existence complex

Some time ago – I can’t remember exactly where or when – I learnt a new word: sonder. “Sonder” is basically the name for the realisation that all the people around you have lives that are as complex as your own. I think most places define it in a similar way, but I’m choosing to endorse the one on The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, which is also the first link that comes up on Google when you search “sonder”.

I have had this realisation before I learnt the name for it, but I suppose it’s nice to actually have a name for it (?) or, at the very least, it’s nice to know that other people have these realisations too. If I’m not overly stressed or tired or whatever, this is the sort of stuff that I ponder on my commutes to and from work. It’s great for giving a sense of awe, which is supposed to be good for well-being and stuff. (Yeah, I remember random stuff I read half a year ago.)

Being bored on the bus or train is actually a good time to practise this sonder-ing (not sure if this word has an official verb form). Usually, if one was to catch a bus somewhere, one would probably just get on, sit down (assuming the bus wasn’t already packed) and just stare out the window or read or do something on one’s phone for the duration of the trip. One doesn’t give any thought (let alone a second thought) to one’s fellow commuters, who undoubtedly encompass a whole gamut of emotions, thoughts and experiences. But if one was inclined (and perhaps a bit creative), one could probably think of elaborate back stories for everyone (some of which might not be entirely inaccurate).

Having a browse of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows also uncovers this related word: gnossienne. (Ok, it wasn’t much of a browse, because it was (coincidentally) at the top of the page at the time that I was “browsing”.) It describes the moment that you realise that someone you’ve known for a long time still has this mysterious side that is completely unknown to you. I’ve also pondered this sort of stuff before and, again, it is sort of reassuring in a way to know that other people think about this stuff too.

All of this reminds me of a certain related yet opposing philosophy that I learnt about several years ago. I’m pretty sure there’s a name for it but I cannot recall what it is or may be, so we’ll have to live without it for now. The basic message is that you don’t have any way of knowing beyond all doubt that everyone else in the world is real (as opposed to figments of your imagination or of something greater than yourself). As far as you are concerned, no one – indeed, nothing exists unless it is in your immediate presence. (I may or may not have blogged about this previously, but am currently too lazy to find a link.) This, although unlikely (?), is true in a way, but I’m not sure if it makes me feel good or bad…