When Christopher first started school, his teacher was named Julie. Julie asked him what he thought was in a tube of Smarties, and Christopher said there were Smarties. When she uncapped the tube, there was actually a pencil inside. She asked what his mother would think was in the capped tube, and Christopher said she’d think there was a pencil. He gave this answer because he didn’t understand that other people had independent minds. Julie thought he would always struggle with this, but he doesn’t anymore, because he approached it like it was a puzzle.
This anecdote shows that it doesn’t come naturally to Christopher to be able to imagine how other people see the world or what they’re thinking. This makes it especially difficult for him to understand how his parents could have rationalized their actions and thought they were making the best possible choices. However, Christopher has already showed himself able to come to understand that other people have independent minds, so he might be able to understand his current situation eventually, too.
The mind is a complicated machine, like a computer. In fact, people are essentially always looking at screens in their minds. Christopher saw an experiment on TV in which pieces of a screen of type changed very quickly when participants’ eyes flicked to another part of the screen. In these tiny moments, people don’t see anything, but they don’t realize this because their brains fill in the mental screen. Thus, they don’t see the type changing.
Christopher’s mind works differently than other people’s, and yet he understands how the mind works better than most. If he can think of everyone’s minds as computers, it helps him understand people. Their mysterious actions aren’t so different from supernatural occurrences—both seem unexplainable, but he believes there is a scientific basis for them.
People differ from animals because they can see images in their minds of things that they’re not actually looking at. Animals, on the other hand, are only aware of what they’re currently seeing. People think they have a little person inside their heads watching the screen in their minds, but this little person is really just another object on the screen. There are always different parts of the brain to think about what the other ones are imagining.
Christopher’s book in a way exemplifies his claim that parts of the brain are always aware of what the others are doing. He writes the events of his life, but the interspersed chapters of his thoughts are like another part of his brain, reflecting almost unconsciously on the events around him. His theory means that there’s always a part of the brain left over to look objectively on the emotions of the rest.
Thus, people’s brains are like computers because they go blank for tiny moments while the screen changes. People also think they’re different from computers because they have feelings, but feelings are really just different images in a person’s mind of events that could have happened or might in the future, and people have reactions depending on how much they like the image.
Christopher is experiencing a lot of feelings about what the letters have revealed. Since he’s not particularly comfortable with emotions, it helps him to think about them as the operations of a machine, a series of images rather than vague, unexplainable presences that make him act in ways he can’t control.