Friday, June 28, 2019

Esse Est Percipi or Not?

There’s a Twilight Zone (“Shadow Play” episode 62, 5/5/61) where a condemned man pleads for his life on the theory that the world will cease to exist when he’s no longer there to conceive it. It’s a classic exercise in solipsism, containing within it the fallacy of the philosophical position. If the world only exists in the prisoner’s head then he has no case—since it doesn’t exist to begin with and nothing is lost. The concluding voice over runs thusly, “We know that a dream can be real, but who ever thought that reality could be a dream? We exist, of course, but how, in what way? As we believe, as flesh-and-blood human beings, or are we simply parts of someone’s feverish, complicated nightmare?” But what if the nature of reality is that humans dream their separate realities, somewhat like babies incubating? What if the dreams contain similarities, but essentially have nothing to do with each other? Soma is the drug that is given to dull pain in Brave New World, but imagine existence as a long sleep, in which the human being is hooked up to a drip before he or she ever has a chance to live out any dream. There are many variations on the theme of subjectivity. Bishop Berkeley famously said esse est percipi, “to be is to be perceived”--which is also the epigraph for Samuel Beckett's Film. But the notion of parallel dreamers, locked in their private worlds, is curiously close to everyday life, where most people experience similar realities often in radically different ways.

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