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?