Playing with Solipsism

Ol' Solipsism

Ol’ Solipsism (Photo credit: found_drama)

Imagine that you are the only being that exists.  Not that you are the last person on earth, but that the earth and everything other than you is merely the product of your deranged imagination. This, very crudely put, is solipsism.

As with watching Star Trek, most philosophers go through a solipsism phase. As with the Macarena and Gangnam Style, this phases usually fades with merciful rapidity. This fading is, however, usually not due to a definitive refutation of solipsism. In many cases, philosophers just get bored with it and move on. In other cases, it is very much like the fads of childhood-it is okay to accept the fad as a kid, but once you grow up you need to move on to adult things. Likewise for solipsism-a philosopher who plays with it too long will be shamed by her fellows. Mostly.

Just for fun, I thought I would play a bit with solipsism-in the manner of an adult who finds an favorite childhood toy in the attic and spends a few moments playing with it before setting it aside, presumably to go write a status update about it on Facebook.

Interestingly enough, solipsism actually has a lot going for it-at least in terms of solving philosophical problems and meeting various conditions of philosophical goodness.

One obvious thing in favor of solipsism is that, as per Descartes’ wax example, every experience seems to serve to prove that I exist rather than that something else  exists. For example, if I seem to be playing around with some wax, I can (as per Descartes) doubt that the wax exists. However, my experience seems to show rather clearly that I exist and doubting my existence would just serve to prove I exist. In fact, as skeptics have argued for centuries, it seems impossible to prove that there is anything external to myself-be it an external world or other minds. As such, solipsism seems to be the safest bet: I know I exist, but I have no knowledge about anything else.

Another factor in favor of solipsism is its economy and simplicity. All the theory requires is that I, whatever I am, exist. As such, there would presumably be just one ontological kind (me). Any other theory (other than the theory that there is nothing) would need more stuff and would need more complexity. These seem to be significant advantages for solipsism.

A third factor is that solipsism seems to solve many philosophical problems. The problem of the external world? Solved: no such thing. The problem of other minds? Solved: no such things. The mind-body problem? Probably solved. And so on for many other problems.

Naturally, there are various objections to solipsism.

One obvious objection, which I stole from Descartes (or myself), is that if I was the only being in existence, then I would surely have made myself better. However, I make no claims to being omnipotent-so perhaps I made myself as well as I could. Or perhaps I did not create myself at all-maybe I just appeared ex-nihilo. In any case, this does not seem to be a fatal problem.

A related objection is the argument from bad experiences:  cannot be the only thing in existence because of the bad experiences I have.  I’ve experience illness, injury, pain and so on. Surely, the argument goes, if I was the only being in existence I would not have these bad experiences. All my experiences would be good.

Laying aside the possibility that I am a masochist, the easy and obvious reply is to point out that a person’s dreams are produced by the person, yet dreams can be nightmares. I’ve written up many of my nightmares as horror adventures for games such as Dark Conspiracy and Call of Cthulhu so it can be gathered that I do have some rather awful nightmares. I also have dreams with more mundane woes and suffering, such as nightmares about illnesses, injuries and so on. Given that it is accepted that a person can generate awful dreams, it would seem to make sense that the same sort of thing could happen in the case of solipsism. That is, if I can dream nightmares I can also  “live” them.

Another objection is that the alleged real world contains things that I do not understand (like specialized mathematics) and things I could not create (like works of art). As such, I cannot be the only being that exists.

The easy and obvious reply to the understanding reply is that I understand as much as I do and the extent of my understanding defines what seems possible to me. To be a bit clearer, I have no understanding of the specialized mathematics that lies beyond my understanding and hence I do not really know if there is anything there I do not actually know. That is, what is allegedly beyond my understanding might not exist at all. Interestingly, any attempt to show that something exists beyond my understanding (and hence must be created by someone else) would fail. To the degree I understand it, I can attribute it to my own creation. To the degree I do not, I can attribute it to my own ignorance.

In terms of the art objection, the easy reply is to note that I can dream of art that I apparently cannot create myself. To use an example, in the waking world, I have little skill when it comes to painting. But I have had dreams in which I saw magnificent  original paintings I had not seen in real life.  The same applies to dream statues, architecture and so on. As such, the art that seems beyond me in the world could be produced in the same way it occurs in dreams.

Descartes (or me), I think, had the most promising project for refuting solipsism: if I can find something that I cannot possible be the cause of, then that gives me a good reason to believe that I am not the only being in existence. Or, more accurately, that I am not the only being to ever exist. However, there does not seem to be anything like that-after all, everything I experience falls within the limits of me and hence could all be about and only me.

But surely that is crazy.

 

My Amazon Author Page

Enhanced by Zemanta
Leave a comment ?

41 Comments.

  1. “… is merely the product of your deranged imagination.”

    Why deranged? If this was the state of affairs in what sense would it be deranged? Compared to what? Some judgementalism creeping into your metaphysical speculation?

    Your factors in favour of solipsism are only in favour of it if for some reason you see those properties of it as useful, virtuous, or of some other value.

    Your objections you answer yourself, and exclude not doubt countless other objections, each with countless counters.

    “If I can find something that I cannot possible be the cause of, then that gives me a good reason to believe that I am not the only being in existence.”

    This is nonsense. You would have no way of knowing that this ‘something’ is not just one more figment of your imagination. We know from dreams that in a dream something very insubstantial can seem complete, so for example, you might, in a dream, be absolutely terrified of a paper clip that poses no actual threat, and on waking you wonder why in your dream you were so afraid. It’s not beyond imagination to suppose your solipsist mind could conjure up the feeling that it had discovered something that could not be the cause of, when in fact it had not. Why can we not suppose a solipsist mind, while inventing this rich experience might not also have its own further illusions and delusions – solipsist delusions of turtles all the way down.

    “However, there does not seem to be anything like that-after all”

    What it ‘seems’ like is totally irrelevant when you suppose solipsism. Anything goes because there is no way of verifying or refuting anything. Even logic itself, the tool of reason, might be the figment of a solipsist mind, so that the efficacy of any reasoning we attempt in our solipsism is entirely imaginary.

    By the way, are you a part of my solipsist imagination, or am I part of yours? If I’m part of yours how do you, or I, explain my experience of being a thinking thing? Easy. My thinking experience that seems private to me is actually just one part of your mind that is inaccessible to other parts of your mind; so your total solipsist mind is having this experience that I think is mine, and your conscious solipsist experience is unaware of it – I am part of your solipsist unconscious. Or are you part of mine.

    There is no refutation of solipsism. It’s a dead end.

    All idealisms and rationalisms, if followed logically, will lead to solipsism (I’d be interested to hear of any you think do not).

    The *only* thing going for empiricism and materialism is that they are so in-your-face with their persistent experience that it simply isn’t worth the effort to second guess what the solipsist counterpart of each material experience might be. In wondering what it means in a solipsist world when I get hungry and eat, why not simply take the material experience at face value? What would be the difference in outcome, other than believing solipsism leaves you second guessing reality all the time. What can you do to demonstrate your existence is a solipsist one?

    This is my route into reality, with no blue or red pills in sight: http://ronmurp.net/2010/05/03/contingency-of-knowledge/

    Then, why empiricism and materialism is he only game in town: http://ronmurp.net/2010/05/03/human-fallibility/

  2. Mike,
    “One obvious objection, which I stole from Descartes (or myself)…”

    Heh, that’s great line. Well done, sir!

    How about this: Solipsism is true; my experiences are the sum of what exists. Therefore, my experiences are necessarily real [1]. Therefore, I am warranted to treat them as if they were real [2]. Therefore, I am warranted to treat them as if their existence were independent of my own [3]. Therefore, I am warranted to act as if solipsism is false [4].

    [1]: If my experiences are the sum of what exists, and what exists is what is real, then my experiences are by default real. This is not to say that the objects I impute to my experiences are me-independent real, i.e. exist independently of my experiences of them.

    [2]: Since per [1] they are real. Have to be careful not to equivocate and beg the question here: Not real in the sense of being independent of me, but real in the sense of being a part of me, the source and standard of what is real.

    [3]: As if, not that they are. For example, Mike is just the Mike LaBossiere process running in my mind, however insofar as it is a distinct process from the Dregs process in my mind, I’m warranted in having the Dregs process respond to the Mike process as if it were a distinct object. That is, I’m warranted to treat the various aspects of my experience as if they were independent, though of course they are not actually independent.

    [4]: Of course solipsism is not false, but per [3] I am warranted to act as if it were.

    Basically, it seems possible to salvage our ‘normal’ relationship to an ‘external world’ from within solipsism. Solipsism would seem to emerge as just a quirky background fact without any practical implications for how we act. Well, suicide might be more problematic since you’d presumably be snuffing out the entire universe; that seems morally more significant than ending a single life.

  3. Creepy thought: Maybe ‘suicide’ within solipsism would be just to replace the Dregs process with some other process or processes. :shock:

    I’ll stop now.

  4. Nicely done.

    Your comments caused me to think about pantheism, which seems to be divine solipsism. If people can exist as modes of God in pantheism, then the idea of people existing of modes of me would make a similar level of sense.

    Good point about suicide and death. It is a good thing that I take good care of myself and eat well-I’m eating for the entire universe. ;)

  5. Ron Murphy,

    The deranged bit is intended to be humorous. I found it funny, and since only I exist, it is funny. :)

    This is nonsense. You would have no way of knowing that this ‘something’ is not just one more figment of your imagination. We know from dreams that in a dream something very insubstantial can seem complete, so for example, you might, in a dream, be absolutely terrified of a paper clip that poses no actual threat, and on waking you wonder why in your dream you were so afraid. It’s not beyond imagination to suppose your solipsist mind could conjure up the feeling that it had discovered something that could not be the cause of, when in fact it had not. Why can we not suppose a solipsist mind, while inventing this rich experience might not also have its own further illusions and delusions – solipsist delusions of turtles all the way down.

    You certainly put your finger right on the classic problem-there seems to be no way to refute solipsism (or skepticism). After all, as you point out, I could just think that something is not caused by me and be deceiving myself about this. Seemingly the only way to beat solipsism is to simply assume that it is not true-that is, beg the question. While this seems sensible, it also doesn’t seem to properly satisfy. That is, I would like something more substantial than “well, I’ll just tell myself it is not true.”

    By the way, are you a part of my solipsist imagination, or am I part of yours? If I’m part of yours how do you, or I, explain my experience of being a thinking thing? Easy. My thinking experience that seems private to me is actually just one part of your mind that is inaccessible to other parts of your mind; so your total solipsist mind is having this experience that I think is mine, and your conscious solipsist experience is unaware of it – I am part of your solipsist unconscious. Or are you part of mine.

    Either you are part of mine or solipsism is false. I know I am, but all the evidence I have for you is what I see posted in the blog. “Ron Murphy” might just refer to a well-written comment bot program or might just refer to a product of my deranged imagination. Or it might refer to an actual person.

  6. “While this seems sensible, it also doesn’t seem to properly satisfy.”

    That’s the point though isn’t it. Humans have no access to ultimate truths or anything else that will properly satisfy.

    “That is, I would like something more substantial than “well, I’ll just tell myself it is not true.””

    Tough luck. There is nothing. Unless you count simply asserting…

    “I know I am.”

    You *think* you know you are. Isn’t that the whole point of solipsism and the cogito? Hence my strap line at ronmurp.net: “I haven’t a clue, and nor have you. I think I think, and that makes me think I am.”

    “Another factor in favor of solipsism is its economy and simplicity.”

    Is that in favour? Why? In your lone solipsist existence what value is simplicity? And since it seems indistinguishable from a material reality it cannot be any usefully simpler. It’s only simpler rhetorically: “My solipsist mind is all there is.” But your solipsist mind still has to imagine that you are in pain when you push yourself too hard while running. You can’t stop it doing that.

    Incidentally, how would you refute materialism?

  7. “As such, the art that seems beyond me in the world could be produced in the same way it occurs in dreams.”

    Yes it seems to you. But what if it is just an utterly convincing illusion.

    I have never heard an argument that beats the cogito. An I believe that it is the reality. That there is just flawed subjectivity, and flawed inter-subjectivity. The wrong path with this is the Ayn Rand, nihilistic solipsism. (Ayn is not the only one in on this game). Many people do internalise the belief – when they die the world dies – if they feel bad, it’s the external world that is bad. There are many malign outcomes for this thinking.

    The argument that beats them all, is the Cartesian demon. What if there is a demon tricking you. Any evidence the external world is an illusion is hidden from you by the demon, and you’re just shown what convinces you external reality exists.

    What if you are a computer program – a bot. And in the computer program, there are rules to stop you experiencing the unreality. You wouldn’t even need to be a good, hi-res simulation. Just a simple bot that believes it’s real. Every time it questions it’s reality, it’s made to feel it’s received a satisfying answer. If it stumbles on a hole in the reality, its’ program edits out the revelation.

    The cogito is an insurmountable brick wall.

  8. What about the various (I think compelling) attempts at refutation in the 20th century, that there is a performative contradiction (that is, the statement contradicts the presuppositions necessary to state it) in solipsism? So for example, in “I think therefore I am” the terms used are only meaningful if one presupposes the existence of an external world (say, because “I” can only be identified as distinct from “you” or “them”, etc.). Basically, if you refuse to assert the existence of an external world you lose the ground from which to assert your own existence. And if you assert the non-existence of the external world you contradict yourself, since the meaningfulness of the terms you’re using requires the presumption of an external world. (As you perhaps can tell, I’m something of a semantic externalist.)
    I also think there is a mistake in assuming that because we can doubt the veracity of some arbitrarily large subset of our beliefs we can doubt all of our beliefs (or even a large majority of them).

  9. JMRC,

    I could be my own demon. At times, I certainly have been.

    The demon and computer arguments do provide an alternative to solipsism. If there is a demon, I am not alone. If I am in a computer program, I am not alone (there is at least computer). However, solipsism has an advantage over both theories, namely that of economy. The theory that it is just me is simpler than the theory that it is me and an evil demon and it explains everything just as well. Hence, solipsism seems the better theory on the usual grounds.

  10. Devin Morse,

    While that is an interesting approach, it does seem that I can have a sense of me even without there being an external world. I could, perhaps, distinguish myself from nothingness and that might suffice to get the semantic ball rolling along. But, maybe not.

    True, being able to doubt some believes does not entail that all of them can be doubted. But solipsism doesn’t require that I doubt all of my beliefs-I just need to doubt that there is anything but me. To steal from Berkeley (if he existed), I could contend that by denying the existence of everything else, I am taking away nothing-I still have all the experiences I do, whether there is anything behind them but me.

    It could be contended that solipsism robs one of the possibility of such things as love and friendship-but that assumes that love or friendship must have an external object.

  11. There is, as you no doubt know, a strong argument that Descartes Cogito fails on the grounds that it is a petitio principii.
    Lichtenberg, for example, wrote: ‘We should say it thinks, just as we say it lightens. To say cogito is already to say too much as soon as we translate it as, I think.
    So far as I remember I believe it was Lichtenberg who first said all we are entitled to is the expression “There is some thinking going on.” very much different from expressions concerned with one’s existence.
    To what extent this affects the matter of solipsism, I am not quite sure. but I see no reason why coexistence is not possible.
    However, surely when the argument is made that if I were the only being in existence, then I would surely have made myself better; it is reasonable to ask, better than what? To be better is to have something else to compare with. There was no blueprint of exactitude, no existing rules of what Good Better and Best entailed. Developmental Psychologists put forward the interesting hypothesis that infants are solipsists. However they eventually infer that others have experiences similar to theirs and ultimately reject solipsism.
    Solipsism was the first philosophical concept I encountered. It enthralled me, and I still have a soft spot for it.

  12. Mike LaBossiere,

    “I could be my own demon. At times, I certainly have been.

    The demon and computer arguments do provide an alternative to solipsism.

    If there is a demon, I am not alone.”

    And there you kind of defeat your own argument right before you make it. Is this the Cartesian demon at play? If you are your own demon, then your are alone – because it’s just you playing tricks on you.

    “If I am in a computer program, I am not alone (there is at least computer). However, solipsism has an advantage over both theories, namely that of economy. ”

    Deciding the validity of theory on the basis of economy, is a rule of thumb, not an absolute rule. The economic theory could be absolutely wrong. The computer simulation theory is more economic than the idea of a flesh and blood sentient independent being. Nothing in a computer game tells bots they are not real – for their limited conscience they believe they are real.

    As for what solipsism is – yes solo is in the word, but what is flying solo? The first major pratfall in Decartes Cogito, I think there for I am, is simply what is the nature of this I. It presupposes there is a being, an I. What if the sense of selfhood is a confection of some mechanism. Which is what is believed by many scientists (if scientists exist). So, the solipist does not believe they are the only being in the universe – just that the true universe is unknowable (it could be a glass jar full of chemicals – voltages on a microchip) but the universe they experience only exists in their imagination. They accept their reality is just a perception. As Ayn Rand said, the world is in the person and when they die the world dies.

    The theory that it is just me is simpler than the theory that it is me and an evil demon and it explains everything just as well. Hence, solipsism seems the better theory on the usual grounds.

    You’d still need to explain the nature of the I. And it doesn’t offer any economy. Just like the economy argument doesn’t really work for claiming God created the universe because it is a far more economic explanation than the complexities and absurdities of quantum physics. You have to explain how God came into existence. Quantum physics gives an absurd sounding but far less complex explanation of how the universe spontaneously appeared from nothing. A fully formed omnipotent being appearing from nothing is a little bit more of a stretch.

    Is there a demon in you that can hide truths and realities from you; yes. In all flavours of psychology repression is recognised – that’s when the mind deliberately hides realities, mostly traumatic realities from you.

    The cogito is the realm of the I, the Ego,

    The discussion stops being a parlor game, when psychiatrists, politicians, etc, have to deal with the conseqences of the cogito. Or you, might have one of the Manson girls standing over you, with a knife dripping your blood, telling you death isn’t real.

  13. JMRC,

    Obviously, if it is just me, it is just me. My point was that the demon and computer hypotheses provide an alternative to solipsism in that they postulate that it is not just me, but me and and least something else.

    If it is just me, then I would presumably not be a flesh and blood being-my flesh and blood would need other stuff. Now, it could be theorized that I am an odd sort of flesh and blood that has no need of anything else, sort of a meaty solipsism. The computer would presumably need other stuff, too-like a power supply, programmers and such. But perhaps a pancomputer could be postulated that is everything and I am but a bot in its RAM. In which case, it would be a cybersolipsist.

    I have had nightmares about things far worse than Manson girls endeavoring to kill me (see Nightsiders, Blood Moon or any of my other published horror adventures)-so the experience of something threatening to kill me does not prove it is real. Being a gamer, I fight back whether it is real or not-habit of battle and all that. As Locke argued, it doesn’t matter if it is “real”-it matters if it hurts.

    I can’t explain the nature of the I. But that is not a special problem for my solipsism game.

  14. Ron Bird,

    True-if I am the only one, I am the best there is. :)

    Like you, I have a special place for solipsism-it is one of those views that seems obviously wrong, yet is devilishly tough to beat. I do think it has value in that engaging the position requires addressing some fundamental questions about epistemology and metaphysics.

    Ironically, solipsism for me makes me humble-if I cannot know for sure that there is anything but me, then I cannot claim to be certain in my other beliefs. So, in an odd way, considering I might be the only being in existence makes me undogmatic. :)

  15. Dennis Sceviour

    The Theory of Clyde: Clyde’s theory is that the world was created five minutes ago. If you believe that you have knowledge of a world that existed before this, it is because Clyde wants you to think that. Who is Clyde? Clyde is the guy that created world five minutes ago.

  16. “Obviously, if it is just me, it is just me. My point was that the demon and computer hypotheses provide an alternative to solipsism in that they postulate that it is not just me, but me and and least something else.”

    Yes, Mike. But it’s a bit like a friend calling you at home and asking “Hey Mike, Are you alone?”…And you saying, “No I’m here with the microwave, the fridge, and the toaster…And we’re having a ball”

    “Blood Moon or any of my other published horror adventures)-so the experience of something threatening to kill me does not prove it is real.”

    Horror, sci-fi, and games are a good way to explore philosophy. In a Grand Theft Auto world, sometimes you throw the fat man in front of the tram, other times you don’t just to watch the Girl Guides die. And other times you shoot the fat man and take his money, and club the Girl Guides to death.

    “I can’t explain the nature of the I. But that is not a special problem for my solipsism game.”

    You’re cheating. Who gave you permission to set the boundaries? Who is to say there is a you in the first place? Or “I blog, therefore I am, and this is my blog so I must exist”….What if outside some server daemon you do not.

    Mike, I’m not all that convinced you are not a computer simulation.

    Do LaBossieres dream of electronic sheep?

  17. The criticisms of the cogito make the mistake that is common in philosophy, in giving undue weight to deductive argument, either for or against a position; or, as in this case, criticising a position because it fails inductively, because of some objection to one of the premises.

    Deductive argument can only ever ensure that you get from position A to position B rigorously and validly. There are no sound deductive arguments, because they all depend on presuppositions or observations that ultimately cannot be justified.

    So, criticisms of the cogito because it presumes something about the “I”, or presumes something in the relation from thinking to existing, are quite right. But all idealisms and theisms fail on the same grounds. There is no logical deductive proof of anything, ultimately.

    Of course this applies to materialism as an ontology, and empiricism as an epistemology. There is nothing to prove they are right.

    There is nothing to ‘properly satisfy’, because the demands for satisfaction are unreasonable, and usually biased against one’s opponent’s position.

    Those that oppose scientific materialism (you know, the ones that say “science can’t and never will tell us … [whatever]; therefore [God, transcendentalism, … whatever]”) really think they are onto some killer argument when they point out the contingency of materialism, as if it hadn’t occurred to materialists. But it’s the empiricists, the materialists, that are the ones stating up front that it’s all contingent. What the opponents don’t seem to acknowledge is that their own pet position is not only just as unable to be proven logically, deductively, but that their position hangs by a much finer thread: an imaginary one.

    Yes, the cogito is on shaky deductive ground, in that there are all sorts of variations on criticisms of the premises. It’s not even clear what the premises are.

    All the cogito can claim to do is tell us what it feels like, to us as ‘apparent’ subjective entities. Our ‘apparent’ nature, the contingency of “I *think* there’s an ‘I’, and I *think* it thinks, and I *think* I’m it, so I *think* I am that thinking thing.” is all we have got, at the point of the cogito. It is a contingent subjective observation. It is not a presupposition in the way some others are (e.g. God), but a tentative premise upon which to build our whole contingent being and the being of our world.

    There is no logically obvious choice between solipsism and materialism. The choice is arbitrary. Which you choose comes down to how much effort you want to put in. Materialism is easy. When Dr Johnson stubs his toe and refutes solipsism and all idealisms he doesn’t exactly refute them, as he claims; well not logically, deductively. But he does diminish their utility, in that you snap out of your solipsist state pretty damned quick when material reality slaps you in the face. It is *only* the utility of empiricist materialism that distinguishes it from solipsism.

    Coming back up from the isolated depth of the cogito, it’s coming across the senses that’s the crucial thing. What to do with them? Are they just figments of my solipsist imagination? Or do I accept that they are indicators of something external to my thinking being? That is the decision point, and the only one of significance.

    If you choose solipsism, then good luck to you. How’s that working out? What’s it doing for you that makes it significantly better than materialism?

    If you choose materialism then you get all of science, including evolution and neuroscience that give good explanations for a lot of the puzzles philosophers pose. They may not be proofs, and so may not ‘properly satisfy’ the overly fussy philosopher; but who cares? I am not properly satisfied that my wife loves me, but I’m contingently satisfied by the evidence I observe.

    So, when theologians tell us we need God for this or that, or philosophers tell us that science can’t explain aesthetics and ethics, then so what, because neither can they. They are stuck in the same contingent hole as everyone and have no answers to anything. Most of the stuff theists claim to be answers are just feel-good deepities with neither proof or evidence. They only have those tenuous imaginary threads to hold up their ideas up in their minds. But empiricist materialism, through science, explores the world and the mind in far greater depths than any Rationalism, Idealism or solipsism can.

    The solipsist can always have the last word, in that he can always say that what I imagine is science discovering stuff is no more than some extension of his solipsist mind, that not only conjures of the science but me too. That’s all the lonely solipsist has, the last word. And when that’s accepted as a possibility, when his solipsist mind stops conjuring up internet interlocutors, because he knows they do not exist, except as part of his sole consciousness, and so shuts them up, where does he go from there?

    This isn’t an emotive appeal for materialism, and appeal in opposition to the lonely consequences of solipsism, but a pragmatic question about what thinking a solipsist does next, once he’s convinced himself that solipsism is the real deal.

  18. …because it fails deductively, because of some objection to one of the premises

  19. Re Mike Labossiere “21st June

    “True-if I am the only one, I am the best there is. :)”

    By the same token could it not also be said, you are additionally the worst there is?

  20. JMRC,

    Descartes’ demon seems to be an intelligent being, so it would be like me saying “no, I am here with Screwtape.”

    I’m not cheating at all. I don’t need to rigorously define “I” in order to make sense of solipsism. After all, the view does not hinge on what I am, just that whatever I am, I am all that there is.

  21. Don Bird,

    Oh, I am worse than that. :)

  22. In a radical democracy such as Socrates’ Athens, anyone can express a opinion that is true for him (no hers are allowed by the way) and everyone misses the point. So it is with solipsism.

    Descartes’ solipsism is not about being the only being. The problem of solipsism is this: What if I am a mere toy of an evil demon who fills my mind with illusions and delusions to amuse himself as he gleefully observes the futility and despair of my existence — how could I break through his deceptions? Or do I even dare to try to break through lest I make myself redundant in his domain? Could it be that the demon is a ‘Her’?

    But if I became redundant, how would I know that?

  23. “Ironically, solipsism for me makes me humble-if I cannot know for sure that there is anything but me, then I cannot claim to be certain in my other beliefs. So, in an odd way, considering I might be the only being in existence makes me undogmatic.”
    Suppose you believe the external universe does not exist. On what grounds then can you question any particular belief? (Suppose you believe unicorns do not exist. Can you question whether they are white?)

  24. There may well have been others, but so far as I remember it was the American philosopher O. K. Bouwsma, who held that perpetual illusion or deception is neither illusion nor deception. Unless one has the opportunity to make a comparison with what the case is in reality, then the delusion is for the subject, not a assailable, and a normal state of affairs. That is to say the subject knows no better. In this connection it seems that we humans accept what our senses, convey, and our rationality, determines as being the case.
    I suppose one could argue that some are deluded into thinking that the world in itself is, coloured or that the tree falling in a deserted forest actually makes a sound.

  25. Solipsism is both interesting and entertaining, as you say. But it has worth and power because it cannot be disproved. :evil: It is just possible that solipsism is correct, and all contradictory theories are wrong (or don’t exist :smile:). It serves to remind us — or me, anyway — that real life is not grounded in cozy, comfortable and absolute certainties. Rather than anarchy, I tend to associate it with this Richard Feynman quote If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.

    Maybe you take a different lesson from it, or no lesson at all?

  26. Dregs wrote: “How about this: Solipsism is true; my experiences are the sum of what exists. Therefore, my experiences are necessarily real [1]. Therefore, I am warranted to treat them as if they were real [2]. Therefore, I am warranted to treat them as if their existence were independent of my own [3].”

    I see no justification at all for your final leap of logic (or faith). Is it just an unfounded assertion, or have I misunderstood? If so, what is the justification for treating these experiences as though they are independent of you?

  27. Devin asked “Suppose you believe the external universe does not exist. On what grounds then can you question any particular belief?”

    You may believe there’s no external universe, but you could be wrong. If you are, you can speculate about unicorns. If you aren’t, then unicorns are (illusory and) entirely under your control anyway, and they can be whatever colour you like. :smile:

  28. Steve Merrick,

    Intellectually, I think that a healthy uncertainty is important. Being certain can close and bolt a door, thus preventing a person from seeing what lies beyond it. Of course, there is the danger of unhealthy uncertainty.

  29. Is there any state of affairs whatsoever, in life such that one would be prepared to stake one’s life upon that the state of affairs truly being the case? I can think of nothing, remember if you are wrong, your life is lost.

  30. Devin Morse,

    An interesting question. If I believe that I am the only thing in existence, then I would not seem to have any grounds to have any beliefs about an external world-since I do not believe in such a thing.

    But, the point I endeavored to make was this: since I cannot know for sure what seems to be a rather obvious thing (that I am not the only thing), then I should not be dogmatic-after all, if I cannot prove that there is an external world, I should be skeptical about (for example) my ideological beliefs.

    This is not to say that I do not have definite beliefs that I regard as true-but I acknowledge that I lack definitive proof. In the case of ethics, there are things that I regard as wicked and would not do, although I cannot bust out a sound deductive argument to establish a moral claim.

  31. Mike LaBossiere,

    “Descartes’ demon seems to be an intelligent being, so it would be like me saying “no, I am here with Screwtape.””

    But one of the points of Descartes’ demon is you do not know they’re there.

    A few years ago, I was reading an interview with a scientist, who strangely had been a creationist. He put being able to simultaneously believe in two sets of very contradictory information to a Cartesian demon. Every time a contradiction would present, the demon was able to trick him. In psychology, this is simply repression.

    “I’m not cheating at all. I don’t need to rigorously define “I” in order to make sense of solipsism. After all, the view does not hinge on what I am, just that whatever I am, I am all that there is.”

    It’s not really important how it’s defined. The problem with solipsistic beliefs is their consequences. Ayn Rand was a solipsist. How Ayn solves the issue of objective morality, is simply to decide subjectively if something is right or wrong, and whatever her decision is, is objective, rational, and absolute, because it’s her decision. So, as crazy as that sounds, that’s it. And it’s a product of her solipsism. And like many of Ayn’s ideas, it takes a lot of head twisting to really get your mind around it. Once you realise it’s a way of making contradictions vanish just by saying so, then it becomes coherent. It’s still crazy.

    Rands idea is popular with selfish authoritarians and conservatives. The reason being due to the crisis of subjectivity. Religious ideas dominated the popular consciousness up to the start of the 20th century. “I am, because God made me”. This allows for all kinds of absolutes and objectivity. Then ideas of Freud and science begin to permeate. Now we have subjects with subconsciouses – it’s getting murky. Emile Meyerson derives Moral Relativism from Einstein’s Special Relativism.

    What’s different about the 20th century is how these ideas are able to percolate into the popular mind. Everyone has heard the term “Survival of the fittest” – they assume it’s Darwin, that it’s maybe science. It’s not. It’s Herbert Spencer and it’s political ideology, not science.

    The authoritarian who wants order in the world (as long as they’re doing the ordering), knows of all the fuzziness – and they can’t unknow it. Rand solves this by simply turning solipsistic subjectivity into absolute objectivity. Rand’s ultimate idea was to govern society through a Leninist cadre of enlightened intellectuals. The masses were to be fed the values that suited the elites, and best for them, as objective absolutes. This is where Rand converges with the neo-cons and Leon Trotsky, or they converge with her. Of course this didn’t work – because within the idea are the seeds of its’ own destruction.

    The problem isn’t in the details of solipsism, it’s in the consequences of it being a belief. It can be incredibly nihilistic. And as you can see with Ayn Rand, they’ve all kinds of weird twists.

    Ideas in themselves are unimportant, it’s their consequences.

  32. Dennis Sceviour

    Hello Don,
    “Is there any state of affairs whatsoever, in life such that one would be prepared to stake one’s life upon that the state of affairs truly being the case? I can think of nothing, remember if you are wrong, your life is lost.”

    Consider an airplane pilot who is flying through the clouds. All visual reference to earth and sky, or up and down, is gone. The disruption of the inner ear from pressure changes can induce vertigo. On what does a pilot depend upon one’s life, and the life of possible passengers (autopilot is not allowed in this question)? The pilot depends totally upon the panel gauges for all information on the state of affairs. If they are wrong, life is lost.

  33. Well, I would not know there is a demon. But what I would or would no know is distinct from the matter of whether or not the demon hypothesis is an alternative to solipsism. It certainly would be an alternative, although I obviously do not know which theory (or any theory) is true.

  34. Mike LaBossiere,

    “although I obviously do not know which theory (or any theory) is true.”

    And that is the Cogito. It’s one of these cans of worms, that once you open it, you never get all the worms back in the can.

    A paranoid schizophrenic may truly believe there is a demon trying to control them. In many forms of psychosis, the person experiences a loss of the I, the Ego. Or experiences it disintegrating – and with this a disintegrating of the external world. The brain in its’ normal function plays all kinds of tricks to make you experience reality – you can see this trickery at work when you look an an impossible object. Like an impossible triangle http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_mc2fpeCPVD1rf089no1_500.gif

    With a strong does of LSD, the brain gets very sloppy in how it assembles reality. And the brain may think it’s normal to give you a commanding demon – or voices, whatever, the brain can be creative.

    And it’s the same for schizophrenics who are in the middle of a psychotic episode.

    So, say a group of peace loving hippy girls with flowers in their hair, can drop a little too much acid, be presented with the different realities, decide none of them are absolutes. Head out to the Span ranch and join Charlie. The rest is history.

  35. The cogito seems to be “I think, I am” which does not seem to be not knowing which theory is true. But maybe you are using it differently?

  36. Steve Merrick

    Mike wrote: {The cogito seems to be “I think, I am” which does not seem to be not knowing which theory is true. But maybe you are using it differently?}

    The cogito is part of a search for certainty. I wonder if this is where knowing whether something is true or not comes in? :???:

  37. Re:- Dennis Sceviour 24th June

    The pilot in this case is to make a decision. There is no alternative, he has to hope that his instruments register a true state of affairs. I do not see this as a counter example to what I originally said. The fact still remains, that a matter of certainty is doubtful, but here as I already said there is no alternative.

  38. Well my metaphysics says

    “cogito, ergo est”.

    Because subject object relationships only can occur in the context of a thinking being using a (meta) language.

    To stop thinking at all, is to collapse the world of experience to mere sensation, and, if carried to its ultimate conclusion, to ease to be able to differentiate self and other at all.

    As any mystic will tell you :grin:

  39. Re Leo Smith July 4th

    Surely thinking is nothing other than a sensation; and yet you say, to stop thinking is to collapse the world of experience to mere sensation. I can only think that you are using the word sensation with two different meanings. I’m wondering if you can clarify this point.

  40. All that I am is that which I am
    And that which I am is I
    And whatever I am I shall be what I am
    The Infinite, Eternal I.

Leave a Comment


NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Trackbacks and Pingbacks: