Everyone dwells in their own universe– a dream made up of sense data, culture, beliefs, historical contingencies, and idiosyncrasies. We all share an external reality (as far as we know), but none of us actually lives there. We live in our own universes in our minds.
Dreams, delusion, and psychosis vividly demonstrate the extent to which we can generate our own world. Optical illusions, or even just learning the neuroscience of perception shows us how much of our “external” world is merely the brain’s user interface or evolutionarily educated guess. What we experience is highly constructed, there is no denying, and that goes for all things. Including other people.
There are as many versions of you as people who have met you. You have an avatar in every mind you’ve ever met. On top of that, you see yourself– or a past self– with fresh eyes every so often, so there are many versions of you in your own mind. All these images of you are only inspired by your objective being– primarily, they are the property of the universe they live in. It’s the same for the characters in your universe– they are as much you as they are the minds of other universes.
In a way, we’re all gods made man. Our entire universe is within us, yet we are incarnated in a shared world, as humans among other humans.
It might seem like this view is saying “you are the center of your universe” but I actually feel it says the opposite. When you realize the whole universe is filtered through and filled in by you, suddenly there is no center. You are spread over all awareness just as much as you are the human body feeling self-conscious talking to the person in front of your face. Just like artist renditions of distant celestial bodies, everyone you know is a composite based on evidence from them and conjecture from you. And everyone else you know is equally their own universe, where their awareness represents a version of you.
I’ve always found the idea of making contact across vast gulfs of time, space, or culture deeply meaningful and spiritual. It’s not just because of the distance or the leap of faith on both parts. I think it’s because I saw great stretches of time and space as stripping messages to their core. The most crass or mundane message from ancient Sumeria, for instance– “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.“– becomes a touching testament to the universality of human nature.
And yet I’ve always had some awkwardness in connecting to people right next to me. Perhaps because all the layers of contemporary stupidity and meaninglessness are still caked all over their messages. Or perhaps because I’m holding them too close to myself in my universe. I think I know who they are, and the things I don’t like about them are an awful lot like the things I don’t like about me. The reality, of course, is that in my universe they wear a me-specific skin. The true message they send comes from very far away– another universe. I have to do the archeological work of stripping away my dirt and grime to hear them. When I remember how fundamentally alone we all are and how truly alien another mind is from mine, I remember to treasure whatever fleeting or mundane point of connection we share.
There’s a near and far to every person. Every time you truly see another person across that distance, and not just the nearby film of your own expectations, it is a miracle. You’re communicating with a foreign world! And the real you might be coming across in their universe. There really are other dimensions packed all around us, and we can touch them!
There’s something strangely beautiful, even sacred, about viewing myself as my own vast, spacious universe, yet overlapping with so many others in a crowded multiverse. It makes me feel simultaneously profoundly alone and utterly connected, touching others on all fronts, even in ways I’m not conscious of. It makes me care more for the world to realize that so much of what scares or repels me in it is coming from my own mind. It’s the most relevant way to any human that we are all connected. Loving others is loving yourself and loving yourself is loving others. How can you love others if you hate the skin of your universe that covers them? How can you love the world if you hate its source, yourself?
If each of our minds is an abode for a universe, self-hatred and depression are a house divided against itself. It’s the autoimmune disease of the soul. It’s not the symptoms you observe from the outside, but the mindwarp inside. It’s like fiddling with the hidden variables of reality and experience themselves and watching the whole system start to fade out. It changes everything and everyone. My experience with depression is part of what makes this multiverse of minds idea so intuitive. Coming in and out of depressive episodes makes it so obvious that the most important changes in your world come from within. You can’t love existence and hate yourself, because existence is being one’s self. The only way to love life is by loving what is, which is who you really are.