Solipsism

It’s easy to feel like the world doesn’t exist for anyone but me. My experiences are unique. They are mine and I can interpret them in whatever way I think makes the most sense. Even if I were the greatest storyteller, I wouldn’t be capable of describing exactly what happens in my head. Which means, my brain has information no other person can access. The same goes for everyone else… but I can’t access that information in them so it might as well not exist. The only thing I know for sure is other people exist when I interact with them. Then they disappear. They may come back with stories of their time spent away but they are just stories. I can’t be certain that anything exists outside of myself. Just like I can’t know what a character in a movie is doing when he or she leaves the screen. When that character returns with an update, he didn’t actually do any of those things (unless there’s a cut to a flashback). How do I know anything is happening offscreen?

I don’t have the privileged position to see into other people’s brains. I get a weak outline. I form opinions about them based on what I can see, hear, and learn. I’m not a solipsist, but I might as well be because that’s as close as I can get to other people. I can only create a simplified version of them to interact with. Their reality is much more complex.

Whenever I get mad at or disappointed in someone, I remember that I can’t understand their motivations.

I want to understand and I can’t. At times, it is truly maddening. I hit these limits that I want to burst through. I’m convinced we could all love each other in some silly, idealistic, weird world of complete understanding rather than settling on approximations. But unless we invent ways to read minds – which is equal parts unlikely, terrifying, and unwanted – we will never be able to answer the “why?” question for anyone but ourselves. (Then introduce the issue of not truly knowing your own motivations and the whole world is a mess, intellectually. Practically, you can go on as you were and not much will change. The issue of free will doesn’t bother 98% of the population, yet I can’t seem to stop obsessing over it.)

I think about these things and occasionally it makes me feel very isolated. That I live in a world in which I understand nobody and no one can understand me. It’s worse than living on an island. It’s like living in a separate universe. One where I created everyone else that inhabits it since my understanding is limited, by definition, to my understanding. Everyone else has their own universe as well, in which they have some incomplete version of me running around, doing stupid, incomprehensible stuff.

Sometimes a best guess is the best you can do. I have approximations of other people and their mental states and drives. And since I’m not in the privileged position to share their thoughts, I have to be satisfied by what I do have, a skeleton.

So, why don’t I go one further and conclude that I am also an illusion? Am I simply a program being run on the computer of a super-intelligent being?

Well geez, I need something to hold on to.

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Solipsism

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