However, this particular book surprised me more than usual as it constantly stripped my mind naked. When a male writer probes into a female mind, I have no definite way of knowing its authenticity, but when the target was someone like me, it confirmed without any doubt that the human mind is after all capable of burrowing into another mind, and gender is not always a barrier.
When the first time I met you, my mind instantly formed a model or simulation of you. This simulation was complete in all details from the very beginning. Since I knew very little about you, I must have used my lifetime of experience to fill in all the gaps, and initially it was mostly gaps. If I dreamt of you that night, your simulation would have behaved with all the necessary details that makes a person real. If, in my imagination, I put you in any situation where I have not seen you in reality, your model would have performed with all the credibility of a real person, and you would have been in-character.
Since that first day, each time we met, your real behavior either matched my model of you, or your behavior surprised me by not matching what my simulation predicted. Each time I detected a discrepancy, my mind altered the model slightly to accommodate the latest surprises. I guess that’s what makes human interaction so fascinating – it is the constant process of refining the models in our mind. When the model gets so good that it most often predicts your behavior accurately, I would tell myself that I really know you. When it fails too often, I would say that I fail to understand you. Cognitive scientists call this the “theory of mind”. That is, we have an innate ability to imagine what others are thinking.
But it doesn’t just end there. Since I can think about what you are thinking, I also know you are thinking about what I could be thinking about you. That is, I know that you too have a theory of mind about me. Knowing that there exists a simulation of me in your mind, I would try to understand what it is, and then either try to modify that simulation the way I want you to perceive me, or behave in a way to further confirm some good aspects of what I perceive to be my model in your mind. Some people may have the ability to carry this recursion a few levels deeper, and we may either call them smart, complex, or cunning depending on our view of that individual.
This is not too dissimilar from how we play chess. I think of my move, and then I try to think what you would think of my move and what countermove you would play. I then try to think what would be my response to your countermove, back and forth, until it gets too much to carry in our head. Better chess players can go deeper and have better simulations of the opponent’s thoughts. Could it be the same with writers? May be some people have a better ability to create accurate simulations, and can also go a few levels deeper in their recursive analysis. Of course I am not suggesting that any of this happens at a deliberate level. It happens sub-consciously, and we just perceive them as highly perceptive individuals who know exactly what we are thinking. When this is combined with superior writing abilities, we have an author who can cross many experiential gaps, and write about worlds and that are not their own, and yet they come across as convincing and genuine.
Adelle Waldman is certainly one such writer. Her success at crossing into a male mind without leaving any footprints should also plant some doubt into those who claim that it is impossible for male writers to understand and write about the female mind without soiling it with their male perspectives. I think people like that have too little respect for the capacity of the human mind to imagine. Not everyone have the ability to do that, but some do.