Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Gain the whole world and lose his own soul

Does it strike you as odd that solipsism is so popular these days? References to "my truth" or the assertion (usually only implicit) that "How I perceive myself is who I am" turn up with disconcerting frequency.

I wonder if part of this is a reaction to "scientific claims" about human nature. When you're told that you do X because of Y, or think Z because of T, you start to feel like a puppet. If your mind is just rationalizing what you've already chosen, you're kidding yourself, so how can you communicate with anyone else? Or can I even cogito?

If you try to shoehorn human experience and communication inside the universe bounded by sense perception and what can be tangibly measured, there's not much room for a "you," and still less for communion. In a way you "gain the whole world" in terms of what power the approach can give, but you lose your soul. That's not universally popular—even Faust regretted the bargain.

Of course you know better, but the these days default parameters of the debate are Descartes': even if you're not a puppet, you still wind up with an incommunicable reality.

There’s another way, of course—or two, or three. One way says that statements about our nature refer to things that "ought" or "ought not." "Ought" is not something you can derive from science, and if you propose to think only in categories of sense-perception and tangible measurements, you're cut off from that. You may find the oughts inconvenient sometimes (like me), but you are free to do the oughts or not. This leaves room for "you," for communion, and purpose—and a creator.

That last item can be frightening. Suppose my creator has different priorities and different ideas about my nature. Will conforming to my creator lose me myself?

Christianity says "just the opposite," but you can see how the prospect would look to someone who believes their nature is their perception of it, malleable by their choice.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

One of the things the human mind does is imagine other possibilities - things not actually present. We seem to have confused the whole language of destiny versus choice these days. This is who I (immutably) am, you have to accept me this way is considered a killer argument, but this is my choice, you can't interfere with it is similarly demanded, sometimes by the same person on the same subject. It is most prominent in sexual identity, but those are just high-profile examples for how we treat everything about our selves.

The Mad Soprano said...

In regards to the idea of "How I perceive myself is who I am", I remember someone using the example of delusional inmates in a madhouse. In one cell you have a guy who thinks he's Superman. And in his mind because he sees himself as Superman, then he must *be* Superman despite the fact that it isn't the case. Just because someone views himself in a certain way, it does not mean that his perception is correct or even accurate.