The idea got into his head that nothing is for certain. What is for certain is that not much can be concluded from so-called reality, but since nothing is for certain even that is uncertain.
So, better not to jump to conclusions.
Then while Googling randomly one day he came upon the name of Pyrrho, Greek philosopher, who had landed on the same basic idea 2300 years ago!
He’d been living as a classical Skeptic without knowing it …
She said that he had become insufferable since finding this out, that it was hard enough living with him before he had a name for it but now –
How can you be sure? he asked.
See what I mean?
You’ve just figured out that it wasn’t so hard living with me before, now that it seems different now, right? So objectively, it wasn’t hard living with me before, because it is hard living with me now. Who’s to say that, compared to some point in the future, it’s not hard living with me now?
It was hard living with you then, it’s hard living with you now.
And in this way he was able to neutralize her arguments and establish that perception is everything, and perception can’t be trusted.
And he was fine with this.
She wasn’t thinking about leaving him, she told him, but she was thinking about forcing him into therapy because it was clear that he was off his rocker.
Nothing is clear, he said. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.
Still, he went to the therapist she had picked out for him, a woman whose last name had so many consonants in it there was no way he could ever pronounce it correctly, so he called her, simply, “doctor.” Whether she actually was a real doctor wasn’t clear.
You’re having trouble deciding what’s real? she asked, and he immediately wondered whether this was some kind of trick to get him to admit to being psychotic, or at least prone to hallucinations.
Not exactly that, he said. Do you know the Greek philosopher, Pyrrho?
I didn’t study philosophy. I studied psychology.
Well, he said, Pyrrho was probably the most realistic philosopher of them all because he admitted that we can’t really know anything. And if we can’t really know anything, how can we make any kind of accurate judgments?
Though she was nodding, he didn’t think she was buying it.
He went on: Here’s an example I’ve been thinking about. It sounds pretty easy to say “the sky is blue” and to get universal agreement on at least that. Right?
But I’m looking out your window right now, and I think the sky is kind of white. I can say with certainty (as devil’s advocate), “The sky is not blue.”
You could add that it’s not blue right now.
Right, but that’s not the same as saying definitively, “The sky is blue.” Often the sky is not blue. Sometimes it’s white. Sometimes it’s gray. Half the time it’s black.
I take your point. But this is all academic, isn’t it? We get through life by making judgments about reality, don’t we? Otherwise we’d be paralyzed.
I’m not paralyzed. Anything but.
You made your way here at least. On the other hand –
Just because I can’t make a judgment about what is doesn’t mean I can’t go about my business. Like air, for instance.
That it’s really there. Or made up of molecules. Or is a gas and not a liquid.
No. No, now there’s where you’re wrong. Science has pretty much nailed down what air is.
Yes! We know it’s made up of a lot of different gases and that oxygen is one of them, and we need oxygen to breathe. We’re breathing, aren’t we?
I’m reminded of that old crack about how a fish doesn’t know it’s in water.
But if we can’t know anything –
I’m alive. I know that. Except, really, no, I don’t.
You don’t know if you’re alive?
This could be a dream. The dream of a brain that has already died but is fading away. Or a dream made of machine code by somebody tapping away at a terminal someplace.
Oh, not that. The computer simulation thing?
It can’t be disproved.
But it also can’t be taken seriously.
Because life is observable and tangible and our actions have consequences and we have free will.
Had his time not been up, he would have tried to explain to her that all of those things could easily have been written into the simulation code so that the “entities” in the simulation perceived them as “real.” He’d read up on this. Fascinating. Unprovable, of course, just as she said. But so is the Big Bang.
I’ll see you next week, she said.
At home she was quiet again as they ate dinner.
To break up the awkward silence, he told her that it went pretty well at the therapist’s office.
I’m glad, she said.
I think I might have opened her eyes. I think she’s been floating along without really thinking about things, you know?
What’s the point in thinking about things if nothing is certain?
Now you get it! he said.
And he was happy. Happiness, he wanted to tell her (but certainly wouldn’t – she wasn’t ready), comes when you stop wanting definitive answers and are fine with all of this uncertainty around us.
You’re just fine with it.