My freshman year in high school -- 1971 -- I had to take a Speech class. One of our assignments was a four minute expository talk on any subject. We had to explain something. I can't remember what I talked about in my speech. One of my classmates, however, gave a little talk about how he was the only thing in the universe, and everything "else" was his own subjective "reality" projected from his private consciousness. Solipsism (sah'-lip-sizm). Self alone.
At the end of his talk, as he walked smugly back to his desk, I kicked him in the shin. "Hey! Whadja do that for?!," he turned angrily.
"It wasn't me. The desk kicked you. I saw it." In today's school environment I probably would have been suspended for bullying. What followed at that time was a lively class discussion about the nature of nature, the reality of reality, and the being of being. Not to mention the otherness of the other.
Members of the ruling class may tend to be malignant narcissists. But even they give a grudging acknowledgment to the otherness of others. They lecture, they talk down. They use phrases like "some folks" -- meaning "those a--holes" or "you peons." Somehow, they have the intuition that Others are the cause of the applause they love so much. But deep down they don't like us. We get in the way of their ability to act like it really is all about them, to act like it's no big thing to take a twenty car motorcade to go out to dinner.
Talk about belief, and you are talking about religion. Religion. What an arbitrarily applied word. With the conclave in the Roman Catholic Church this week and the election of Pope Francis, I have bumped into a lot of solipsistic and narcissistic news blather. Now the mark of a good skeptic is the ability to know and question his own assumptions. I rather enjoy a good skeptic. I aspire to true skepticism myself (and find no conflict with aspiring to sanctity). The talking heads would like to think they are skeptics. They are more like cynics. They don't know what they are for, but they like to think they know what they are against. They are dogs barking because other dogs are barking.
I admit to having religion and skepticism. Not incompatible. I'm thinking of the late Stanley Jaki; he is one of many. So why would any skeptic worth his salt carry the untested assumption that religion is inimical to science, that the quest for holiness is canceled by the quest for truth?
A habit of selective questioning, plus a variable and selectively applied standard for scrutiny. Maybe if you breathe the cloudy air of Washington D.C., or South Bend Indiana, or Chicago Illinois, you just hang with so many people who think a certain way that you forget to notice the assumptions, and eventually you forget to think.
Something about proof. Where's the proof? And what kind of proof? Or is there only one kind of proof? Is there only one kind of truth? Only one kind of question?
What if not all the questions are what and how? What if a scientist finds out that no science probes the ineffable and inexhaustible Who question? "Who am I?" is emblematic, but I don't think I have ever found the context in which to make it a real question. Much more fascinating and worthy of lifelong pursuit is this: "Who are you my beauty, my dear, my only one?" Ah, there's a noble science. If it is a science. Maybe it's a belief. Maybe love is a religion. In that case those locked solely in self-love will never meet the question of the face-to-face, "Who are you ?"
Don't expect mathematical predictability in every subject. Don't demand dead-nuts torqued-down verifiable certainty in every inquiry. Don't demand a boolean answer to an illogical question. There are things that cannot be reduced to a Türing engine function. Nature is not linear, and life is not binary. Don't think nothing can be known just because not everything fits into a truth table. The real, the true (and the good, the beautiful... ) fills the universe regardless of its possible incommensurability with human sense and reason. The openings in your puny human body may not let in the kind of data required for now-and-forever-beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt CERTAINTY.
"Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love -- true love -- never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn't matter if it's true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in." -- Uncle Hub, in Secondhand Lions