Theres a game I play with my two daughters, which doesn't have a name, but involves one or two or all three of us competing in who can tell the most preposterous lie. A session might start soon after watching a "Lord Of The Rings" video, for instance and go something like this:
"You know those Lord of the Rings films? You might have seen them mentioned in the news? Well, I made those. Wrote, produced, directed. I starred in them too. All the major parts are actually me. It's a triumph of make up and special effects. I did that too. And all the sets and costumes."
"Oh really? Well, I was having lunch with Peter Jackson just the day before yesterday, and he had quite a different story about who made them."
"Well of course he would. Pete and I had a wee chat some time ago about what he should say to you if you ever asked. How's Fran and the kids by the way? I haven't seen them in weeks...."
I guess for a lawyer, an actress and a clergyman, these sessions should not be regarded so much as games but as professional development. The aim of the exercise is for the liar to maintain consistency and congruence in the story, and for the skeptics to destroy them. The liar always wins. This is because the first of the elements of a good lie, consistency, is reasonably easy to maintain if your imagination is big enough. Maintaining congruence is just a matter of rationalising your story against whatever evidence is presented to counter it and again, this is simply a matter of imagination and verbal dexterity - qualities that none of the participants are short of.
Consistency and congruence are the hallmarks not just of a good lie but of all forms of narrative, including the narrative required to maintain a robust sense of self.
Consistency relates to the internal structure of a story: it must hold together, have pattern and direction and not have parts of itself which are mutually contradictory. We make the fiction of our self consistent by employing the usual mental tricks: reshaping or even complete fabrication of memories, and by careful selection, polishing, forgetting, augmenting, diminishing or recasting of our thoughts, feelings and experiences. Our ability to form a consistent sense of self depends on our ability to impose a narrative pattern on the experiences of our lives.
Congruency is the extent to which our story fits with the "real" world. We must remember that we never actually encounter the real world, but rather a ghostly image of it constructed by our minds working on the data conveyed to it by our senses. Our senses are very imperfect and our minds - the bit doing the filtering, judging and assembling of data - are a part of our self: ie the very thing that is being constructed. This is why "we see the world not as it is but as we are." Nevertheless, despite the fact that we are not actually in touch with it, there is a reality there somewhere, of which we are part and with which we interact; a reality which gives rise to our sense phenomena, and the senses for receiving them and the mind for interpreting them. Our sense of self, although it can only ever approximate this reality, must never actually contradict it, if our self is to be robust enough to enable us to live successfully with reality and with other consciousnesses. I guess madness is a term applied to those senses of self which, while they are perfectly consistent, are not congruent.
Congruence is maintained through the feedback we receive. There are two sources of feedback. One is our ongoing experience of reality, whatever that might be, mediated to us at long distance through the remote control of our senses.
[ note: There is an issue that this reality may itself be a construction of our consciousness, but I won't get into that, or the interesting implications of that here. At least, not today. I mean by 'ongoing experience of reality' the commonly agreed sense of what is real- the communal fiction - which enables people to exist together. ]
The other source of feedback is people. People react to us and say things to us. The reactions of people are perhaps the key factors in forming our sense of self. We see ourselves primarily as we are reflected back in the interactions we have with those around us. This is what I meant yesterday when saying that our sense of self is socially formed. The implications of this are huge, and I will speak more of them later.