Thursday, January 22, 2015

The "objective" view of the world

I want to expand on what I started writing yesterday, concerning the "literal," or here let me say "objective," view of the world. Yesterday I said this is true solipsism, and it involves not a turning inward toward myself, but rather a destruction of any concept of I. Well, that's not quite true, I suppose, but it does at least involve a total objectification of such concepts. It would go something like this:

Something exists. There exist multiple objects. There exist conceptual categories for differentiating objects. There exists language to describe those objects. There exist theories to understand those objects. There exist sensory experiences. The categories of "real" and "imagined" exist. Time exists. Distance and proximity exist.

There exist thoughts, feelings, and intentions. There exists the concept of "I, me, myself." Those thoughts, feelings and intentions are described as belonging to me. Thoughts occur in time, they change over time. Conceptual categories change over time. Theories change over time.

Everything associated with "my mind," including the very concept of me, can be taken not as distinction between one mind and other minds but rather as things which exist. There will then be a stark contrast between the "mind" of others and the mind (that is, the "mental phenomena" of thought, intentions, and so on) which I know to exist. The narrative might continue:

I exist. I am human. Other humans exist. They speak, describing thoughts, feelings, and intentions. But these thoughts, feelings, and intentions--where are they?

Would "in the brain" be an acceptable answer? No. If one examines the brain, one finds lots of things, but not thoughts, feelings, or intentions. One merely finds it possible to imagine a connection between the brain and the production of such thoughts, feelings, and intentions. But if you ask me to find a thought out there, I will only be able to find my own. Or, from the objective/literal point of view, why even bother saying they are my own? They are simply the thoughts which exist.

One thing I'm trying to do here is show how difficult it is to judge which point of view is more skeptical. Is it really more skeptical than the average point of view to take at face value my direct experience of the world? If it seems useful to talk about thoughts that exist in other minds somewhere, then I might as well do it, but I don't have to actually believe they exist, do I?

And I really don't think this is an obscure reflection with no bearing on real lived experience. When I was eating my lunch yesterday and pondering these very questions, I saw many people around me, and I noticed how easy it really was to view them as objects, not as minds. Yes, there were words coming out of their mouths. Yes, I could guess what sort of feelings they had. But for all my inherent capacity as a human being to connect with other human beings, I also find it quite easy not to seriously believe that any other human being is a person.

That is because, as I mentioned yesterday, to truly believe there exists another person is not merely to listen to someone attentively, to laugh with them in times of joy and cry with them in times of sorrow. It is not merely the ability to help them with problems, or invite them into your home. Believing that another person exists is not a matter of being a good friend. No, these are all just skills that can be developed by relying on the machinery already built into my body (though I admit they must be developed, and this is not trivial). To believe another person exists, again, is to believe there is another universe. It is to believe that the objective/literal view that I have described is possible from an entirely different starting point, one which I can never reach.

More tomorrow, I'm not finished on this point.

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