Existential Psychology

Existential Isolation And Human Connection

By  | 

In existential circles it’s often said that no two people have ever sat in the same room. This is because our own unique life histories and genetic makeups color the way we perceive the world around us so that the same objective data point is interpreted differently by me than it is by you.

This is existential isolation in a nutshell, the fact that an insurmountable invisible barrier exists between each and every one of us, that no matter how close our physical proximity may be a psychic distance remains in that you don’t have access to my subjective life experience, to my inner world except insofar as I explain it to you, and I don’t have access to your subjective life experience, to your inner world except insofar as you explain it to me. And again my explanation will be interpreted by you based upon your own unique life history and genetic makeup and your explanation will be interpreted by me based upon my own unique life history and genetic makeup.

These insights can lead to an oppressive sense of loneliness but they don’t have to, and actually we want to make the case here that it’s our very existential isolation that acts as the impetus for us to reach out to people and the world, to move beyond our smallness in order to connect with and influence the entities around us in a meaningful way. If we were all exactly the same, all experienced the world in the same way, all had the exact same life histories and genetic makeups, there would be little reason to reach beyond ourselves. The result would be a sort of comfortable complacency, a womblike state without anything pushing us or pulling us to move beyond ourselves.

In the sense above human connection is not denied us because of existential isolation but in fact is only possible because of existential isolation. As individuals aware of ourselves as separate beings we experience the profound desire to reach across the chasm in order to diminish our separateness through fusing with people, with projects, with life. Of course the risk always exists that we attempt to connect in unhealthy ways like through masochism or sadism but at its best human connection recognizes and honors continued individuality while building community, it allows differentness and sameness to exist side by side. This sort of connection allows both entities to be first accepted but also modified in ways small and big. And through this process of modification people do get to know each other in profoundly intimate ways, they fuse through shared experiences and through their commitment to seeing things from the other’s vantage point rather than forcing their own vantage points upon the other, and the result is that perhaps two people  can sit in the same room after all.