Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Philosophical viewpoint of solipsism

  1. Apr 26, 2003 #1
    This is a thread on the philosophical viewpoint of solipsism.

    Solipsism is the doctrine that the only thing that realy exists is one's own mind. All other things that are known to exist (by others), are declared to have no existence at all. For a real solipsist, all of outside reality (outside of one's own mind) are just projections, thoughts, images, etc, but do not describe a real existing outside reality, that exists independend of one's mind.

    So far, no real philosopher of person has ever declared him/herself to be a solipsist, there exists no debating clubs for solipsist.
    The reason for that is that for a solipsist it's no use to ever meet someone else and debate anything, cause all of outside reality, including other persons/minds are declared non-existence either.

    Nevertheless, solipsism is a very common viewpoint, and is still practised all around the globe in various forms. This is because it is hiding it's content and the only outside form of it is better known as religion. In this form the mind has been transformed into an absolute form, namely God. God is for a solipists the substitution for what other people call the outside material reality. Some of them do recognize a material reality, but not in the way materialism pictures it (as independend of the mind). In the viewpoint of solipsist material existence (if such a material existence in their viewpoint exists at all) is in last instance dependend on the existence of God. God is in this viewpoint defined as the ultimate or final cause of the material world.

    This is a clear distinction with the philosophy of materialism, in which matter is the primary substance, which is neither created or destroyed, but is in eternal motion/change, and mind is a secondary consequence of the material world itself.
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 4, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 26, 2003 #2
    Mentat, I think this really contradicts your thread, "I think therefore I am"!
    Is Wuliheron's "Paradox of Existence" solipsm (sp?)?
  4. Apr 26, 2003 #3
    Re: Solipsism

    Religion is not synonymous with solipsism and a solipsist is not necessarilly religious. Religious people worship a god or divinity, but a solipsist doesn't necessarilly worship anything. In addition, according to this definition just about anything can be solipsism. For example, even Atheistic Monism and Pantheism. Therefore it contradicts itself.
  5. Apr 26, 2003 #4
    Not by this definition it isn't. I am not religious nor do I believe or disbelieve everything is just in my mind. For me existence is a paradox and one I am happy to accept without demanding explanations. However I will say if it all really IS just in my mind I must have quite the imagination. :0)
  6. Apr 26, 2003 #5
    I've discussed that viewpoint with Mentat in the thread "The Fundamental Question". This was about consequently reasoning the scenario: what if nothing would exist (think about everything that exist, and then try to eliminate that from your thinking). When your mind is trying to think that thoroughly through, the last thing it will face is the fact that you cannot think of reality, where your thinking isn't present any more. Not that such a reality isn't in itself possible (anybody knows there was a real world before one was ever born, and a real world will continue to exists after one is gone) but in that reality the "you thinking" part isn't present, obviously.

    My conclusion was, that thinking a real world would not realy exist, would just lead to the fact that neither you would or could be present. It would be unthinkable/impossible that the thinking me was existing, without the world itself be present.

    But things can be interpreted within the mind in the wrong way.
    One could conclude (if one would lend on that fact only, and not taking into account the reality we know about) that for instance the mind itself must exist eternally (for the obvious reason that, without outside knowledge, the mind doesn't know about a world which existed before the mind itself existed, since there can be no experience within the mind of a world in which the mind itself was not present), and also that the normal way of perceiving causality (first there was a world, which in later instance formed me) is turned upside down (or inside-out). From our mind itself, without acknowledging any outside fact of reality, we can not know that, of course. Therefore it's good there is a material reality outside of our thinking and mind, to base our thinking on!
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2003
  7. Apr 26, 2003 #6

    If all people were solipsists, would anyone be exploring the sciences? Or would some of them at least be inclined to explore the "outside world" as a study in what they themselves had come up with out of their own minds?

    Do solipsists "arise" SPONTANEOUSLY at birth? If not, don't they realize that this position they have taken has come as a result of listening to the ideas of OTHERS with which they -- the "convinced solipsists" -- resonate?

    Sounds a lot like studying one's naval.

    So, materialists see matter as the primary substance...even though we "know" that "matter" is fundamentally "bound-up ENERGY".

    Who then (group label) sees ENERGY as the primary substance?

    And who are the "anti-solipsists"...those who believe that matter AND consciousness might be "out there" as well...with the energy of consciousness -- perhaps -- the interconnecting medium common to all "things"? And, where do I sign up?
  8. Apr 26, 2003 #7
    Re: Re: Solipsism

    That what religion and solipsism have in common is that both in first instance refuse to accept a material reality, which exists outside and independend of their(the) mind. Both share the viewpoint of the philosophy of Idealism, which opposes Materialism.
    Both believe in the abdoluteness of their own mind, although religion (the belief in a supreme being) does that in form of inventing a Deity (Absolute mind) for that reason.
    Religion is just the outside shape of the same viewpoint as solipsists have. As explained from the contradictionary viewpoint itself, in reality one never meets a solipsist. They all cover up in form of religion, but the content of their ideas are the same.
  9. Apr 26, 2003 #8
    Not really. In fact, the two views are perfectly compatible. You see, if I say "I think therefore I am", I may still be a solipsist, and think that "I" is the only thing that exists :wink:.

    I don't think so. I think it probably allows for it, as much as it allows for any other view - provided you recognize that whatever you view you present, it must be irrational and paradoxical.
  10. Apr 26, 2003 #9
    Re: Heusdens...

    Where solipsism comes from is from studying one's own mind and adopting conclusion on reality from that point of view only, without studying reality itself.

    This is much like studying one's own naval and from that claiming to know where the world comes from, indeed!

    This is a simple misunderstanding. The notion of matter in the philosophical context is different as what physicist see as matter.
    Philosophical materialism depicts both matter and energy (in the physical meaning) as being material i.e. matter.
    Physics (Einsten!) just explains to us that matter and energy as physical notions are in fact the same substance. One can be transformed into the other.
    It's a nice fact that philosophical materialism already adopted to this view on matter, before physicists explained this in physical terms!

    Solipsism must be seen as an extreme form of Idealism. The opposite viewpoint of Idealism is Materialism.
    And it's of course not the viewpoint of materialism that mind does not exist, it's just the notion that minds do not exist without a material reality. Evolution theory is therefore a materialistic viewpoint, cause it explains how life and consciousness have arisen out of an unconsciouss and lifeless material world.
    Matter and consciousness are out there, for sure. The question is just: what came first? The materialist viewpoint is that in first instance just matter existed, and only later, as a result of a long material process, life began to evolve, forming consciouss beings.
    Matter can exist without the need for consciouss beings to exist. Conscious beings (like us) can only exist if a material reality exists.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2003
  11. Apr 26, 2003 #10
    Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    Sorry, but that flat out isn't true. You can define words any way you want, but this is definitely not like any accepted definition of religion I've ever heard. Some people I've known actually worship material reality as Divine or God and belong to registered religions.

    I think most spiritual and religious people would argue that the mind is not the issue, it is the heart that matters. If anything, some of the religious claim the mind is the work of the devil or some such.

    I recommend Ursula LeGuin's story, "The Lathe of Heaven" for a more Asian perspective on solipsism. It was made into a movie in the seventies. In the story the lead character, George, is caught forging drug perscriptions and sent to a psychologist.

    The Dr discovers George was attempting to suppress his dreams because sometimes when he wakes up he finds reality has changed to match his dream. Upon further examination the Dr discovers George's dreams really do have the power to change reality. In the end, George buys a copy of the Beatles singing "All you Need is Love" and falls asleep listening to it.

    Even in this story, what the lead character discovers is that even his mind is subservient to his feelings.
  12. Apr 26, 2003 #11
    Re: Heusdens...

    If people meet who are solipsists, then they have to make a decission on what they should believe or not. They can either believe that all other persons are just images in their mind, and do not exist for real (the "world" vision of solipsism allows only one mind to exist) or they have to abandon or reshape their belief.
    Abandoning their belief means they have to adapt the vision that the outside world realy exists, independend of their minds.
    When they reshape their belief, they have to acknowledge the fact that also other minds exists, apart from themselves, but which have adopted a similar disbelief in the material world. This then takes the form of religion.
  13. Apr 26, 2003 #12
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    The basis of religion lies in philosophical Idealism. I did not say that religion argues that an outside reality does not exist, just that in their point of view this material reality can not be seen as independend of the mind. In last instance, they will claim that this material reality was the work or creation of some Divine being, or they will claim that material reality itself is consciouss.

    It's a nice story. But it conflicts with reality and is therefore only a story. The feelings one has, definately determine one's perception of reality. But not reality as such, although of course, one's perception of reality do determine also how one deals with and act in reality, and that is a reality in itself of course.
  14. Apr 26, 2003 #13
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    Idealism incorporates the use of infinity, but a solipsist need not. I could believe my mind is finite and, therefore, everything is finite and the universe will end when I die.

    Here's a more realistic one.

    I keep maps in my glove box to help me navigate occationally. Some of these are fairly old, but still helpful. However, if the map says turn left and there is no left turn I go straight. The map is not the territory and I do not worship the map as a God or somehow superior to my mind. One of the biggest and easiest mistakes you can make with a map is to assume it shows everything that is there and is perfectly accurate.

    Another huge mistake is to read the map while driving and forget where your attention needs to be. Sometimes I will memorize parts of a map and then use my memory of it while driving, but again, I try to never forget where my real attention needs to be. Driving is also just plain more fun without distracting thoughts, preconceptions, and expectations. Nothing like a sunday drive in the country.

    The "reality" that you describe as divided between the material and mental worlds, just sounds like another distracting map to me. I'd never use it to play guitar and sing or any number of other things. Certainly I wouldn't contemplate it while driving.

    In addition, your obvious attachment to this old map seems counterproductive. I'd never use a NY City map to try and find my way around Boston, nor would I attempt to make every map conform to my personal ideas of what all the little symbols should look like. Some maps are good for oceanography but are useless for city driving and vice versa.

    Fortunately for me, the paradox of existence accomodates a potentially infinite number of distinct kinds of maps.
  15. Apr 27, 2003 #14
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    The material world and the wold of the mind are of course distinct feautures of reality, but there isn't a clear line between the two.
    Same there isn't a clear line between life and death. All such notions are artificial categories of the mind.
  16. Apr 27, 2003 #15
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    The same could be said for the idea of "artifical catagories of the mind" as well. It is another example of using the absurd to disprove the absurd. In essence, it is a "logical" argument that one absurdity is more absurd than another. Like children on a playground taunting each other, that is often how people use such maps.

    What a waste of time. The alternative is to simply compare maps like adults, and make the best of a less than crystal clear situation. The old joke has it that men will never pull over to a gas station and ask for directions. Some of them would rather drive around lost for hours or make their own damn road. :0)
  17. Apr 27, 2003 #16
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    I didn't claim that the categories of the mind are absurdities, they are obviously based on observations about the world, and analyzing them, only the abstract looking at things, without considering the things in their process of becoming, makes that such categories do no longer reflect on reality. What is needed is the notion of development and change within everything material.

    What makes a map a good map? That is defined by the purpose. You use other maps for walking as for driving a car, since the scale of things is important.
  18. Apr 27, 2003 #17
    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    Scale, detail, and ease of use are criticaly important in the context of using and developing maps. Even more important is the attitude with which we approach using and developing maps. Contentious arguing or "knocking heads together" is great for coming up with new ideas for designing maps, but often counterproductive towards actually using them.

    In addition, knocking heads can also lead to more maps specifically designed for people intent on knocking heads together. Thus you can spend most of your time just designing new maps rather than enjoying life and just using them when convenient. In fact, by focusing so intently on creating new maps with which to bang heads you help to create and environment where that occurs routinely. This website and western science in general is a good example of such an environment and approach. :0)
  19. Apr 27, 2003 #18
    Re: Solipsism

    I'd just like to mention that this therefore means that I'm not a solipsist - if these statements of yours are actually what solipsists believe. For example, I disagree with this very first statement. I argue that the only thing that really exists, is A Mind. It's a singular. And 'everybody' else is a mere perception within this Mind. That includes 'you' 'me' and my hamster.
    I'd just thought I'd mention it, since you accused me of being a solipsist. And in your very first statement, I break-free of solipsist beliefs (as you narrate them).
    Other than that, feel free to continue chatting about solipsists.
  20. Apr 27, 2003 #19
    Re: Re: Solipsism

    Are you sure about this? If there is only one Mind, then is it not reasonable to conclude that that Mind is your own? You can never know (through the use of your physical senses) whether anyone else is even conscious, can you? You can never know if they are not just figments of your imagination. However, you can know, from personal experience, that you are conscious, so what makes you think yours is not the Mind that creates all reality?

    BTW, I'm just applying solipsism to Lifegazer's hypothesis, I don't actually believe any of this stuff I'm saying (just in case there's still someone who doesn't realize my need to play Devil's Advocate .
  21. Apr 27, 2003 #20
    Re: Re: Re: Solipsism

    Sure. But "Who am I?"
    My argument reduces the identity of all finite-beings (you, me, and my hamster), to a singular-Mind. My argument does not state that "lifegazer" is that Mind - since I too, am but a mere perspective of It.
    The confusion rests-amongst the question of true identity. 'we' are the imagination of It. That's my position.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook