“Bobby, you’ve been looking peculiar”

“Bobby, you’ve been looking peculiar” August 18, 2012

After the song above, Amy can’t decide whether to go through with her wedding, and decides to call it off (“I’m sorry, Paul.  I don’t love you enough“).  After her about-to-be-husband walks out of the room, she turns to Bobby for validation, asking, “What did I just do?”

Bobby, looking a little panicked, scrunched up against a wall replies,”You did what you had to do, I guess.  If it was right, you would have gone through with it.  That’s what I think.”

(So yes, we interrupt this Sondheim Symposium on marriage for a little discussion on epistemology).

Bobby’s position is a kind of Panglossian optimistism.  He seems to be claiming that every decision is the correct decision, even if the derivation of the decision isn’t clear.  Maybe his unexamined premise is that the human mind is pretty good at noticing and weighting the ‘intangibles’ subconsciously.  (Just before she tells Paul to go, Amy confesses she’s afraid, but not sure of what).  I thought Bobby’s approach was an interesting counterpoint to the emotions are data pitch I found persuasive at Rationalist Minicamp.  While my fellow and campers were told to use and evaluate our reactions, Bobby seems to take them as revelation.

A homunculus is a popular shorthand for our emotional instincts (so is ‘lizard brain’ but it doesn’t sustain a metaphor as well).  I have an unfortunate tendency to see my relationship with the homunculus as a fight, where I’ve got the best chance of preserving my agency and identity if I can pen it up somehow.  The minicamp lesson suggested that you could use its input in your decisionmaking process without losing your ‘self,’  basically putting it in a counselor role.  But Bobby seems to put the homunculus in the driver’s seat.

I don’t think Bobby is making a strong philosophical claim that his instinctive, system one self is the ‘real Bobby’ and deserves the reins.  Bobby probably still views his conscious, commenting self as him, but, he’s content to remain a spectator.  Identity doesn’t imply agency.  Bobby spends a lot of time taking himself out of the action in the musical, and his reassurance to Amy seems to show us how deadening that attitude feels like from the inside.  His detatchment makes it much harder to for him to notice if he’s confused or choose to change his life.


Points to anyone who does a Bobby-related cogsci relyricization of this verse of Joanne’s “Ladies who Lunch”   I was going to take a crack at it, but my parents are in town and the time got away from me.

And here’s to the girls who just watch–
Aren’t they the best?
When they get depressed,
It’s a bottle of Scotch,
Plus a little jest.
Another chance to disapprove,
Another brilliant zinger,
Another reason not to move,
Another vodka stinger.
I’ll drink to that.

Browse Our Archives