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Where's the solipsism references?
July 23, 2006 7:17 PM   Subscribe

From what I can tell, the concept of solipsism is grossly under-explored and under-exploited by the arts (books, movies, fine art, etc). Are there any good references to solipsism in modern books, movies, or other entertainment media? If not, why not?
posted by wackybrit to Religion & Philosophy (81 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well there's this book.. The Crying of Lot 49... Solipsism is a heavily featured theme among others (thermodynamics & entropy, Rapunzel, the postal system, paranoia, information theory, etc.), and well.. I may be biased, but I do recommend it.
posted by drpynchon at 7:31 PM on July 23, 2006


I don't know how flexible your definition of "modern" is, but Sylvia Plath wrote a poem named "Soliloquy Of The Solipsist".
posted by sa3z at 7:34 PM on July 23, 2006


Where do Taoism and solipsism differ? really?
posted by nintendo at 7:40 PM on July 23, 2006


There really isn't a great deal to explore. What's to say?
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:44 PM on July 23, 2006


It's probably not a particularly "good" reference, as it's just an instrumental guitar piece, but Kaki King has a tune called Solipsist.
posted by danb at 7:50 PM on July 23, 2006


The complete works of Philip Roth?
posted by kittyprecious at 8:09 PM on July 23, 2006


Wikipedia says solipsism is:

* An epistemological position that one's own perceptions are the only things that can be known with certainty.
* A metaphysical belief that nothing beyond oneself and one's internal experiences does in fact exist, and that all objects, people, etc, that one experiences are merely parts of one's own mind.


Gee, that sounds an awful lot like some of the philosophical underpinnings of ... drumroll, please ... The Matrix.
posted by frogan at 8:31 PM on July 23, 2006


Yeah, the Matrix angle has occurred to me, too, but I think that's just on a superficial level since the perceptions are uncertain but the existence is real and shared.
posted by zek at 8:35 PM on July 23, 2006


I think that's just on a superficial level since the perceptions are uncertain but the existence is real and shared.

Well, it's kind of hard to call anything about The Matrix more than superficial ... but that being said...

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead... only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you'll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.


Which is a roundabout way of saying, "nothing beyond oneself and one's internal experiences does in fact exist, and that all objects, people, etc, that one experiences are merely parts of one's own mind." The fact that it's all a computer simulation only underscores the point even further.

The whole trilogy has moments like this. Free your mind, your ass will follow. That kind of thing. ;-)
posted by frogan at 8:57 PM on July 23, 2006


Solipsism seems pretty similar to good old existentialism to me, a movement which has produced lots of art and even more references.

There are quite a few popular films dealing with solipsism-related issues, e.g. Lost Highway, Pi, Videodrome, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and lots of others. Answers.com suggests Annie Hall parodies 1970s solipsism.

But I would suggest that a great deal of art implicitly accepts or deals with solipsism on some levels. The notion of an exploration of the subjectivity of reality is almost ubiquitous in art, meaning there is rarely any need for specific reference.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:00 PM on July 23, 2006


Well, it depends on a) how far you want to stretch it and b) whether you're smart enough to get that the whole book's a big in-joke, but the main themeline of Heinlein's The Number Of The Beast— is a concept he terms pantheistic multiple-ego solipsism. It follows along in a couple of later novels that thread off of that as well.
posted by baylink at 9:09 PM on July 23, 2006


On the other hand, what I just said may be totally wrong, as I conflate solipsism with general issues of the subjectivity of reality somewhat.

Perhaps Steven C Den Beste has the right idea; from the solipsism wiki,
Objections to Solipsism - Philosophical poverty. Some philosophers hold the viewpoint that solipsism is entirely empty and without content. Like a 'faith' argument, it seems sterile, i.e., allows no further argument, nor can it be falsified. The world remains absolutely the same— so where could a solipsist go from there? Viewed in this way, solipsism seems only to have found a facile way to avoid the more difficult task of a critical analysis of what is 'real' and what isn't, and what 'reality' means.
The point being, once you get the idea, it gets boring pretty quick.
posted by MetaMonkey at 9:17 PM on July 23, 2006


The complete works of Philip Roth?

Huh? Perhaps you meant Philip K Dick. Just about all Dick's works are about the fact that "one's own perceptions are the only things that can be known with certainty".

Roth's work, conversely, is about that fact that one's own dick is the only thing that can be known with certainty.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:32 PM on July 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


The Solipsist by the increasingly forgotten Fredric Brown.
posted by gentle at 10:08 PM on July 23, 2006


Solipsism is quite over-explored, and over-emphasized, at least among the junior high school students and/or stoners who are dumb enough to waste any time with it.
posted by fleacircus at 12:43 AM on July 24, 2006


If not, why not?

As others have said, I think the answer is mostly that it's a bit sophomoric.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:56 AM on July 24, 2006


Iain Banks' Against A Dark Background has a hovercraft full of solipsist mercenaries. As you might expect, they're not a model of unit cohesion.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:07 AM on July 24, 2006


Gee, that sounds an awful lot like some of the philosophical underpinnings of ... drumroll, please ... The Matrix.

See, I thought about that originally, but then I realized it wasn't. There's still an underlying reality in The Matrix, even if it's not the one the majority of the population live in.

On reflection, and to add a possible answer to my own question, I'm thinking Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition may be about solipsism, although I'd need to read it again..
posted by wackybrit at 3:48 AM on July 24, 2006


A minor character in "It" by Stephen King is a solipsist.

The Matrix is much, much closer to Plato's allegory of the cave and it's associated lessons than anything else (as far as philosophy). And no Plato would not have countenanced anything quite so shallow as solipsism, so please no comments analogizing the two.
posted by oddman at 4:59 AM on July 24, 2006


I immediately thought of Against a Dark Background too. While they aren't a really major part of the plot, the Solipsists are one of the most fun parts of the plot of that excellent book.
posted by OmieWise at 5:32 AM on July 24, 2006


What about Solipsist Nation in Greg Egan's Permutation City? That little subplot is the best part of the book.

Man I gotta get uploaded. Control my emotions and memories directly and consciously choose to create art only for myself.
posted by codswallop at 5:45 AM on July 24, 2006


It's good to meet some other solipsists. I wish there were more of us.
posted by ed\26h at 5:52 AM on July 24, 2006


Roth's work, conversely, is about that fact that one's own dick is the only thing that can be known with certainty.


Well, yes, that was my (half-joking) point.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:01 AM on July 24, 2006


Wackybrit, I guess that is all up to you. This whole thing is in your mind.
posted by dantodd at 7:52 AM on July 24, 2006


An armed, talking nuclear bomb has a fit of solipsism near the end of John Carpenter's Dark Star.
posted by cortex at 8:06 AM on July 24, 2006


George Santayana's Skepticism and Animal Faith.
Stanley Cavell's work, especially his essay on King Lear: "The Avoidance of Love" reprinted in Must We Mean What We Say?
The Thirteenth Floor (detective noire Matrix-y spinoff)
Vanilla Sky. (Tom Cruise in a PKD ripoff proves that Scientology is the first solipsist church.)

As others have pointed out, solipsism is an impoverished position from which to make art or do philosophy. I mean... there's not much point, is there?
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2006


What's with all the ragging on the concept? I don't understand the disdain for it. It seems a valid point for discussion (in a wider cultural sense, not here particularly) and an accepted philosophical concept (even if not accepted as true).

Wackybrit, I guess that is all up to you. This whole thing is in your mind.

Touché ;-) But, really, I don't think you need to subscribe to a philosophy to be interested in it.
posted by wackybrit at 11:53 AM on July 24, 2006


wackybrit : "It seems a valid point for discussion"

With whom? If you think it's true, no one and nothing to "discuss"; if not, all else agree.
posted by Gyan at 12:00 PM on July 24, 2006


Why is there a presumption that a solipsist wouldn't discuss ideas with the figments of his imagination? I don't buy it. A degree of functional solipsism is likely part of every human's pyschological makeup, and the God of Abraham is pretty much a prime example: and look what he ended up doing with his time.
posted by cortex at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2006


With whom? If you think it's true, no one and nothing to "discuss"; if not, all else agree.

See above. Why discuss the topic of 'suicide' if people want to do it, etc? Topics don't become invalid for discussion or debate because they're nihilistic or incompatible with other philosophies.

Non-solipsists can be interested in solipsism, surely? There seem to be plenty of people on here who throw their 2 cents in when topics about depression, drugs, and so forth come up, yet I doubt all are depressed or drug addicts themselves.
posted by wackybrit at 12:40 PM on July 24, 2006


cortex : "Why is there a presumption that a solipsist wouldn't discuss ideas with the figments of his imagination?"

Not ideas in general, but ideas about solipsism. A solipsist might discuss about whether it's going to rain tomorrow since that discussion has a tangible functional value (a prediction that can be verified with the passage of time that occurs for the solipsist), but a discussion about solipsism doesn't lead anywhere.

wackybrit : Topics don't become invalid for discussion or debate because they're nihilistic or incompatible with other philosophies.

But that's not why solipsism is a bad topic for discussion.

"Non-solipsists can be interested in solipsism, surely?"

Of course, but what's the scope for discussion? Non-solipsists, by definition, all agree. They can all discuss why solipsism is wrong. But generally when the conclusion is set, and overturning it is not very appealing, then there's no real motivation to press the matter.

Solipsism is unique in that the nature of 'interaction' becomes uncertain, and its the very possibility of 'inter'-action which is under the microscope.
posted by Gyan at 12:50 PM on July 24, 2006


I disagree, Gyan. I think your position presumes that a solipsist could not be a philosopher.

A solipsist might discuss about whether it's going to rain tomorrow since that discussion has a tangible functional value (a prediction that can be verified with the passage of time that occurs for the solipsist), but a discussion about solipsism doesn't lead anywhere.

Perhaps we're splitting hairs here: are you asserting that true solipsist wouldn't discuss solipsism, or simply wouldn't feel like it because they'd see it as pointless?

And, in fact, I think the question of solipsism would be one of great interest to the solipsist—if they were aware of it at all, it'd be the product of their own mind; and if they were conscious of solipsism as a contentious issue (which, surely, they would be if any of their imaginings argued against it as folks in what I'm perceive to be The Real World do), that'd necessarily be a reflection of some philosophical conflict or notion of their own, right?

It seems to me it'd be in the nature of any good solipsist to be more or less obsessed with the philosophy of solipsism.
posted by cortex at 1:21 PM on July 24, 2006


And another thing: why would a solipsist discuss the weather tomorrow? Any weather phenomenon would be an aspect of their own imagining of the world. It has no tangible functional value either—if it rains, they are only wet because they imagine it is so...
posted by cortex at 1:23 PM on July 24, 2006


cortex : "are you asserting that true solipsist wouldn't discuss solipsism, or simply wouldn't feel like it because they'd see it as pointless?"

The first, mostly due to the second.

"that'd necessarily be a reflection of some philosophical conflict or notion of their own"

Yes, but there's no scope for resolution. If it's not resolution, then the other purpose of discussion would be just plain entertainment or engagement.

"It seems to me it'd be in the nature of any good solipsist to be more or less obsessed with the philosophy of solipsism."

Yes, but we are talking about why there isn't much literature on solipsism. A solipsist may ask his imaginations, whether they are imaginations, but mostly for entertainment value. A true solipsist doesn't expect to engage with "other" solipsists (not talking about imagined persons who claim to be one).

"Any weather phenomenon would be an aspect of their own imagining of the world. It has no tangible functional value either"

The functional value is in figuring out patterns within the imagination.
posted by Gyan at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2006


So why would there be no functional value in figuring out the patterns of consistency and inconsistency regarding the perception of solipsism from their point of view? That, too, is pattern recognition.

I guess I don't buy the notion that any subjection could hold any true value besides entertainment to the solipsist—if they know without question that all they experience is the production of their imagination alone, how would whether it rains be any more interesting than whether false (that is, non-solipsistic) explanations of their perceptions exist, and what those say?

A true solipsist doesn't expect to engage with other solipsists on any subject whatsoever—solipsism would therefore be no more nor less interesting or valid a discussion topic than anything else in the world.

It seems to me that a solipsist would have to take interest in solipsism along with everything else, or in absolutely nothing, solipsism included. (Barring a specific incidental existence of a solipsist who just happens to not find solipsism (as much as cars or the weather or international politics) interesting as discussion material.)
posted by cortex at 2:21 PM on July 24, 2006


(subjection = subject)
posted by cortex at 2:23 PM on July 24, 2006


Here's the problem: solipsism is a brand of skepticism. As skepticism, the topic is nearly as old as philosophy. So most philosophers, especially epistemologists, are always talking about some brand of solipsism, all the time. They just don't call it what you call it. The Cavell book I cited above is an example of this: he basically calls skeptics out, accuses them of solipsism, and then asks: what goes wrong with a person that persuades them to become a solipsist? Why have they become so distrustful of the world?

For what it's worth, I'm a professional philosopher who spent his sophomore year of college obsessed with the problem of solipsism. So when I say it's an immature and sophomoric position, I know whereof I speak.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:39 PM on July 24, 2006


Its falsifiable alright. Step in front of a moving car, head first, and then tell me reality is a illusion created by consensus.

Arguably, its interesting because of the scientific reality it kinda hints at. How much of your life and the idea of self is a social construct? Or your ethics? Or base primate emotions running in your head? What exactly is the real world? If its out there how can you detect it objectively? etc.
posted by skallas at 2:50 PM on July 24, 2006


cortex : "So why would there be no functional value in figuring out the patterns of consistency and inconsistency regarding the perception of solipsism from their point of view?"

I can't parse what this means. Could you rephrase?

cortex : "how would whether it rains be any more interesting than whether false"

Because then they know whether to carry an umbrella. It doesn't matter whether the person who tells you it's going to rain tomorrow is real or not, only whether it rains or not. To put it more broadly, the consciousness of other selves is not phenomenally accessible. Any discussion that is perceived to have implications for one's phaneron is functionally valuable for the solipsist, the ones which don't are not.
posted by Gyan at 2:54 PM on July 24, 2006


skallas : "Its falsifiable alright. Step in front of a moving car, head first, and then tell me reality is a illusion created by consensus."

First of all, consensus doesn't mean the same thing in solipsism. You're probably thinking of postmodernism. Second, and I have seen many people do this, solipsism is conflated with some sort of determinism/free will thing. The solipsist probably wouldn't argue that the car won't hurt/kill you. The question of solipsism does not arise based on behavioural consistency but is a matter of (epistemological) access. It's a matter of knowing whether there is any perceiving self "there" behind the eyes of a perceived human, and not whether the perception behaves as a "real person" should.
posted by Gyan at 3:17 PM on July 24, 2006


Its falsifiable alright. Step in front of a moving car, head first, and then tell me reality is a illusion created by consensus.

Heh. But if I'm the solipsist, and I see someone else get hit by a car, it sways me not at all; and if I am the solipsist and I am struck and killed by the car, I'm no longer around to see the universe continue to exist, and thus it does not do so.

Or are you saying that a non-fatal collision would disprove the solipsist's belief that the world is his imagination? Because I don't see why he couldn't imagine getting terribly injured in a car accident—he can percieve self-created horrid injury and pain as much as anything else, right?

>"So why would there be no functional value in figuring out the patterns of consistency and inconsistency regarding the perception of solipsism from their point of view?"

I can't parse what this means. Could you rephrase?


Hell, I can't parse it either. You address the point I was trying to make in your last paragraph, anyway, so let me try and work from there. The question was why is whether it rains any more interesting than the details of a theory of solipsism, to the solipsist:

Because then they know whether to carry an umbrella. It doesn't matter whether the person who tells you it's going to rain tomorrow is real or not, only whether it rains or not.

So maybe I am working with the wrong definition of solipsism: I presume that a solipsist believes that all that they perceive, every aspect of the observable universe, their observable existence, is the product of their mind, and that they are literally the only real thing in that universe. The solipsist is a floating consciousness in a void.

But I'm wondering if a solipsist is presumed to believe they are the only conscious entity in the universe. And that the world may well be real, but that other people would be nothing but automatons, physically present but only granted the appearance of consciousness by the mind of the solipsist?

If that's true, then I can see why rain would be more interesting than the inner thoughts of another (non-)person—the rain exists, the person-as-consciousness doesn't.

But if my original take on it is true, I don't see the distinction. Imagined rain leads to imagined wetness, imagined shivering, imagined towelling and bathrobe and cocoa. Imagined convseration with imagined person leads to imagined (or merely disembodied, self-reflective) thoughts about the subject. It's all so much play acting, all false and imagined. Every perception, be it conversation or rain or being hit by a car, is a product of the solipsists dialogue with himself, no?
posted by cortex at 3:19 PM on July 24, 2006


cortex : "The solipsist is a floating consciousness in a void."

Well, there's no void either.

Solipsism can be worked out as follows:

1)One's experience is entirely self-mediated.

2)So existence of other selves is unknown.

3)Solipsist believes that other selves don't exist.

One's only a solipsist if one adopts (3).

"only granted the appearance of consciousness by the mind of the solipsist"

What's the 'appearance of consciousness'?

"But if my original take on it is true,"

Nope, the other one.
posted by Gyan at 3:32 PM on July 24, 2006


Nope, the other one.

Well, that explains a lot of my disagreements, then. So a solipsist assumes the world is real—it's made of stuff, and you can knock on it? Would the world still exist, as a wholly conscious-free pile of matter and physics, if the solipsist departed?

What's the 'appearance of consciousness'?

Poor phrasing. I meant to say this:

The world may well be real, but that other people would be nothing but automatons, physically present but only superficially appearing to be conscious.
posted by cortex at 3:37 PM on July 24, 2006


cortex : "So a solipsist assumes the world is real—it's made of stuff, and you can knock on it? "

What does 'real' mean? Why would one not be able to knock (on a door or anything) in an imagined universe?
posted by Gyan at 3:51 PM on July 24, 2006


I guess it's a matter of whether or not you'd care.

If you believe that what you perceive to be a plank of wood corresponds to something external to your mind—there is a plank-object made of non-imagined physical stuff—then then the world is Real.

If you believe that what you perceive to be a plank of wood is in fact wholly the product of your imagination, and that there is no physical stuff, only your internal model of the made-up plank, then the world is not Real.

That's my current question, then: is all the world imagined, and presumed not to exist except as a model in the mind of the solipsist? Or is the world Real, in my sense that it exists outside of the model of it in the solipsist's mind, but there are no conscious beings lurking in all that stuff, no persons, as it were, other than the solipsist?
posted by cortex at 4:01 PM on July 24, 2006


Read Wittgenstein. Almost everything he wrote could somehow be viewed as an argument with solipsism.

The Philosophical Investigations, in passages ranging around the mid-to-late 200's, wrestles with solipstic notions pretty directly. The Tractatus Logico Philosophicus, a much shorter but more elusive work, also has quite a few passages that address solipsism directly.
posted by treepour at 4:05 PM on July 24, 2006


cortex: That's my current question, then: is all the world imagined, and presumed not to exist except as a model in the mind of the solipsist? Or is the world Real, in my sense that it exists outside of the model of it in the solipsist's mind, but there are no conscious beings lurking in all that stuff, no persons, as it were, other than the solipsist?

In my understanding, solipsism is generally regarded as the former (the world is imagined), whereas the latter question is often referred to as "the problem of other minds."
posted by treepour at 4:10 PM on July 24, 2006


Since the thread has broadened slightly, in answer to nintendo's question, I think the difference between taoism and solipsism, or at least pantheism and solipsism, is that the solipsist regards all experience as the self, while panthesim views the self as part of an undividable whole. Perhaps a fine dinstinction, but a valid one, in my opinion. Another way to put it might be:

solipsist: everything is me, god is me
pantheist: god is everything, there is no me

Though that may not be valid, as I just made it up and don't know that much about it.

Back on-topic, if we define solipsism as the taoist/panthestic philosophy, there is an abundance of art that draws deeply from and references these ideas, much from the west, though of course mostly from the east.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:41 PM on July 24, 2006


Wow, my imagination has really *clever* figments...
posted by baylink at 8:11 PM on July 24, 2006


For those of you arguing in favor of solipsism as a viable (or at least, worth discussing) philosophical position, have you considered the role of causation in solipsism? Many people have a problem with the epistemology of solipsists, and that is the ground we've been treading over in this thread, but how did the solipsist come to be? How is it that he has the power to create a world? How can he reconcile the answers to those questions with his seeming limted experience and power?

When we ask questions about the metaphysics of solipsism we see that the solipsist very often just shrugs and begs off answering or he gives some truly odd answers such as "I'm eternal but I have a stupendously bad memory." That is, the metaphyscis of a solipsist is rather uninteresting, and thus the philosophical position loses much of it's appeal.
posted by oddman at 8:27 AM on July 25, 2006


oddman : "how did the solipsist come to be?"

Creation is as much a problem for the solipsists as it is for the others. Given the Problem of Induction, the same's true of cosmic mechanics as well.

"How can he reconcile the answers to those questions with his seeming limted experience and power? "

The presumptions behind this question are a priori non-solipsist, i.e. if solipsism is true, then it's unlikely that the physical body and its limits represent the immanence of the solipsist within his/her imagination. That being the case, one would have to re-evaluate models of agency in the world.

As I said, solipsism is brought up by limits of access, not behavior/mechanics. These continued attempts to debunk or disenchant solipsism on the basis of behavior only reinforce (1) in my above post.
posted by Gyan at 9:50 AM on July 25, 2006


I believe Bertrand Russell gave up solopsism when another philosopher said to him, "Mr. Russell -- I'm so glad -- I always wanted to meet another solopsist."

With that, the embedded contradiction caused solopsism to implode and disappear.
posted by KRS at 11:02 AM on July 25, 2006


Does asserting belief in the claim "I am all that is," require a solipsist to act differently? What difference, if any, would solipsism make for the solipsist? If none, what persuasive value does it have?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:06 PM on July 25, 2006


anotherpanacea : "What difference, if any, would solipsism make for the solipsist?"

It might encourage sadism/psychopathy.
posted by Gyan at 12:47 PM on July 25, 2006


Actually the latter more than the former.
posted by Gyan at 12:49 PM on July 25, 2006


Lemme put it a different way: how does a potential solipsist suffer if (a) solipsism is true and (b) she refuses to believe it? I'm assuming that forgoing psychopathology improves the quality of life of the potential solipsist, though it may be true that a psychpath may find solipsism an attractive position.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:38 PM on July 25, 2006


anotherpanacea : "how does a potential solipsist suffer if (a) solipsism is true and (b) she refuses to believe it?"

Then she deviates from the truth. Maybe the path to enlightenment requires that the truth be known and accepted; in any case. that's practically the maxim of every exploratory enterprise like science or spirituality.
posted by Gyan at 3:00 PM on July 25, 2006


Maybe the path to enlightenment requires that the truth be known and accepted.

Huh? I thought there wasn't anything but the thinker? What's there to be enlightened about? By the same token, why should the solipsist care about tradition, whether it be scientific or spiritual?

The more we talk about this, the more I think you need to read Descartes Mediations. Especially meditations two and three.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:52 PM on July 25, 2006


BTW, don't be put off by Descartes' theism. The third mediation claims to be about God, but it's really a refutation of the solipsism that threatens in the second meditation. The "light of nature" and its capacity to discern "clear and distinct" ideas from those we simply imagine strikes at the hear of the solipsist's claim to imagine all of reality.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:05 PM on July 25, 2006


anotherpanacea : "I thought there wasn't anything but the thinker?"

And her thoughts.

anotherpanacea : "What's there to be enlightened about?"

Existence.

anotherpanacea : "why should the solipsist care about tradition, whether it be scientific or spiritual?"

There's no teleology involved here. Nothing says that the solipsist must care about anything. But if the solipsist does care about the truth then the solipsist suffers if (a)solipsism is true; (b)she refuses to believe it. To be pedantic, if (b) is true, then the subject isn't actually a solipsist.
posted by Gyan at 6:08 PM on July 25, 2006


Well, I skimmed Med. 3, and think this is the meat of his argument

"32. All that is here required, therefore, is that I interrogate myself to discover whether I possess any power by means of which I can bring it about that I, who now am, shall exist a moment afterward: for, since I am merely a thinking thing (or since, at least, the precise question, in the meantime, is only of that part of myself ), if such a power resided in me, I should, without doubt, be conscious of it; but I am conscious of no such power, and thereby I manifestly know that I am dependent upon some being different from myself."

Basically, his argument comes down to the necessary presence of 'perfection' somewhere in the world. A)That's his intuition B)it still ends up relying on mechanics, as it were.

anotherpanacea : "BTW, don't be put off by Descartes' theism. The third mediation claims to be about God, but it's really a refutation of the solipsism"

A refutation which requires God by his reasoning:

"33. But perhaps the being upon whom I am dependent is not God, and I have been produced either by my parents, or by some causes less perfect than Deity. This cannot be: for, as I before said, it is perfectly evident that there must at least be as much reality in the cause as in its effect; and accordingly, since I am a thinking thing and possess in myself an idea of God, whatever in the end be the cause of my existence, it must of necessity be admitted that it is likewise a thinking being, and that it possesses in itself the idea and all the perfections I attribute to Deity."
posted by Gyan at 6:53 PM on July 25, 2006


Creation is as much a problem for the solipsists as it is for the others.

I don't see how this is so. A solipsist must believe that he created himself (or that he is eternal). So how is it that he can both create himself, or at least create his world, and fail to know how he did it. For anyone else, the answer though mysterious is not nearly so troubling. After all we shouldn't be surprised that we don't know how someone else (God?) did something, but we should be very surprised if we do something that we don't know how to do. (Putting aside a thin merely modal understanding of "can," does it even make sense to say that I can do X even though I don't know how to do X?)
posted by oddman at 7:42 PM on July 25, 2006


oddman : "So how is it that he can both create himself, or at least create his world, and fail to know how he did it. For anyone else, the answer though mysterious is not nearly so troubling."

There's ignorance on both sides. Like you say, for non-solipsists, there's not as much dissonance in ignorance, solely because the existence of other agents allows one to entertain the hope that there's an answer 'somewhere'. For solipsism, this hope is more remote, or as some like Descartes say, nonexistent: "if such a power resided in me, I should, without doubt, be conscious of it". This assumes that the state of the world as a differentiated multitude implies a multitude of agents i.e. selves/God..etc, whereas solipsism ought to imply perfection, i.e no world per se. But this does not have to follow. The universe may be differentiated as an eternally imperfect division of subject and object where object is the consciousness of the self, with no differentiator.

"does it even make sense to say that I can do X even though I don't know how to do X?"

As long as the matter of free will is unresolved, it makes sense to say I can do X even though I don't know how; at least we profusely use it in that sense.
posted by Gyan at 8:31 PM on July 25, 2006


One of the worst attributes of the potential solipsist is that she takes the world to be all about her. Thus, no argument is interesting except insofar as it interests or persuades her. Yet the solipsist's position saves her the trouble of persuading others, since they are but figments. This invulnerability removes the position from the province of philosophical dialogue, and makes it just one of many possible dogmatisms. Also, it's really irritating.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:59 AM on July 26, 2006


anotherpanacea : "One of the worst attributes of the potential solipsist is that she takes the world to be all about her."

This is a bizarre accusation. Of course, the world's about or related only to her. That's what solipsism entails.

"Thus, no argument is interesting except insofar as it interests or persuades her"

That's true of all arguments. The nature of solipsism just accentuates that fact.
posted by Gyan at 9:16 AM on July 26, 2006


"Thus, no argument is interesting except insofar as it interests or persuades her."

That's true of all arguments.

No, most arguments depend on being generally persuasive, not persuasive to X. If our hypothetical solipsist sticks her fingers in her ears and shouts "La la la I can't hear you!" that doesn't address the validity of the argument or the truth of the premises. This is basically what you have done, since you have made no arguments -for- solipsism, but only asserted that there are no arguments -against- it. The same might be said for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but no one maintains that this is a viable philosophical position.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2006


anotherpanacea : "No, most arguments depend on being generally persuasive, not persuasive to X."

In whose judgement? :)

anotherpanacea : "This is basically what you have done, since you have made no arguments -for- solipsism"

Contrary to what my zeal may indicate, I'm not a solipsist. But I shall put one forward: the exclusivity of the self. I see myself having two hands, I can see others having two hands. I see multiple instances of everything, but only one self. I only assume the (non-phenomenal) presence of other selves via the 'isomorphism' argument i.e. I, a conscious entity, has such a form (a human body..etc) and I see other instances of similar bodies, and hence "complete the isomorphism" i.e. deduce the presence of a corresponding self functionally attached/dependent to these other bodies. This assumption is shaky if this body is, indeed, not my self-representation. In which case, other bodies may or may not indicate other selves.
posted by Gyan at 2:14 PM on July 26, 2006


I think you're right to be skeptical, but then I think it's important to ask what level of certainty we really require from existence. I'd sugget it's pretty low. But the solipsist goes beyond the agnosticism of other selves to a certitude... and that's where she goes wrong.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:21 PM on July 26, 2006


anotherpanacea : "But the solipsist goes beyond the agnosticism of other selves to a certitude."

How is it any more certitude than believing that other selves do exist? The agnosticism leaves only an "inner sense" as a guide. The solipsist goes the other way.
posted by Gyan at 6:58 PM on July 26, 2006


Well, once you give up on certitude (a good idea for anything other than tautologies: a = a indeed) you can say that it is more likely or more pragmatic to act as if other people have their own selves. It's a good explanation of the facts, which include frequent surprises.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:40 PM on July 26, 2006


anotherpanacea : "It's a good explanation of the facts"

That's begging the question.

Solipsism is an orientation like idealism/realism, theism/atheism. People may switch over. There's no certitude involved.
posted by Gyan at 8:27 PM on July 26, 2006


Well, if you parse the sentence like that, yeah. But the fact of surprise requires explanation, and if the solipsist argues that she's somehow other to herself, she seems to be multilplying convolutions when a simpler explanation would suffice. Plus, she won't learn about the world from looking inward; she must look outward to learn to predict what these figments of hers will do. At that point, she's reduced to a dogma that makes no difference.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:15 AM on July 27, 2006


anotherpanacea : "But the fact of surprise requires explanation"

Surprise over what?

"if the solipsist argues that she's somehow other to herself"

I don't understand this.

"Plus, she won't learn about the world from looking inward; she must look outward"

For the solipsist, there's no partition.
posted by Gyan at 7:30 AM on July 27, 2006


What am I going to say next? That's the surprise. Why doesn't the solipsist know?
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:47 AM on July 27, 2006


Neither does the non-solipsist. I covered all of this already. See these posts: 1, 2.
posted by Gyan at 10:03 AM on July 27, 2006


I assume you mean this: "The universe may be differentiated as an eternally imperfect division of subject and object where object is the consciousness of the self, with no differentiator."

That's not solipsism, so you haven't addressed the issue of surprise.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2006


anotherpanacea : "That's not solipsism"

It is. There's only one self.
posted by Gyan at 2:09 PM on July 27, 2006


well, there's only one substance, in that picture. it's not recognizably solipsism though. sounds like spinoza or hegel... straight german idealism. but you're probably thinking of someone like that fucking alan watts, the twit who wrote 'the book on the taboo against knowing who you are.' damn i hate that guy.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:04 PM on July 27, 2006


There's only one self.

Shorter me: Yeah, but it ain't you.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:05 PM on July 27, 2006


anotherpanacea : "it's not recognizably solipsism though"

From Wikipedia: A metaphysical belief that nothing beyond oneself and one's internal experiences does in fact exist.

"Yeah, but it ain't you."

Then there's two selves.
posted by Gyan at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2006


MEH I SAY! Do you hear me? MEH!
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:07 AM on July 28, 2006


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