Often, when I respond to a piece of art work, it's because of the stories that it evokes in my brain.
When I was in college, and took an art appreciation class, I fell in love with Édouard Manet's painting A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. And it wasn't because of any knowledge of French Impressionism, and how Manet's work fit into the artistic movements of the time; nor was it really about the style, or the skill of the painter, although those certainly played a role in the capacity of the painting to touch me. The whole thing was about emotion, and how it brought stories bubbling up from the depths of my brain.
Who is this girl with the despairing expression? I imagined her as a country girl who'd come to the city, allured by its lights and excitement, and is having to support herself as a barmaid -- and now she's there, trapped and disillusioned, her mind and her heart a million miles away. The painting struck me then as terribly sad. And it still does.
All of this comes up because of a conversation I had with a friend who is working toward his Ph.D. in philosophy. His dissertation is on the subject of phenomenological idealism, which is (as far as I understand it) the idea that the universe is a construct of the mind -- that reality is solely experiential, and may or may not have any external existence. (Kant said that we "cannot approach the thing in itself" -- all we know is our experience of it, so that's what reality is.)
Anyhow, my friend told me a bit about what he's studying. I did try my best to understand it, although I don't know how successful I was -- and it must be admitted that I am not entirely certain I have the brains required for such an esoteric subject. But insofar as I understood him, I found myself disagreeing with him almost completely.
That said, I'm not going to try to craft an argument against idealism. For one thing, I am wildly unqualified to do so. My background in philosophy is thin at best, and my attempts at understanding classical philosophy in college were, on the whole, failures. What interests me more is the immediate reaction I had to my friend's description of his philosophical stance. It wasn't an argument; it was purely an emotional reaction that, if I put it into words, was simply, "Oh, now, come on. That can't be right."
So I started thinking about why people respond the way they do to belief systems. Why, apart from "I was taught that way growing up," does anyone believe in a particular view of the universe? Why does a theistic model appeal to some, and others find it repellent? Why do I find materialism "self-evident" (which it clearly is not -- from what my philosopher friend has told me, it's no more self-evident than any other view of the world)? Why, within a particular religious worldview, do some of us gravitate toward viewing the deity as harsh and legalistic, and others as gentle, kind, and forgiving?
I suspect that it all comes down to the emotional reactions we have. I'd bet that very few of us ever do the kind of analysis of our concept of the universe that my friend has done; for the vast bulk of humanity, "it feels right" is about as far as we get.
And I can lump myself in with that unthinking majority. I'm drawn to the mechanistic, predictable, external reality of materialism, but not because I have any cogent arguments that that worldview is correct and the others are false. I accept it because it's a solution to understanding the world that I can live with (and that's even considering the bizarre, non-intuitive bits, like quantum mechanics). But for all that, I can't prove that this view is the right one. Being locked inside my own skull, even the solipsist's answer -- that he, alone, in the world exists, and everything else is the product of his mind -- is irrefutable. Why don't I believe that, then? Because it doesn't "seem right." Hardly a rigorous argument.
Now, I still think you can make mistakes; once you've accepted a rationalist view of the world (for example), you can still commit errors of logic, misevaluate evidence, come to erroneous conclusions. But why is the rationalist worldview itself right? You can't argue that it is, using logic -- because to accept that logic is valid, you already have to accept that rationalism works. It's pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. The only reason to accept rationalism is because it somehow, on a gut level, makes sense to you that this is the way the world works.
It's a little like my experience with art. A Bar at the Folies-Bergère appeals to me because of the emotions that it evokes, and the tales I tell myself about it. I wonder if the same is true in the larger sense -- that we are drawn to a worldview not because it is logically defensible, but simply because it allows us to sleep at night. Beyond that, all we do is tell each other stories, and hope like hell that no one asks us too many questions.