But a tangential conversation developed. We discussed the proposition that each person is totally and completely isolated in his or her consciousness, inaccessible to anyone else. I referred to the following passage from Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities:
A Wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life's end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?Some ladies in the class insisted that they know for a fact that not everyone needs to be lonely, and not everyone is isolated. To prove this fact, they cited personal experience, in which they had enjoyed personal connection with one another in which “the masks came off” and they were able to be perfectly honest with their friends, sharing everything and feeling totally connected. So then we had to ask what proof they had that such experiences were real and not subjective, deceptive, emotional realities. “Z” suggested that we could apply sensors to the subject’s head and measure her responses to various human interactions, thus proving a real physiological response to the honesty of friendship. But then, how do we know that the biochemical counterparts to emotional realities are any more “real” in an objective sense? Then “hmmm” asked the very good question: Why should emotional or experiential claims be subject to “objective” scientific [evidentialist] tests to prove their validity? So I am converting that question in this week’s post questions:
How do we know that someone’s subjective experience is a true reflection of reality? and By what means can we verify truth-claims that are based on personal experience or emotional states?
You may object that we do not need to test such claims. But consider the following situations:
1. How do you know whether or not you are really in love? Isn’t that just a subjective emotional state?
2. Someone claims to have seen an angel. How do you know he or she is right or wrong?
3. Someone claims to have personal knowledge that God cannot exist, due to occurrences in his own life that prove there cannot be a loving God. He knows for a fact that if there were a good God, He would not have allowed such suffering as this person has experienced.
4. Someone claims to have been emotionally abused by a spouse or a parent. What constitutes emotional abuse, and who determines that someone has been a victim of such abuse?
Perhaps you can think of other examples. Please respond to the questions in bold above and to the situations here if you like. I’ll add one more question, for the artists in the group:
How do you know when a work of art (painting, sculpture, poem, novel, play, song, movie) is good? Is artistic value based simply on how you feel about the work?