Pictures in the Abstract

As laypersons, every once in a while life will present us with the difficult task of trying to describe a problem to someone who is trying to help us with that problem. We could be trying to explain our car’s problem to a mechanic, our computer’s problem to a person at Best Buy, our body’s problem to a doctor or our problem with problems to a therapist.

In these instances, as we attempt to depict or describe what we think the problem might be, we also paint a picture of sorts of our abstract understanding of our car, the computer, our physical self and our issues. We give it our best shot, usually using analogies and comparisons.  I can only imagine what the doctor or the mechanic is thinking as I give them my best theory of what’s going on with my elbow or my engine. They smile and listen. I tell myself that I’m being helpful. At best, I’m probably being amusing.

For example, a friend of mine, when I asked him about some medication he was taking, went on to express his belief that his anxiety medication acted in the same way on his nerves as his arthritis medicine acted his knees. Specifically, that both medicines went directly to their target and did not effect anything else. Just like aspirin, he said, which goes straight to his headache and nowhere else. There was no reason to tell him otherwise. He had his own ideas. Side effects were not included in his picture. Besides, I’m not his doctor, only a friend who had no desire to get into an argument. I smiled and listened.

I listened once as a person explained how self-aware they were because they knew where everything belonged in the scheme of things. They pictured their mind like a giant post office, that all of the ideas and experiences that came in were much like letters and packages that needed to be sorted and filed in their appropriate category or slot. Thinking was the mind’s way of putting things where they belonged. Then, whenever they were asked about any subject, they could easily pull out the ideas and experiences they’d filed in that category and send them out into the conversation. It was quite a picture in the abstract. I asked them, since I couldn’t really relate anything positive with the post office, if an image of a massive warehouse for Amazon.com could be used just as well to describe how they understood their minds to work. Turns out, it could. Their picture of the mind was of a mechanized and automated process of storage and retrieval. Their concept of self awareness translated roughly into something like efficient organization.

I wanted to smile as I listened. I really did.

I was too sad, though.

After all, I was the one who had married her.

 

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