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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Word on the Street Continued

Continuing with the thought on an insatiable appetite for random chatter on the "street" in the "neighborhood".

I wonder if this phenomenon is in any way related to a previous observation about a thirst for "knowledge" (discussed here).

Sharing knowledge and opinions through either oral gossip or written words is a fundamental human activity. A certain thought originated in another brain (for example, "the movie The Shining is an allegory of European colonialists' history of massacring Native Americans and the blood debt they since left." or "George RR Martin is wrong about ancient Romans not knowing who lived beyond the Hadrian Wall.") ends up in mine, although I'd never have come up with it in a thousand years spontaneously.

So, anyway, this sharing blurs the boundaries between other minds and my own. The world I take in using my senses in a given moment, firsthand experiences that leave a mark in my memory, and thoughts and digressions bubbling in the skull, products of introversion. These are mine, but the secondhand information that is pass into my brain one way or another is not processed in a different meat grinder. It is the same meat grinder that grinds my meat and their meat, and soon enough all the meat is mashed together and becomes indistinguishable from each other.

A simple illustration is this: I go to a restaurant or watch a movie/TV show or read a book. I form my immediate reaction toward it --- I like it. I don't like it. I'm ambivalent. I read a review published in Washington Post about the restaurant/movie/TV/book. Maybe two reviews. Maybe a review in WaPo, one in The New Yorker, and a bunch on Yelp. And then I chat with a friend and he or she gives me his or her take. I process all of this in my head. What is left? How much of my own direct, firsthand, instinctive impression is left the the blob of opinion/memory in my own head?

What are people saying about XXX? The urge to know is strong. That is what drives my uncontrollable curiosity. What do others think about "Game of Thrones", the gravitational wave discovered in background cosmic microwave images, the new Michael Lewis book, the political situation in Syria/UK/China/Washington, the wrinkles under my eyes? Perhaps more important, how do they feel about it?

Why do I want to know? Why do I NEED to know?

This is not a rant against sharing knowledge and feelings. Can you imagine everyone living on his own direct senses, experience, and ingenuity? He won't last a week in this world.

On the other hand, I want to understand better --- the grey blob in my skull, the crackling electrochemical activities, every moment different from the past and next --- how much of this is mine and how much is someone else's. I want to have a better grasp. If I am feeling the need to reduce and exclude others' thoughts from rushing in, maybe it's because turning off one faucet helps me see how much and what exactly is coming out of the other faucet, ie, mine.

Also, maybe I feel like the "other minds" faucet has been running a bit too fast and voluminous as to drown out the other faucet, because the "neighborhood" has expanded massively to any stranger living in a basement three thousand miles away with Internet access, and sharing gossip has become vastly easier by moving nothing but nine fingers (the left thumb has no use on the keyboard). Perhaps the "me" faucet has grown irritated with being drowned out.

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