Mona Lisa and Truthfulness

Posted by Mike

The enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa may indicate that she was cautiously reluctant to reveal to the observer who she really was. For the rest of us it may be that truthful representations of ourselves to others may be equally difficult. In earlier postings we discussed issues related to truth.  In those essays we were writing about truth related to evidence and facts.  Here the issue is personal truth, how well what we say (and also what we think) corresponds to reality, to what actually happens.

 Most of us likely think that we’re relatively truthful and that we are very truthful when it comes to important issues. But I wonder about that. For one thing, there are characteristics of perception and language that limit our ability to present what is real accurately.  If we have a perception or if an event occurs, in our processing of such things our brains automatically and by necessity must select features that seem relevant. I say by necessity, because a perception contains literally thousands of potential sensory data, such that automatic selection, based upon what we have unconsciously learned in the past was important, must occur. The same thing is true if we begin thinking about something. When we begin thinking about something (we’re using language at this point) our minds have already automatically abstracted minimal identifiers (concrete images) by which we are starting to consciously process whatever events may have occurred.  Vast deletions of perceptual data have already occurred by the time that we are consciously aware of what we are thinking! Does this mean that we have no “free will” and are automatons?  Certainly not! But it does mean that we have a lot of automatic programming that goes on in our perceptual and thinking processes that we are completely unaware of and that the direction of our thought processes generally occurs automatically. Long before we are adults the consciously choosing and directing part of our thoughts is the very tiny top fraction of the iceberg that is our minds.  

So in a sense we may not be “truthful” at times due to the automatic selection process described above.  In addition, of course, in the process of consciously thinking, we are influenced by our biases, which include self-preservative scripts: we tend to see events selectively so that we see ourselves in the best possible light. This is natural. It’s part of being human; a basic survival mechanism.  Then there is the intentional selective “spinning” of the facts, to limit revealing ourselves, to save face, to intentionally mislead. I suspect that at times we all do some spinning. We do like to be seen by others in the most favorable light, don’t we? I, for one, plead guilty, Your Honor. Perhaps, too, that’s what the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is all about. How about for you?

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1 Comment

Filed under philosophy

One response to “Mona Lisa and Truthfulness

  1. It seems that Mona is just trying to hold a smile for the camera. Didn’t Leonardo use photographs to paint from?

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