Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why I Simply Assume The Outside World Exists

Or, Why I Think Solipsism is Irrelevant At Best

I never read a lot of works on solipsism, nor do frequently read a lot of philosophy, though I certainly appreciate the power and value of so much of it.  Truth is, I just like to figure out things on my own (Mom used to said to me, when a kid, that I was trying to “reinvent the wheel”!).  Also, I find a lot of philosophy too academic to have any bearing on real world events, although I do appreciate (and even love to read!) about the finer points of what makes an argument valid, coherent, etc. (though largely limited to reading about fallacies).  I guess all this means I have a love-annoyance relationship with philosophy – appreciating its very real value in shining light on formerly dark aspects of the nature of things, but irritated that so much of it is not readily applicable to helping people determine what truly is valuable in life, nor how the academics findings are applicable to ordinary people.

Anyway, on to the topic in the blog title…

Solipsism is the view that we cannot be reasonably sure that anything exists outside our minds. Its advocates may accept Descartes “I think, therefore I am”, but they do reject the absolute certainty of the claim “there exists things outside our conscious thoughts”. This is because they consider such a claim either false or impossible to prove sufficiently. As such, it is an extreme form of skepticism (not that “extreme” equals “bizarrely untrue” as surely as 4 + 8 = 12).  

On the other hand, their critics claim solipsism encourages, if not mandates “philosophical poverty”, for where can it go from its base assumption?[1]

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.[2]

I can certainly see what both sides are talking about. On one hand, I see nothing that would fatally defeat the notion that, in principle at least, our minds may well be hardwired to see the universe in a certain fundamental way - a way that our free will cannot exercise the slightest control over. Mainstream philosophers apparently handwave away this point of view as "absurd" without any evidence conclusively proving it absurd.  

On the other hand, the Solipsist assertion does nothing to prove the outside world does not exist (as if that is possible). Yet neither can they prove that our minds do, in fact, create all of reality, or even a small part of it – as though we exist under a Matrix-like regime. Likewise, the Solipsists claims are impossible to prove or even outright false.

In the end, it's difficult to see how discussions about Solipsism beyond what I just wrote can be of any value beyond academic parlor games (and movie plots, as noted above).  Therefore, as a matter of practical application, I side with mainstream philosophers despite their inability to conclusively demonstrate Solipsism is, in fact, a false view of reality.   After all, even if the Solipsists are right, I cannot in the slightest way will any changes in the basic laws of the reality I experience.  

Therefore, it is best to treat my perceptions as if it they were real (i.e. actually exist outside my mind).  After all, that outside world (or the involuntarily generated illusion) has considerable bearing on how my state of mind is, so it is best to learn how that reality (real or not) operates.  I can only do so if I ignore other Solipsists claims entirely.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism#Philosophical_poverty
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solipsism#Philosophical_poverty