One of the premises of solipsism1, in many of the forms it takes, is that the only thing we can know for certain is our own minds. I don’t actually agree with this premise (I think). But one of the things that follows from the premise is that other people cannot be known, since we don’t live in their heads and the only thing we can know is our own heads. I’m not sure I agree with that, either. But it sure feels true sometimes.
For me, it has less to do with what I can know, and more to do with communication. Can I understand other people’s experiences? There are a lot of steps in between them having the experience and me getting it, after all.
When I have an experience, I turn it into words to try and share it. And I pick the words that are, in my experience, used to mean the things (approximately) that I am trying to express. And then someone else listens to them, but they aren’t listening with my experience, so they have their own meanings for those words. They might be the same meanings, and they’ll probably be similar meanings, but they might be meanings so different it becomes difficult (impossible?) to understand.
So we talk about words. We try and understand what the other person means by them, as best we can, given that they are standing inside their experience, and we are standing inside of ours. Some of the basic assumptions are the same, but most of them are different. And the ones that are the same (speaking the same language, for example) only make it harder to find the ones that are different, because we are expecting them to be the same.
I don’t want to go too far here. On the end of this extreme there is a point where we can never understand other people, because our experiences so drastically distinct that we can never reach each other. I don’t think that’s true. (If I did, I wouldn’t be writing this, because what would be the point?)
But I do feel like this: I have built my world out of words. Words are how I explain my experiences to myself, and how I explain them to other people. Words are the tools I use to dissect meaning, and the tools I use to build it.
I use different words then you. The words that we use that are the same are used in different ways, to mean different things.
Two different worlds, built of different words, trying to come together.
Communication is difficult guys!
1 Solipsism is the famous one about being the only person who exists, only that’s the extreme metaphysical form. We’re not talking about that today, just about some of the conclusions on the way.