Friday, October 02, 2009

Other Minds

One of the standard chestnuts in philosophy is the so-called “problem of other minds,” a puzzle which emerges when you notice that, on purely empirical grounds, it’s impossible to be certain that anybody other than you has subjective mental states.

It’s possible, in other words, that the people around you are just zombies or robots and that unlike you, they only exhibit behavior without the attendant psychological motivation that drives your own actions. It’s a kind of solipcism, the view that all that exists in the universe is oneself and one’s perceptions, a position that Bertrand Russell is reported to have been amused by when, at some party, a lady said to him that she was a solipcist and was surprised there weren’t more people like her.

In any event, one of the typical responses to the problem of other minds is to address it by analogy: since other people exhibit the same behaviors you do and since you yourself have mental states, it’s reasonable to conclude—even in the absence of empirical proof—that they do, too.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that it’s clear my fellow cyclists are not zombies or robots because they, like me, appear to enjoy riding from one end of town to another and then back again the other way in order to drink beer, tell harrowing stories of consciousness-altering gone wrong, and even throw peanuts at one another.

And because I would eschew that last practice, preferring instead to stand outside and appreciate the irony of a deserted warehouse with a sign on it reading something like “Industrial Revival,” I’m compelled to conclude that something has to be going on inside their heads, too.

So, what’s kind of amazing, when you think about it, is how even with all those different internal experiences happening simultaneously, you can all end up, via bicycle, in the same place, at the same time, experiencing the same thing, only different.


Anonymous Rick @ Bicycle Fixation said...

Unless, of course, those "others" (including me writing this comment) are simply projections of your own personality, which floats alone in a void like Brahman, shattered by the loneliness of being into billions of illusory fragments....

Or we're just out for wheels and beer....

4:25 PM  

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