I’ve started the last part of this article by quickly mentioning the Epistemological Problems of Perception mainly for two reasons. First, because we will reject, for the sake of this discussion, the possibility that all things only exist within our minds — i.e. we will reject Metaphysical Solipsism. Instead, we will accept the assumption that — despite lots of illusions and hallucinations — most of what we, collectively, believe is real is, in fact, real as in most of the events that happen around us and the elements that surround us do not exist only in one’s mind. Instead, they belong to a called “external-world”, a space we share, where in general most of us can — similarly if not equally — experience all such events and elements.
Second, because although we’re rejecting the nastiest possibility raised by the Problems of Perception, we cannot ignore that perception is, unquestionably, one of the key factors of the multiple processes that delineate reality — maybe even more than we have thought so far, as we will discuss at some point. And that’s why I’m not simply disregarding the topic entirely.
With this in mind, let’s consider a few points.
As we have just agreed upon, there’s an external-world where external-world-elements exist, and external-world-events happen — let’s call this set external-reality. In general, different people can, similarly if not equally, experience such external-reality.
However, because each person builds their own interpretation of the external-reality based on their different emotional and active lives, under the perspective of different sub-universes — let’s call these different interpretations/variations of the external-reality of personal-realities — , even when multiple people experience the same piece of external-reality (the same event and/or the same element from the external-world), they might end up with different interpretations of it, i.e. they construct different personal-realties based on the same reference. In other words, different states are built based on a single absolute state.
We can say our personal-reality is nothing but a story — a narrative — our perception tells us about the external-reality. This narrative relies on our beliefs and disbeliefs and eventually includes patches that only exist within our minds — personal-reality-only-elements and personal-reality-only-events.
In fact, there’s nothing new so far regarding the co-existence of an external-reality (the supposedly paramount reality) and personal-realities (variations of the eternal-reality based on our personal interpretations and, on occasions, repainted at will by our minds). Such parallel realities are well-accepted under philosophical and psychological viewpoints and discussed in many different disciplines. Let’s then draw a second conclusion.
We believe there’s an external-reality, and that each person has their own personal-reality, each of the latter being an interpretation of the former. However, from any individual’s point of view, only a single reality may exist. Even when we are “rationally aware” of multiple realities, our brains can’t help but process everything — at least to a certain extent — with some level of solipsism. After all, as David Foster Wallace mentioned during his famous commencement speech,
“Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real. Therefore, a personal-reality is, ultimately, the only reality.”
In sum, the act of thinking delineates reality — ref. Epistemological Solipsism — and one can only accept one’s reality — ref. Actual Idealism. That being so, although we may still question their roles and relationships along the way, I suppose we all could already agree that:
(1) There’s an external-reality — a big no! to Metaphysical Solipsism;
(2) Each person has their own personal-reality — a yes! to William James’ Sub-Universes and Multiple Realities;
(3) To each person, only one reality may exist: their own personal-reality — a yes! (at least to a certain extent) to Epistemological Solipsism and Actual Idealism.
In the next part, let’s analyze a different scenario.