The problem of other minds

There’s this thing philosophers call “the problem of other minds”, or what can also be called “the solipsism problem”.

Now, I’m no philosopher.

But in a nutshell:

We believe ourselves to be conscious. But how can we know that everything—including material things, or even a single proton—isn’t also conscious? Or conversely, that we’re not actually the ONLY consciousness in the universe?

Evolution has given us the ability to intuit other people’s feelings and emotions, but we can never actually get inside another person’s head and experience the world as they do.

We can only guess.

But what if it’s all only in our heads?

What if we simply imagine the whole thing?

What if I AM the universe, experiencing it in the false belief that I’m not the only one, and that when I die, the universe doesn’t die as well?

I can’t know.

And that’s the problem.

It sounds crazy, but you can’t actually disprove it. Not until we develop what neuroscientist Christof Koch calls a “consciousness meter” — a mechanism to measure consciousness like a thermometer measures temperature.

On a more practical level, this also means that you can never take other people’s rejection or negative reactions at face value.

For exmaple, take the clients I work with (learning English as a second language). If someone laughs at your English, does it mean there is something objectively wrong with your English?

We guess that to be the case.

But it’s only ever a guess.

You can never know.

Because you can never get into that person’s head and feel what they felt. Or know if the problem is yours—your English is laughable—or theirs – for example, they’re a broken, racist asshole who would always laugh at and bully someone different… or perhaps, they were trying to make a lighthearted gesture but failed.

And when you realise that?

Caring what other people think is totally pointless.

All you can do, really, is concentrate on what you can experience and control. Like the things you do, and the changes you make to yourself externally (in this example, your English) and internally (the way you think).