The fuzzy self

John Scalzi wrote the other day about "Being fictional" - the idea that public figures are fictionalised in the heads of people all over the world. The fictional selves of writers tend to be even further from the original (eigen) self than most since often people have little contact with the writer themselves but have to infer a lot about them from their work.

I quite like this idea. If one plotted all these fictional selves in some sort of information space they would surround the eigen-self. The distribution of these quantum selves would act as an indicator both of how the eigen-self is presenting itself - an accurate view suggests a lot of transparency, an inaccurate view might be reflective of hiding certain unpopular beliefs or shouting about fashionable behaviours - and something about the underlying society within all this is taking place - since you can see what people assume in the absence of information.

Of course it's not just public figures surrounded by such a cloud - we all are. Each new person we interact with under a new identifier* leads to the creation of a new quantum self. Created with limited information, these imperfect copies are ghostly echoes that may even outlive the original. It's not just other people that create these ghostly copies of ourselves, we do it. Every time we wonder what might have been; rethink what we should have said or done; or plan the future.

The more information exchanged with another person, the more accurate a fictional self of the other person each can build. This can vary with physical proximity, levels of openness and simply duration. The changing relationship between two people can either become an attractive or a repelling force. We are all surrounded by a fantastic multitude of lines of communication - of varying bandwidths - connecting us not directly to other people, but to the vision of us they have in their head. This appeals to the physics geek in me - particles interact by exchanging information via virtual particles. Why not humans?

Which is where Terry Pratchett comes in. In Witches Abroad (which I'm about to spoil slightly, but it came out in 91) Granny Weatherwax and her sister Lily get trapped in between two mirrors, surrounded by infinite reflections of themselves with the only way to escape the prison being finding the "real one". Granny being about as grounded as possible whilst still being above ground, instantly realises that she is the real one and escapes, leaving Lily trapped and hunting.

Some people are immensely solid in and of themselves. Others worry about their quantum/fictional selves: how do they compare to what-might-have-been; what do people think of them. I'm not sure either taken to extremes is ideal - one of the ways we grow is in considering how we appear to others but endlessly lingering over the largely unreal distances ourselves from the here and now.

*Where an identifier is simply who someone knows us. Oddly multiple relationships with different identifiers might represent different fictional-selves. Someone who knows you as the guy who looks like *that* & as @twitterhandle & as example@email.com might not know they all refer to the same person. These mental images may collapse with the addition of more information or may stay forever separate.

No comments: