After reading “Othello”, I was amazed how Iago, Othello’s “friend” and ensign, dupes everyone in the play, particularly Othello. Nobody knows what is going on in Iago’s mind. They think he is honest and trustworthy. But, he is a master of linguistic manipulation, in other words, he speaks falsely but people think he speaks the truth. Iago is Shakespeare’s ultimate villain. He is a liar who delights in inflicting pain and suffering on others through his deception.
All this brought to my mind the philosophical problem of our supposed knowledge of other people’s minds. We tend to make inferences about what other people are thinking, but these inferences are fallible. This makes us skeptical of what people say. What’s behind their eyes?
You can observe what a person says and does but you have to guess what’s really going on in their head. The other person’s mind is hidden from you, only the person themself know what’s going on in their mind.
I look at another person and they seem to me as opaque, not transparent, their mind is out of my view. I also know my mind is hidden from them. It’s a funny feeling, at times, knowing that the other person doesn’t know me, just like I don’t know them.
So, the gulf between my outer self and inner self opens up possibilities of concealment that I can exploit if I want to. I remember when I was a kid and I realized my thoughts were not knowable to others and I could misrepresent what was in my mind, a whole new moral world opened up.
The element of trust is wrapped up in this concealment of the mind from others. I have to take your words at face value and when I do this I place my trust in you. But, when you deceive me, that trust is destroyed.
So, when we interact with others we are constantly asking ourselves: “Is this the “real person” or are they deceiving me?” It’s frustrating that other people’s real thoughts are hidden from us.
This reminds me of the quip: The fellow who says he has an OPEN mind may only have a VACANT one.
Also published on Medium.