The Homunculus Has No Clothes

You could say my husband is a “straight talker” – straight talking meaning bluntness, I suppose. But in my opinion, his “straight talk” goes much deeper than that. He doesn’t just state his opinions bluntly, he has this ability to see things that other people don’t.

By this, I don’t mean he is clairvoyant. He can’t see the future. He also can’t see your aura. I guess I would describe his “vision” more as an ability to see through your rationalizations. He can tell when you’re way off base, when your reasoning doesn’t hold up, and when you’re just bull-shitting yourself – or others.

I’ve relied on this particular ability of his many times in my life. In fact, I have valued it most when he sees through my own bullshit. For example, he will bluntly tell me when I am avoiding something out of fear, and not because it doesn’t make sense. He will call out my paranoia, when I think people are saying or doing things behind my back, reminding me that mostly, they’re not thinking about me at all. He has a big problem with lies, and he is contemptuous of manipulators. Somehow, he is able to detect all these things before I even get a whiff of them.

I have often thought he is the quintessential little boy who sees that the emperor has no clothes. Because he doesn’t just notice these things, he also can’t help saying something about them, no matter the social cost. He’s like Toto in the Wizard of Oz, who won’t stop barking and pulling back the curtain until everyone can see that the person they’re afraid of is really just a small, elderly man frantically fiddling with a bunch of levers.

That tiny man – the homunculus – is the supposedly rational mind that, for decades, we’ve been told is directing all of our thoughts and actions. Except that now, we have access to oodles of brain studies showing that this is complete hogwash. Hardly any of our decisions are rationally considered, and we are easily led astray by simple things like the current ratio of hormones in our bodies, consolidated memories from our past, the amount of trees in our environment, and even if we’ve eaten in the past hour.

I learned all this from the book Behave by Robert Sapolsky. It’s a mammoth book, in which he dissects the entire anatomy of human decision-making, from the smallest of neurotransmitters to entire brain regions, from the narrow effect of hormones to how those relate to our larger social environment. Along the way, he cites so many opposing scientific studies that by the time you’re halfway through the book, you’re confused as hell.

What causes us to do what we do? It’s impossible to tell. Every biological marker depends on something else to activate it. So much of what we do is context- dependant. He takes the concept of epigenetics to an entirely new level. In his quest to discover what makes people do what they do, we find no solid answers. You might as well shrug your shoulders and throw a dart, because that’s as close as you’ll ever get to deciphering their reasoning, or lack of it (at least at this time). This should make us all more hesitant when we decide to mete out punishment.

What we do know for sure is that the homunculus has no clothes. Just like my husband, who is constantly pointing out when I get lost in my own head, we as a species are also lost. We need to stop pretending that we’re not. We’ve bungled a lot over the years, from our decision to burn women at the stake for witchcraft, to our long-time defence of slavery.

We make better decisions as a group, when we are confronted, uncomfortably, with many opposing views and perspectives. It helps us to get out of our own heads for awhile and see things from someone else’s point of view. It stimulates openness and creativity. Just like me, we all need someone around to tell us when we’re full of shit. Because it’s rare to the point of impossibility when we can see it for ourselves.

About the Author: Rebecca Wong has a BA in English Literature from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and therapeutic yoga teacher training from the School for Somatic Soulwork under Deniz Aydoslu. She now teaches yoga for anxiety, depression and burnout at Rebecca's Restful Yoga Studio in Toronto.

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