The mind is a curious thing. It can be both literal and figurative. The other night I saw the Broadway hit, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, with Alex Sharp starring as Christopher. It was a mind-bending production both because of the insight into his struggle as an autistic, mathematical genius, and also because of how well it was performed. I found myself laughing and crying simultaneously throughout the entire performance.
My tears were for all who share his struggles, and for their respective caregivers. My laughter was for the innocence and surprise of how Christopher sees the world. When a policeman investigating a disturbance on the train asked Christopher what he was doing, Christopher replied literally, “talking to you.” He didn’t mean to be funny, or fresh, but the literal way in which he interpreted the question, was curiously touching. In that moment, rather than understanding the severity of the circumstance, Christopher responded with the narrowest view of the situation.
While at times his mind was focused and calm, there were moments in the play when Christopher’s tolerance of external and internal noise went berserk. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition and drawn inside his mind.
Throughout the play Christopher is confronted by idioms like “You’ll catch a death of a cold.” Similarly if someone said “Be still,” he’d want to know for how long.
Expressions loaded with cultural meaning rather than literal directive are confusing to people lacking context or whose minds don’t process that way.
Spending time “inside” Christopher’s mind helped me develop a greater appreciation for the different ways people process and communicate. I left the play more curious than ever about the many ways in which our minds work.
How might your life experience be different if you could only interpret things literally?