The Limits of Science.
Here is a photograph I took on the corner of E23rd and 8th Avenue in New York. I have an extremely simple question about it that nevertheless places us beyond the limits of anthropology and even of science and human understanding itself.
The question is what are these people thinking?
What for example is the woman in the right thinking? Or the man in sunglasses and the man behind him as they walk towards us? Or the man in the centre in the white shirt or in fact any of these people? What is the empirical content of their thoughts? As with any crowded city street, people may be engaged in diverse, or even radically different, forms of inner speech and imagery, with one person trying to remember if they locked their front door while others are respectively fantasising about an actor, deciding where to go for lunch, communing with a dead spouse or dealing with a major life change, such as having lost their job. Or as documented in Ethnography, Art and Death (Irving 2007) they might be walking around a city looking for a place to commit suicide, or have just received an HIV diagnosis and are confronting the uncertainty and contingency of their own existence in a public place (Irving 2009, 2010, 2011). In each case the person remains a social being and is required to act accordingly but their inner dialogues and lifeworlds are not necessarily made apparent to the wider world. Accordingly, the extent to which the people we see in streets, parks and cafes are engaged in the same practice remains an open question and reinforces the idea that the seemingly congruent social activities we observe in a city are differentiated by diverse modes of inner dialogue and expression that remain uncharted across the social sciences and are rarely, if ever, the focus of ethnographic research or anthropological monographs.