Friday, 1 January 2016

solipsism or monkey see, monkey do

One of the more compelling ideas that I’ve encountered lately supposes that humans have developed such a relatively advanced range of expression over other animals—not that other creatures are silent and without cognition and we are constantly underestimating the mental worlds of our close and more distant relations—due to the limiting factor of solipsism. Metaphysics usually does not rear itself in the study of biology and evolution, but perhaps this position, which is one of the hallmarks of Cartesian philosophy and refers to a mode of thought where only one’s own mind can be accorded absolute surety and trust and there are impressions out there whose essence and depth is unknowable and might not exist at all.
Apes might not wonder if they are brains in vat or regard their fellow primates as philosophical zombie—possibly but we are not privy of course to those thoughts, and do display a limited sense of collaboration when it comes to things like bonding or child-rearing and can learn. A test that’s always interesting for all sorts of species is how they react to their reflection in a mirror. One does not see evidence, however, of the kind of advanced cooperation and planning dependent on others that might prompt the cultivation of vocabulary and language. In colonial species, like bees, ants and mole-rats we see apparently the opposite extreme, where there is no self, only the hive. I wonder if it’s in the human psyche to transcend that doubt in order to get along yet retain and be able to articulate those nagging concerns—whether our world is a delusion crafted by an Evil Genius and we are in the Matrix—that endowed and nurtured communication and abstraction. Following the old regime of esteeming animals as dumb and insensitive and without souls, humans did not see any value in reaching out to them and similarly, if one was unable to escape (even provisionally) his or her epistemological prisons, there would be little need to communicate beyond the most basic level. What do you think? Given the near gentic and physiological sameness, could origins of language lie in this skepticism and dissociation?