There are massive and generally unobserved apparent asymmetries to existence. Here’s one of them. The fundamental situation is this: what I call “I, here, me, myself, I” – am fundamentally different to what I call “you, there, yourself, you.” I, here, apparently have an internal dimension: I feel, sense, know myself to exist, directly1.

All the ‘you’s there are the same, however. The ‘you’s are the same in the quality of sensate existence. You – all of you – do not have any such thing. There is no such self as ‘yourself’ except in imagination – my imagination.

Don’t take offence. I am not talking about you. You don’t call yourself ‘you’, do you? I call myself I – don’t I?

This is not a statement of solipsism – though we will come back to that soon.

You reading these words are not a you, but an I – surrounded by ‘you’s. This is a statement that is true from wherever the viewpoint that calls itself ‘I’ finds itself to be.

The view from ‘I’: Ernst Mach

Don’t confuse the viewpoint – wherever there is an I the view from I is an asymmetric view of this unique I, and a whole world of ‘you’s.

The universe is made up of just one I – right here, reading these words – and an indefinite number of ‘you’s.

‘I’ is always and only in the body that is presently reading these words, and nowhere else.

Projecting an ‘I’ onto other bodies is quite redundant. I am right there in the body that is reading these words – aren’t I?

Note that whosoever is now reading these words is in the position of being I – me, myself, I – surrounded by bodies that are ‘you’s.

However dearly beloved those ‘you’s may be, they never change their status to be I.

And note that the indefinite number of ‘you’s is really quite limited. It is of course quite true, from the point of view of a tally, that there are (as I write this) seven, no, now eight, billion plus human bodies in the world. But don’t expect to meet them all as ‘you’s. I might know a few tens of people well, hundreds by name and a very few intimately.

Note that they are all still ‘you’ to me – whoever I am. And note that I too know myself quite intimately, as ‘me’; and that I know me in quite a different sort of intimacy to the way I intimately know you — if I do. I know me, myself, I, from what is apparently the inside. I know every one of ‘you’ from what is apparently the outside. All of you. Only I know myself from what appears to me to be the inside. The asymmetry is total and unbroken2.

You see ‘la, Berkely’
Doctor Johnson kicked at a stone,
then gave out a groan, moaning-
'This, as I thought, is not a thought, but a stone
(though harder than I thought or sought) - owh!
So there, polyp-
so much for your

And hence the schism
(Plato apart).

The sceptical attractions of solipsism are clear: the experiential fact is that it is impossible to verify the existence of anything outside what I call I.

There’s just one catch. The personal ‘I’ is fundamentally false and the real ‘I’ is not personal but universal…

Let’s proceed. Step by step.

  1. Pace Descartes
  2. The whole logic of this was first demonstrated to me by Barry Long, who I acknowledge. Douglas Harding pointed out the same. This exposition is down to the present author.