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papo   The third hypothesis
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What is the solution

"Se non che la mia mente fu percossa
da un fulgore, in che sua voglia venne."
(Dante Alighieri, Paradiso XXXIII, vv.140-141)

At the beginning of the 20th Century, physicist were facing the problem of how to conciliate Galileo’s principle of relativity, according to which there is no one system of reference more privileged than another, with the equations of Maxwell regarding electromagnetism, according to which the speed of light in a vacuum is always constant. At this point, there was the hypothesis of the existence of a type of "ether", which gave support to the transmission of light and so also an absolute point of reference for the measurement of its speed. However, this ether was never actually located and no absolute point of reference was ever found for the measurement of its speed. That seemed to indicate that the Earth was stationary with respect to this hypothetical ether, or that we had to give up on Galileo’s principle of relativity or on the precision of Maxwell’s laws. None of these alternatives seemed satisfactory for the physicists of the time (or even of our own days). Einstein was a genius in that he put forward a drastic solution that actually worked: he eliminated ether as something completely useless, and, with his Theory of Restricted Relativity, reformulated the laws of movement so as to save Galileo’s principle of relativity and at the same time the constancy of the speed of light, as predicted by Maxwell’s equations. In order to do that he had to re-open the whole discussion about our concepts of space and time, which seemed to be a very reckless thing to do in those days, but which turned out to be the right choice in the end.

The revolution proposed by the third hypothesis is based on a similar procedure. To resolve the contradictions created by our awareness of the precariousness of everything that exists in our world and the sense of ineluctability that we all feel thinking about our personal existence, the third hypothesis does away with the concept of our soul or any other substitute that we might adopt to distinguish our individuality, and it reformulates the concept of "experience of existence" taking into consideration two principles: both the necessity of the existence of the world in all its infinite forms and the necessity of the subject able to experience these infinite forms. In order to do that, we must first sacrifice our pre-concept of the multiplicity of our particular individualities, because only the singleness of the subject that experiences existence can justify its necessity. Each of us perceives the illusion of our own soul, or our own mind, or, in any case, of an interior subject that undergoes the experience of living: but this subject must necessarily be unique in that the multiplicity of all the possible "subjects that experience life" excludes without any appeal that a specific "subject that experiences" might ever be considered necessary: in the sense that another "myself" might easily have been born in my place, from my own parents with my own date of birth and all my own physical characteristics without making any difference at all to the rest of the world.

If we want to use a metaphor that is immediately comprehensible, I consider myself like a person who has a lottery ticket and who discovers that he has won. The only plausible explanation that does not involve some kind of unjustifiable privilege is to imagine that there have been an infinite number of extractions and that sooner or later even my own ticket would have come out, which would be possible only if the number of available tickets were as great as the set of integers, which, as we have already shown, would be a problem to demonstrate. Truth to tell, however, the fundamental question is another: why on earth am I the holder of a lottery ticket? There is no point in going off on a tangent and saying that God gave the ticket to me in person. In such a case, the question would become: why am I one of the possible holders of one of the tickets necessary for participating in the draw? We cannot start off by saying that, seeing as I have been born, this necessarily means that I am without doubt one of those that could be born: that would only be to fob off the question without answering it, as if we were saying that the fact that we were once children is justifiable on the grounds of the statement that in the meantime we have become adults.

The problem is that beyond the probability calculations connected with the possibility of my existence, as soon as my rationality forces me to recognize my contingency and so my non-necessity, the evidence forces me to conclude that I represent in any case a result that has come to be despite its extreme improbability – the great unlikelihood of my ticket ever having been drawn. Yet, this extreme improbability is the irrefutable proof of the necessity of my "a priori" presence among the set of all the possible "holders of a ticket", including among their number both those who have been born and those who have missed by a hair’s breadth their one single opportunity of life. Even if this set is infinite, it could not, evidently, have been complete without my humble presence, which means that I must necessarily have been one of the "holders of a ticket".

This is the dead end from which our reason will not allow us to escape: if there are so many of us who are possible candidates for "experiencing life", the others could have existed, if only as potential candidates, without my subsistence. If I am here, that means that it was necessary for me to have been one of those candidates, who, for an extraordinary sense of luck, actually had the chance to experience a real sense of life. It sounds like the paradox of the liar who admits "I am lying": if there are so many of us, then I was not necessary, and all the others could easily have existed without me: but the fact that I am here is the demonstration that my presence in the middle of that great number was, in fact, necessary if only for the fact that otherwise we would not be complete. Even if it was not necessary for me to win the lottery, it was absolutely vital for me to participate in the draw: clearly, the extraction could not begin without my "potential" presence, and then, just look, I went and won!

Only the third hypothesis resolves this problem in a consistent way. The evidence for the existence of my own "experiencing subject" is inescapable, and the only plausible explanation for its necessity is that it is always the same for everyone. The other hypotheses are forced to come up with more complicated alternatives, which all imply an inexplicable condition of privilege. Only if we think that there are – not many – but one only "experiencing subject", then there is no improbability or particular privilege which we have to try and find a reason for. Nevertheless, we have to force ourselves to go beyond the idea of an "experiencing subject" that migrates like a ghost from one life to another. The only thing that exists is "the feeling of being myself", a single "myself-ness" that each of us feels in first person, and which is always the same for everyone, even if each of us has the sensation that our "myself-ness" is intrinsically connected with our personal characteristics, and that we all have a soul which contains our true individuality. Still, this "myself-ness" is one and it experiences every possible condition of life without any exclusion. It is not, however, in possession of any kind of information or characteristic that it can carry in its wake between two different experiences of life: such communication of information only takes place through the physical reality which is the stage setting of our life. All the individual characteristics that we think are in our possession are entirely dependant on conditions or physical events that take place in our bodies and in our brains: some of these stem from environmental causes, others from inherent factors, but they all lead back to something physical, to our DNA or, in any case, to the conditions of our birth. However, despite all the physical influences to which we are subject, I think the key element is our own awareness, which allows us to express our own choices, or our "free will" if we want to use the term, and it is this which makes us responsible for our actions and able to influence "the way of the world" even if within the limits of our contingency.

I have stated explicitly that I consider the existence of the outside world, and that of all the other living beings, as one of the foundations of my metaphysical structure: nevertheless, I feel it might be useful to set out a line of thought showing how, even if our "io" is the only "io" that exists, we cannot feel authorized in thinking that the other living beings that we meet might not really be "alive" in the same way that we all feel we are, but may be instead only illusions in a world of illusions. Technically speaking, this kind of position could be called a "solipsism", and I feel it is a dangerous lack of common sense. It is foolish because it reveals a kind of unmotivated sense of presumption with which we all have to come to terms considering the inevitable transience of the human condition; and it is dangerous because it leads us to asocial behaviour that can damage ourselves and those around us. Even Descartes, once he had arrived at the solid certainty of his existence as a thinking being, then found himself trying to face the problem of how he could possibly demonstrate the existence of the outside world in a way that would be equally certain. Here he got into deep water because, having recognized that our senses can trick us, we could then feel that we might have been systematically deceived by an illusion of reality organized by a malign spirit only so as to keep us prisoners of an error with no way out of it: something similar to what was created in a very spectacular way in the film "Matrix". In order to escape from these quicksands, Descartes affirmed the idea that God is the summit of all perfections, so superior to all our other experiences that He can only be an innate idea in us, an idea which came directly from us. In addition, seeing that goodness is one of his perfections and He certainly does not wish to deceive us, external reality must not only exist but also be comprehensible to our reason.

I prefer a different solution, which has no need of a real true "deus ex machina". As I see it, the solipsist’s mistake is that he does not consider that, seeing as the others behave "as if they were alive" and express their own will which is sometimes in contrast with his own expectations, they at least demonstrate that at least one other will exists antagonistic with their own even though it might only be the will of Descartes’ "trickster". Accepting the existence of an external will like that of the trickster, or accepting the effective existence of all the living beings that we meet, or even interpreting this as a different form of my own will (as the third hypothesis really suggests) does not change the main problem: in each case, I have to accept that there really exists a reality that I am experiencing and that this evolves in a way that is almost completely independent of my conscious will. It is almost inevitably impossible for me to understand the ultimate reality of things, if only because of the limits of consciousness implied by my state of being a mortal human being, but I can at least try to interpret what I experience of the outside world with the most suitable model that I can come up with, evaluating its fitness in terms of the efficiency to be seen in my initiatives when I am behaving in line with it. In this way, if I thought that the others do not really exist, I would end up by showing a lack of respect which would attract their ill feeling. As a consequence, I might discover that I am isolated from others and as such I would be in a more difficult situation as concerns resolving my own problems.

Therefore, things "work better" if I behave on the basis of the assumption that other people are really as alive and sensitive (not to say susceptible) as I am myself. Seeing that the truth always lies behind a veil that hides it, we might be inclined to think that it does not really exist, but that there are only the veils. Every so often, when we have managed to tear one of these away, we find a new way of interpreting our experiences, which "works better" than the preceding one. Once I have acquired the awareness that the living beings I meet have true existence, and that, in terms of the principle of the unity of the "experiencing subject", they are another experience of my own "io", then I should be very much encouraged to treat everyone with the same sense of respect and solidarity that I would like to receive in my turn, as well as promoting the conditions which will guarantee that everyone treats all others with the same respect and solidarity. From my point of view, believing in the "real" existence of the external world is the same thing as being convinced that all direct or indirect sense of interaction in which I engage with every other living being is an experience that I live through twice: once in the way that my "present persona" experiences it; and the second just as the other is experiencing it.

Continued on the next page: "More details".


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Received comments:
05/04/2014 00:56:44Kar LeeIacopo, I agree with you on logical ground that there should only be one conscious being. It is very interesting that you go through the deduction this way. Very nice! Check this out:

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