Sunday, December 25, 2011

Internal Dialogue

Often I come up with post ideas in the form of hypothetical conversations I have. I don't know if anyone else does this (I assume some people do), but my internal life has increasingly become, from my childhood self-speaking imaginary, more and more a dialogue, usually with a few important figures in my life whose voices I have internalized and with whom I (in my mind) have "practice" discussions.

I also vaguely imagine myself speaking to St. Thomas Aquinas quite a lot, but oddly not in theological type discussions (as I assume we already agree there); rather, my "conversations" with St. Thomas usually involves "explaining" various aspects of the modern world (technological, political, social, artistic, philosophical, scientific, etc) that a medieval would find baffling.

I'm sure this is really about reconciling, for myself, these developments (which can seem so discontinuous with ideas of an organic human "default" imagined as medievalesque) in some sort of rational contextualization to prove, to myself, that we're still living in the same civilization, the same humanity, the same reality. That, ultimately, the same human (and, of course, Christian) Reason, of which Aquinas (in the Summa) in some sense symbolizes the supreme historical voice (in my imagination at least)...can still accommodate all of it. That the basic framework or paradigm, while it may need to be "expanded," does not need to be "overthrown."

Now, all these sorts of internal discussions (about topics both lofty and mundane, sacred and profane) are not nearly as rich as actually talking to the real human beings, of course. Really, this small "cast of characters" serve as little more than Socratic interlocutors who agree with me or ask questions or raise the objections I anticipate, but their main point is just to help me consider how I'd present an argument to this or that person or type of person (the "type" the specific person represents to me) in a manner that assumes the common ground or set or presumptions or experiences we already share based on our relationship.

This helps me flesh out ideas, and it also allows me to "rehearse" potential conversations in real life (often with those people themselves) and to prepare a script I can use in actual conversation. Or, rather than a script, it's more like a whole tool-box or repertoire of pre-prepared ideas or structures or anecdotes or analogies or particular turns of phrase I can deploy in conversation or debate in a dynamic fashion.

And, indeed, very often these internal conversations are continuations, in a l'esprit de l'escalier sort of way, of conversations I had in real life, sometimes recently, sometimes from months and months prior. As I implied above, only real conversations with real human beings are ever truly "generative" for me creatively (you will notice that many of my posts here start with "I was having a discussion the other day...") There are some pretty famous movies that are just conversations like this, that capture the energy and dynamism when two people really "click" conversationally, but there is nothing comparable to actually being an active and integral participant in mind speaking to mind and heart speaking to heart; this is Trinitarian relationality at its best.

And yet, of course, it does not end with the conversation itself in this life. Rather, the conversation brings up a variety of arguments and ideas and threads that usually are not (and, for time constraints, cannot be) resolved in the original conversation itself, but which ferment and continue playing out in my head for days or weeks afterward, but definitely set in motion and "fueled by" the original conversation (and sometimes by follow-up conversations).

Sometimes the direction these takes is quite surprising, and sometimes this involves the input of several unrelated conversations, with different people, juxtaposed over the course of days leading to an even richer coalescing of ideas in my mind. Just recently, combined with the enthusiasm from some positive emotional factors, one of these "brainstorms" has been occurring, which has "activated" an energized a variety of previous conversations and ideas, and this has spawned a variety of ideas for posts that I'd like to write if I find the time.

For now, though, Merry Christmas to all, especially those of you in my life with whom dialogue has been so productive, and the synergy so creative and transformative.


Amy said...

"there is nothing comparable to actually being an active and integral participant in mind speaking to mind and heart speaking to heart; this is Trinitarian relationality at its best." - aww, I love this!!

I too have conversations in my head all the time, though for me I find that a lot of my internal dialogue is novel-writing. I am constantly narrating or imagining how to delicately word things that are difficult to narrate (most of the best things are!)... I think blogging also sets the essay-writing wheels in motion, for me. Sometimes tied to conversation, other times simply to observation. But I do weirdly have primary characters in my head - friends or acquaintances in real life - who for some reason seem like people I feel the need to be able to explain things to.

cor ad cor loquitur said...

Have you come across the term ‘Bulverism’? I think it is a form of petitio principii; it was coined by CS Lewis, who was prone to it himself. You could also think of it as ‘mind-reading’: assuming you have privileged insights into your interlocutor’s mind and motivations.

From an essay called Bulverism (1941):

You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it “Bulverism”. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than a third — “Oh you say that because you are a man.” “At that moment”, E. Bulver assures us, “there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument. Assume that your opponent is wrong, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.” That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

Most liturgy discussions (including quite a few on this blog) are prone to Bulverisms. ‘Traddies promote the Tridentine Mass because they are nostalgic’; ‘liberals want to get rid of altar rails because they have unacknowledged sexual sins’, etc.

I mention Bulverism only because internal dialogues – well, mine at least – slip so very easily into this fallacy. Perhaps yours don’t. After all, I ought to be able to read my own mind … and so I imagine the other person, and readily dissect his arguments by analysing the psychological motivations for them, rather than looking at their veracity.

There are other logical traps that internal dialogue falls into, for example self-evident truths or self-sealing arguments (‘Anyone who knows anything about rite and symbol will tell you that …’).

The best corrective is a supportive but critical friend – a real one – who will take the fallacious thinking apart. As you say, there is nothing like a real conversation with a real person.

Thanks for all your fine work on this blog. A very happy Christmas to you!