In response to my last post (see below) someone posed an interesting question. They felt they understood what I was writing regarding William James’ view that we live in creative multiple universes. And they accepted the example I used that if you first thought you had found your missing book, then realizing you had not, you had actually lived in two different universes. At the same time this questioner said she could only understand this as long as there was only one person in the room. What would happen if there was someone else in the room who knew the whole time who the book actually belonged to? Then we would have conflicting universe’s being created with the same objects.
I believe James would say, “Exactly!
To understand why this makes sense (at least to James) we have to think in terms of his philosophy of Pragmatism. In Pragmatism truth is not a quality inherent in an idea. The truth of an idea is either proven or not when that idea manifests itself in action. For instance if I think “the book is mine” and I act on that thought by picking it up and walking away only to find that someone else in the room stops me and tells me that it is their book, I find out – in action – that the idea “the book is mine” is not true. The truth exists in the evidence that I experience, not in the book itself. How we define truth, was the problem that James was most consumed with.
Since truth is found in action, James would say that one person picking up the book and walking away and coming into conflict with someone who stops them are living in two different universes. The reason we know they are in two universes is because they come into conflict.
James also saw that when two people come to the same recognition of what is true then their separate universes merge into one. In this way James felt that the movement of evolution was generally towards the creation of a more and more unified universe.
In his essay A World of Pure Experience first published in 1904 in The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, James states:
“…the unity of the world is on the whole undergoing increase. The universe continually grows in quantity by new experiences that graft themselves upon the older mass; but these very new experiences often help the mass to a more consolidated form. If two named things have every quality and function indiscernible, and are a t the same time in the same place, they must be written down as numerically one thing.”
He is implying that we can come together in the truth – that if our actions match in relationship to an idea (in the case of the book meaning I pick up the book and walk away and you let me) then there must be no difference in the way that our minds are perceiving reality and we must be perceiving the same thing. We have entered into a shared space of truth. In this James had an argument with the commonly held Empirical view that no two people could ever have exactly the same experience because their individual perceptions would always be at least slightly different. James wouldn’t accept the idea that we could never meet each other in reality. To him it seemed obvious that if you and I or anyone else is acting as if we are in the same reality and we can find no discrepancies in our actions to prove otherwise, then we are in the same reality.
For those of us interested in either Evolutionary Enlightenment or Integral theory we can see that James was making room for inter-subjective experience – the possibility that we could share “mind-space.” This notion is central to both Evolutionary Enlightenment and Integral Theory.