By HonestDiscussioner

Religion, Philosophy, Politics, and anything else I'd like to talk about


Friday, June 28, 2013

Pointless: Solipsism

Solipsism is the belief that all that exists is the self, all else is illusion; it can also include the belief that the self is the only thing one can verify. Okay, it can in fact cover a wide range of ideas, theories, and beliefs, but I am as interested in those semantic games as I am spending a year reading nothing but Ayn Rand. For the purposes of this discussion, I only want to address those two ideas.

The thing is, solipsism actually makes an interesting and valid point. Our perceiving a "real" world, however you want to define what that means, could be indistinguishable from what we would experience if we were being fed an illusion. Thus, the world as we know it could be an illusion. There is no way to 100% verify our experiences as accurate. Okay. Interesting point. Yet beyond the initial "huh" moment, there is no "point" to the point.

The conclusion sought by this position, which usually involves a change in outlook in some capacity would, if extended to its logical conclusion, render us unable to live. Giving pause to all possibilities that we cannot verify causes an infinite set of pauses. Were we to somehow, through some advancement in philosophy, verify with 100% certainty the veracity of the senses, we would still be left with innumerable uncertainties, uncertainties that penetrate every aspect of existence. Can you "know", that there isn't someone around the corner, outside of your vision, waiting to kill you? Or behind you? Can you prove concealment technology does not exist and someone or something is monitoring you at all hours of the day? Should we garb ourselves in the bathroom in case this is true? Should we never eat again since we lack certainty that our next meal is not poisoned? You cannot utilize the lack of certainty in the senses without carrying along this very heavy baggage as well.

The usage of solipsism should also be given extra attention, for its use is even less consistent than I've already described. So frequent do I find it the case that solipsism is used against positions selectively. When one makes an observation grounded in empiricism, well that's circular as it assumes the senses are accurate. When one makes a claim of faith or personal experience, such points suddenly vanish.

I did admit quite freely that solipsism makes a valid point, and it does, yet that point extends far less than one might think. It does not, in fact, extend at all to our understanding of reality.

Up until now, I've mainly been addressing the "lack of verification" agreement, not the positive belief that all that exists is the self, because simply put, that argument is demonstrably false. True be it that we cannot verify *what* exists beyond the self, but we can verify that *something* exists beyond the self. While everything I see, hear, or otherwise sense may be in some regard an illusion, I am not consciously drawing this illusion. It is happening to me, largely against my will. Our actions are willed by us, but we don't will the sensory experience itself. When we type on a keyboard, we do not consciously think "and now I will make myself feel the plastic keys against my hand". The sensory experience is a consequence of our actions. Therefore *something*, other than myself, is causing me to feel that sensation. Whatever is doing the causing is no more "me" or part of myself than my shoes are.

Therefore even if we were to use the old standby of the Matrix, even if it was the case the universe as we experience it was a computer generated simulation, it wouldn't really change anything. We'd still be interacting with "the real" universe, just in a different way. Our perceptions and experiences are all already simulations anyway. We don't really "see" a painting, we interpret the light that reflects off of it and our mind builds a mental picture of it. Living in the matrix simply moves that back one step. It wouldn't even matter if the entity responsible for generating the simulation is itself the product of a simulation, we are actually still interacting with whatever the true basis for reality is.

The same could be said for dreams. What if this is all a dream? Allegedly, we if are dreaming then empiricism is useless. Our dream selves cannot rely on other people in the dream to, for example, verify the length of a table in that dream. So since we can't know this isn't a dream, empiricism is not a more valid way of ascertaining reality than any other form, such as faith or personal experience.

This line of reasoning just simply doesn't follow. Were we in a dream, the table we are trying to verify is a creation of our subconscious. So too would be the person we are asking. What better a source of information then, for the world we reside in for this case is a product of our own subconscious.

Maybe this is a dream. Maybe it's an illusion. It doesn't matter, for we are interacting with something real, just maybe not precisely in the way we imagined. Solipsism is a pointless exercise, and appealing to it should be considered as bad as a logical fallacy.


  1. Solipsism is not a pointless exercise, because it establishes the impossibility of absolute claims to truth or knowledge. The possibility of solipsism makes fallibilists out of all of us (if we're being honest), which has profound implications for philosophy and its interface with religious argumentation.

    1. Thanks for commenting Roberto.

      But beyond that initial point, that initial "huh" moment I spoke of, it doesn't go any further. It's an unfalsifiable claim, it can't give more or less credence to one idea over the other, unless that claim is of absolute knowledge. What source outside of religion ever took absolute knowledge seriously in the first place?

    2. Its enough with the example you give, religion. If you say Solipsism is a pointless excersise, religion is also a pointless exercise, and just look where this has taken us!

  2. "Therefore *something*, other than myself, is causing me to feel that sensation. Whatever is doing the causing is no more "me" or part of myself than my shoes are."

    How exactly do unwilled mental states disprove solipsism? Does solipsism claim all mental states must be caused by your will? No, it doesn't. It simply claims there is nothing external to your own mind.

    All you "demonstrated" here is there are experiences in your mind you do not identify as yourself -- sensations of keypads, experiences of shoes, etc. That's it. And from this single premise you fallaciously jump to the conclusion that solipsism must be false. But such an objection misses solipsism entirely because the solipsistic concept of mind includes *everything you perceive* -- not just the experiences you choose to identify as.

    "Solipsism is a pointless exercise, and appealing to it should be considered as bad as a logical fallacy."

    I disagree. Discussions of solipsism are valuable because they tend to expose the bankruptcy of dogmatically held positions like materialism. In the end, materialism is no more defensible than solipsism.