. . . but I could never find that part again until yesterday.
It was the damn Chileans. I'd forgotten that they were Chilean. I knew they were some damn foreign-born trouble makers of one description or another, but it's been--honestly--ten years since I read the book all the way through, so I'd forgotten some of the details. OK, all of the details. But I did remember the weird feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I read it. That's stuck with me the whole time.
It would be solipsism if there weren't two of them. They claim that there is no way to prove that there is anything outside of ourselves. It's the Descartes conundrum all over again, only they arrive at it as scientists observing the mechanism of observation and realizing that they've got the mechanism turned in on itself and all of a sudden wondering what they're really looking at.
Norretranders calls it an interesting point of view but not an important one, because he doesn't want to think about it any more than anyone else does. If it were true, if it even could be true, it would derail the rest of the story. I would derail all of the stories. I like to think about it. It makes me feel unhinged.
It reminds me of another one I read (I could dig it out, but I won't) that was one of these "Quantum Physics, Astrophysics and Everything In Between for the Layman" books. The phenomenon may have started with George Gamow's Mr. Tompkins series, and then John Wheeler did one in sort of comic book format in the seventies (I think), but now there are dozens, if not hundreds, of them. Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time is one.
Anyway, as befits the genre, the author of this particular one goes through about three hundred pages of, "Ooooooo, ahhhhhhh . . . Isn't that strange? Doesn't that make your brain hurt to think about it?" Then in the last chapter or two he's going through theories of how consciousness might have developed from inanimate matter. At one point he says (paraphrased from a distance of approximately twelve light-years), "There are those who entertain the notion that matter was spawned by consciousness, that consciousness predates the material world. But, hey, that's preposterous, so we'll just look at some more ideas about how consciousness may have developed from the organization of matter."
I didn't think "scientists" were allowed to pronounce concepts "preposterous" out of hand like that. I thought it was their scientific duty to explain just why something is preposterous. Surely they know. Don't they? And certainly they know how they know what they know. Don't they? Of course they do! So just give us a paragraph or two to edify our knowledge-starved souls, won't you, Mr. Fantasy? We know how we want it all to look. Please tell us it looks like that, Please?
. . .
In those days I was so used to feeling like a shit taken in haste that remarks like those--comments that would have been considered an insult by anyone else--didn't even register. It was like hiking a mountain trail and having a tree branch catch your arm and scratch it it. Yeah? So? You just keep going. If it doesn't disable you, you don't give it a thought, and in thirty minutes you'd be hard pressed to tell anyone how you got that scratch on your arm. The overarching theme of those times was: The only way out of this shit is through it; keep moving.