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How would one choose between Solipsism and Realism/materialism?

  1. Mar 28, 2012 #1
    Hey guys. I know this has been discussed many times before on here and you are probably sick of it, but I'm having a problem.

    My question is slightly different from the usual "please refute solipsism" questions. I don't care about refuting it with absolute certainty. However, my problem lies between choosing what to believe. Frankly at this moment I don't know what is more logical to believe.

    Why? Because Solipsism is unfalsifiable. But at the same time, is not reality unfalsifiable?

    One could approach this from 2 directions. The general response is, "Yes, it's a possibility, but prove to me that this world is an illusion".

    But could one not also come from the direction, "ok I've doubted everything, memories, reality, and I can only be certain of my own existence. So prove to me that reality exists or I won't believe it".

    Does the last one seem logical?

    I'm stuck and I'm actually quite anxious over this whole thing (I have been through this solipsism thing once before, but it seems my doubt didn't go deep enough and now I'm stuck in this situation again).

    Thanks for the help guys!
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2012 #2

    We think, therefore we are. Solipsism refuted.

    PS. Unless you believe there is some unknown, unnamed 'agency' causing you to dream up your interaction with other living people but that would refute solipsism as well, as there'd be another entity existing besides you. I'd say you are most definitely not alone.
  4. Mar 28, 2012 #3
    I reject that premise. I cannot know that you, or anyone else for that matter, thinks (at least not in the philosophical sense from which I can deduce existence). Thus, I don't get much further than: *I* think.

    Then again, I'm a born pragmatist, so I really don't care one way or another.
  5. Mar 28, 2012 #4

    The key point is that you are learning new, previously accumulated and verified knowledge every day, it comes from somewhere and it can't be you by definition since you are picking it up as you 'go'. So something/someone else must exist, hence my statement that he was most definitely not alone.
  6. Mar 28, 2012 #5
    That is not at all what you first said.

    Also, it doesn't disprove solipsism, because you can't prove this premise, either. (Not without presuming the existence of external entities, which is what you're trying to prove in the first place!) As Lobar pointed out, solipsism is unfalsifiable, because it relies on the idea that whatever you're experiencing is only what you *think* you are experiencing. This can just as easily be applied to learning new things.
  7. Mar 29, 2012 #6

    Yes, i should have elaborated my point earlier, sorry about that.

    It true that rational philosophical thinking at some point leads to solipsism. What is not clear is why at some point rationality should fall behind giving way to absurdity(e.g. hints that knowledge that wasn't previously available to you was somehow part of you all along or maybe you have some other idea where and how new knowledge is coming from?).

    I am confused. How is learning new things explained by solipsism, if there were no other entities in existence? Deep in its nature, it's a sterile philosophy without something akin to god(and a deity would be the very first rational step towards 'explaining' solipsism as it's usually defined - only one's mind exists). If we were to abandon rationality altogether - an endless sea of nonsense theories could emerge but what would be the point?

    Is this not part of being rational? Can you propose a better theory explaining why learning how an Airbus A380 works, is better explained by solipsism than making the logical step towards the rational belief that other minds must exist(more likely) or a deity exists?
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  8. Mar 29, 2012 #7
    I agree with Maui that Solipsism does seem to require another entity if you are learning new things. That other entity could be your subconscious, but in the end it would be indistinguishable from God or some such being. I say this because in this reality we CAN know about our (human) subconscious mind and how it works, but it seems the subconscious mind that is said to be creating the universe from the view of the solipsist is both unknowable and inherently different to the mind that I am experiencing.
  9. Mar 29, 2012 #8
    I'm not a solipsist, but I presume such people would consider 'new' knowledge to be just another part of subconscious thinking they're now aware of. If all they're experiencing is just a part of their mind, then why should what they think about these experiences suddenly come from an outside source? That makes no sense. Or, perhaps, to them it's just like math - to come to a new realization in math you don't need an outside source, either.

    No, because I'm not a solipsist. :smile: I never said solipsism was rational or the smart thing to do. It's unfalsifiable, which is different. As I've said before, I'm a pragmatist, so I'm not exactly in favor of unfalsifiable premises. :wink:
  10. Mar 29, 2012 #9
    I wonder why a solipsist would believe that his/her subconscious mind is creating the world around them when what is happening around them is much better explained if an outside reality is posited. How do they know that they're learning about their subconscious?

    I'd say that it's much easier (and has much more explanatory power) to assume an external reality especially when the external reality is studied and it shows to be created of atoms and obeys laws, and where scientists even have the ability to one day be able to say where the universe came from.
  11. Mar 29, 2012 #10
    One thing though Hobin. Is not the premis that reality is real an unfalsifiable premis too?
  12. Mar 29, 2012 #11
    True. Perhaps I should've added: I'm not in favor of unfalsifiable premises (in fact, a premise is always an assumption to be made, so unfalsifiable is a bit redundant) if they don't add anything useful. Logic, for example, is a bunch of premises that *is* useful, and thus I don't have a problem with that. The same can be said about the premise that our empirical reality is, in fact, real. Solipsism has no such excuse (which is, incidentally, why I dislike a vast amount of philosophical blathering).
  13. Mar 29, 2012 #12
    Falsification itself is not falsifiable and both positions are metaphysical ones which by definition cannot be proven. I suggest flipping a coin.
  14. Mar 29, 2012 #13
    Does it matter? Logic isn't falsifiable either, but it works bloody well for us. So does falsification. The fact of the matter is that it isn't just about flipping a coin to choose between solipsism and materialism, it's about how much explanatory value a premise gives you. And it certainly seems that materialism gives a better explanatory scope. From there on falsification works incredibly well.

    A solipsist it seems would want us to doubt logic itself, which means from that position anything goes, which I think is absolutely ridiculous because we cannot avoid this reality or the logic that we have been given.

    The question is, does positing a position that explains phenomena better make that position a more likely one?
  15. Mar 29, 2012 #14

    I think this last statement is rather rash. If you look at most part of physics, the way nature is explained is not at all the way that it actually happens. For instance suppose I have a lightbulb wired to a battery. Physics says tiny little particles called electrons rush in some well explained manner through the wire into the bulb and there they heat it up which prompts the emission of photons. What actually happens is the light goes on.

    I hope my point is clear from that example. Namely most of what physics and other sciences have done is create some sort of fictional way that things happen (using atoms, electrons, quarks and mote mathematical things like SO(3), SU(2) or curvature of spacetime) which explain them 'the best'. In this sense we are actually not finding out what the external reality looks like. We make up all this stuff to explain certain phenomena and then conclude that since this is most convincing model, things actually happen that way.

    Also I think 1984 gives a very clear view of the conclusion of solipsism, namely it doesn't even really matter wether outside influences exists, because we are in charge of the meaning of the word 'to exist'.
  16. Mar 29, 2012 #15
    THere is the problem that no one actually gave anyone logic. We made it up. Also there is not just one logic there are different kinds.

    In mathematics, which I dare say is quite a succesful field of science, we abuse the logic that is used. Since we should be discovering structures, but a the actual way we go about it is inventing structures as well as discovering them.

    In the end I think the only premise needed and reasonable is. That any science should be about things we can understand. With that premise if you can understand solipsism it is true and if you can understand reaslism this is also true.
  17. Mar 29, 2012 #16
    I see your point, but I'm not entirely sure that you are accurate. Physicists sure come up with models about how things work like that, but they also have great deals of evidence to say how these things work like that. And they have tested these evidences and models to know that things do work the way they say they do. Sure there's the possibility that we are in the mind of God, or that a spiritual force is controlling this all, or that I might be dreaming, but from testing and evidence it seems that this is the way things work.

    NOTE: No one ever said we were trying to disprove solipsism, just trying to figure out a way past it, or better yet, see if it's less likely.
  18. Mar 29, 2012 #17
    Well then, with your premise, is solipsism an explainable and understandable premise? Or is realism better understandable and explainable?

    Also, I don't think we made up logic. Humanity didn't just make it up one day, we evolved with logic. If logic didn't exist before us none of us would be here right now. I will say, we now know how to think about logic and figure out rules of logic, but logic has been with us since reasoning became possible in animals.
  19. Mar 29, 2012 #18
    I'd say without a specific context there is no explanatory power. There isn't just one type of logic either and no single type of logic that applies to everything we observe. With Indeterminacy, logic apparently doesn't apply at all. So again, I'd just flip a coin.
  20. Mar 29, 2012 #19
    Why is there no context here? I'm pretty sure there is a context.

    The context is, that I've doubted absolutely everything that can be doubted, and I'm starting from a point that I can't escape. 1. I exist. 2. I am experiencing a consistent "reality". 3. All my thinking is based on logic (I can't doubt logic without using logic).

    So the context is, how do I explain the reality I see around me given the 3 points above.
  21. Mar 29, 2012 #20
    Once again with emphasis: There is no single logic but, rather, a collection of different types of logic and no single logic has proven to be applicable to everything we observe. This and the fact that Indeterminacy doesn't conform to any logic contradicts your assertion that everything can be explained logically. So again, flip a coin because your basic premises are demonstrably wrong.
  22. Mar 29, 2012 #21


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    Try boiling things down to this: if the truth or falsity of solipsism matters to you, you've made a mistake. You need to think of things differently so the question becomes irrelevant.
  23. Mar 29, 2012 #22
    How so? I'm worrying about this because I can't find a good answer to this question and I fear that loving my friends and family may just end up as sort of lie in the end. How's that something that doesn't matter? Sigh...
  24. Mar 29, 2012 #23
    How are my premises demonstrably wrong? I exist, I cannot doubt that. I am experiencing a world that is consistent (it still remains whether it's real or not), and the logic I have works perfectly in this world. How do you dispute that which I experience?

    I have also never heard the indeterminacy argument before.
  25. Mar 29, 2012 #24
    The logic you use does not work perfectly with this world. Classical logic works great for most of the things people do from day to day, but it sucks at certain things. Really, if you are going to talk about logic and depend on logic to such an extent the least you could do is read up on what people have worked for thousands of years to understand about logic.
  26. Mar 29, 2012 #25
    Jislaaik. If this is really my godlike subconscious instead of reality then it truly is a separate entity from me. I reckon I'll fall back onto the pantheistic worldview I had before, it makes the most sense whether reality is real or not.

    "we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively" - Bill Hicks

    Now I'll definitely wait till someone else responds.
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