Episode 23 – “A World of Difference”

Rod Serling asserts at the start that there is a fine line between what we “assume to be real and that which is manufactured by a mind.”

Like “Where is Everybody,” the main character attempts to connect to reality by pleading with the telephone operator. While Mike Ferris didn’t know who he is or where he was, Arthur Curtis, ¬†believed by everyone else to be Jerry Regan, pleads with the operator to verify his identity by providing his home phone number. ¬†She can’t find it, and no one believes that he is who he thinks he is, Arthur Curtis, the character Jerry Regan is playing in a movie. Later in the episode Curtis calls the operator again, this time to get the phone number of the firm he believes employs him. No luck.

Ludwig Wittgenstein explored the question of the difference between a mistake and mental illness. You can be mistaken about where you left your car. But certain things are so firm for us that to question them can’t be a matter of making a mistake. Such mistakes include being wrong about your name, your family, and where you live. These are the kinds of mistakes Jerry Regan appears to make. But from his perspective, everyone else is making mistakes about him.

Whether something is a mistake or a sign of mental illness has something to do with the place of what we’re mistaken about in the epistemic order, the place of the belief in relation to other beliefs. Where I left the car is only loosely connected to my other beliefs. I can be wrong about that without being wrong about a lot of other things. Not so with my name. If I’ve got that wrong, then I have a lot of other things wrong. The episode may help us think about the structure of knowledge, and the limitation of the kind of subjective certainty Jerry Regan possesses. That certainty seems to ground his beliefs, but the narrowness of his web of belief, and his inability to get any agreement from those around him should serve put him on alert. Further, while everyone else has a theory about why Jerry has the false beliefs he has, he has little or no theory about why everyone other than himself is radically deluded.

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