Monday, July 26, 2010

Philosophical Rant: Comprehension of the Other

Forgive me for going off on a bit of a tangent but, trust me, it's relevant. I've realized that the greatest intimacy with another person comes when you take a step back from them. It sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me as I explain. As infants, we viewed the world as an extension of ourselves. We couldn't comprehend that our perception of the world wasn't the world or that the people we met weren't simply a part of us. As we grew older, we began to divide the world into I and Not-I. Of course, this division has never been perfect and often we fall back into bad habits with people we are most familiar with.

How often have you made assumptions based off your own belief systems when dealing with someone else, even when that assumption doesn't fit anything else you know about that person? While you doubtless know on a literal level that other people are distinct organisms, wholly separate from us, and yet relating to us on a number of levels, how often do you actually acknowledge it with the people you're close to?

Sometimes consciously looking at another person and really acknowledging their complete and utter separation from us as thinking, feeling organisms in their own right, can really help you see them in a new light. Cutting through those assumptions, taking a step back, and going 'Wow, you are you' can really assist a person in understanding someone else better.

I think this is important to consider for writers on a number of levels. So:

First of all, I believe that all writers are philosophers and psychologists. We try to understand the human condition. What better way to do that then to learn more techniques on recognizing and understanding differences.

Secondly, it's an important point to note when writing your character's perspective. So often we make assumptions based on our own core beliefs, even when those core beliefs are not shared by the person in question. This is something that should happen with out POVs. They shouldn't be able to accurately guess everyone's motivation all the time. There should be a sense that the image being received (and shown to us) is a biased one.

Hopefully some of my rant made some sense. I'm new to trying to put philosophy into words.

Also, apologies to people who dislike the term 'organism'.


  1. I agree. This is something I think I notice most when I disagree with something that a person is done. At first I get frustrated, especially when the thing that they do affects me in some way, Then I remind myself to them, their actions were logical based on their own beliefs and priorities. It helps me move past the event.

    As a writer, this can help us create tension in scenes, especially those with dialogue. Each character has their own goals and priorities. They have their own way of doing things and often want to have the controlling idea or method. That's human nature. The battle can really create some adversarial tension, even if the characters are best buds. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  2. The tricky bit is getting the whole Multiple Personality Disorder going enough that you can have a true argument between two supposedly equal sides. I think the most fun part of doing this is if you get two sides of an argument when you agree with neither side. Sorta like having two characters argue anarchy vs. feudalism when you're a capitalist.