island universes

We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.

Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

in the quote above, Huxley is speaking about the situation we humans seem to find ourselves in. we know that we have experiences, emotions, first-person details. that there's something it's like to be us. but we can never have that same experience of others, we can only infer from our observations that similar internal states are going on inside the minds of others.

the martyrs go hand in hand, but their experience of being crucified is endured alone, in the infinite solitude of their own minds. the lovers are trying to break the walls around the first-person, and join their experiences, to achieve some form of functional empathy, also in vain.

the island universes are our minds, the subjectivity at the core of each of us. Huxley is describing the amazing situation we find ourselves in. our minds each contain an idiosyncratic model of the universe, in which all of our experiences are situated.

solipsism is the belief that there are no other universes but one's own, that the rest of the world is entirely a figment of the first-person. this view sees other people as having no independent existence outside of one's own mind (the universe).

intersubjectivity, in opposition to solipsism, is the society of island universes. we each live in a unique subjective, self-contained universe, but that subjectivity is situated within a large system that we can all perceive. inside this larger system, we can communicate with one another. the paradox is that while we cannot share our full first-person experiences, we can deliberately have experiences together which we reasonably believe to correspond with similar internal experiences. this is what Huxley so poetically describes above. “never the experiences themselves”.

our situation is this: we live in a subjectivity, a first-person universe. but it's up to us to escape the black hole of solipsism and build common experiences, shared meaning, pattern languages with other people.


427 Words

2020-02-25 07:02 -0600