I'm real.
January 16, 2009 3:55 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to confirm your own reality, as much as logically possible?

This is not so much a psychological/emotional question as a practical/mechanical one. Let's say you're in a normal house with items such as computer, camera, kitchen, whatever. One condition: You cannot communicate instantaneously with any other people. This condition is mostly directed toward friends and acquaintances, rather than random people on the street.

For example, one thing I thought of was videotaping yourself walking around and speaking. Can this be improved, or what are some other ways?
posted by acidic to Religion & Philosophy (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Look into the mirror.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:58 PM on January 16, 2009

Reality needs to be defined first.
posted by phrontist at 4:06 PM on January 16, 2009

posted by nitsuj at 4:07 PM on January 16, 2009 [7 favorites]

Send a friend an e-mail saying "please drop by here tomorrow at noon and say the word 'Antwerp' when I answer the door."

If he does it, the problem has been resolved. If he doesn't…
posted by adamrice at 4:08 PM on January 16, 2009

Use your cell phone to call yourself on your land line.
posted by terranova at 4:13 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Descartes tried to do this. This was as far as he got.
posted by 517 at 4:16 PM on January 16, 2009

You mean confirm it to someone else's satisfaction or for your own peace of mind? I had great success with wall-pushing in Amsterdam on this front, but I think you need more detail before we can answer well.

In other news, I am not a computer.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:16 PM on January 16, 2009

Ask God about it.
posted by Aanidaani at 4:20 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Cause something to change state in an irreversible manner in a way that couldn't be done of its own volition. For example, grab a cup from the cupboard. Smash it on the floor. If you believe what you see, then the cup smashed because you did that.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:31 PM on January 16, 2009

If you take sensory input as proof of existence, then any old sensory input will do. If you don't, then nothing you do will serve as definitive proof anyway. Welcome to the solipsistic universe.
posted by zachawry at 4:42 PM on January 16, 2009 [11 favorites]

Are you speaking from the point of view of depersonalization or schitzophrenia and looking for a drugless solution to be sure what you're experiencing is real?
posted by b33j at 4:53 PM on January 16, 2009

I guess I'm not sure what you mean by "your own reality". As opposed to "other people's" reality?

If you asked this question to someone like Francis Bacon, he would say that detailed experimentation would allow you to verify the way the world is. If you asked this question to someone like Descartes or Spinoza, he would say that reason would allow you to verify the way the world is. If you asked this question to someone like Kant, he would say that consideration of the conditions that make possible your experience of the world would allow you to verify (certain things about) the way the world is. And so on.
posted by voltairemodern at 5:16 PM on January 16, 2009

Wake up.


Open your eyes.

Look around.

Does it look real?

That's about as good as it gets.
posted by baphomet at 5:19 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Teach an animal to do something that it would not be likely to do without your influence. (But you didn't mention an animal in the house, so you'd have to open the window and lure in a bird or possible a bug-eating lizard and they are not the fastest learners.)

Then, as long a you believe the animal a unique creature with agency and not a figment of your imagination, viola!

Or, bake. Flour doesn't automatically go "poof" when you heat it. It just sits there and burns unless you make bread dough.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:27 PM on January 16, 2009

When I get in that sort of funk, I go and reread Wittgenstein's On Certainty, and it calms me back down.

Assuming you're in that sort of funk. I'm not all that clear on what you're trying to prove, to whom.
posted by Casuistry at 5:30 PM on January 16, 2009

Psychiatrist. Hopefully the good kind, that prescribe drugs.
posted by signal at 5:53 PM on January 16, 2009

The problem is a lack of independent access.

I'll "nth" what others have said and recommend some Descartes and, if you're brave, working your way through the 18th century philosophers to Kant.

In the epistemology class I took (which was focused mostly on skepticism) we used Stroud's The Significance of Philosophical Scepticism as a core book. You can get it at a decent price used.
posted by chndrcks at 6:02 PM on January 16, 2009

Some people cut themselves to prove they're real. Try not to be one of those people, ok?
posted by reflecked at 6:14 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just as Lesser Shrew says, a pet. A pet will do wonders keeping you in your body.
posted by jamjam at 6:18 PM on January 16, 2009

What a question. Samuel Johnson, in reaction to the notion that we are all just what we think we are went out and kicked a rock with his shoe to prove that he was real. Dunno if that would help you.
posted by telstar at 6:31 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Funny coincidence: I was reading this page moments ago before I checked Ask and saw this question, and all I could think when reading the "Objections" section was I refute it thus!

The answer is it can't be done if you're not willing to philosophize. All your videotape exercise proves if that you're visible, not that you're real. In general, people feel like the burden of proof is on the other side (as my routine allergic reactions to metaphysically anti-realist arguments illustrates). Those who don't believe they're real already are probably experiencing depersonalization or reading too much Rorty (or both).
posted by abcde at 7:03 PM on January 16, 2009

If you accept the external world as real, affect it (by taping yourself, breaking stuff, animal training, what-have-you). If you suspect you're hallucinating your surroundings and none of this exists outside your head, there's always the teacher's-edition strategem.

1) Go find a math, or other hard-science textbook, teacher's edition.
2) Hunt up a problem that's difficult/complex, but within your capabilities to solve.
3) Immediately turn to the back of the book and check the solution. Remember it, write it on your scratch paper in big digits, circle it, draw arrows if you like.
4) Keeping an eye on the back-of-the-book solution to make sure it doesn't spontaneously change on the page, solve the problem.
5) If the solution you eventually come up with matches the one you copied down a second after you saw the problem, either you've managed to hallucinate an entire logically consistent mathematical system on the fly, or there exists a significant external reality.

Now break something and you're golden.
posted by ormondsacker at 7:50 PM on January 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

and lure in a bird or possible a bug-eating lizard and they are not the fastest learners.

I'm sorry but as an ornithologist I must take offense at this. Please peruse the following: Alex the Parrot
posted by CTORourke at 7:55 PM on January 16, 2009

Sleep it off and see if you're in the same frame of mind in the morning. Or ask a friend to call you in an hour.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:07 PM on January 16, 2009

Hack into a few top secret government sites around the city and leave cryptic messages for Morpheus and Trinity. If they get back to you, your reality will be confirmed. Oh and if they don't all out realities will be confirmed.
posted by sammyo at 9:26 PM on January 16, 2009

Pay someone so their impartial to your feelings.

I've been there, I visit there lots.

I think that the ideal thing would be to have someone videotape you, without you knowing, and then you see the videotape - but with identifying stuff edited/CG-ed out.

Very difficult, but yeah, you have my sympathies - I REALLY wanto to know how other people see me, but... that's difficult.
posted by porpoise at 9:28 PM on January 16, 2009

Stop paying your bills. If the phone, lights and heat (eventually) go off, you're real.

ps: if they don't, please message me the details of your imaginary utility companies - I'd want to switch!
posted by Xhris at 10:13 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Light switches don't work in dreams... at least, mine and Richard Linklater's don't.

This might be extensible to general-purpose reality checking.
posted by rokusan at 2:45 AM on January 17, 2009

If your login to metafilter still works, you're still real.
posted by Caviar at 6:32 AM on January 17, 2009

I dont see how this question could ever be answered. If you think the cells that keep you alive are an illusion, that computer is a hallucination, that your entire existance might be a dream, then anything else you can add to this is can also be dismissed as hallucination.

An email? A fake or a hallucination.
A call from a friend? A hullucination.
Dying from sticking a fork in the light socket? A hallucination.

If you have resigned yourself purely to solipsism then there's no way out.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:53 AM on January 17, 2009

If you were to write a story about someone trying to confirm their reality, what would be the limits of what they could do? What could you do that your fictional character could not?

Unfortunately, the answer is very little.

1. You can notice the finer details of your physical world, the kinds of details that get washed over in descriptions. Intricate patterns, the pauses between pieces of music, and so forth. If you were fictional, your experience would be limited by what the mind could conjure up, so you can ensure your existence by taking more notice of things than most minds could think up in a dream or hallucination.

2. You can notice the finer details of your inner world, which brings us back to Descartes "I think, therefore I am." If you were fictional, you wouldn't actually think.

3. You can develop skills. Learn piano, learn to cook really, really well. Not only would this take your mind off of your situation/problem, but if you can develop skills to a very high level of proficiency, then odds are, you really exist.

These are really three aspects of the same method for solving the problem - out think the thinker who may be thinking you up. Of course if the thinker is infinitely resourceful, such as the Christian God, the dreamer on the Lotus flower in (Hindu?) mythology, or the mainframe in The Matrix, then verifying your reality becomes that much more difficult.

Ultimately, the answer is to be aware. As much as you like to think so, fictional characters - in books, movies and video games - aren't really aware, they just react to stimulus in the way they're told to.
posted by Muffy at 12:22 PM on January 17, 2009

You can't.
posted by ZaneJ. at 1:17 AM on January 18, 2009

Do what anacam does (aside from the nudity unless you are into that) - set up multiple recording devices around your house and just go about your day. If you want to share with friends, set up a password-protected live feed.

If it's just for you, review at the end of the day.

It's worth noting here that a lot of the existentialists and postmodern philosophers who were so bent on deconstructing and stripping away our identity constructions ultimately found themselves looking for god beyond the void.

Pretty cold (unemotional) philosophies - perhaps worth checking out in your case.
posted by HolyWood at 11:48 AM on January 18, 2009

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