Say so long to Solipsism

Solipsism

Hard Solipsism is an even easier target than determinism to refute, and I think it’s worthwhile to trim the fat off of relevant philosophical inquiry.

Solipsism is the philosophical argument that you can’t know that you aren’t the only thing in existence, and that you aren’t just imagining everyone and everything else. The strongest argument for Solipsism is that this is precisely what we experience in our dreams. While dreaming we encounter other people, have conversations, and otherwise participate in an all-encompassing tangible reality completely fabricated by our subconscious. Nobody else really exists in our dreams, and yet we are (with rare exceptions of lucid dreaming) completely fooled by them. So, if you stop and think about it, you know absolutely that your subconscious mind is capable while dreaming of completely fooling you into thinking you are not alone, but are interacting with separate entities in a physical environment. How do we then know that what we think of as an awakened state in a real world isn’t just immersion in another, more sophisticated, dream-like state?

The biggest problem with Solipsism is that you can only make this argument with yourself. You could tell yourself that I am a figment of your imagination, but you can’t tell me that, because I know that I exist independently of you. Obviously, nobody can tell you that you don’t exist, because you can’t hear the argument unless you exist.

Being a Solipsist is not going to make you any friends, because you are going to have to insist that they are all just so much ethereal gossamer in your incredibly vivid imagination. When you hang up the phone you tell them that they cease to exist.

I once had an amusing online debate with a Solipsist. My argument was this: “You are right. I don’t exist. There is only you. You are God. I am only letters on a screen you create with your own imagination.” He had no comeback to this argument – because it is in agreement with his stance to begin with – but it still pissed him off because he knew I was a real person being a smart ass, but he couldn’t say so or he’d lose the debate.

Things are a bit lonely for the Solipsist, because there can be no other Solipsists to keep him or her company. Nevertheless, I suppose at some point when one encounters the Solipsistic argument, one may want to grapple with it, and try to establish whether or not other people actually exist.

So, how do I know that I’m not the only thing in the universe and just imagining everything else? We only need compare waking reality to dreams to see a critical difference between a reality composed of non-imaginary people, and a completely imagined reality. In the dream, everything that happens occurs only within our own framework of knowledge. For example, I can’t speak Swahili, and neither can anyone in my dreams. I don’t know how to fly a plane, and neither does anyone in my dreams. I’ve never been to Yugoslavia, it only exists as a name in my dreams, and I can’t visit there while sleeping. Just now I looked up lesser known countries, and I’d never heard of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic before. Without doing some research, I can’t have anything like an accurate dream of visiting the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

flar-of-Nagorno-Karabak

The flag of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic didn’t exist in my imagination until I looked it up. To me it looks backwards, kind of like the way Solipsism works.

There is information that I know exists, such as how to speak Swahili or how to fly an airplane, but which I don’t have and can’t access. I know there can’t be airplanes without the technology to build them or the learned skill to fly them. How can I be creating the planes and flying them without knowing how to do it myself? The Solipsist would have to argue that I actually DO have this knowledge but deceive myself into thinking I don’t, or that airplanes don’t actually fly and nobody knows how to fly them (nobody else exists so how could they?), in which case they only appear to fly.

I can look up how to speak Swahili or how to fly a plane and at once discover that this knowledge surely exists, and yet I don’t have it. If I started to teach myself Swahili the process would be very slow; and if I moved somewhere where people spoke the language, such as Tanzania, I wouldn’t understand 90% of what everyone else was saying, nor could I accurately produce in my dreams language beyond what I’d already mastered.

Swahili

This is Swahili. If I invented it, why can’t I read it? According to Solipsism I must be fooling myself that I can’t.

The Solipsist will have to argue that while attempting to learn Swahili I am actually inventing a new language in my imagination. I’d already invented the name of the language, and now I would just be inventing the words and syntax. If I had a Swahili teacher, she wouldn’t actually be teaching me anything, I’d be inventing the language on the spot and just using her as a puppet.

Thai

This I can read, because I wrote it. Learning to write Thai is quite difficult, probably because I’m not slowly unveiling my own invention to myself, but rather learning someone else’s language that I had no part in the creation of.

This becomes still more problematical when one considers that things which exist in our imagination, such as a CD, in every way reflect the knowledge required to make them. Sure, I can imagine what a CD looks like, but I have nothing of the knowledge of how to make one. Nevertheless its resultant form entirely reflects the technology needed to produce it. Why does the form of a CD or airplane reflect the necessary technology to produce it if that technology doesn’t actually exist unless you bother to invent it in your own mind after the fact?

CD

The appearance of a CD is dependent on it’s function, technology, and aesthetics. How is it a Solipsist can create the final appearance of a CD without understanding any of the mechanics of what went into producing it?

To this the Solipsist would have to argue, again, that you actually possess all this knowledge but choose to fool yourself, probably to make a game of existence to beguile the lazy hours of infinitude. If this were the case you would have to have limitless intelligence and knowledge. You’d be God.

So, again, here are the main problems of Solipsism, according to me.

1. You have all knowledge but only allow yourself to perceive a tiny portion of it. Now we need another explanation for why we do this, and on and on…

2. It’s ridiculously lonely. There’s only YOU! Which is not to say that nature can’t behave in a way that is ridiculously lonely, just that it seems a much stranger option for a human than it does for a spider or praying mantis.

3. You’d have to be God. According to you, there is nothing else but you, in which case there couldn’t be a separate god, and therefor you ARE God! Even if you don’t believe in God, if you believe you created all the known universe with your own noodle, you are so unimaginably brilliant you must be God by some other name. It’s probably less embarrassing to go around trumpeting that you are God in a universe where you really ARE God, and all others are just dream creations moving along as you pull the strings. However, in the other reality that you can’t escape, where there appears to be other distinct people who are not all necessarily friendly to you, you should probably be humble and keep it a secret that you are God. People could take offense to that claim, especially when you follow it up by telling them that they don’t exist, and are mere illusions. Chances are it will cross their minds to prove their existence by punching you in the nose. However much someone might convince themselves of Solipsism, if they try to apply it in the illusionary world they think they live in, it’s going to turn out bad for them.

4. And the biggest criticism is just how ridiculous Solipsism is if anyone else argues it. If I tell you there is only me and you are only text on a screen, you can’t possibly take me seriously. If someone else say’s that I don’t exist, it’s just stupid. It’s baby talk. This philosophy by its very nature cannot be corroborated by anyone else without refuting itself by acknowledging others exist. Because it can’t be corroborated it isn’t empirical. That might be OK in a Solipsistic universe where nothing can be corroborated at all, but outside of the Solipsistic argument, most anything else taken seriously is rigorously corroborated. Solipsism is the outstanding exception. It’s more of an “imagine if” after-school fantasy for children than a philosophy to be taken seriously.

There is at least one good thing about Solipsism though, and that’s that it acknowledges the role of our own minds in fashioning our universes in our heads. Everything we experience is witnessed on the inner screen of our own consciousness, and by our choices, experience, and knowledge we do fashion much of what transpires in our personal universes. However, the Solipsists go too far in arguing that there is no external world that all this happens in. It’s far more interesting for us to have our inner worlds AND for them to be forged in and through an actual physical world.

~ Ends

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “Say so long to Solipsism

  1. “nor could I accurately produce in my dreams language beyond what I’d already mastered.” I actually had a dream once where I woke up speaking what I believe to be, after researching what I had remembered saying, after waking up, “correct” Italian, and I had no prior knowledge of how to speak those words in that language. At the time, I had a “broken” understanding of the language, meaning, I spoke very “broken” Italian…ie..not at all correct Italian, but just enough to maybe get by if I had to in a dire emergency…and I specifically remember after waking, knowing it was Italian by it’s familiarity, but was definitely not the way I would have said it, with my own working knowledge of the language. My knowledge of that language just wasn’t good enough to say it that correct like that. That is a major part of what made it so weird to me, perhaps worth remembering, and researching….just some food for thought, though I do agree for the most part with your take on Solipsism. Was a fun read though. And nice nice artwork btw. 🙂

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    1. Hi Jessica. Well, the subconscious is amazing. I’ve listened to music that I thought was great, but which my subconscious was making up on the spot. As for language, my guess is that if you have a partial understanding of the language, your subconscious might be able to string it together (kind of like it can make music on the fly), and in your dreamy state you might not be able to tell if it’s partially gibberish. If you spoke a language you hadn’t studied and been exposed to, that’d be more surprising.

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  2. Hello there. I am a 19 year old who has been wrestling with these sorts of issues for roughly a decade, contributing to a major anxiety disorder and disruption to my personal relationships.

    Using similar reasoning to that which you propose here, I felt I had overcome (for the most part) the traditional idea of solipsism. That’s a good feeling, and liberated me in a way. However, I’ve also read another theory.

    In this theory, an ‘evil scientist’ is said to be controlling your mind. Every nerve in your brain is hooked up to a computer, which simulates a reality exactly as if it were real in order to deceive you for some purpose (Entertainment? Who knows, it’s very easy to invent hypothetical reasoning for that). Do you have any idea of how one might refute that? The best I can do so far is the idea that no false reality (or say, the false mind of another ‘person’) can behave exactly as it should, because it simply not the thing it supposes to be.

    Just thought you might be able to help with this turmoil I’m experiencing, I don’t expect to see my anxiety problems cured anytime soon, but it would be a massive help.

    Thank you.

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    1. Hi:

      You can use Occam’s Razor (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam%27s_razor) to eliminate a lot of scenarios like the mad scientist controlling your brain theory. Occam’s Razor states that the explanation with the least assumptions is most likely correct. The mad scientist explanation raises more questions than it answers, and doesn’t seem to answer any questions at all.

      It raises the questions of 1) How the scientist controls one’s every thought. 2) Why he does it. 3) Whether or not you are able to move your body in his world, and if not whether or not you have lost complete control of your body. 4) What the purpose of his experiment is and what are his possible justifications for doing it. 5) Why there is no evidence whatsoever that the mad scientist exists. 6) How the scientist got a hold of you in the first place, such a when you were born or later in life. 7) Whether or not you are even a human being. 8) Why you appear to control your own thoughts at all times…

      You can probably think of more and more questions, and any answers can only be hypothetical and with no evidence that they are true. Meanwhile, all the evidence suggests that you control you own thoughts and are moving about in an actual world. I think if someone else were feeding you thoughts, you wouldn’t experience them as your own and you wouldn’t feel as if you could control them.

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  3. I’ve been battling solipsism for a while now. I’ve been wondering if occums razor and newtons sword can be used to refute solipsism.

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  4. try this one. We are all one mind that split itself up into many (eg. other people) to entertain itself or maybe simply for reasons we do not understand. Maybe its a process to try and evolve. This is the only version of solipsism I find irrefutible. In this scenario, both you and I are us. We are one, and we are god. I am god. You catch the drift?

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    1. Your view isn’t what I think of Solipsism because it involves multiple viewpoints, even if all centered around a central hub which is God. Actually, your view sounds more like a loose metaphor for a fairly straightforward assessment of existence. We are all inarguable inextricable from the totality, and as such are expressions of it. In the human realm we share similar brains, and more importantly consciousnesses, forged or civilized with the same grammar structures and wealth of prior existing ideas. If one just says, as Frank Lloyd Wright did, that Nature is God, than there’s no real solipsism involved in your scenario, unless we take it very literally. You and I are expressions of the same universe and nature. You don’t need to call it God. But we each do have individual perspectives that are opaque to one another, and we do live in a physical reality, both of which just make things that much more complex and interesting.

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