Have you ever contemplated how people think? Can we ever really know how people think? I finished reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, jumped into the shower and while the water relaxed and cleansed, my mind drifted. I enjoyed the book, although not as much as the reviews had me believe I should. Larsson has been described as offering an “original heroine”, and a “gripping plot”. I confess, crime fiction is not my usual choice so my credentials when it comes to judging the literary merit of the novel are somewhat dubious. However I was interested in why the Millennium series was so popular – and yes I do intend to read the other two books before forming an opinion. Nevertheless, initial musings suggested to me that readers are either drawn to the investigative or problem solving aspects of the prose, or they are compelled by a desire to understand the characters and their relationships.
Personally, I was not really intrigued by the mystery that is Lisbeth Salander or the search for the missing Harriet Vanger. Or, perhaps what I should say is that I did not recognise a thrilling plot, nor an overly unique heroine. Yet since that is what reviews led me to expect, I wondered what it was that I was missing? But then as I considered the character of Lisbeth Salander an interesting thought formed from the swirling mass of electronic impulses – can we ever really know how another person thinks or how they actually process the information presented to them to form an opinion?
Of course we can study the brain and its functions and we can interview, counsel and examine people’s reactions to various stimuli. We can listen to or read their opinions, beliefs and hear their explanation of their thought process. We can watch or have described to us, their emotional responses. However at all times, we are processing the information through our own set of filters, through our own understandings and, we are probably taking the internal workings of our brain for granted. After all, it is all we have every really known.
Yes we can be empathetic and ‘imagine’ how another person may be feeling or what they may be thinking and we can even hypothesise why they feel or think that way. Yet, we will still be computing the information using our own operating systems and we have no way (at least to my knowledge) of really knowing how truly compatible our systems are. Yes of course we can gauge similarities and determine harmonious or discordant patterns. In most cases we use this information to determine friend or foe. But, do we ever really, truly share the exact same thinking methodology? I think not, and, while that explains why personal relationships suffer from miss-communication it is also what adds flavour and excitement to them.
I believe the key is to accept that we each use our own unique operating systems that while comparable with others of our species, are not truly compatible (much like a PC and a Mac). When we acknowledge that our thought processes are unique we are more likely to understand that others naturally have their own unique thoughts and as such are as entitled to their ideas as we are. As a result we can begin to appreciate the voice of the philosopher Rumi who offered the idea, “out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing is a field, I will meet you there”.
However, in light of some of the disturbing thought process exhibited by the certain characters in Larsson’s story I do feel compelled to point out that just because we can acknowledge the right of the individual to think their own thoughts, this does not necessarily mean we can draw a direct parallel to the actions of individuals. This is where the waters become murky as some are tempted to use the ‘rights of the individual’ theories as justification for dubious or even downright heinous activities. It is here that the notion of ‘values’ or ‘ethics’ becomes essential downloadable ‘shareware’. In other words, in order for individuals to live within a system (or society) there must exist a series of shared, acceptable, behavioural patterns that recognise an individual’s accountability for their actions and the responsibility to not impinge upon the emotional, intellectual or physical safety of others.
Stories such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo offer readers insight into the thought processes and motivations of individuals on the fringes of society, outside it, at the top and bottom of it, while also sharing the actions and thoughts of the psychopath. Perhaps this is where its popularity lies. The intriguing aspect for me, is the recognition of just how differently we think. In fact, I wonder, as you read this, what you will focus on and what message you will take away? How close will it be to the ideas I intended to convey?