Solipsism Solipsism is often described as the belief that nothing can be proven to exist outside of one's own mind. The word "solipsism" is derived from the Latin phrase "solus ipse", which means "myself alone." In the most extreme views of this philosophy, this would mean that since an external world cannot be proven to truly exist, it does not exist at all, and the entire universe and all its contents have been created by the subconscious of the individual. Of course, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there are many arguments that solipsism is completely false; not only does the external world exist, but everything exists exactly as it is perceived, and it is perceived in exactly the same way by everyone. And still between the two there is a very wide range of middle ground; perhaps everything (or at least most things) that are seen do exist, but maybe not quite exactly as they are seen.

Based off of these views, it is easy to tell that solipsism revolves almost entirely around the validity of sense perception. This can be traced back to Rene Descartes' famous exclamation of, "I think, therefore I am!" This statement explained some of the most basic thoughts and principles of solipsism: One can be sure of his/her own existence because he/she is thinking and capable of doubting it to begin with, and those thoughts and doubts have to have a source. However, how can one be sure that anything else exists? Sense perception cannot be proven to be completely reliable; for instance, in a dream, all of the senses are active to perceive things that are not really there. When considering this fact, how can one be entirely sure that everything perceived during the waking life is real?

Much of the grounds for the solipsist belief are derived from a concept called "skepticism." Skepticism states that since no one can ever fully determine whether "reality" is real or an illusion, one can never truly know the "fundamental truth" about anything. All solipsism really does is take this thought process a step farther to say that since no one can really be one hundred percent sure that "reality" (or, rather, what the mind perceives as "reality" ) is not an illusion, perhaps it is safe to say that it doesn't exist at all. But to say the entire universe is created entirely within the mind wouldn't even begin to cover the entire definition of solipsism; this would only define one view of the philosophy, known as "absolute solipsism," There are several other types of solipsism; one of these is "rational solipsism," which basically states that the only reality that matters is that which exists within the mind. This isn't to say that anything else beyond one's own personal reality is nonexistent. Rather, it says that even though there may be more, less, or just different things in the world than what the individual can see, touch, hear, etc., since it can't be perceived, it cannot affect the individual. In a sense, everyone can be considered to be a solipsist in this light. Still another form of solipsism states simply that one cannot completely attach meaning to thoughts, emotions, and experiences other than his/her own; consciousness would then mean only the solipsist's own consciousness, as that is the only valid experiences the solipsist knows. All of these widely varying and vastly differing views and theories are what make solipsism such an intriguing and debatable topic.

The most commonly found definition of solipsism (though that doesn't necessarily mean it's the most accurate) is that of "absolute solipsism." To an absolute solipsist, the self--or, more specifically, the mind--is the only thing that truly exists. The things around him/her--the trees, the sky, the earth, even other people and his/her own body--would be said to have been created by his/her subconscious mind. In this particular branch of solipsism, it would be said that the solipsist self is the only valid being in existence. This is also known as "ontological solipsism." Some arguments to back up this theory could include the fact that there are some concepts in everyday life that could be explained if it was true. For instance, "deja vu" would be completely understandable. If nothing else in the universe exists, then the person would have previously created these experiences in their mind (for if the objects have to be created, wouldn't the events revolving around those objects have to be created as well?) and it would only be natural to occasionally feel as though he/she had been through the experiences before. So-called "psychics" could also be explained in a similar matter.

This theory can also e taken into quite extreme cases; there are those who would argue that because the solipsist self created the universe and all its contents, the solipsist self is God. With beliefs like this thrown into the mix, absolute solipsism may seem far-fetched or completely outrageous. Nonetheless, in spite of the seeming implausibility of the concept, it is still irrefutable.

There have, however, been many attempts to completely falsify solipsism. One argument includes the simple fact that it would be impossible to convince another person that absolute solipsism is true. Think of Descartes' "I think, therefore I am." If Person A was to convince Person B that absolute solipsism is, in fact, true, Person A would have to convince Person B that Person A exists and Person B does not; however, Person B is thinking, conscious, and capable of doubt,and thus knows that this cannot possibly be true. So instead, Person A must convince Person B that Person B is the one who exists and Person A does not; the fault in this lies in that not only would Person B know that Person A cannot possibly believe this or himself, but even if Person B did believe this, Person A is still conscious and thinking and will obviously know otherwise.

This leads into the most common argument, which is that if solipsism is true, then there can only be one solipsist in the world correct in his/her belief. What would happen should two solipsists meet?

The problem with the logic in both of these arguments is that they take a look at solipsism from a strange angle. If absolute solipsism were true, the person examining these scenarios would have to start from the assumption that he/she exists and neither Person A nor Person B does. Even looking at it from the point of view of Person A, there is no sure proof that Person B exists. Similarly, if two solipsists meet (assuming that absolute solipsism is true, of course), at least one of them isn't really there to begin with, so why would this other figment of the solipsist mind play any important role in disproving the theory?

There is, however, one argument against absolute solipsism that, as of yet, cannot be so easily disregarded. Like any theory, belief, or even religion, it raises many unanswerable questions. Where did the solipsist self come from? Why did the solipsist self create the universe? Not to mention the intriguing concept that this would mean all knowledge--Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, high-level mathematics,philosophical studies--would have to have been created by the individual before it can be learned. Is it really possible for one mind to create such complex concepts?

It is due to these types of questions, among other factors, that many people would immediately disregard solipsism entirely, choosing instead to believe that the entire universe exists exactly as it is perceived. While this end of the theory can't necessarily be proven with much more certainty than any other aspect of the philosophy, it certainly seems more plausible to most people--not to mention it is much more widely accepted. (There certainly seem to be many more arguments against solipsism than in favor of it.) Scientific research is based off of the premises that sense perception is one hundred percent reliable. This research is what is used to obtain knowledge, cure diseases, advance in technology, and attempt to improve the overall quality of life.

However, at the same time, how can one be sure the research that has been done exists, or even the people that are doing said research? If absolute solipsism were true, the knowledge scientists try to obtain is completely false, because the observations the knowledge is based off of is false; the diseases don't need to be "cured" because they're not really there to be an issue; advances in technology and improvements of the quality of life are pointless, because life and reality are only figments of the mind. But perhaps this is the best place for rational solipsism to become a factor. Whether all these things truly exist or not, they affect the way life is led. If something happens--whether in "Reality" or a fictional universe created by the mind--that causes physical or emotional pain, it is a factor worthy of consideration, whether the pain or its cause do or do not exist. The diseases scientists try to cure, whether they truly exist or not, will have an effect on the way people live their lives. Likewise, if something happened that, no matter what, will never be perceived, it cannot affect the individual and thus it doesn't matter whether or not it exists. Because of this, one could argue that it doesn't really matter whether the perceived reality is truly reality; it must be accepted for the effects it has on life.

Of course, between the extremes of almost any theory, there lies some sort of "middle ground." In this case, that middle ground would be that the universe does, in fact, exist, but not necessarily as it is perceived. This can be interpreted in many ways--after all, who's to say how much of what is perceived is Reality and how much of it is illusion? This middle ground should exist, at least as a theory, because absolute solipsism is irrefutable but nonetheless highly implausible, and at the same time it is difficult and possibly ignorant to just simply say that what is real is what one sees, nothing more and nothing less.

While this third way of looking at solipsism proves to be yet another theory that can't be proven one way or another, it, like absolute solipsism, holds its purposes of explanation. People who see a different world entirely, or who see things that are completely different from what "normal" people see, are usually deemed "crazy," but could this off-branch of solipsism serve as an explanation as to why they see things so radically differently?

Another idea that can be considered in this "middle ground" is poly-solipsism. This is the theory that everyone creates a different reality in his/her own mind, but all realities are true. What one person sees and hears could be entirely different from hat the person next to him/her sees and hears; however, because every individual's own separate reality intertwines with all of the others in such a way that people can still get along and understand each other, all of these realities are, in a sense, true. Poly-solipsism basically forms most of the basis for the middle ground between the extremes of the solipsism belief, and at the same time ties in well with rational solipsism.

Due to the extremes of the belief and the distorting of the views on reality, solipsism can be a very confusing topic, but well worth looking into. In its extreme, solipsism is probably not true; it seems to raise more questions than answers, and seems almost completely implausible. Much more realistic is the commonly accepted reality, especially since it is the basis for almost everything "known" to mankind. The middle ground and the ideas of rational solipsism and poly-solipsism may or may not be plausible, but they are definitely the most intriguing of the many possibilities.

"We all believe the truth we perceive, but we only perceive the truth we believe."

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