If you’re ever down the Local having a Quiet Ale, and it so happens that you fall into a conversation about Epistemology, there are a few things you should know:
1. Epistemology is NOT the Science of what happens when you’ve had too much to Drink. (Don’t worry, it’s a easy mistake…)
2. Epistemology is the Science of Knowledge, in particular what makes something KNOWLEDGE, as opposed to mere opinion, unsubstantiated rumour, or Drunken Ranting. As you can immediately see, it is an immensely useful skill to have at your disposal while drinking at the Pub.
3. The other people in your conversation are likely to be one of three types: The Solipsist, The Scientist, or The Conversationalist.
4. I don’t actually think The Solipsist exists…
But occasionally you come across A TURKEY who is willing to have a go.
Basically, The Solipsist thinks that ‘knowing things’ is really an illusion because everything that we appear to know is actually the product of our own minds. The only encounter we have with ‘THE WORLD’ are the series of experiences we have of it: being hot, cold, thirsty, drinking something slightly bitter and yellow, needing to pee, etc. The problem is that we can’t really be sure that these experiences really come from ‘OUT THERE’. Mightn’t it all be a grand production of our own minds? After all we can also have experiences like this when we dream, and we don’t think that our dreams are real experiences of things ‘OUT THERE’, do we now?
(NB, The correct answer is ‘No we don’t!’ regardless of what some of the more giddy patrons might think)
Of course, the problem for The Solipsist is that ‘the world produced by our minds’ appears to follow sets of rules that are deeply inconvenient, but which I don’t appear able to do anything about. Like for example, the fact that after having several Quiet Ales, I invariably need to visit the MEN’S ROOM, which is a nuisance, but no matter how hard I try to convince myself that I can hold on a bit longer, eventually THE FACT becomes rather INESCAPABLE. This is quite unlike the movie, The Matrix, where nobody ever has to go to the toilet, because it’s all in their heads…
The Solipsist is right about one thing however, whatever we do know about the world, we only know it from our own standpoint. We only know it through our own experiences, in the light of our own memories, hopes, desires, relationships, and so on. We can’t get outside our own heads and have a pure encounter with the world-as-it-is-without-me.
So, when The Solipsist says, ‘What’s true for me, isn’t what’s true for you.’ You can see what he’s getting at: we don’t both encounter the world from the same standpoint. The problem is that to arrive at his commendable insight, he’s had to abolish The Universe, The Pub, You, Your Beer, and the Conversation.
A HEFTY TOLL, to say the least.
And it leaves the poor sod with a disturbing suspicion that he’s talking to himself, and also, why wasn’t he able to imagine a better world to start with, or at least a nicer pub?
STAY TUNED FOR: Things You should know about Knowing. Part 2: The Scientist
HOMEWORK: Find a Solipsist. Ask if they are married. If they are, ask if you can meet his wife. Give me a call when you go along to meet them. Seriously… I’d love to know how a couple gets along if one of them believes the other is a creation of his own imagination. At the very least you’d hope, for his sake, that she is seriously good looking or something…