Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?

man and woman in conversation

It’s interesting to picture two people chatting with one another, and imagine one person experiencing the conversation one way, and the other person experiencing the same conversation a completely different way. Have you ever stopped to think how your understanding of every conversation you’ve ever had has been completely in your own mind? You have no way of experiencing anything outside of your own awareness. In conversation, whatever you think somebody is saying to you is actually the product of your own thoughts and consciousness; you have no access to the mental experiences of other people, even if you feel you are connected to them.

I remember having one of my first meetings with a mental health consultant after a particularly chaotic few weeks of mental health crisis when I was working a really stressful job in the music industry around 2007. As I described to the consultant what had been going on with me over the preceding week or so, he asked some searching questions, which I believe were aimed at helping me to make sense of things. I remember there was one particular question he asked (I don’t recall its content) which cut through the mess of thoughts I was experiencing and made me realise that everything I was going through was really only going on in my own mind.

If you’re thinking what I’m saying is only relevant to people with mental health problems you would be mistaken — the very same thing applies to every human being. In our interactions with others, we are actually interacting only with our own perception of their thoughts and feelings, rather than their actual thoughts and feelings. If you’ve ever had a misunderstanding with someone, that is a simple but perfectly adequate example of what I’m talking about.

For a long time, I’ve been interested in the philosophical idea of solipsism, which is the perspective that the entirety of reality is contained without our own perception. I wrote a chapter on solipsism in my book Ultimate Truth: God Beyond Religion and I argued that solipsism is actually a very logical philosophical perspective to embrace, because it would be true to say all I have ever experienced is my own reality, and therefore why shouldn’t that be the sum total of all that exists?

In relation to solipsism, I am particularly interested in the nature of God. I feel that there must be ‘outside forces’ controlling my thoughts, words, and actions, because if that wasn’t the case I would have a perfect understanding of everything. As it happens, I am deeply mystified by my own nature; this body I seem to have and these strange things called thoughts that I seem to experience. There must be a greater force at play in these things, because I am certainly not doing all of this myself, I’m quite sure of that.

(I hope I’m not spooking anyone out too much!)

I’ll end with a related thought to do with morality. If it’s really the case that in our interactions with others we cannot know what is going on in their mind, it is surely always best to give them the benefit of the doubt in any misunderstandings. We may very well be fabricating the misunderstanding ourself (under the control of God), so best to just be kind, always.

On the other hand, if people are truly separate from one another in the way I am describing, can we really be held responsible for influencing the thoughts and actions of others?

6 Comments on “Are You Thinking What I’m Thinking?

  1. Interesting perspective. I believe Kierkegaard refers to solipsism as the “self-enclosed reserve.” He believed this system of thought could lead to narcissism and an unhealthy skepticism concerning the outside world. Nevertheless, I think there is an argument for this philosophical system to be embraced as it relates to one’s conversion experience. I believe that personal testimonies, while completely subjective, are the strongest existential realities one can have for their own belief system, even if that belief is irrational to an outsider. Thoughts? Does that make sense? Hope all is well and thanks for the philosophical discussion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Chad, I love your reflections, and can definitely appreciate the link between solipsism and potential narcissism. Good point regarding testimonies as well. Thanks for engaging with this!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Steven! Wow, this is very interesting, especially because I’m married and I sometimes have misunderstandings with my husband. We actually just had one last week and it ended with both of us just sticking to what we stood for – no one yielded. And I thought that’s a good example of what you said about people’s realities being different. That what we feel and think is our own reality… It’s something that have crossed my mind before. I totally agree about the benefit of the doubt and being kind. It’s best to have an open mind… This is very enlightening! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahh what a lovely comment, thank you so much! It is definitely helpful to remember that others might be experiencing the very same situation in a different way.

      By the way, you may have read in one of my posts that I mentioned I had written a lot of personal posts recently. I have made those posts private now so only my philosophy and theology posts are showing (except for the decorating one!).

      I have a new personal blog where I plan to discuss things like minimalism and interpersonal stuff. I’ll happily invite you to join that blog if you’re interested, just drop me an email via the contact page! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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