any system that's already set up to organize information should be, in my opinion, easily adapted to other organized structures, including narrative structure. (That last sentence is important.) The parenthetical sentence preceding this one is important.
Still, this is about Emma's project. But I think I can imagine something quite close to the reality of what Emma's intentions are when it comes to organizing her files this way. My guess is that she might have the same postmodernist authorial instincts that I have, which would mean that she would use this file structure itself to contain the novel she is working on.
Let me just pause to confess that I'm not a mind-reader, and reverse-engineering the thoughts and intentions of others is a tricky and risky business. It's a little different when you have context and know somebody well. In pausing to reflect on my lack of mind-reading powers, I realized that one of the reasons it's hard sometimes to determine the intentions and thoughts of others is that in my experience, most people are oblivious to most of their thoughts, intentions, and even desires, themselves.
Not one to miss the opportunities to recognize the clarity that comes with mentally experimenting with self-reference, I walked myself through this line of reasoning on this confusing matter, which goes something like:
- I do not have any special powers for knowing what is in the minds of others, and what their intentions are with respect to their actions.
- When I use the metaphor of 'reverse-engineering', it means, in this context, something like 'discovering the inner intentions and thoughts of a person by observing their actions, combined with any contextual information one has, and imagining plausible explanations that fit the facts.' Hence we start with evidence and then we have to make up a story to explain the evidence. Yes, just like a detective novel, and in fact, just like a criminal prosecutor does.
- Since the thoughts I have access to are my own, any knowledge I might have about the thoughts or intentions of others is limited by imagination and my ability to imagine a mind that may work differently than mine.
- Yet, when it comes to outward behavior of those we know well, the probability increases that we are correct in our guess about what the other person was thinking or doing, when it is unclear.
- Number four (the previous line item to this one) turns out to be unimportant because: Since reverse-engineering is the process of concocting a narrative that fits the evidence, any plausible narrative will do quite well.
This then brought me to the stunning realization that I am a gifted and unusually talented mind reader. It's just that the mind I'm reading is my own. A metaphorical universal display screen is mounted to the inner wall of my skull and it's there to entertain thoughts and concepts who will not be staying more than a few minutes. When I attempt to imagine what Emma is thinking, I am only imagining what I am thinking.
It should seem unnecessary then, shouldn't it, that I would need to 'imagine' what I myself am thinking? If I am thinking it, why would I need to imagine myself in the third person (basically), thinking about it? All of the entities involved are imaginary. And yet it seems so useful, and it definitely helps me understand real things. It takes some practice to understand how all of these thought layers, symbols, metaphors, grammar jokes, wordplay, enlightenment, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so on, can fit together, and how they might blend, bend, breathe, bond, bake, and banter, bestowing beauty or banality upon each other, leaving ultimately to me the labor of conjuring meaning by imagining what a hypothetical, imaginary 'someone else' is thinking.
I stopped everything I was doing as the thought finished loading into my mental browser, delivering this overwhelmingly brilliant message. It was beautiful even though it wasn't even a complete sentence. ("Complete sentences," is a complete sentence, by the way. The 'you' there (or 'you there!') is implied and is in the accusative tense. It is a command to finish a sentence. Actually, it's probably not really called accusative, but I like the implications of that word. It's opposed to the exonerative tense, which assigns the agency of bad decisions to the decision or outcome itself.
"Mistakes were made, I acknowledge that much," is an example of the exonerative tense. Or, "This content looks remarkably similar to something written and copyrighted by someone else, which is just baffling; I deny any plagiarism. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the other author HAS committed plagiarism because I thought of it first and sent an email to my agent discussing the topic of my book, which was supposed to be about literary symbolism and how it will morph in a postmodernist way now that Artificial Intelligence is getting all up in my craft, trying to Wal-Mart me out of my job as a writer trained in lorefare," is another.
Anyway, imagine a scene here where there's that blank expression on the mind of a person who is in the middle of realizing something profound, so it will take him a few minutes to wrap his mind around the implication of what he has now come to understand. OK? So, with that in mind, I'm just going to offer you the paragraph trailing three paragraphs behind this one, because I wanted to make clear that there is a truly satisfying dramatic way that this chapter can conclude if I can think of some way more succinct to capture that slowly unfolding feeling of enlightenment, and that facial expression that changes slowly as it morphs from confused to amazed to inspired to maybe a little tempted to mischief. So here it is again, the best I can come up with:
|| REPEATED PARAGRAPH - REPRODUCED FOR READER CONVENIENCE
AND ENHANCED EXPERIENCE ||
It should seem unnecessary then, shouldn't it, that I would need to 'imagine' what I myself am thinking? If I am thinking it, why would I need to imagine myself in the third person (basically), thinking about it? All of the entities involved are imaginary. And yet it seems so useful, and it definitely helps me understand real things. It takes some practice to understand how all of these thought layers, symbols, metaphors, grammar jokes, wordplay, enlightenment, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so on, can fit together, and how they might blend, bend, breathe, bond, bake, and banter, bestowing beauty or banality upon each other, leaving ultimately to me the labor of conjuring meaning by imagining what a hypothetical, imaginary 'someone else' is thinking . . .
. . . much like postmodernist literary fiction.
[Oh yes, that is a much better ending now that I framed it right.]
January 4th, 2022