Imagine yourself sitting in a room, of unknown shape, with mirrors at various angles making up the walls. It could very well be a mirror maze, like the ones you might find at a carnival, down the shore at one of the many boardwalk locales with rides and games, or perhaps in the mansion of some eccentric billionaire with interesting ideas about interior decorating.
If you had sufficient light, could you determine the shape of the room (within your line of sight) without moving around (you could rotate, but not move around)? With simple enough shapes perhaps you could, but as the complexity of the shape and the number of mirrors increases, the task of determining the exact shape would be difficult at best, impossible at worst.
If you placed a computer of sufficient complexity, with cameras and other accessories attached, perhaps it could do so more quickly and efficiently than you or I could. Perhaps some minds, better suited for such tasks, could do it as well. Of course, why you might spend your time calculating the shape of mirrored rooms is your issue.
Wait, I’m the one thinking up ridiculous scenarios. I hope I’m going somewhere with this….
I’m Going somewhere with this, honestly!
Sometimes, the internal cognitive structure of my mind feels like a hall of mirrors, where the light is insufficient and I can’t even turn my head in all directions. Trying to figure out the angles, turns, and shape of the environment seems like trying to figure out the shape of a hall of mirrors, similar to the description above. I think that if only I were super intelligent, I might be able to calculate the shape of my internal self and I could know exactly how to fix what seems broken, or at least what is not ideal.
If I were smart enough, my mental health could simply be rationalized away! Like magic, except rational. So, like rationalized denial, or something. Shut up! I’m really going somewhere with this, honest.
But then, another idea comes to mind; what if it weren’t a puzzle? What if the information at hand were not sufficient to calculate a solution? What if the mirrors in the hall were so complex that determining the shape of the room could never leave the mathematical realm of probability and enter into deductive logic?
What if you were perpetually forced to guess, anticipate, and be forced to be wrong much of the time? What would that be like?
Oh, right, that would be like reality.
What if it were not possible for me, or anyone, to know the shape of my mind? What if we were all problems, and not puzzles?
A dichotomy or a mere illusory problem?
In much of philosophical history, probably because Plato left so many footnotes, there is a hard, and often dichotomous, distinction between the intellect and the a-rational emotions, instincts, etc. As I have argued previously (mostly in relation to my ongoing series of critiques of Ayn Rand), this distinction is not really so hard, and the fact is that our rationality grows out of irrational soil. Our intellectual and emotional selves are intertwined in all sorts of complicated ways.
In philosophy, the distinction between a puzzle and a problem is essentially that a puzzle just takes time processing power, etc to solve. A problem is something that does not have a rational solution, and may have no solution at all. While some might say it is here where we dive into the realm of theology, I might lean a little more towards a positivist’s answer that such things might, in fact, be meaningless.
Or, they just might not have solutions that we can find, given our cognitive deficiencies, limited understanding, etc.
My intellect insists that the cognitive landscape within is a puzzle. When I’m feeling confident in this set of attributes which we refer to as intellect, I believe that given enough time and processing power, I can figure out the problems within my mind, personality, and social self and determine a rational solution to any mental health concerns I might have.
What of the other attributes? I am cautious to call them non-rational, because they are real physical processes which must adhere to some physical, and thus analog, rules. But they are at least convoluted puzzles, perhaps the parts of which are too hidden to determine how they work. (This, of course, is still my intellect insisting that this is a solvable puzzle, if not an excessively hard one).
Even if it were a puzzle, because the parts are not all accessible to me (I am not conscious of all the cognitive processes in my brain, which is one of the reasons why intelligence is insufficient), the practical result is that there is no difference between it being a potentially solvable puzzle and a problem, from my conscious point of view.
So, am I a problem to myself, or am I a puzzle?
My intellect insists I’m a puzzle, and the rest of me insists, perhaps stubbornly, the opposite. In other words, my emotions insist I’m a problem (that’s a little Borderline Personality Disorder joke there…). The problem there is that my intellect is dependent upon emotion, instinct, and unconscious processes to exist, and all of those things rely of the intellect to correct them (assuming we value skepticism to any degree, of course).
Now that’s a hall of mirrors.
If I figure it out, I’ll let you all know.