Imagine you are standing in an empty art museum. It’s almost closing time. You are the only one standing here in this high-ceilinged, sound-echoingly-vast space that could fit in a hundred people. Someone already turned off the artificial lights. But the long flat windows, which adorn the white walls near the very top of the ceiling, are letting in the natural light from the setting sun outside. That natural light beautifully soaks all the many impressionist paintings from Monet and Manet and other artists with pretty French names in orange, so much warm orange.
The autumn breeze is blowing in, gently. All the various fragrances from the many visitors’ perfumes, hair sprays, and body lotions have dissipated a long time ago. Again, it’s almost closing time, and you are alone. And right now, you in your favorite warm sweater-weather sweater feel very cozy, very content.
How do you know you are in this museum?
My guess of your answer, based on what my own answer to the same question would be, is “Because I am physically present in the museum. My body is located within the museum.”
Wherever our body is, there we are.
Now, let’s say that you are still feeling very cozy and very content. But you’ve stood in this empty museum a thousand evenings before. Let’s say you work here. You’re the one who turned off the artificial lights and opened the windows to let in the autumn breeze. The first time you did this, there was a certain romance to those actions. But now, after a thousand times of the same workday over and over again, being surrounded by Monet and Manet’s masterpieces has lost most of its initial charm.
The reason you nevertheless feel cozy and content is that you are thinking about the destination candidates for your next vacation as you are standing in the middle of your empty workplace. You want to go somewhere by the ocean. Somewhere warm—not autumn-sweater-warm, but, like, tropical or Mediterranean warm: Maui, Santorini, Capri. For some reason, they all end with that pleasant iii sound.
Let’s consider the question again.
How do you know you are in this museum?
My guess of your answer, based on what my own answer to the same question would be, has two versions.
#1. Because I am physically present in the museum. My body is located within the museum. In other words, the answer is the same as before.
#2. I am not in the museum. I am elsewhere—in Maui, Santorini, Capri.
How about this?
As you contemplate your future vacation at a beachy place, you suddenly faint.
How do you know you are in this museum, now?
My guess of your answer, based on what my own answer to the same question would be, is something along the lines of, “I do not; I do not know. In fact, I probably do not know anything, because I fainted and therefore am unconscious. I am nowhere.”
Aren’t these curious phenomena?
Sometimes we readily equate the location of the body to the location of the “I,” as we do in Case 1.
But looking at Case 3, the body alone isn’t enough. In fact, in Case 3, it seems that the mind takes priority over the body. As soon as we lose consciousness, suddenly we cannot say anymore that we know we are in the museum. Our body is still lying in the museum, collapsed on the floor—and even so, we wouldn’t know we are in that condition because our mind is gone.
Case 2 is the tricky one. Some folks would say they’re in the museum because their body is there; others would say they are elsewhere because their mind is elsewhere. Perhaps the same exact folks might sometimes say they're in the museum while at other times, saying that they aren't in the museum. (For the time being, let’s assume that the body can be separated from the mind at all.) But even Case 2 serves to show the curiousness of the phenomena in which we sometimes equate the “I” to the body and sometimes equate it to something else. And we do this switching perfectly naturally.
The worldview tag is best read in this order. The later posts build on the earlier posts.