The Fictions We Create 3: Describing the Inside and Outside

Common sense distinguishes between objects that stand on the “outside” of a room or enclosure, and those located “within” a room, or a box, or a carton or an awkwardly configured shell/enclosure. Thus objects are invariably assumed to occupy space. Amongst their many diverse properties which is that objects are located somewhere, in some place which can itself be described and conceptualized, as “a vessel 20 leagues under the sea”! To be in space assumes therefore that one is located “within” or “outside” an enclosure.

Thinking outside the box

We speak routinely about “locations” but — as we shall see — this is speaking figuratively and metaphorically. By contrast, when we discuss our feelings about an issue — e.g. about a neighbour who has just won a large prize in a lottery, or the person who called the police to report an ongoing burglary of his home, or about the doctor’s report that someone known to us has contracted HIV — we not only report the bare facts of a case, but also refer to how these event affected or influenced us as individuals — specifically, how we feel, or retrospectively felt, about what happened on a particular occasion.

Of course, we usually or normally do not receive two reports, one of a particular event and the other of our feelings about it, although on many occasions we get these “mixed up”. Thus we may say, “I’m sorry that I appear all excited and wound-up but the following happened as I walked to the Forum — Caesar was killed by Brutus, and by a host of others!”

So humans, as a rule, report both what they have experienced but also how this experience may have affected them. In our culture we are also trained to be clear that reports and narratives can be both about “objective events” and about how these events influenced us “personally”! We learn therefore how to present “what has occurred out there, somewhere” and “how we (I) feel about a matter” in a clear, possibly concise, manner. The common distinction is therefore between (a) “objective” events and (b) events which “impact” our feelings and our personal reactions to such events.

We refer to these latter as “subjective reports” — and in this matter ensure that these are excluded from being “objective” or “scientific”! We assign to such events a special status. But there are exceptions, as when a person is totally focussed on events taking place “outside”, even when these are far in the past.

It would be a gross error of judgement to describe such events in “personal” terms, like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 70 AD which destroyed the Roman city of Pompeii. Not quite! It would also be inappropriate for a historian or archeologist to do so, but not for a writer of fiction, a novelist like Lord Lytton, or even of a stray eye-witness. (Were there any surviving witnesses?) In other words, we ourselves choose whether to treat an event as objective or in a personalized manner. In summary, there are times when we have the opportunity and the “right” to choose between these two options, whether to see and present ourselves to others as impartial witnesses, or as involved participants!