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ninjacolin's avatar

What does solipsism mean ultimately?

Asked by ninjacolin (14243points) February 17th, 2011
30 responses
“Great Question” (5points)

I don’t want to debate whether solipsism is true or false or what have you..

Assuming that solipsism is the way it is and ultimately you (read: “I”) are the only one in existence and everything else is somehow either made for your sake or made by you.

Also, accepting the fact that even though it’s all “for you” everything you experience is still undeniably real. (Ex: Pain hurts and needs to be avoided, love is good and ought to be pursued…)

What does it tell you about everything and everyone you experience?
Does solipsism suggest a significant oneness in the universe?

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Answers

absalom's avatar

Solipsism as far as I understand it does not mean or postulate that the world has been made for you or that you have made the world. That might be the conclusion (the ultimate meaning you’re looking for) after accepting solipsism, but it’s not innate in the philosophy.

I consider it an important distinction.

Does solipsism suggest a significant oneness in the universe?

It sounds almost nice if you put it that way. Except that ‘oneness in the universe’ is a phrase that already draws a distinction between universe and self (via spatial framing / preposition).

You might say that the universe dies with the solipsist. (It’s been said before, forget by whom. Many, I’m sure.)

What does it tell you about everything and everyone you experience?

Suppose that it would tell me those experiences are not verifiable against external opinion or memory, meaning that my understanding of the world would be tenuous (although I wouldn’t know it). Experience is incommunicable for a solipsist, like pretty much totally incommunicable, so if it can’t be recorded or communicated then it can’t have be measurable, it can’t exist in time as we understand it, it doesn’t have history or precedent.

You would be a baby or a ‘cow in the field’ (as Herzog said once).

Solipsism is kind of not so legitimate now, though, in light of Wittgenstein and his private language argument. (Read Philosophical Investigations and you will no longer be a solipsist.) Although I’m not big into philosophy, so maybe I’m wrong.

But I would not want to live that way.

Zaku's avatar

“What does it tell you about everything and everyone you experience?”
Nothing. The distinction I see is that solipsism is an acknowledgment of the situation that whether or not there is a real world as we understand it, a person’s experience of it passes through a nervous system and is given meaning by the way that system is organized, and that many forms of hallucination and imagination and reinterpretation are possible, so that assuming one’s experience and memory is accurate is a limiting estimate.

“Does solipsism suggest a significant oneness in the universe?”
No.

I don’t follow “Also, accepting the fact that even though it’s all “for you” everything you experience is still undeniably real. (Ex: Pain hurts and needs to be avoided, love is good and ought to be pursued…)”
Pain does not need to be avoided. One can benefit from, learn from, find interesting or enjoy pain, for example.
Many people have negative conclusions about different concepts of love.
People do not have to accept the realness of anything, and they frequently don’t. They also invent things, intentionally, but also unconsciously, even somatically. People experience severed limbs after they are gone, though the experience is there. People react to imagined or apprehended threats. Etc etc.
How do you mean “real” in that sentence?

cackle's avatar

Just to comment on Ludwig Wittgenstein.

In his book, its fundamental tenets could not themselves be formulated in a way that was clearly consistent. The verifiability criterion of meaning did not seem verifiable; but neither was it simply a logical tautology, since it had implications for the practice of science and the empirical truth of other statements. This presented severe problems for the logical consistency of the theory.

ETpro's avatar

@ninjacolin You ask some fascinating questions. The solipsistic explanation of reality is one of those sophomoric exercises in philosophy that I find useful in only its most abstract form, and that doesn’t seem to be where your question is going. For all practical purposes of going about life, I simply set aside the possibility that it is a solipsism. I can not prove that it’s not, but I can’t prove there is any tangible value in assuming it is. I am pretty sure that if I were creating my own reality entirely in my own mind, I would not include in it things like the abscessed tooth that just needed a root canal or the time I got my back mangled by being rear ended at a stop light by an LA City Bus whose driover was looking in his rear-view mirror and didn’t know the light was red.

cackle's avatar

In order for Wittgenstein’s argument to work, the problem of other minds must be solved, and since it’s has not been resolved, his argument does not work.

@ETpro,

There may be some reason which was forgotten on purpose. Perhaps this is all out of a desire to avoid being bored, or perhaps you’re in fact living the most perfect life you could imagine. Pain are perceptions assumed with all of the other socio-cultural human values that you created for myself — a package deal, so to speak. Perhaps your subconscious mind creates a world which conscious mind might not have chosen but has no control over changing.

This issue is somewhat related to theodicy, the “problem of evil”, except that you’re the all-powerful God who has allowed imperfection into your world. You can also counter and say that since you never made yourself, then you never had a choice in the way your mind operates and appears to have only limited control over how your experiences evolve. You could also conclude that the world of your own mind’s creation is the exact total of all your desires, conscious, and otherwise and that each moment is always perfect in the sense that it would not be other than as my own mind in total had made.

The imperfection of your existence can also be explained through the belief that only through pain, both physical and emotional, can you move to a higher state of existence. Thus, the imperfect present for you is the direct result of your subconscious compulsion to experience perfection.

ETpro's avatar

@cackle That was quite a wordy recapitulation of my statement that, regarding life being a solipsism; “I can not prove that it’s not, but I can’t prove there is any tangible value in assuming it is.”

cackle's avatar

It was mainly for your abscessed tooth comment.

ETpro's avatar

Ha! :-)

LostInParadise's avatar

The issue of solipsism is settled by Occam’s Razor. Assuming that it is true changes nothing. There is nothing gained by assuming that I dream up unpleasant things to happen to me or that I only pretend to be surprised by things that I make up or that I am the ultimate creator of all scientific laws. Making some subconscious process act as an intermediary between me and what I perceive or believe that I perceive (including my corporeal self) is just extra baggage that should be jettisoned..

cackle's avatar

Occam’s Razor doesn’t solve anything. It works on probability, but probability is bullshit because as long as certainty is absent, then anything is possible. This uncertainty allows me to dismiss all science. Heck, it’s in it’s own methodology. See Heisenberg uncertainty principle and special relativity.

LostInParadise's avatar

Maybe Occam’s Razor was not the best approach, so let me make this simple. How does solipsism explain being surprised? How can you be surprised by information that you made up?

cackle's avatar

@LostInParadise,

Read what I wrote to @ETpro

LostInParadise's avatar

If you break the mind down into a conscious and a subconscious then there must be at least two of you, the one that is conscious and the one that is subconscious. Are these two different communicating spirits? Which one is in control? We can’t talk about brain regions, because the brain is something that you made up. Things start to get complex and Occam stands poised to cut the theory to shreds.

cackle's avatar

You’re using a subjective, relativistic methodology which is what occam is.

Look, this is very simple.

My mental states are the only things I have access to.
I cannot conclude the existence of anything outside of my mental states.
Therefore only my mental states exist.

I’m always right.

flutherother's avatar

Imagining that the Universe exists for your sole benefit is pathological but true. I create the universe I experience as it is only sensory data within my own mind. Why shouldn’t I arrange this data in ways that best suit me? Life is a dream, but a dream over which I have some control, so why shouldn’t I control it for my benefit?

There is nothing of value in the universe but me. I can never have proof that pain and joy exist outside of myself. Logically I should act completely selfishly. Nevertheless I want to believe that others exist and I feel compelled to act as if they do. I don’t want to be the only thinking feeling creature within an illusory universe.

If there is only me I will pretend that others really exist and I will believe it is true.

ninjacolin's avatar

@flutherother just because everyone’s in your head doesn’t make them any less real to you.
The people in your head are your reality. There’s no extra work involved in caring about them from a solipsistic perspective.

flutherother's avatar

@ninjacolin I agree, and from a solipsistic and selfish point of view I want the reality I experience to be more than just that. I want it to be a reality that can be experienced not just by me but by other people as well. Being greedy, I want a more real reality than just what I experience in my own head.

ninjacolin's avatar

@ETpro thanks for checking it out! :)

Okay, I’ll give you guys a quick crash course in proper solipsism and why it is a prima facie proposition that requires more complex figuring to escape than it does to accept:

My mental states are the only things I have access to.
I cannot conclude the existence of anything outside of my mental states.
Therefore only my mental states exist.

Any questions?
good thing I’m the authority on such matters

LostInParadise's avatar

One more time. How is it possible for you to be surprised? If you are the creator of all that is around you, then how can there be anything that you can’t account for? In fact it is surprise that leads to your image of yourself. If everything was as expected there would be no need to separate yourself from your perceptions. You would be at one with your self-contained universe.

ninjacolin's avatar

I can only answer according to the facts I observe about the universe as I’ve experience it: I can’t control you. You seem to do your own thing autonomously but not just you and humans, even planets and asteroids and everything kinda doesn’t do what I want them to. It just kinda all keeps happening TO me. I don’t even get to choose what dreams I have! Yes, it seems there is a solipsism going on but clearly I’m not in control of it. It seems I’m only in control of what my consciousness is in control of. (Which has mostly to do with body functions and the things that happen from those functions.)

I like what you’re point at there @LostInParadise. Something about if you have no control over something how can it be said to be yours… But I guess where it comes down to is the fact that everything I believe to be true is simply a matter of my personal opinion. And everyone knows you have every right to your opinions, lol.

Okay, more towards investigating the question of the thread: I think solipsism is a truism. It’s not very helpful though since reality is still outside of my (read: “your”) control. It’s a mostly useless fact about the universe that it belongs to me.

nisse's avatar

I like the David Deutch argument against solipsism.

- If you believe that everything that exists is inside your head, and that “other people” (for example flutherites such as me), are “dream people”, or figments of your imagination, it follows that..

- You would have to define the dream people and other things you interact with on a daily basis as part of your own subconsious mind..

- You would then be forced to concede that your own subconsious has a “very rich structure”, and that indeed most of the things in your subconsious (such as people, rocks and planets) seem to have a life of their own which is not directly related to the narrow entity that non-solipsists would refer to as “self”. You would also discover that there is infinitely more stuff in this “outer region” of your self. Some of these parts of your subconsious (such as me) even seem to behave as if they were convinced that solipsism is false.

- If you continued to examine this outer part of yourself you would discover that things in this outer region seem to follow certain regular laws, such that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west. Moreover you could formulate scientific laws (such as gravity) which would describe the behaviour of the elements of this “outer self” very precisely.

- With these scientific laws discovered, you could ask what the explanatory power of your solipsistic viewpoint is. Does calling everything around you for “self” really add anything to your understanding of the world? Would it rather not be easier to just call your narrow self for “self”, and call all these other things around you that seem to move independently of you for “not self”. Is solipsism not really just a way of rebranding our experiences to make them more confusing?

- The problem with solipsism is that you have to append the idea that the seemingly autonomous entities around you are actually controlled by your subconsious mind in some undefined and unexplainable way. Appending this extra explanation, except not being falsifiable, is not actually needed. A simpler solution would be to just drop this extra explanatory baggage, and call what seems to be autonomous autonomous.

I agree with the deutch argument, because when you try to take solipsism seriously, it collapses on its own terms.

ETpro's avatar

I am sure solipsism is ONE thing that is not real but is, instead, a creation of the solipsists’ mind. I know this because as a megalomaniac, I have always had grand plans to rule the world. These plans would have succeeded in step with my wildest dreams had I actually been creating the world to my liking within my own mind. But my plans of world domination have been singularly unsuccessful for the last 67 years. Even my cat tells me (In Catonese, of course), “Go fu¢Ҝ yourself, human.” when I tell her to let me have my (her favorite) chair.

ninjacolin's avatar

I can think of at least 1 challenge to Deutch’s otherwise excellent review of the matter. Thanks, @nisse.

First, it’s inaccurate to say that you have to append an idea to conclude on solipsism. Descrates already took care of that. I am. That’s the first thing I know. And since I am my opinions of you, that tells us that at the VERY least, there is me and “you” is no less me than my beliefs about my very existence. The first and only thing I can rest assured of is that my opinion about anything is what it is: Mine. By evaluating all the glorious ideas Deutch pointed out as presented by yourself, @nisse, we can THEN deduce the existence of things that would be less convoluted to consider as “extra-self.” Solipsism is a realist’s perspective. Non-solipsism is an evidenced, deductive argument.

@nisse said: “you could ask what the explanatory power of your solipsistic viewpoint is. Does calling everything around you for “self” really add anything to your understanding of the world? Would it rather not be easier to just call your narrow self for “self”, and call all these other things around you that seem to move independently of you for “not self”.”

Solipsism doesn’t go anywhere when you figure it out. It doesn’t “collapse” or anything. It stands. It exists. The explanatory power of the viewpoint isn’t really important. Regardless of the value the idea has, it’s still true. (From my perspective) It’s kind of like the fact that I am 6’4 rather than 6’2. It doesn’t matter that I’m 6’4. Where’s the explanatory power in my being this height rather than 2 inches in either direction? The value question doesn’t really apply in a discussion of historical occurrences.

ninjacolin's avatar

@ETpro, the solipsist will never disagree that anything (including solipsism itself) is a creation of his mind. :)

However, I would be quick to point out that even if it’s all FOR me, it’s clear that it isn’t all made according to my deepest desires. Things do go awry from my intentions. Clearly, the solipsism is outside my control. Control doesn’t seem to be a requirement for solipsism.

nisse's avatar

@ninjacolin

I think you have missed the gist of the argument. If you try to take solipsism to its logical conclusion, you still end up with the idea of realism (albeit in solipsistic wording) + the idea that your mind somehow controls everything in the world.

This last idea is unneccesary (it doesn’t tell us anything more about the world), incomplete (it says nothing of how the mind controls the rest of the world), and unfalsifiable. As such we have no reason to include it in our understanding of the world.

I also disagree with your claim that the explanatory power of a viewpoint is irrellevant. I argue that there are good and bad explanations. Good explanations help us understand the world, and make predictions of future events. Bad explanations shroud the truth and make poor predictions.

An example of a bad explanation would be that the seasons are governed by the goddess Demeter. In winter her daughter Persephone leaves for Hades after a deal made by Zeus. Demeter is so sad that we have winter, when she returns we get spring.

A good explanation would be that the polar axis of the earth is tilted with respect to the sun, and that the orbit in space make for different angles of illumination, leading to higher/lower levels of solar radiation.

I’m having a hard time following parts of your argument. For example, what do you mean by “I am my opinions of you”. As a realist this makes no sense to me, in my opinion you are flesh and bone, and not an opinion. Please be more thourough in explaining statements like these (preferably in realist terms) if you want to convey your viewpoint convincingly.

Great thread, always cool to hear your ideas colin :)

nisse's avatar

we can THEN deduce the existence of things that would be less convoluted to consider as “extra-self.” Solipsism is a realist’s perspective. Non-solipsism is an evidenced, deductive argument

I can agree with parts of this, Non-solipsism goes outside the Descartian pit of Cogito.

If I understand you correctly you are putting an equal sign between the limitation “Cogito ergo sum/i can only know that I am” and solipsism, which i dont think is the traditional meaning of the term, as far as i have understood it.

Solipsism has too gone beyond Cogito, saying that we can know things beyond that “I am”, but claiming that these things outside of “I am” is all in the mind. Non solipsism also says that we can go beyond “I am”, but that this other stuff outside “I am” is not all in the mind.

If you are asking how we can know anything outside of Cogito, i think that is another discussion altogether, and we should not use the term Solipsism for that.

ninjacolin's avatar

First of all, it seems I’ve use the term “deductive” when I meant to be saying “inductive.” That must be confusing, I apologize. Maybe this post will make more sense..

@nisse said: “If you try to take solipsism to its logical conclusion, you still end up with the idea of realism (albeit in solipsistic wording)”

Which is what you would expect if solipsism was.. real. :)

@nisse said: ”[the idea that your mind somehow controls everything in the world] is unneccesary (it doesn’t tell us anything more about the world), incomplete (it says nothing of how the mind controls the rest of the world), and unfalsifiable. As such we have no reason to include it in our understanding of the world.”

I’m going to assume that you don’t mean “control” in the conscious/intentional sense.

I agree that it appears superfluous but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the best explanation of things. It just means that there’s a superflous-seeming layer to reality.

I disagree that it ought to say anything about how the mind controls the rest of the world. It’s just an observation about our observations: All things that are true happen to be a matter of my opinion. Essentially, whatever we learn about quantum mechanics, physics and chemistry in terms of how the universe works serves to explain exactly how the mind controls everything in the world. The mind must be the universe I think for this solipsism thing to work.

Unfalsifiable? That only matters in cases where something isn’t demonstrably true at the same time. If something is unfalsifiable and not clearly demonstrable, there’s a problem. If something is unfalsifiable but clearly demonstrable then you better believe it.

And yes, it’s easily demonstrable that the only propositions which are true are the ones you are aware of. All other potentially true propositions are merely inductively concluded to exist.

Explanatory power

I wasn’t saying that explanatory power is useless in all cases, only in this one specifically. Anyway, there’s two issues I have with what I said. First, there is explanatory power in this solipsism thing. Second, from just above in this post, the solipsist-layer only appears superfluous. Regardless it is necessary.

I am my opinions of you

I’m made up of lots of things. atoms, cells, organs, eye balls, brain matter, and brain opinions. My opinions about you are a part of me without which I would be someone else. Every opinion that I have makes me what I am. I’m comprised of many things including my opinion of you.—- Your opinion is that I am flesh and bone. So, that opinion is a part of your whole.

Somehow I feel like I could be saying this better but I don’t think there’s anything missing. Let me know if it is clear.

Solipsism is what you’re left with when you’ve stripped away as many induced conclusions as possible.

nisse's avatar

First of all, GA, i really like this discussion :)

You are right in assuming that i meant “control” in a passive sense. Perhaps “create” is a better word.

@Ninjacolin said: “Which is what you would expect if solipsism was.. real. :)”

Yes.. I am not critizing the the idea of solipsism on the grounds that it makes false observations, im trying to argue that parts of it is superflous and we have better explanations availible which dont need the extra assumption that our minds create reality.

@Ninjacolin said: “I agree that it appears superfluous but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t the best explanation of things. It just means that there’s a superflous-seeming layer to reality”

Well until I understand why it is not superflous, I can’t see why it is relevant to how we best understand the world. Sure 1+2+0=3, but 1+2=3 as well. Solipsism is like 1+2+?=3 to me.

@Ninjacolin said: “And yes, it’s easily demonstrable that the only propositions which are true are the ones you are aware of. All other potentially true propositions are merely inductively concluded to exist.”

This makes no sense to me. How would you answer the old “If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound” question according to your solipsistic philosophy? Would it make a sound? If no, why not? What reasons do you use to justify that conclusion?

@Ninjacolin said: “First, there is explanatory power in this solipsism thing.”

Is there? Please give an example where the solipsistic idea explains something that realism doesn’t.

@Ninjacolin said: “I am my opinions of you”

Still not clear what you are getting at unfortunately. I’m going to assume that you meant that “my opinions of you are part of my personality”.

——-

Yes. With realism we have the problem of induction. Just because the sun rose today, doesn’t mean we can justify the belief that it will rise tomorrow. I agree that it is a problem of realism.

“Solipsism is what you’re left with when you’ve stripped away as many induced conclusions as possible.”

Not true. If we removed all inductive conclusions about the world, we would end up in the Descartian pit of Cogito. We would only know for sure that “I am”. Nothing more and nothing less. Descartes tried to cheat himself out of the pit by using “God” as the reason, but nowadays we don’t buy into the claim to authority. Descartes solution to Cogito makes no sense.

What my critique is based on is that solipsism is no different in this respect, motivating inductivistic reasoning is a problem both for realism and solipsism.

Solipsism also claims inductive knowledge, and adds the unjustified and mystical idea that our minds create the world. This last presupposition is what needs to be defended and explained.

- How does your mind create the world?
– What reasons do you have for believing that your mind creates the world?
– How would the idea that your mind creates the world give different predictions and different insights compared with the idea that our minds only observe an already existing and autonomous reality?
– How does solipsism raise itself from the pit of Cogito, i.e. how can we know more than “I am” without using inductive arguments, by assuming a solipsistic philosphy?

ninjacolin's avatar

Nooooooooooo “create” sounds too active, I don’t think it’s accurate. The mind doesn’t “create” the world. The mind IS the world. That might clear things up a lot. :) It does for me anyway. Get it? The mind determines everything that is true.

The best explanation of the universe

First there was absolutely nothing. Then there was Colin standing on the steps at his parent’s house as a child (My first memory, btw). Then he went to school, then he started working, now he’s on fluther having this discussion. The universe exists indefinitely as long as Colin does. All other history is hearsay.

There are no “better” explanations available than this because no other explanations are as credible as this one.

Why it is not superflous

Hard to answer this question grammatically somehow. It’s not superfluous because it’s the only thing an individual really knows for sure… hmm.. lemme try again.. It’s not superfluous because it’s the only thing we really know, that we (meaning, the individual) are real… grumble.. i need help with this one.

I said: It’s easily demonstrable that the only propositions which are true are the ones you are aware of. All other potentially true propositions are merely inductively concluded to exist.

@nisse said: “This makes no sense to me. How would you answer the old “If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound” question according to your solipsistic philosophy? Would it make a sound? If no, why not? What reasons do you use to justify that conclusion?”

The answer to that question is awesome: It does whatever I believe it did. If I believe it made a sound then it did because I alone am the determiner of truth. It’s like asking me what my name is. Just beacuse I believe it is “colin” does that make it true? Actually, it does. :)

Or if you want a less funny example, consider a scientist who runs any kind of experiment. The results of the experiment are documented as whatever the scientist determines the results are.

@nisse said: “Please give an example where the solipsistic idea explains something that realism doesn’t.”

I should be careful here. Maybe I still don’t see the value of “explanatory power” in this discussion. I think I meant to say that there is value in knowing that we are real. From that first knowledge other things can then be inferred. Without me knowing at least that I exist, how can I know anything else at all? Solipsism is the basis, the starting point for all other knowledge. (This is big claim, I know. I’m not sure I’m convinced of it yet but it’s where the conversation has to go I guess. Maybe I’ll learn something even if it’s a mistake.)

I am my opinions of you (Take 3!)

I am physically made up many things including opinions.
Some of those opinions are about you.
Therefore, I am physically made up of many things including opinions about you.

(and yes, opinions are physical)

@nisse said: “my opinions of you are part of my personality”
Rather: My opinions of you are a physical part of my mind.

Nisse’s critique

“If we removed all inductive conclusions about the world, we would end up in the Descartian pit of Cogito.”

Right. Cogito may as well be the argument for solipsism itself. It’s the truest seeming thing in the world and the basis that all other beliefs rest on.

@nisse said: “What my critique is based on is that solipsism is no different in this respect, motivating inductivistic reasoning is a problem both for realism and solipsism”

I don’t follow the use of the term “motivating” in motivating inductivist reasoning? What do you mean by that?

And sorry, could you make it more clear: Solipsism is no different than what?

@nisse said: “Solipsism also claims inductive knowledge, and adds the unjustified and mystical idea that our mind creates is the world. This last presupposition is what needs to be defended and explained”

The claim isn’t unjustified and it isn’t mystical. It’s observable: Name any true proposition. The only thing that really makes it true is the fact that you’ve determined it to be so. This isn’t mystical at all it’s just the way things are.

ninjacolin's avatar

BONUS QUESTIONS

Originally: How does your mind create the world?
How does the world create the world? I don’t know.

Modified: How does the mind determine truth?
Through rationality.

What reasons do you have for believing that your mind creates determines the world?
The universe used to not exist. Then I was born and it suddenly did. Clearly, existence itself seems to be intimately tied to my mind’s existence. (besides, why else would you be asking me for answers to any kinds of questions unless I had the answers.)

How would the idea that your mind creates determines the world give different predictions and different insights compared with the idea that our minds only observe an already existing and autonomous reality?
It really doesn’t do much beside allow the rest of our ideas, including the appearance of autonomous reality, to exist. Without my existence, no things would exist as far as I’ve ever been able to define things. It’s nearly superfluous but it has this one job to do.

How does solipsism raise itself from the pit of Cogito, i.e. how can we know more than “I am” without using inductive arguments, by assuming a solipsistic philosphy?
I don’t think it works that way. Solipsism and cogito might be best understood as one in the same. We can’t escape the use of inductive conclusions but we must base all of them on the first conclusion that “I exist in the first place.”

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