In Part I, Chapter XXVIII of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, there is a scene in which Prince Bolkonski is writing a letter and talking to his son at the same time. The prince is not interspersing the writing with the talking; Tolstoy is clearly conveying the notion that he is formulating a written message while saying something different to his son.
Through this description Tolstoy is giving us a sense of the Prince’s lively and restless character. It struck me, however, that this is not something I could imagine happening in real life. It is not just that formulating oneself in one way in writing and in another way in speaking at the same time is very difficult; I’d wish to go further and say that they can’t intelligibly be carried on in parallel. Nor, for instance, do I think one could contribute to one conversation in sign language and to another orally at the same time. Though one may obviously write and say out loud what one is writing at the same time.
It’s not, of course, simply that one can’t do two things at once: one can walk and chew the proverbial gum at the same time, or tie one’s shoelaces and whistle a tune, or talk and drive, etc. And one could talk while signing one’s name, and possibly write while reciting a poem. It’s as if what becomes possible is to say and write different things at the same time and mean them.
I think there is an important philosophical point here, but I don’t think I’m philosopher enough to bring it out.
Would this be the way to think about it: in order to imagine this happening, we should have to think of two persons (two speakers) inhabiting one body?