I was practicing some Cartesian mediation a few weeks back—by which I mean that I was laying in bed late into the afternoon thinking about philosophy in an attempt to convince myself that my desire to stay under my warm covers was somehow productive. At the end of my lapsing in and out of deep thought and shallow sleep I immediately grabbed my phone and jotted down some thoughts on Empirical Idealism that, upon review, aren’t as incoherent as I was expecting and promptly took a nap.
Anyway, here are the thoughts.
Idealists deny the possibility of knowing anything independent of the mind and some go as far as to say that nothing exists independent of the mind. If the idealist is right, perception is entirely illusory if interpreted in the light of a materialist (who acknowledges only the existence of a material world) or a dualist (who accepts the existence of both the material, mind-independent world and that which is posited as existing solely within the mind)—the idealist’s perception is more a sensation, or experience of some kind…although, any term I can think to use seems to imply that there is a thing I am sensing or experiencing. So I’m going to put myself in the shoes of the idealist and imagine burning my hand on a hot stove. Ouch. Now the stove exists only in my head. The burning sensation is all in my head too. Also there is no stove.
Whatever the case, the tree falling in the woods, if the idealist is believed, does not make a sound if no one is around to hear it; because it doesn’t even exist: Nothing exists that is not perceived (in the idealist’s weird, not-perceivey sense of the word).
I wonder if the modes through which we perceive (or experience whatever sensation) would, in the light of the idealist, make something more or less real. What I mean is, if a tree falls in the woods and I hear it, I have the idea of a sound of a falling tree—that is the whole of what exists, a sound of a falling tree. If I were also able to see the tree falling, would the sound and the image be two separate ideas? Or part of a whole idea (i.e. the falling tree)? Would the addition of this second sensation make the falling tree more “real” in some sense?
What if the tree fell without me hearing or seeing it and struck me dead—how could this be? Surely, I can’t perceive that which makes me unable to perceive it simultaneously with its killing me (the terminus of all perception, I imagine). If its existence is contingent on my perceiving it, then surely there is no way this unperceived tree could kill me—because nothing non-existent can kill me. That vexes me.
I wonder then about false beliefs and if they are possible in this idealist frame. What if I perceive the recording of a falling tree but misunderstand it to be the sound of an actual falling tree—is my cognition or interpretation of this sensation separate from my perception? Maybe that’s begging the question. But where is the line between my perception of a thing and my interpretation of that sensation in the mind of the idealist? I ask because if it’s all happening in my mind, why is it that I have a partition between my perception or sensation and interpretation or cognition? Can I feel a thing and not know what I’m feeling… or how I’m feeling? There’s not really a what to feel, only a feeling. But how could I be mistaken if all that exists is what I perceive and there is no objective, mind-independent truth that exists concerning the matter?
If idealism is true, how can I believe it?
After typing down these thoughts into a post, I have to wonder, are empirical idealists trolling?