Hearing the Uncanny Valley

There’s a concept known as the Uncanny Valley. In short, it basically states that while people accept totally fake cartoons as “real” characters, and real people as real characters, almost real triggers something in us that just makes us feel… wrong.

I believe Mead’s hypothesis of the I and Me explains this. We model our ideas of ourselves – and others – and when things don’t fit the expected model, especially when it’s just a little off, it unconsciously throws our whole internal model of the world into question. Usually, this means we reject what we’re seeing (hence the Uncanny Valley)… but when we can’t, it leads to a deep disquiet.

Think about the last time you lost something that you knew where it was. It might have been unimportant, a minor little thing. But since you knew where it was supposed to be, your model of the world was unreconcilably compromised. Until you could find the thing, that deep disquiet bothered you.

In my experience, this also shows up with the mentally ill. Something is just a little off (and in my experience, the exact something is irrelevant). They may be mostly functional, but some undefinable thing just isn’t right.

That kind of disquiet is hard enough to shake off when it’s your keys; it is much harder when dealing with another human. This may be at the heart of continued discrimination against the mentally ill. After all, it’s just another disease.

One gentleman keeps sending typewritten letters to my home – and apparently to many others as well. They are dense, thick texts, written with a real analog typewriter and hand-addressed. They, too, give off this feeling of the uncanny valley. A while back, I had dictated one of these, simply because of the very powerful unsettled feeling it gave me. While I expurgated all identifying details, it’s otherwise comeptely “sic”. Give it a listen.

I can hear the echoes of the uncanny valley. Can you?

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