Saturday, December 14, 2013

On the uniqueness of individual perspective



In philosophy, the word solipsism refers to the idea that one person's own mind is the only sure thing to exist. Though I'm not interested in discussing solipsism itself or the degree to which I agree or disagree with it, I think it's a good starting point to think about the idea that we are alone in our heads.

I am me, and I am not anybody else. Anything that you tell me about you and your experiences, I will understand it and perceive it through my own filters. Some of my filters can be similar to yours if we have some things in common, like growing up in the same country and the same culture. But there is necessarily a number of differences between you and me. If you are a woman, then I will miss all of the filters associated with the experience of being a woman. For sure, I have been told some things about what it's like to be a woman. So I can try and understand things the way you do, but it will never succeed 100%. It will only succeed to the degree that I can mimic some of your filters.

Being an individual means that there are unique aspects of experiencing certain things and not experiencing other things. If I celebrate my 35th birthday in country A, then I don't get to know what it's really like to celebrate my 35th birthday in country B.

We are also slaves to our physical bodies. We only require a change in hormone concentration to obtain different results from a single stimulus. If we take diazepam (Valium), we will react with less anxiety. And that is not just a physical response but a change within brain activity and therefore experience. Our hormones fluctuate without the need to take medication. The most notorious example being probably women's behavior changing along their menstrual cycle.

Also, in order to try and understand the experiences of another person, we need to know things about that person. We tend to easily pass judgement on other people whom we don't know. But since we don't know them, we presume (without reliable evidence) what filters they have. This is often the case on subjects of politics. Recently, I have been debating quite a lot with people who are on the far-right of the political spectrum. When having these debates, I found that the communication problem did not lie only with the difference of knowledge. There is also a difference of filters. We wrap similar words in different contexts. For example, I view free-masons as communities emulating the spirit of the Enlightenment. But people from the far-right see free-masons as a conspiracy of elitists hellbent on taking the power for their organization and establishing a new world order dividing society between the elite and the mundane. We do not use the same tools to analyze what the other person tells us. It would certainly be one-sided to claim that my approach (science or epistemology) is the only good one or the best one, even if I think so. And they probably think the same of their thinking process, which I would describe as driven by fear and anger.

Sometimes, we wonder what it would have been like to grow up in a different family or in a different socio-economic status. The answer is: we have 1 experience only and we cannot have others so we can simply never know and it renders the question pointless. What would it be like to be an only child? or to have a single parent? or to be rich? These questions are pointless. Well, of course they can develop our imagination. But they don't have a real answer. They're only a support for more questions like "What, in my childhood's environment, contributed positively or negatively and what can I offer to my own children for their development?".


Conclusion

Sometimes, I meet people who are very different from me. And I wonder how they think, or why they think a certain way. Or why they have the opinions that they do. This is a matter of perspective. I can never get a 100% understanding of them. And vice-versa: they cannot understand me 100%. I suppose it's part of why I write big articles: just to make my own filters more understandable to others.

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