The supreme evil is solipsism.
To prefer one’s own imagined world to the transcendently real world —
To prefer one’s own categories to the real being of fellow-beings —
To prefer one’s own theorized dynamics to the actual doing of fellow beings —
To prefer one’s own moral formulae to the intrinsic value of fellow beings —
And to terrorize, dominate, suppress or punish the beings of the real world for non-compliance with one’s own imagined Truth —
All these are symptoms of misapotheosis.
Misapotheosis is confusing one’s own self with God — It is a hubris of simple ignorance — Of willful ignorance of transcendent being — Of contempt for all that defies one’s own mind-products — Of hatred of infinity and infinity’s dread — Of the dread of the indefinable.
A semblance of omniscience requires shrinking omni to the paltry 1200 cubic centimeters that fit inside a human skull.
Only with extreme and willful ignorance of the overwhelming majesty and richness of reality can we confuse ourselves for God and prefer our own tiny truth with the vastness of Reality.
To maintain such titanic hubris we need lots of help.
So we duplicate our little omniscience, pour it inside other skulls with a similar need to possess Truth.
This produces universality.
Everyone knows that this contained universe, reproduced inside likeminded skulls is universally true, because everyone who knows anything knows this.
And, also, we know exactly why those others who deny the truth cannot accept the truth.
We know the unbeliever’s conscious and unconscious ulterior motives — and that is a part of the truth we know. Everyone who knows anything knows this.
“What? You search? You would multiply yourself by ten, by a hundred? You seek followers?– Seek zeros! –“
If you can stand the humiliation of seeing yourself within an infinite perspective — as one unique spark in an infinite fire — you can participate in God instead of needing either to be God, or to deny God.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim taught: “Keep two pieces of paper in your pocket at all times. On one: ‘I am a speck of dust,’ and on the other : ‘The world was created for me.’”
20 thoughts on “1200 cubic centimeter universe”
I’m not sure that solipsism is the (sole) culprit here.
‘[The supreme evil is] to terrorize, dominate, suppress or punish the beings of the real world for non-compliance with one’s own imagined Truth.’
Agreed. And I believe this is the only behavior I would claim as ‘evil’ (though I prefer terms such as ‘immoral’, ‘unethical’). But lots of different beliefs about reality besides solipsism can lead to such behavior. In fact, I can’t think of a single institution or culture that engaged in such behavior that one would characterize as ‘solipsistic’.
In my opinion, the primary belief about reality that leads one ‘to terrorize, dominate, suppress or punish’, is not solipsism, but absolutism: believing in any kind of absolute, regardless of the label one applies to the absolute (self, god, reason, our race/culture, world dialectic, etc).
I’m curious as to why you singled out the absolutism of solipsism as the source of evil.
I see absolutism and all closed ideologies as species of solipsism.
Physical and political domination gets a lot of attention, but the world is filled with less conspicuous forms of cruelty which create misery of far more permissible or even valorized forms. (Examples: Employees with fantastical idealistic notions of how a business should operate, and no interest in what is really required. Parents with very precise and impersonal expectations of their children, or children who refuse to empathize with their parents when they have grown to an age where it is possible. Lovers who feed on the desperate attention of someone they know they cannot love back. And yes, marginal figures, infuriated with the human condition, but seeing only where it constrains and torments them, and missing how it constrains and torments all people, imagining a just world where all people will be forcibly compelled to give them their turn at a humiliation-free existence.)
Every kind of worldview that legitimizes disregard for other worldviews by the logic of its *own worldview* has the structure of conspiracy theory, of ideology, of solipsism. Each privileges its own epistemology, ontology, ethic as something from outside of one’s own mind, built into Reality itself, bestowed back on one’s own mind as Truth itself, deputizing the lucky knower to impose Goodness itself upon the deluded, ignorant, wicked fools who refuse to know. Even when such closed mental universes are ruled over by powerless individuals, the people in the centers of them gratify their omniscience/omnipotence fantasies on any real being who enters their spheres, creating intentional pain in whatever sized dose they can muster, harming the even-weaker, and indignation among peers, and making the world seethingly dark.
My Nietzscheanism is probably showing.
Hmmm…While I agree that some ideologies are more close-minded than others, I’ve never heard this refered to as solipsism. Words such as selfishness, intolerance, self-centered, dogmatic, all seem to fit the behaviors you describe better than ‘solipsism’.
But hey, the meaning of words is open to change. If you think you can bring an enlightening perspective by adapting the meaning of ‘solipsism’, then by all means, give it a shot.
PS Did Nietzsche use the term ‘solipsism’ in the way you do?
Nietzsche did not talk about solipsism at all that I can recall. My use of it is probably sloppy, and in using it I am indulging in motive attribution. My view is that closed-mindedness is motivated by a desire to collapse the distinction between truth and reality, so a thinker can forget the fact of transcendence and its implications.
“My view is that closed-mindedness is motivated by a desire to collapse the distinction between truth and reality, so a thinker can forget the fact of transcendence and its implications.”
Ah. Now that is an interesting line of reasoning. First off, have you come across the “Speculative Realists”? I myself just stumbled across them a week or so ago. I can’t believe I’d never heard of this group of philosophers. They claim that ever since Kant, philosophy has been dominated by correlationism: the belief that reality is absolutely beyond our reach and that the only thing we can know is the interaction (correlation) between reality and us, as observers. They want to revive the old philosophical practice of “speculating” about what reality is like without observers–how it is in itself.
I don’t agree with their approach at all. But it is interesting. And it seems similar to what you are arguing for.
In particular, the Speculative Realist Quentin Meillassoux believes reality is absolute chaos, which means that even if god does not exist now, god may come to exist by chance in the future. Wild!
I personally don’t believe that positing reality as solely mediated by language (a la Rorty) makes us closed-minded or eliminates transcendence. While it is difficult to find any talk of transcendence directly in Rorty’s prose, Rorty fully endorses this passage by Robert Brandom:
‘What matters about us morally, and so ultimately, politically is not ultimately to be understood in terms of goals available from the inevitably reductive perspective of the naturalist: paradigmatically the avoidance of mammalian pain. It is the capacity each of us discursive creatures has to say things that no-one else has ever said, things furthermore that would never have been said if we did not say them. It is our capacity to transform the vocabularies in which we live and move and have our being, and so to create new ways of being (for creatures like us). Our moral worth is our dignity as potential contributors to the Conversation. This is what our political institutions have a duty to recognize, secure, and promote. Seen from this point of view, it is a contingent fact about us that physiological agony is such a distraction from sprightly repartee and the production of fruitful novel utterances. But it is a fact, nonetheless. And for that reason pain, and like it various sorts of social and economic deprivation, have a second-hand, but nonetheless genuine, moral significance. And from that moral significance these phenomena inherit political significance. Pragmatist political theory has a place for the concerns of the naturalist, which appear as minimal necessary conditions of access to the Conversation. Intrinsically they have no more moral significance than does the oxygen in the atmosphere, without which, as a similar matter of contingent fact, we also cannot carry on a discussion. What is distinctive of the contemporary phase of pragmatism that Rorty has ushered in, however, is its historicist appreciation of the significance of the special social practices whose purpose it is to create new purposes: linguistic practices, what Rorty calls ‘vocabularies.’ There is no reason that the vocabulary in which we conduct our public political debates and determine the purposes toward which our public political institutions are turned should not incorporate the aspiration to nurture and promote its citizens’ vocabulary-transforming private exercises of their vocabularies. The vocabulary vocabulary brings into view the possibility that our overarching public purpose should be to ensure that a hundred private flowers blossom, and a hundred novel schools of thought contend.’
‘Vocabularies of Pragmatism: Synthesizing Naturalism and Historicism’ in ‘Rorty and His Critics’
I find this description of human transcendence incredibly inspiring: ‘It is our capacity to transform the vocabularies in which we live and move and have our being, and so to create new ways of being (for creatures like us).’
We don’t need a concept of reality beyond ‘The Conversation’ to enable transcendence; at least I don’t need one. We can transcend our current way of being by imagining ways in which we can transform our language. But to do such imagining, we must have social structures that provide us the freedom to do so.
I’ve tried to find value in speculative realism and object oriented ontology. I’ve read a couple of Harman’s books, and one by Morton. I find it pointless. What I care about is what Rorty and Brandom care about, except, like the speculative realists/OOO guys, I’ve undergone the material turn (under the influence of Bruno Latour, ANT, and STS, in general) and I think language is a subset of nonhuman actors with which humans interact and transform our lives and create novel relationships — which I view as the supreme goal of life. And of course, being a devout pragmatist, I state this supreme goal with the ironic implied “to me”, and it is this goal crossed with this irony that makes me a fanatical liberal.
“I find it pointless.” I’m so glad you agree. Harman’s concept of a quadrupal object seems a byzantine hallucination.
I think he’s one of those very clever dumbasses. https://anomalogue.com/2020/05/29/ooo-why/
I love your description of your lab work. It is an evocative description about the interface between causal (physical) interactions and representational (linguistic) interactions.
But I worry that a description such as this may muddy the waters: “And I believe Richard Rorty, through sheer practical ignorance, never heard the <> in the human-language conversations among scientists.”
Rorty clearly believed that reality interacts with us causally; he was a naturalist, not a realist:
‘I see myself as a wholehearted naturalist, but one who is as antireductionist as Taylor himself. I define naturalism as the claim that (a) there is no occupant of space-time that is not linked in a single web of causal relations to all other occupants and (b) that any explanation of the behavior of any such spatiotemporal object must consist in placing that object within that single web. I define reductionism as the insistence that there is not only a single web but a single privileged description of all entities caught in that web.’
But I think he would vehemently dislike the metaphor that nonhuman (and nonliving) actors babble to us or with us:
‘Imagination, in the sense in which I am using the term, is not a distinctively human capacity. It is, as I said earlier, the ability to come up with socially useful novelties. This is an ability Newton shared with certain eager and ingenious beavers. But giving and asking for reasons is distinctively human, and is coextensive with rationality. Rationality is a matter of making allowed moves within language games.’
We causally interact with nonhuman actors, including lab equipment and heart cells, but we don’t engage with them using any kind of language–they don’t engage in the giving and asking for reasons. They only engage in causal give and take. Rorty distinguishes causal interaction from linguistic /representational interaction quite clearly:
“There is obviously a gap between ‘X constrains Y’ and ‘Y represents, conveys or corresponds to X’. ‘Realist’ philosophers think that they can cross this gap. They think that the causal influence of the environment upon linguistic behaviour enables us to give a clear sense to the claim that some bits of language ‘correspond’ to something non-linguistic. Their opponents, both ‘anti-realists’ and those who try to set aside the realism/anti-realism issue as misconceived, think that no such sense can be found. A respectable body of opinion within analytic philosophy holds that the existence of causal relations between language and non-language does not suffice to give a sense to the notion of ‘correspondence between language and reality’.”
What Rorty was largely uninterested in were the details of how our body of facts about the world emerge from our causal interactions with the world. Your excellent description of such details in “measur[ing] the twitching” speaks beautifully about how such emergence happens. The only thing I think Rorty would object to, as do I, is to characterize what is going on in measuring the twitching as “the babble of the nonhuman actors in the human-language conversations among scientists”.
The heart cells caused the ring to move, and the ring caused the caliper to move, and the caliper movement caused numbers to register. All of that could have happened causally, without any human present, ie if the rapture occured just after you set up the configuation. It is a story of causal chains, not of conversational giving and asking for reasons.
It was you, a human lab assistant, who turned this causal chain into facts in a linguistic game of science. Your doing so was a creative act of the imagination! Albeit a not very momentous one. ;) And you are delightfully, and humorously, honest about the degree of arbitraryness and looseness in this creative transformation from the world of causes to the language of facts.
So I guess what I wanted to say was that I think an ANT approach to providing detailed descriptions of how science transmutes causes into facts in the field and in the lab would be immensely valuable. I also think such a project can comfortably be done within a neopragmatict framework such as Rorty’s. I don’t see the need for any new or improved description of reality beyond that which Rorty provides. But I’d love to hear what you think would be an improvement.
I couldn’t agree more with your comment about “negative and positive pragmatic consequences” of “transcendent reality”. But both consequences are fully embraced (and somewhat discussed) in Rorty. Certainly fallabilism is embraced by Rorty (and every other pragmatist I know of).
With regard to the positive consequences, “I can at any moment undergo a paradigm shift, aka philosophical epiphany, aka metanoia and suddenly find myself seeing a very different objectivity from a vey different subjectivity,” Rorty would attribute this to the dual factors of some new (to you) causal interaction with reality and your imagination:
‘Imagination, in the sense in which I am using the term, is not a distinctively human capacity. It is, as I said earlier, the ability to come up with socially useful novelties. This is <>.’
Newton’s ephiphany of gravitational force was an epiphany of “transcendental” proportions. But the causal forces he reimagined as the force of gravity were no more transcendental than his leap of imagination was.
I look forward to hearing more about your thoughts on transcendence.
“It is a story of causal chains, not of conversational giving and asking for reasons. It was you, a human lab assistant, who turned this causal chain into facts in a linguistic game of science.” This is where we disagree, rather to conceptualize and describe the phenomenon differently. Describing them ANTsily, we’d say the arrangement of these materials — the design of the experiment — enlists these materials in conversation and causes them to communicate with us, and to either lend or withhold their support to what we are claiming is true. Through their social placement, the twitching cells become participants in a conversation that extends beyond human language games.
The reason I like the ANT description of such phenomena is it supports a less-arbitrary relativism; truth is relative to many more beings than just humans, but without overcorrecting by deifying Nature and Her laws.
I also appreciate the idea that designers are launching new nonhuman actors (or in service design, hybrid human-nonhuman actors) into our culture which play a part in supporting or weakening certain language games. It has been fruitful in my design practice, too. (Now I’m pandering.) Looking at objects as social actors has helped me see design research approaches I likely would not have seen prior to donning my ANT goggles.
It also helps me account for why scientific method and liberal-democracy go together. ANT sees science as inviting more and more actors into our liberal democratic process, by making their “voices” heard, so that they can get networked into social existence via technology.
You’ll notice I’ve made some weirdly design critiquey arguments for ANT here. I’m appealing to the usefulness, usability and desirability of ANT. This is the crux of my next book, which argues that philosophy ought to be viewed not as a search for Truth but as a mission to design better conceptual toolsets, which optimal tradeoffs. Obviously, this is a profoundly Pragmatist idea, but it links two traditions — Pragmatism and Design Thinking — into two sides of a single life practice. I’m calling it “design instrumentalism”. https://anomalogue.com/category/philosophy/design-instrumentalism/
I consider Bruno Latour to be a material pragmatist.
What interests me most about transcendent reality is its negative and positive pragmatic consequences:
Negatively, it’s fallibilism. I can always discover I am wrong (and I will certainly discover later that I was not as right as I could be).
Positively, I can at any moment undergo a paradigm shift, aka philosophical epiphany, aka metanoia and suddenly find myself seeing a very different objectivity from a vey different subjectivity. (Full disclosure: I am hopelessly addicted to this powerful drugless psychedelic, which is why you’ll find me in my library every morning shooting up philosophy, or some other kind of philosophically-laced literature.)
One of my core interests is the phenomenology of pre-conversion. What are the symptoms of impending epiphany? This is an important component of my next book (as well as my last one).
Man, Nick, sorry. I keep having more to add.
I am trying to shift my approach to selling liberalism to the uninitiated to something more positive. I’m trying to attack illiberalism less and trying to convey the excitement and sheer potential of re-establishing liberalism. Rawls is only half the story, and frankly, the boring left-edge half. There is another right-edge half, an exuberant, creative Whitmanesque spirit that needs to be added to revitalize liberalism and restore its seductive powers. We can and SHOULD self-invent (Whitman), and much of that inventiveness comes from the lower end of our middle-class, if we keep our class stratifications liquid and mobile or even, at times, turbulent, which connects relative-wealth with stodgy less-free squareness, and relative-poverty with electric more-free coolness, so that there are dynamic compensations, tradeoffs of comfort and potential and reasonable mobility (Rawls).
And here I should admit, I only know Whitman and Rawls second-hand.
“I am hopelessly addicted to this powerful drugless psychedelic.”
So am I. I live for ephanies: https://ironick.typepad.com/ironick/2003/08/think_orgasmica.html
They don’t call it intercourse for no reason!
We need to figure out how to work together! Don’t you work in design/innovation?
I’m not a designer, but I workded in design & innovation. I was a member of IBM’s Design Thinking team until I left in 2018. I trained product managers how to apply design thinking to their offerings and how to work with designers throughout their offering lifecycle, not just when it was in the late stages of development. I also facilitated workshops with product teams on major redesigns of their products.
Currently, I’m “on sabbatical”, as I call it. I’m researching and writing a book whose tentative title is “Perpertual Novelty”. It is my counterargument to Richard Feynman’s discussion of the laws of physics:
‘What of the future of this adventure? What will happen ultimately? We are going along guessing the laws; how many laws are we going to have to guess? I do not know. Some of my colleagues say that this fundamental aspect of our science will go on; but <>, say for a thousand years. This thing cannot keep on going so that we are always going to discover more and more new laws. If we do, it will become boring that there are so many levels one underneath the other. It seems to me that what can happen in the future is either that all the laws become known-this is, if you had enough laws you could compute consequences and they would always agree with experiment, which would be the end of the line-or it may happen that the experiments get harder and harder to make, more and more expensive, so you get 99.9 percent of the phenomena, but there is always some phenomenon which has just been discovered, which is very hard to measure, and which disagrees; and as soon as you have the explanation of that one there is always another one, and it gets slower and slower and more and more uninteresting. That is another way it may end. But I think it has to end in one way or another.’ [emphasis added]
Richard P. Feynman, ‘The Character of Physical Law’
I think Feynman is a brilliant person, but on this point I think he is dead wrong: novelty, even in the realm of ‘laws of physics’ IS perpetual. And far from being boring, it is inspiring.
I’d love to collaborate with you in some way, it seems as if we’re kindred spirits persuing similar lines of inquiry. Perhaps we should start with a phone call? I’ll DM you on LinkedIn.
What was your last book!?! Where can I get it?
Nevermind. I found your blog posts on both.