[Part Three of my recent investigation into metaphysics and consciousness in an attempt to defeat solipsism. As I’ve said before, it is important that solipsism to be defeated before any other philosophy can begin. While I’ve defeated solipsism on practical grounds in an earlier blog, and practical grounds figure into what I am about to present, the previous victory is admittedly hallow. So I began writing and writing until I came up with an argument that convincingly defeats solipsism. Given the answer I present here, I can look back and see just how much I – and others – have over-thought this problem, mainly because I – and others – initially refuse to accept the premise of solipsism. Solipsism cannot be defeated from the outside; it can only be defeated from within. Can solipsism be defeated? Yes. How? By accepting it. Please read on]
Solipsism is the name given to the idea that one’s own existence – particularly one’s own mental existence – is the only existence there is. Solipsism posits that there are no other minds besides one’s own and that the world of extended objects does not exist either. Although solipsism sounds nonsensical to the uninitiated, I and many others consider solipsism the greatest of all philosophical problems. There really does not seem to be a way to be certain that a world outside of one’s own mind exists.
To tackle this dilemma, it is necessary to accept the premise of solipsism rather than dismissing it simply because a world of extended objects appears obvious. [This assumes a previous acceptance of the idea that I am something that has experiences. And why not? It’s undeniable.] Upon accepting the premise, I – and maybe you if you exist – am inclined to ask some investigative questions, “Why this world and not another? Why would I imagine the world such as it is if I can imagine a better existence for myself? If I am all there is, what could possibly motivate me to perceive anything else?” Given my circumstances, it does not seem logical that my mental creation of the world would be coming from within myself if I have the capability of creating any world I want, assuming I even have such a need. If the world is my mental creation but I cannot create the world I want when I want, there has to be some explanation why not. And so I consider possibilities.
I can only think of one. Could it be that subconsciously I understand I am not ready for such an undertaking? If psychoanalysts, as a figments of my imagination, are correct about how the mind (my mind) works then certainly I have unconscious thoughts. But if I consciously wish that I did not have subconscious thoughts, why are they still there? (Well, I’d have to assume they are there; I can’t be sure if they are unconscious thoughts.) Perhaps subconscious thoughts are a reflex like breathing or my heart beating, but I have some conscious control over those reflexes even if I cannot stop such reflexes altogether. But what control do I have over subconscious thoughts? None and I cannot wish them away if they are there. But I do not consciously accept this explanation; I refuse to accept it on the grounds that I consciously assume that a desire for my life to be better is stronger than (and thus able to override) whatever subconscious thoughts that make or keep my world such as it is.
This Argument from Subconsciousness fails to explain why the world is the way it is if the world is a figment of my imagination. Problematically, I can think of no competing hypothesis other than the one I just presented as to how the world can appear as it is if it is created out of my own mind. Every other explanation I can think of as to why the world is the way it is even if it is all in my mind brings some other entity or element into the equation that must be outside of myself affecting my thoughts. The only way I can bring another entity or element into the equation that allows for control over my thoughts while still remaining a solipsist can only end in a self-manifested case of schizophrenia; that is, I – as more than one mental being – am controlling my own thoughts for undisclosed reasons. But then any such other mental being I am is stuck manifesting a world with their thoughts that I assume would be less than their ideal state, meaning, their situation is simply and likewise a variety of the Argument from Subconsciousness. Thus, this explanation is prone to the same flaw.
At this point I know that the world I perceive cannot be a construct of my own mind simply because of my limited ability to shape the world according to my conscious desires. I could be tempted to raise an objection to that statement and consider that the world I perceive can in fact be shaped according to my conscious desires, if only to a limited agree (that is, to a similar degree I have conscious control over breathing or my heart beating). My response to such an objection would be that I agree, but only in a manner of speaking: If I want more money, I can always work more or change careers or network with the right people, but changing the world in this sense is beholden to the laws of physics my mind accepts as real. On the other hand, if one is arguing for the ability to literally reshaping the world, defying the laws of physics to bring about changes, I would ask why are there limits to what my mind can do if it is my mind making the changes. I would much prefer to have an unlimited capability to reshape the world with my mind if I did in fact have such powers. Again, it’s the Argument from Subconsciousness which I’ve already argued is not a plausible scenario.
To be clear, what I’ve argued up to this point is not that my mind doesn’t create the world I perceive, rather I have argued that my perception of a world of extended objects must be driven by forces external to my mind since I have no reason to believe my mind, which can only be beholden to my will if I alone exist, would create the world such as I perceive it. I can certainly question where the sensory data is coming from that drives my particular perception of reality but it seems nonsensical to think that sensory data could be coming from myself considering my lack of ability to manipulate it. If it were the case that the data were coming from myself, I cannot imagine how or why that would be possible. It is much easier to imagine that a world of extended objects, with all its various qualities, encroach upon my sensory apparatuses (even if there is a sole sensory apparatus; the mind) to create experiences in my mind. While there remains the possibility that those qualities may be forced upon my mind, they are forced upon me from outside my mind’s ‘boundary.’ This doesn’t necessitate the existence of other minds per se, just that something besides my mind exists. That said, if I know something besides my own mind exists, I am no longer solipsistic and the existence of other minds at least appears plausible.
However, if there are in fact no minds other than my own, I can only conclude that I am God. Strangely, not a single figment of my imagination considers me to be so.
In promoting my blog on Youtube, one gentleman – a fan of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein – strongly objected to my argument against solipsism, saying first that I was ignorant of the subject and second that just because I cannot provide an explanation for how or why my mind is the only existent thing, doesn’t mean there is a how or why; it just MAY BE or IS the case that my mind is all there is (a very Taoist argument, I must say).
Since I am unaffected by his attempted ad hominid attack, which was brought on by a minor slip in language on my part, I’ll get right to his second point. On one hand I agree with my detractor when it comes to the ‘why’ of possible solipsism. Asking ‘why’ something is the case implies a reason why I may be solipsistic (even if I don’t want to be) and reasons imply intelligence. The universe, were it intelligent, might ask itself why it is all there is. But the universe is not an intelligent being, insofar as we are familiar with the term, and thus to imagine the universe asking itself ‘why’ it exists is not a legitimate question. Now, just because I appear to be an intelligent being to myself or at least a sentient being does not mean I am either such thing. So asking myself ‘why’ my mind is all there is certainly may be a nonsensical question.
On the other hand, asking ‘how’ I may be solipsistic is a perfectly legitimate question. ‘How’ is precisely what science pursues. Even Analytic Philosophy pursues ‘how’ things are (if not the ‘why’), demonstrating how conclusions are drawn from premises. But my detractor believes asking ‘how’ is a nonsensical activity also – at some point, he writes, you just have to accept the description removed from the cause (quoting Wittgenstein). So it seems this detractor believes that some things or events do not have causes or believes in a first cause for which there is no ‘how’ or explanation. The problem with believing that there once was a point for which no ‘how’ exists is indefensible; one cannot argue that everything has a cause – a ‘how’ – except for the first thing. Atheists certainly don’t let theists get away with that tired inconsistency of logic and I’m not allowing it here as an objection to my argument against solipsism. Worse, my detractor’s counter-argument is even weaker if he tries to say some things have causes and others don’t, implying he has arbitrary guidelines for what constitutes a cause and what doesn’t (or his definition of ‘cause’ is derived from Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, which has its critics). I may not know the ‘how’ of my solipsism but the ‘how’ nonetheless exists as a concept within myself if my mind is all there is. Even if, supposing I am not an intelligent being or at least a sentient being, there is a still a ‘how;’ how is it that my mind is all there is?
So my detractor may be correct that my original investigative questions, “Why this world and not another? Why would I imagine the world such as it is if I can imagine a better existence for myself? If I am all there is, what could possibly motivate me to perceive anything else?” are off the mark. But if I replace ‘why’ with ‘how,’ where the ‘how’ is an explanation intelligible to myself since my mind is everything there is – thoughts, objects, other people, etc. – taking up solipsism is once again shown to be so convoluted that it shouldn’t be assumed that my mind is all there is.