I had to add “homunculus” to my spellchecker, twice because both capitalized and not, proving it’s not a term used in “the office” (spellcheckers being primarily office productivity tools). We’ve entered the realm of esoterica, the province of homeschoolers, retirees (with marbles), conspiracy theorists (the paranoid, sometimes with reason), academics.
That the homunculus would have tales told about it goes without saying, as through usage comes meaning; and then there’s the rhyming with “tails” (“tales” and “tails” are homonyms). There’s the trope of a “missing link” — some hominid with a tail in Darwin’s family tree. Echoes of Naked Ape.
The homunculus arises in literature in the persona of “cogito”, a “thing that thinks” in Cartesian grammar. The inner observer knew that it knew, or thought that it thought. The certainty (ontogeny) of the subjective, the phenomenological, is established. The pineal gland was perhaps its seat.
Then the medical community came up with the ingenious idea of drawing a distorted human animal, or other animal, with body part size ratioed (add to spellchecker) to its importance in the brain, in terms of nerve pathways devoted thereto.
I’m no anatomist and would not presume to trace the algorithm in any detail, however the result is likely familiar to most culturally literate readers.
The Cartesian cogito is not originally connected to the homunculus in the medical sense and was more the visual artist’s vantage point when copying a landscape to a canvas.
The rules of perspective might be at work, along with some imagined XYZ coordinate system, an invisible scaffolding giving the painter a sense of the volume to surface transformation. Classical landscape painting takes us from XYZ to XY, with the Z axis pointing to some vanishing point.
However, even in the vantage point sense, the distortion appears, as in the subjective experience, one’s own body, one’s avatar, being closest to the viewpoint, is relatively enormous. Other things become smaller in perception, even if they’re all the “same size” (picture telephone poles receding alongside a straight Z axis road).
We’re each a giant in our own private sky.
Others don’t see us that way. We become tiny to vanishing in their distance, and yet to ourselves, we remain the star of our own show, some time tunnel scenario.
Connecting the subjective to the objective, and showing a kind of distortion or difference with an “unbiased view” (“God’s eye”) defines the first, second and third person triangle.
In the second person, we acknowledge to one another that we both have a different viewpoint and bias, whereas in the third person we don’t see the difference.
Put another way, Alice and Bob agree that Alice and Bob have different vantage points, and that Alice seems big in Alice’s, Bob big in Bob’s.
Seen from Eve’s viewpoint, however, the way in which Alice and Bob agree there’s a difference in viewpoint is not subjectively apparent. Bob and Alice are “over there” talking to one another.
Eve overhears, listens in. She seems invisible in the sense an omniscient camera is not a part of the story line, unless actors break that fourth wall and address the audience (camera) directly.
Of course Eve herself does not escape having her own avatar, once espied by Alice and/or Bob. She might be looking through some tiny webcam on the back of a flying insect, the proverbial fly on the wall. In that case, we might imagine the “homunculus” of a fly, perhaps an oxymoron, but one with meaning.
Any animal might have a “distortion map” associated with it, indicating the relative distribution of sensors, of both internal and external events.
Now that we have established this domain of Homunculus Studies, we could start “basket weaving” our graph database regarding the evolution of “self” concepts within various grammars. I’d even suggest branching to computer languages at this juncture, and taking up, for example, the use of “self” in the Python language.
The humanities eschew neither graph databases nor spatial coordinate systems, nor machine languages, as proper foci for study. Indeed we embrace them.
American Transcendentalism came equipped with a portal to geometry. Homunculus Studies is free to incorporate the “me ball” of Synergetics, as well as the “visual room” in Wittgenstein.
Homunculus Studies escapes the connotation of “tails” or “tall tales” (“yarns”, “myths”) and only sounds esoteric because not typically considered office work.
Yet the avatar in the cubicle (PWS), and the subjective experience of contemporary office spaces, both have application in our anthropology. I’m referring to the “big A” in both PATH and STEAM, for those wishing to crack more of my code. Officers have the same vantage point biases as anyone.
Where we might take it from here is into an investigation of discontinuity. In what sense is our sense of “self” interrupted, threatened, eclipsed? Is there some process whereby one self morphs into another?
The Jungian idea of a hero’s or heroine’s journey might take center stage at this point. That we’re each giants or stars in our own private sky world relates to more third person objective considerations regarding continuity.
How does one discern when another has become “possessed” for example? Some cultures don’t face that problem exactly, and yet have their “syndromes” nonetheless.
Investigating “discontinuity” may lead us to an overlapping investigation into what constitutes “crazy talk” as once again “threats to the cogito” (illness, that which defenses repel) form an overall theme. We return full circle, to the difference (sometimes slight) between sense, and nonsense. Mind the gap.