Metaphors of the Mind

Intriguing passages from Haruki Murakami‘s novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Abstract: This imaginative novel explores concepts of consciousness and identity from two perspectives: the ‘reality’ perspective (aka, the hard-boiled wonderland of a futuristic society) and the ‘romantic’ perspective (aka, the end of the world as complement of the emotionally hardened futuristic society). Both perspectives are elegantly woven into one cybersymphony which penetrates the heart of the reader.

Mind as Current of Air

“‘To tell the truth, I do not know this thing called ‘mind,’ what it does or how to use it. It is only a word I have heard.’

‘The mind is nothing you use,’ I say. ‘The mind is just there. It is like the wind. You simply feel its movements.'”

(p. 61)

Mind as Nothing

“‘I want you to tell me about your shadow,’ I say. ‘I may have met her in my old world.’

‘Yes, that may be so. I remember the time you said we might have met before.’

She sits in front of the stove and gazes into the fire.

‘I was four when my shadow was taken away and sent outside the Wall. She lived in the world beyond, and I lived here. I do not know who she was there, just as she lost touch of me. When I turned seventeen, my shadow returned to the Town to die. Shadows always return to die. The Gatekeeper buried her in the Apple Grove.’

‘That is when you became a citizen of the Town?’

‘Yes. The last of my mind was buried in the name of my shadow. You said that the mind is like the wind, but perhaps it is we who are like the wind. Knowing nothing, simply blowing through. Never aging, never dying.’ ” (p. 173)

Mind as Black Box

“‘First, let me give you a quick rundown on my theories. There’s one given about codes, and that is there’s no such thing as a code that can’t be cracked. The reason bein’ that codes are composed accordin’ to certain basic principles. And these principles, it doesn’t matter how complicated or how exactin’, ultimately come down to commonalities intelligible to more than one person. Understand the principle and you can crack the code. Even the most reliable book-to-book codes, where two people exchange messages denotin’ words by page and line number in two copies of the same edition of the same book – even then, if someone discovers the right book, the game is up.

‘That got me t’thinkin’. There’s only one true crackproof method: you pass information through a ‘black box’ t’scramble it and then you pass the processed information back through the same black box t’unscramble it. Not even the agent holdin’ the black box would know its contents or principle. An agent could use it, be he’d have no understanding of how it worked. If that agent didn’t know how it worked, no one could steal the information. Perfect.’

‘So the black box is the subconscious.’

‘Yes, that is correct. Each individual behaves on the basis of his individual mnemonic makeup. No two human beings are alike; it’s a question of identity. And what is identity? The cognitive system arisin’ from the aggregate memories of that individual’s past experiences. The layman’s word for this is the mind. No two human beings have the same mind. At the same time, human beings have almost no grasp of their cognitive systems. I don’t, you don’t, nobody does. All we know – or think we know – is but a fraction of the whole cake. A mere tip of the icing.’ ” (p. 255)

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Murakami, H. (1991). Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Transl. Alfred Birnbaum, Vintage International Books: New York.

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4 thoughts on “Metaphors of the Mind

  1. Hey Inge – I am enjoying your writings. Murakami’s mind as black box discussion is interesting and reminds me of what we talked about the other day and the unpredictable, complex pendulum…no swing can ever be replicated. Difficult to fully understand but similar to the ‘effect of the subconscious.’ Good luck with the essay you’re working on. – Shereen

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