“Love thy neighbor” does not mean love people insofar as they conform to your ideas about likeability, but to meet with love the strange monster, who does not necessarily know nor care what we want, living next door to all of us. There is a stranger in all of us, who puts us beside ourselves, and in this way opens our hearts.
“All the strangers came today / and it looks as though they’re here to stay” sings David Bowie in “Oh You Pretty Things.” The strangers do not cease being strangers because we get to know them though. That pleasant familiarity we feel in love (for the stranger) is at the same time the pathos of our exile, and should we ever find the former to banish the latter, we’ll die alone.
Descartes. Brains-in-a-vat. Skepticism. The problem of other minds. Philosophy 101.
The 15 year-old pragmatist in me was already fed up with these sorts of puzzles– “why do you ask?” I would wonder. I can’t help but notice how bothered some people are by the mere thought that reality as they know it might not really be what they think it is. The thought doesn’t bother me like it does them, and far be it from me to impose myself on anyone, but it’s hard not to have something to say about this stuff when people press you for an opinion. Interestingly enough, the last thing they really want you to do is agree with their suspicions. Hell, no. The only reason anyone asks you such stupid questions is because they want to be told they’re wrong. Why ask questions at all though?
Whoever asks questions with the desire or at least openness to being surprised has a sense of someone/thing else really being there. For someone not expecting someone else to really be there, someone like Lacan’s psychotic, the surprise would be an unbearable explosion of the world, the revealing of a hole in what was thought to be wholly imagined. For such a person, a someone else isn’t even a meaningful possibility; the sheer thought of it ruins everything, and they don’t know why.
This is why skeptical doubt, the kind shamelessly suggested in movies like The Matrix and The Truman Show, is least of all a problem. This doubt is the eternal confirmation and seal we so fervently crave, though we forget it periodically when certainty creeps into our world. Without it, we could not know if we were wrong about anything; to be wrong about that which we are certain is not possible without going through doubt.
In this sense, our openness to Others is constitutive of our openness to the world at all. How do we know if we are open to Others, and therefore the world at all? Specifically to the extent that this always remains in question. To this end, Cartesian skepticism and the “problem” of other-minds are hardly problems at all; our doubt is our openness to Others, who may confirm or deny us.