On fundamental solitude
A quote from Aldous Huxley that has stuck in my mind more than perhaps any other over the years:
“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies—all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never the experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.”
I used to be fairly troubled by this kind of thought. These days I’m more inclined to think of memories of myself, my own writing from yesterday, my sense of a person in my arms, words vibrating my inner ears as light bounces between someone’s eyes and mine, words reaching me across the internet from a stranger, barely understandable lines from thousand year old pages, as more of a piece—physical communications between scattered consciousness. All interpreted with more or less insight and confidence and detail and sense of being an ‘experience’ and not just ‘information’, depending on the quality and nature of the message. But my ‘imagining’ of your mental state, and my ‘knowing’ of my own are both guesses. The sense that they are different is a pragmatic, superficial, quantitative one, not the symptom of a deep metaphysical separation.