Is it Just Me?

In a comment to a recent post, limejelly said

Maybe I’m the only conscious creature on the planet.

Now, I don't want to imply that he actually believes this (his other comments indicate that he acknowledges it only as a negligible possibility), but I would like to devote a little consideration to the concept that existence is fictional, that this grand drama of human (and non-human) history is all in my (or your) head. That there is no you (me); you (I) exist only in my (your) head. (OK, I'm going to stop that now, and continue only from my perspective. You (I) get the point).

(Note that what limejelly actually said is subtly different from "nothing exists"; he only said "mine is the only consciousness", implying that the physical world is real and external to me, but I am the only part which is not a mindless automaton.)

In order to swallow this proposition, I would have to have the incredible arrogance to believe that everything I ever 'learned' was really knowledge derived from myself. That includes anything I ever learned from any teacher, and every book I ever read on any topic. Newton, atop the shoulders of his giants, is but a speck among the panoply of knowledge that I have created in this dialog with myself that is the universe. Not only that, but I can take credit for the means of communicating all the ideas that I learned: language. English, for sure, and the smattering of Spanish and German I have learned, as well as any familiarity I have with isolated elements of French, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Not to mention C++ and Perl, my two programming languages of choice, as well as probably a dozen others I have had some limited experience with.

Man, I'm smart.

And yet, in this drama I have created for myself, I have included not just ecstasy, but also agony. I do stupid things to 'other' people that cause negative consequences to my own happiness. I killed my sister. I occasionally forget where I left my keys. And to top it all off, I am continually pained by the fact that I will never get to be King of the World!

Man, I'm stupid.

Three points:

  1. It is really fascinating to dwell on the concept that knowledge can be transmitted between conscious beings via an unconscious medium. I plan toBlog some great quotes from Ellul about the nature of the Word in this respect, as well as some thoughts about how science is limited by the amount of previous knowledge can be assimilated within the span of a human lifetime.
  2. The thesis that existence is an illusion contained within myself may be good fodder for cocktail parties or drug trips, but it's not worth taking seriously at all.
  3. If this sort of concept appeals to you, you should realize that it is incredibly more likely that you are the only person, and the rest of the universe is an illusion, because God created this illusion for you. God has placed you in a giant holodeck (or as limejelly is fond of speculating, "resident in a laptop with a lot of memory") for some purpose you should probably try to understand.

6 Responses

  1. If you ingest enough LSD, you may be convinced that you have been watching a very interesting movie for the last 35+ years.

    I have Plantinga’s “God and Other Minds” in my Amazon wish-list. In part, this book argues that belief in God is rational along the lines that belief in other minds is rational.

    The materialist view may have a hard time positing the existence of other minds. It seems to be very hard for the materialist to posit that any possible other minds must be similar to ones’ own in any meaningful [sorry, there’s that word again] way. Hence the need for the materialist’s fully orbed doctrine of man.

  2. what the heck are you guys talking about???
    *rhetorical question – please do not EVEN try to explain this to me!*

  3. Why do I have this strange feeling that Rod Serling will appear?

  4. OK, I just tried to drag my eyes over everything over on the other blog that started the “concsiousness” discussion. I would have to say that philosophy is not my strong point. Neither is math, but, that’s a non-sequitur!

    I have to say that I am glad that my good firend Rube is such an unafraid thinker. Where do you find the time to think and write this all down, what with work, a wife, and three kids? And ultimate disc and church and sleeping,too? You do sleep, right? :0)

  5. “I would have to have the incredible arrogance”

    No you wouldn’t, as long as you recognize that you didn’t choose to exist in your present form. You’ve pointed out that you are special, but through God’s choosing. I don’t know if I’m special – I might be – but whatever I am, I didn’t choose it. Recall that I don’t believe there are any fundamental intentions to all this. There are reasons, but only through a degree of circular definition, and flitting intentions on the part of intelligent creatures. Deconvolving intent from causality will be an important part of understandin, I imagine.

  6. Your point 1 – we should exercise the thesis, as it will make us think. If we find the flaws, we’ll probably learn something. You think that consciousness isn’t couched in the brain (is that right?), so how big is it?

    Point 2 – we all maintain illusions. People look at me, but it’s actually a pair of wet globes with sensors built in hooked up to a processing unit. These are abstractions. Understanding abstraction is probably important.

    Point 3 – if I was put here intentionally, then it was for a purpose. Entertainment, education, challenge or distraction? You’ll tell me it’s a purpose I haven’t imagined yet: a greater good. I need some breakfast, and I’ll have a look at what you come up with.

    Bruce, I have no problem at all imagining that everyone around me has a mind identical to mine in a lot of ways.


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