In the first conversation I had with my most recent ex-girlfriend, I showed her my scar from brain surgery and proclaimed that I didn’t believe in existence. It really is a wonder why I’m single these days. Let’s just say the subtleties of normal social interaction are lost on me. I realize now that shallow philosophical assertions are usually not the best way to follow up “where are you from?”, but I nonetheless still find these topics intriguing.
Interestingly — at least I think so, you can e-mail me and disabuse me of this notion if you wish — having brain surgery made me take a radically different view of existence than I previously had. I began to refer to this new view as “not believing in existence,” partly for shock value and partly to save time. These are the high points of intellectualism for the 20-year-old pretender-philosopher: surprise and expediency. Rousseau, Kant, Hume, et al. must just have spun in their graves. Anyone who has thought seriously about anything should shudder when some punk gets a temporary Bohemian streak and thinks he’s a philosopher.
The catchy references I have devised aside, the notions I developed still resonate with me to this day. Simply, I looked around after recovering from brain surgery and felt incredibly lucky — lucky to be healthy, lucky to be at a good school, lucky to be young and lucky to be financially secure. I had every reason to love my life, and I hated it. There were no external reasons to explain my unhappiness; I had only myself to blame. It was at this point that I realized it doesn’t matter so much what abstractly “exists,” but how I interpret and deal with it. In the battle between perception and reality, perception inevitably wins. I realized that an abstract notion of an unchanging “reality” doesn’t really matter all that much if it is necessarily viewed through the prism of my own interpretations. So, more properly put, it isn’t that I don’t believe in existence, I just relegate any notion of an intrinsic truth to the back burner and realize that what I’m really doing is interpreting the world through a personal perception filter.
Now that I’ve been in law school for a whopping three weeks, I think it appropriate to draw on some course material. In the formation of contracts, there is a concept of the “meeting of the minds” — were the two parties thinking about things the same way? Were they even talking about the same thing? I would argue that, in some ways, two people can never really have their minds meet for they necessarily understand a proposed agreement or altercation in different ways, each through his own perceptual prism that dictates how he understands “reality.”
Consider, for example, Kobe Bryant. Not only does none of us know what went on in that hotel room in Eagle, Colo., but I think it’s likely that neither Bryant nor his accuser is really sure. I imagine that there was quite a bit of confusion: each person understood the situation differently, each had different intentions about what was going on and different reactions to what did. Bryant himself summed it up in his public apology: “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”
Clearly, these two individuals’ realities were different that night; Kobe claims his perception was one of consent, and she obviously feels otherwise. In an instance like this, an abstract notion of “truth” is unhelpful. If we were to know the objective “truth” — which is ostensibly how ever a reasonable person would interpret the situation were he looking on — we would only be able to tell whether Kobe goes to jail; it would do nothing to influence how the parties each divergently perceived the incident. In Kobe’s world, this was a woman who was taking advantage of his stardom by making false accusations following a consensual affair. In her world, a superstar athlete felt he was entitled to violate her, and she is going to have to deal with that for the rest of her life. No matter what, Kobe will never be a rapist in his eyes, and she always will have been raped in hers.
This, of course, has all been assuming that both parties were faithfully telling the truth as they saw it. Only they know that; we can only speculate — with the help of the Vail Daily News transcripts of the police interview.
“Bryant: I don’t even know if I’ll be able to play this season with this — going on. If it becomes public I’ll lose my wife —
Detective Loya: How long have you been married?
Bryant: … and all my endorsements.”
Nick Caton is a first-year student at Yale Law School.