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Against solipsism - a form of idealism

  1. Jun 29, 2011 #1
    Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's own mind is sure to exist. The term comes from Latin solus (alone) and ipse (self).http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism" [Broken].

    Here is my argument against solipsism, which I apply only to our known universe. I don't exclude the possible existence of solipsistic universes entirely.

    1) If I am the only mind in a closed space (universe), it is highly plausible that I would be capable of manipulating this closed space (my experiences) the way I want.
    2) If I am not the only mind in a closed space (universe), it is highly plausible that the interactions between my mind and the other minds will result in certain constraints (universe laws for example), which I won't be able to manipulate alone.

    From 1) and 2) follows that the existence of only one mind in this universe is highly implausible.

    I want to hear your thoughts on this argument (how valid it sounds to you) and the solipsistic doctrine (could the external world and other creatures be merely representations).

    Also we can extend the thread and discuss the idealistic philosophy as a whole (do you think experiences are necessarily private; could matter represent the interactions between the minds; do you believe that our universe has absolute existence or it will be "gone" the second no mind occupies it).
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  3. Jun 29, 2011 #2


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    I disagree with your first premise, there is no necessity that if only my mind were to exist and all my experiences "were not real" that my mind must be able to change my experiences at will.
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  4. Jun 29, 2011 #3

    What you mean by "not real"? Anyway the premises are not to be taken as 100% probability, but rather as 99%, that's why I used the phrase "highly plausible".
  5. Jun 29, 2011 #4


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    I find it neither absolute nor plausible. You need to demonstrate some sort of logical argument for why a one-mind-system could be able to manipulate the world it experiences. Because of this your argument against solipsism does not hold.

    By "not real" I was referring to the idea that there is an objective reality and that what we experience is not necessarily "real" (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_in_a_vat" [Broken]). I object to that notion because I see no reason why I should accept that it could ever be conclusively shown that there is such a thing.
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  6. Jun 29, 2011 #5

    Yes, what you say is true - it would be possible a mind to put constraints on itself (to put itself in a Vat), I just find this highly implausible for two reasons:
    1) The mind could as well do this as interacting with other minds (if you agree with my 2nd premise in OP).
    2) The mind would only do this if it's the only mind and do NOT want to create other minds (we can 100% assume that if it's the only mind out there it would be able to do whatever it wants, including creating other minds).
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  7. Jun 29, 2011 #6


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    You seem to have a big misunderstanding of brain in a vat, the thought experiment points out that it is impossible for a mind to know if what it is experiencing is "objective reality" or if it is being manipulated. It is not about "constraints"

    You are trying to argue against solipsism here but your argument is flawed. Premise 1 only works if you can present an argument as to why in a universe with a single mind the mind should be able to manipulate the universe at will. Premise 2 is also flawed, you are assuming that natural laws come about through conflicting mind interaction, this is unsubstantiated either logically or through evidence.

    The argument here is illogical because you have not shown that it is possible for a mind to manipulate the reality it inhabits (not including the obvious indirect mechanism of intelligent tool-use, which still have to obey natural laws), we cannot "100% assume" that if there was only one mind that it would "be able to do whatever it wants".
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  8. Jun 29, 2011 #7
    Ferris bg, if you are the only mind, then anything that ryan_m_b says is not the product of another mind. Therefore it must a product of your own mind. Can you therefore control what ryan_m_b says? (Forget about what I say, because I'm not really saying it. You are. But you can't control it, can you.)
    Last edited: Jun 29, 2011
  9. Jun 29, 2011 #8
    May be I didn't clarify some things in the OP and that's why the BIV TE related problems appear.

    If you accept idealism you don't have "objective reality", as you don't have nothing absolute except the minds (matter is just a function of the mind or the minds interactions). What the minds create is just relative, it won't stay when the minds are gone from a particular universe.

    Now if solipsism reigns, this means that there is only one mind out there (and yes we can assume this mind can do whatever it wants, as well as to create BIVs or other absolute minds). And no this mind can't be a BIV itself, because it has eternal, absolute existence.

    My argument in the OP is related to our known universe. If there is one mind left and it can not manipulate the universe laws, then this mind is not absolute (its the creation of another mind just for the particular universe) or this mind has put constraints on itself to not being able to do this. These two are related to premise 1) in OP and I find both highly implausible. There is no logic a single absolute solipsistic mind to create just temporal minds or to put constraints on itself, when it can interact with other minds to achieve this.

    To sum up, I take for granted that:
    1) We accept idealism - there is only the mind substance.
    2) There is minimum one absolute mind, which is omnipotent.
    3) If two or more minds interact with each other in a particular universe, certain constraints appear, which can not be manipulated by a single mind.

    To disprove solipsism I take for highly implausible that:
    1) The solipsistic mind will create temporal minds instead of absolute minds.
    2) The solipsistic mind will put constraints on itself in a particular universe, instead of interacting with other minds.
  10. Jun 29, 2011 #9


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    I'm afraid I'm going to have to reject this again. If one assume's that one's mind is the only thing in existence there is no reason to suggest that it should be able to control reality. Dreams are products of my mind but I cannot control them, parts of my sensory experience are purely products of my mind to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_spot_(vision)" [Broken] but I cannot control that.

    Until you can demonstrate the necessity that reality would be controllable in a one-mind system you're argument doesn't hold.

    And that's not to mention the fact that one could be the only mind in existence yet sensory experience could be true accounts of "reality". By this I mean you could be the only conscious entity in the universe and the rest of us could be http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophical_zombie" [Broken].
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  11. Jun 29, 2011 #10


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    Am I controlling my reality if I push something off the table?
  12. Jun 29, 2011 #11
    Then you are not the only mind in the universe, in which you have dreams. I suppose you can't fly too etc. Thats the constraints I was talking about, what the other minds think of possible, relates to you as well. You can't teleport the glass of water to you, but you can go and take it.
  13. Jun 29, 2011 #12
    Posting anything about solipsism is rather tautological, assuming that you already believe in it. And since nobody else other than yourself can convince you to believe in solipsism (by definition), then what's the point posting about it?

    Or maybe you just want to talk with someone. That's entirely ok. Just don't do it under this kind of veil. It's rather absurd.
  14. Jun 30, 2011 #13
    Even if the premises were true, how would you know this probability? You say it is "highly plausible" but I see no reason for you to say that. Why do you assume these a priori probabilites?
  15. Jun 30, 2011 #14
    The solipsistic mind would be more likely to act this way, because it will "create something more". It will create permanent dependence with the other minds, not just temporal. But on the other side, if we accept that the solipsistic mind is omnipotent, then its every decision will have exactly the same EV, meaning that we end with 50% probability. Solipsism is fun, isn't it?

    EDIT: "more likely to act this way" is related to:
    1) The solipsistic mind is less likely to create temporal minds instead of absolute minds.
    2) The solipsistic mind is less likely to put constraints on itself in a particular universe, instead of interacting with other minds.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2011
  16. Jun 30, 2011 #15


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    I don't see why you are making these assumptions about what a solipsistic mind will and will not do. Who says the mind "created" anything?

    If my mind is indeed all that exists then everything I experience could be a product of my mind, but you cannot claim that my mind created any of these experiences for a reason nor can you suppose a reason.
  17. Jun 30, 2011 #16
    Well, it's kind of an interesting possibility :P But that's just me, there are people who are terrified of the prospect. I'm from those people that believe that even if solipsism is true:
    1) It is unknowable.
    Because you essentially try to answer a question that is unanswerable "Am I the only mind in existence?" You can't know because you can't know another mind if it existed. When you stab yourself with a pin, you feel pain. When you stab another with a pin, you feel nothing. How can you know that the other has a mind to feel or not feel pain?

    2) It is a less simple hypothesis.
    And this I believe is the best grounds of rejecting it. If Solipsism was true then whenever the solipsist closes his eyes in front of an object, let's say a vase, then the vase ceases to exist because the solipsist does not perceive it. When he reopens his eyes, the vase is still there in the same place. Why? And how come this is the exact case if we assume a physical reality? Its just easier and more instinctive to assume a reality that exists even if we close our eyes.

    Then again everyone else may be a philosophical zombie. But this again is a less simple hypothesis because these other people behave pretty much the same way the solipsist behaves. Why should they be denied an independent existence?

    These arguments do not disprove solipsism but in the face of choosing a theory over another that explains the same phenomena, we usually choose the simplest theory. Google "occam's razor" for details

    3) It makes no difference.
    Well even if solipsism is true, then the solipsist would have to discover his own mind. The realist would have to discover reality. But it is the same set of phenomena given different names. The sun is the sun, and whatever you attribute its existence to (your mind or some real world) you will still burn your eyes looking directly at it!

    Now, to what you said:
    well I asked you how you came up with the probabilities of a solipsistic mind being able or not being able to completely control his world and you answer is that it will "create something more" It will create a permanent dependence with the other minds, not just temporal. But there you assume the existence of other minds therefore this mind can't be solipsistic (i.e there are other minds and it is not alone). I'm not sure I follow you. And I still don't see why it should have control over its own mind. Does it control its desires also? If it wants to do so-and-so, where does this desire come from? Why does solipsism presuppose omnipotence of the solipsistic mind?
  18. Jun 30, 2011 #17

    As I wrote every decision of an omnipotent being (OB) must have exactly the same expected value (EV) for him. Do you agree with this? The only difference could make his interaction with other OBs, so my hypothetical assumption is based on that.

    The other minds are just part of his mind. It creates a universe to amuse itself with other temporal minds, which will be gone ones the universe is gone. So we have a non-solipsistic universe part of a solipsistic mind. If these minds were absolute, then the universe would be part of all of them. Here is a related read about this:
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  19. Jun 30, 2011 #18
    I think Bertrand Russell's views on solipsism are sound. He has written a chapter on it in http://books.google.co.in/books?id=...Human Knowledge&pg=PA157#v=onepage&q&f=false"

    In it he points out that a solipsist shouldn't say "I alone exist" or "I alone have thoughts" as the concept of me or myself is quite meaningless unless the doctrine of solipsism is false. One should instead say "data is the whole universe" . :approve:
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  20. Jul 1, 2011 #19


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    I don't even agree with this, I don't see how you can resolve the paradox of having two omnipotent beings with conflicting interests.

    This is unsubstantiated to speculate on the mechanisms by which a solipsist universe would work in order to refute it.
  21. Jul 1, 2011 #20
    Thanks for the link Singham, Russell's thoughts on solipsism are an interesting read.

    ryan_m_b, I appreciate your comments on the thread, please explain why you don't agree with the EV proposition and the suggested mechanisms.
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