Reading The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger, I was struck by his discussion of how much a point of view alters the reality perceived. Not a completely novel idea, but easy to overlook. Metzinger is talking about the fact that we see moments as separate points in time and our own experience as a central point in space. But if we think about the world from what he calls a God’s eye view, there are no separate points in time and there are not specific points in space. The capacity of our minds to particularize our experience helps us make important choices, but it is fundamentally illusional he explains.
The capacity to recognize that our own unique point of view is designed to facilitate our own well being, and that it is not necessarily the same as the point of view of another person is fundamental to empathy. We can understand that another person is different from us and that for that person, a different point of view may be better. Conceptually, this is easy to accept, but in real life, different points of view can lead to tension in relationships.
There may be value commitments which are so important to us that we cannot accept a different point of view. The difficulty arises when we fail to distinguish between “deal breaking” values and ordinary opinions or understandings. We feel distant from another person when that person has a different point of view, different motives, or different commitments, even when, upon reflection, we do not necessarily think of those differences as unacceptable.
For example, we may have a commitment to the prevention of harm to sentient beings, including animals. We may be unable to accept relationships with people who are deliberately harmful to animals in that case. The reflective decision that this commitment is unalterable makes this difference deal breaking.
On the other hand, we may find that we are experiencing complex feelings of distance, betrayal, or anger in response to differences with another person which we realize at some point are not significant. It is possible that there is a fundamental misunderstanding that closeness is equivalent to similarity. When there is dissimilarity, it feels like distance, even though it is not the same thing. In fact, discovering differences in other people is one of the ways of getting closer to them.
When we can set down the emotional charge and imagine a different point of view, a different set of meanings, and a different location, sometimes we can connect with that different center of agency in a clear and deep way. We can, for a moment, understand what it would be like to be outside of our own ego tunnel and inside of someone else’s. We are not looking for a merger of worlds, just an invitation to visit that other universe for a moment. And then we are temporarily liberated from the restraints of our own limited point of view.