||This article describes a work or element of fiction in a primarily in-universe style. (October 2009)|
Externism is a fictional philosophical theory proposed by the famous fictitious Czech genius Jára Cimrman. This character appears in many plays by authors from the Jára Cimrman Theatre in Prague. The first act of the theatre performances is usually filled with a lecture on Cimrman's personality, followed by a theatre play, which is pretended to be written by this fictional author. The theory of Externism is described in a monologue by a Cimrmanologist having a lecture on Jára Cimrman's significance in the field of philosophy in the first act of the theatre play Akt (English: The Nude) by Zdeněk Svěrák, Ladislav Smoljak and Jiří Šebánek .
This epistemological theory contradicts the traditional theory of solipsism. While solipsists believe that only their individual self exists and the external world does not, Jára Cimrman came with the idea that it is the external world which exists and the philosopher's individual self does not.
At first this idea met a huge disagreement among philosophers. Jára Cirmman was invited to defend his theory to the philosophical congress in Basel. The key counterargument that he had to face was: How could a non-existing consciousness create a theory?
Jára Cimrman replied that the fact that he does not exist does not mean he is not perceptible. He compared the world to a space with a small place in the middle, where Jára Cimrman is missing. If we take a piece of paper with a hole in the middle, the paper can be compared to the external world and the hole (which is clearly visible) to the non-existing philosopher. Stretching and contracting the space results in the opposite change in the form of the hole. This movement can be viewed as a process of philosopher's thinking.
Later Cimrman elaborated the theory into more detail, as cimrmanologists found out when reading Albert Einstein's correspondence. He proposed that even other objects in our world do not exist in the way it is usually thought. In fact, an object is located in the place where we think it is not, and it is not in the place where we consider it to be. For example, if you take a piece of chalk, the chalk forms a huge mass all around itself, where the chalk may be, with a small bubble inside, where the chalk is definitely not.
Albert Einstein considered the theory to be "funny", which Cimrmanologists read as an expression of admiration. However, he had some objections as well. "As a physicist, I have to point out that it makes no difference if you call an object 'emptiness' and the emptiness 'object'," he wrote, "It is just a ping-pong with the words."
Cimrman's rival in the field of philosophy was F. C. Bohlen (another fictitious philosopher). He owned a pharmacy and was known for using rude words. According to this vulgar materialist (which also means "pharmacist" in Czech), the truth is the basic principle of our knowledge. In the beginning of the learning process, the truth is inaccurate and we make it more precise. Finally, we know everything.
Oppositively, Cimrman stated that in the beginning of every learning process, our knowledge is formed by a mistake, which is precise, and we must disconfirm it. Finally, we know nothing. Despite this, Cimrman cannot be considered to be an agnostic or nihilist. On the contrary, he sees the learning process positively as a process of disproving the initial mistake. Thus we can finally stand face-to-face with the Universe, having our head clear and empty.
The fact that in the end we know nothing is just a logical consequence of Cimrman's externism. The example with the chalk showed that in the learning process, when we try to get nearer to an object, we always reach a place where the object is not. Therefore, in the end of the process, we know nothing but we know it exactly.
The theory can be easily applied to the whole of existence, except for the theory itself. When doing so, we seemingly disprove it: either it is a mistake, or we do not know it. Therefore, Cimrman came with a revolutionary solution: Cimrman's step aside. Thus he, just for a little while, appeared in the world of vulgar materialism, and could confirm his theory as valid. The conclusions of both theories he joined together with a colon - "We know everything: We know nothing."
- Cimrman's Philosophy of Externism and Theory of Knowledge In Czech language
- Original scene,concerning the explanation of the theory In Czech language