Chapter 1: Rod, Gabriel, and Solipsism

"How do you know you truly exist"
We were sitting placidly at a booth in Folie Ю Deux Diner when Rod burst this fucking bubble. There was something about this diner and Rod, some ethereal force that compelled him to transpose monumental philosophical musings over small talk.
"Cogito, ergo sum. I think, therefore I am, right"
I nodded, feeling an amused smile wash up on the shore of my face.
"Wrong. You think because billions of tiny neurons that make up that mushy grey mass behind those baby-blues are incessantly firing off tiny micro-jolts of electricity, successfully making connections and communicating. In your head there's a goddamn lightning storm, and we label it as thinking. Shit, an electrical engineer could understand the innerworkings of a human mind better than a biologist. Think of every single one of your brain cells as a transformer on a nano-scale, relaying energy back and forth. Like machines"
My pervasive grin egged him on, begging to continue his spiel. I stirred creamer in lazy circles, creating a swirling marble effect in my black coffee. Rod fixed his fragile gaze behind me, over my right shoulder. I glanced back to focus on the object of his attention.
Our waitress, a cute twenty-two year old blonde with an adorable tight ass and a matching attractive figure, was bringing our food, full plates balanced precariously on her thin arms. She smiled her waitress smile and slid our meals in front of us. A few happy words and she left us. Rod's eyes hungrily followed her until she was out of sight.
"She makes the food taste that much better"
He picked up a single French fry and tossed it into his mouth. As he chewed, he spoke.
"That's another thing. Your brain, that supercomputer nested within your skull, is really your only means of interaction with your body, and vicariously, the exterior world"
He grasped another crisp fry and held it inches from his face. Steam danced above it.
"Tell me, how do you know that this is hot? How do you know that it smells good? Tastes good? How do you even know that it is in my hand"
He pitched the French fry into his gaping wet mouth.
"It's those neurons. When you hit the table"
He pounded his fist on the table, rattling the cutlery and startling the elderly patrons around us.
"How do you know? It's receptors in your hand that relay the feeling to your somatosensory system. Receptors in your ears, tiny little cilia sensing vibrations and converting them into sound in your primary auditory cortex. Your eyes, connected to your cerebral cortex by a thin cord and processed in your striate and extrastriate cortexes. Everything you sense, everything you know around you, all analyzed, processed, and created to be perceived within your cerebral cortex"
I looked around the diner, at the various people conversing, eating, working. Their quiet conversations blending with the ambient sounds of the room, mixing with the scents emanating from the kitchen in the back. The air conditioner blew a cool gust of the smell onto me. I could taste it.
I realized, everything in my world, the sights, sounds, tastes, scents, feelings √ everything I perceived √ were all just interactions within my body.
"The only common factor in all of those senses is the fact that your brain, your mind, is the last link in the chain. The final message of perception is always given by that dirty window perverted with bias, emotion, cognitive fallacy, memory and the like. Senses dictate perception"
I sat in silence, chewing my six and a half dollar burger and ruminated over his presentation. My fingers dug into the thick buns of my hamburger.
"Imagine you were born blind. Reality, and your perception of it, would not include any visual stimuli. You would hold no knowledge of life with vision, and existence is only known as sightless. Sight would not exist. Try to describe color without any relation to vision"
I pondered the possibility. My journey came back blank and empty handed.
"Exactly. And this is the same for all other senses. A deaf man never knows of sound. Existence for him is silent. Perception thus dictates existence, so the unperceivable do not exist"
I couldn't hold back my growing grin.
"Now think of a life without any sense of perception. Unfeeling, deaf, blind, tasteless, scentless. Robbed of all interaction with the exterior world. Tell me this, without any existence of perception, in which perception dictates existence, would you exist? With no difference between pre-birth, life, and death, what is being? It is nothingness. Not gauged by anything, with no perception, existence simply doesn't... exist"
Speaking was impossible. The weight of this subject juxtaposed with a simple lunch was inexplicable.
"Imagine your brain as a clogged sieve. A filtered funnel that is your only means of experience, and it is failing you ever single second. Every one of those moments, an infinite amount of data is being forced into you, but you only perceive what is necessary, what you want, a selective consciousness. You only know a tiny fraction of whole existence"
I felt my body grow numb. My brain told me my body went numb. The world around me just didn't feel so vivid anymore. The sharp clangs of metal on plate weren't so bright. The colors of my burger, the once strong red of the tomato, the lively green lettuce, sizzling deep beef, everything seemed so very dull.
"We choose to selectively filter all this data sent to us, not only by the external world, but by our bodies as well. We negate some sense of awareness at all times, we have become used to so much. Imagine being perpetually aware of the tongue in your mouth. Every single inch of your skin. All those background noises. The air conditioner whirring behind you. Your environment is only selectively filtered to meet your cognitive shortcomings. Your innate inability to effectively perceive the truth"
My brain told me I felt small. I felt small. I felt tiny. Insignificant, sitting with a plate of what my brain said was hot food in what my brain said was a diner in a city on what my brain said was a rock flying through nothingness at thousands of miles an hour around what my brain said was a ball of fiery gas, surrounded by an infinite amount of tiny specs of light that my brain said goes on forever.
"Look when a toddler walks into a mall. They are amazed, wide eyed and overwhelmed by all the colors, sounds. The environment is a total system shock to them, and we blow it off as the norm. Their bodies are aware of everything"
My vision wavered.
"Now, if your cortex is the sole method of interaction with the exterior world, controlled by trillions of tiny electric connections, how do you know that the external isn't a false representation of and by the internal"
Food was mush inside my dead mouth. This delicious burger was just slop that I imagined was palatable. These reactions in my head told me that the meat was juicy, the lettuce crisp, the medley of cold condiments battling against the hot hamburger, all just creations of my mind.
"Pleasure, pain, memory, emotion are just chemicals flowing through the crevices of your brain, causing those specific neurons to fire in those specific patterns. Everything from your most complex thoughts to banal core actions is all in association with, and ruled by, those little neurons"
My head buzzed. It told me to swallow the glop in my mouth.
"You are the servant of jolts of electricity stemming from chemical reactions"
I took another careless bite out of what I thought was a seven and a half dollar hamburger.
It seemed so mechanical. So needless.
"What if I am simply the personified manifestation of a fractionalized piece of your subconscious yearning to express the truth of proper reality? A personification of dissent against your falsely-constructed existence that only matters inside your head. And you deny me"
My head was swooning. Sparks dotted my vision. I was on the edge of fainting.
"What if I am not even here? What if I am you"
My mouth was dry. My fingers, what I thought were my fingers, were tingling, quickly fading away.
"The flood of emotion when you observe extravagant beauty. Listen to a striking symphony. Every creation in the past. The Mona Lisa. The Grand Canyon. Moonlight Sonata. A first kiss. Man's best friend. Lobster tails. Films. Love. Sex. Friends. Life. Me. You"
He leaned in over the plate, lowered himself close to me, hovering just a foot away, creating a distinct bubble between us, and whispered.
"It's all in your head"
As he pulled back, sat up, dragging further from me, and began eating, he brought reality away with him.
I was lost in an abysmal void of unconscious unbelief. The world around me faded to a dry grey, exposing the true reality of nothingness that was surrounding me. My mind was coping with the shock of salient self-consciousness of its own artifice. It was realizing the supercilious temerity it achieved. My mind had become sentient.
Nothing existed outside of my mind.
Nothing existed.
"It's called solipsism"
The silence was shattered. The world appeared in front of me, hit me harder than a train at full engine speed. The quiet conversations all over, the titillating scents in the room, the air conditioner, the vivacity of color ubiquitously present, what had always, always been there... was overwhelming.
It all seemed so new.
"Solipsism: the argument that the external world, if it exists, that is, cannot be known. This can delve into epistemological phenomenalism, in which everything around you is the perception and reaction to bundles of sense-data, like coldness, wetness, hardness; or immaterialism, which states that there are no tangible objects, only minds within themselves"
I was still shaken for these words to have taken me away, to disturb my content paradigm. Ideas that I had entertained before, so long ago, had blossomed again inside of me. I allowed them to eat my reality.
"Really, I think it's all bullshit"
I laughed. Typical for Rod to make light of such a huge philosophical development after he explains it in depth.
"I mean, seriously? The entire scope of reality a creation of your own? How narcissistic is that"
I knew what was coming next.
"Solipsism can't exist due to one simple fact: solipsists die"
I laughed heartily at this deconstruction. A chunk of half chewed food flew forth from my mouth and landed on my nearly empty plate. I looked down on it, like a giant.
Wow. I ate most of my food without even realizing it.
"Life is imperfect, people die, refutations are present, language, realism, workability. I could go on"
I sat back and glanced around the diner. It was the same as before, nothing special, nothing debilitating or life changing.
"The sun continues to rise, the stars continue to burn, society continues to thrive, and the world continues to turn... long, long after you are dead and gone"
It was just a normal, average, stereotypical diner.
"How absurd, how ludicrous is it for someone to attempt to preach solipsism? The person would be trying to convince everyone around them that they are purely a figment of the author's imagination. The very proposal of communicating the philosophical idea would be entirely pointless to a true believer, as there is no other mind except their own to convey their beliefs"
He had a way of abusing the set-up and knock-down. A master of cognitive manipulation. Thank God he was my friend.
"Hey, Gabriel, are you done"
He snapped me back to reality. I was zoning out again.
I saw the waitress was standing next to the table, holding Rod's plates on her arms. She was looking at me, with her fake plastic smile shining in all its glory. Her eyes were tired, but her body was awake. It must have been colder than I thought in the diner.
"Uhhh, yeah. Yeah, sorry"
My voice seemed weary. I grasped the actuality that I hadn't talked for the entire lunch. I was just so swept up with his words; I didn't even need to speak.
She took my empty plate out from in front of me. I watched her walk away in a perfect strut, our empty plates and utensils clattering on her arms. Our ravenous male eyes eagerly chased her cute ass until she bled from existence.
"You ready to go, man"
I stood up, my legs awakened with a sudden vitality. I breathed in, and it felt like the first time. I followed Rod to the door; he opened it, smiled and watched me pass him by.
Outside was vivid, delicate, warm and open. The bright blue welcoming sky held wisps of clouds. The lawn was fresh. The air was tender and life giving.
Reality never seemed so real.