Bernard White


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Is Solipsism irrational (the philosophical position of "Cognitio Ergo Sum")?

Sorry to not really give a very long description like I usually do, I just can't think of much to say about this topic.
I personally think it is entirely a rational and logical claim, and it can't really be proved nor disproved.
While I am a sort of agnostic concerning Solipsism, partly because I view it is better to live your life as if everybody is real, but it still can't really be certain.
I mean I may just be a projection of somebody else's imagination, I may just be a piece of coding in the matrix or inception.
I don't really see what complaints people have against Solipsism.
Am interested in what the fellow TED community will think about this.

  • Apr 5 2013: Thank you for your reply. I am not knowledgeable in neuroscience and will not be able to comment.
    but it interests me and may be I will catch up!
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    Apr 1 2013: Imagine that I blindfold a professing Solopsist and remove her right shoe then quietly place a concrete block in front of her bare foot. I then ask her to rearback with her right leg and deliver as forceful a forward kick as she can. The concrete block is not part of her mind, and, as such, she has no reason to believe it exists. If she kicks she is being illogical. If she refuses to kick on the grounds that something which is, admittedly, not part of her confirmed reality COULD have secretly been placed in the path of her foot, then her logical conclusion proves she is not a Solopsist. Is Solopsism illogical? Yes.
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      Apr 1 2013: Or you "could" say (playing devils advocate) that she does not have control over the reality she subconsciously creates for herself.
      In the way she could be in the matrix, or that everything is an hallucination; Yet she has no control over this.
      I don't see how this disprove's solipsism at all. :-)
      And evidence requires an experimental evidence, and I see no experiment I can make to determine whether the external world exists.
      So that is why I am an agnostic about solipsism. I hope you understand my point better now.
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        Apr 1 2013: My goal was to answer the question, "Is Solopsism irrational?, not to disprove it. The severe pain our Solopsist would experience is the transition, in her knowledge base, of the block from unknown to known. She is forced to admit that real things exist apart from her knowledge. To do otherwise is to be irrational. I am manifestly unqualified to speak about "the Matrix". I do not deny the possibility of its existence, but it is not part of my experienced, cognitive reality. Can you further define what you mean by the phrase, "external world"?
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          Apr 1 2013: Everything outside my own thoughts/ consicouness. = External reality. (Good question!)
          Not sure if that is the best way to put it!
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    Apr 1 2013: "Real" is a word.

    It has relative value arranged around the persistence of the pattern we call "self".
    Any principle that is cogent to the maintenance of self persistence is "real.
    Beyond that cogence the word has no meaning whatsoever.

    Descartes was seriously wrong about thinking - thinking produces only ego. Ego is no more than a high level interface required by social animals.

    Having this discussion in words is a little bit silly. Words are part of the social interface - they have reality only in that aspect.
    For instance, we say "consciousness" but we don't know what that is. It might very well be true that all manifest "things" in the universe possess awareness - and that it is only the principle of memory which precedes consciousness.

    I think its fruitless to conjecture about one's reality in context of someone or something else.

    There is only one avenue I can see where such conjecture may have any use whatsoever - and that is the notion that you are the only self in your universe, and that all other's reality exists in a close, but different universe. At the very least, this gives one the impression of authenticity - helpful in the face of depression .. but beyond that .. hmm maybe a path to psychopathy. One thing we do know is that our world-views are personal - and approximate.
    Beware the local minimum. Descartes fell into that trap.
    • Apr 4 2013: I thought of bringing into focus the Indian thought as expounded by J . Krishnamurthy. His central idea is that all that we think is relative and what is absolute can not be perceived by conditioned mind-conditioned by DNA and upbringing. The problem comes when we project our ego based understanding as real.
      Then come practices like transcending the endless thoughts and in deep silence and total awareness perceive the absolute. There should be no preconceived notions about the raison d'etre of existence. This approach may not appeal to western thinkers but at least they can agree to the limitations of rationality when it comes to concepts related to reality of existence.
      I am not a philosopher and I hope to have conveyed the idea adequately. I put across this idea as you seem to be arguing partly on similar lines.
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        Apr 5 2013: Hi A Sethuramiah,

        I think the view of J . Krishnamurthy is useful.

        From what we learn from neural science, it becomes clearer that one's perception is a method.
        For the sake of survival, it works well and has adaptive capacity.
        So you could say that "functionally, solipsism is an effective outlook" in other words, it works .. beyond that, it just is what it is. However, there is no functional value in asserting that perception is reality. In fact, having such an outlook will harm the capacity for a perception to adapt - and it is demonstrated that adaptation is necessary.

        If one takes functionality as a subset of reality then, from this aspect, the argument between functional and absolute solipsism collapses into the realm of functionality - and as such has no traction on the subject of reality.

        For myself, I am developing a model which provides a useful framework to examine these issues.
        Basically it uses this dynamic description of self organisation (assuming complex organism):
        ambient state-->senses-->perception-->potential agency-->decision-->agency-->changed ambient state-->repeat until death.
        The details increase as each stage is examined. E.G. memory is required for Bayesian adaptation.

        Another aspect that is essential is the understanding that all minima are local - to have absolute minimum (truth) perception must be infinite. No individual possesses infinite perception.
        From there, one has to consider that access to the infinite may be possible .. here is where the boundary between absolute and functional solipsism might find resolution.

        Iin humans, the mechanism of conscious thought is only small subset of consciousness itself. Mostly to do with negotiating social interaction. These are specific to communicating social animals, and cannot be taken as universal truths.
        The work of Antonio Damasio is worth looking at:
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    Mar 31 2013: I believe there is a significant difference between solipsism and the idea that "I may just be a project of somebody else's imagination...a piece of coding in the matrix..."

    The difference: There is no "somebody else" to have the imagination to put you in it. There is no coding in the matrix because someone would have had to code it. This can devolve into the "prime mover" argument (or ontological proof for the existence of good), which is exactly what Descartes did. It's a slippery but fast ride away from Solipsism at that point.

    But... If we extend Solipsism to include the concepts you mention in your question, that we may be in the matrix or someone else's imagination - that is a most fascinating possibility because we *can*, in principle, design scientific tests to verify whether or not that is the case. This is unlike the position with solipsism where I do not believe any such test can be devised.
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      Apr 1 2013: So would you say it is "safe" to be an agnostic about solipsism! (Which I probably am!)?
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        Apr 1 2013: Yes, perfectly safe to be agnostic about solipsism!

        Pure solipsism is a position we can neither prove nor disprove, and whether it is a true position or not has no implications to us, This is unlike the situation with God (whose existence can not be proven) where he may throw your ass in hell if you do the wrong thing.

        But the matrix-like position - we can possibly know about that and it could have great implications for us.
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          Apr 1 2013: I would say about God it can't be disproven either, unless there is a logical contradiction in traits.
          (With God I always ask people to define "God" "existence" "evidence" always reveals quite a lot!)
          I'm interested : How would you go about trying to find out whether we were in the matrix?
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        Apr 1 2013: Here is a test to determine whether we are really living in the matrix.

        We would create a complete simulation of a reasonable size of physical space including all the matter in the space. The space might only need to be the size of a pin head - not sure what minimum size would suffice, but let's think about pin head size just to make it more concrete.

        We do not possess anywhere near enough computer power to do this, but the quantum computers that will be available in a few decades should be able to handle this [having programmed one I have some knowledge in that area.]

        Then we run the simulation of reality, and we look for any unexpected patterns or differences from observed actual reality.

        Research along these very lines is actively being conducted at the University of Washington.

        Some speculate that if we were living in the Matrix, the reality is made up around us "just in time". So when I look out to a distance and see a mountain, and no person is really there, the mountain is not "rendered". In other words, if a tree falls and no one is there to hear it, then it does not make a sound. This would make the simulation more efficient, but it is not a hard requirement.
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    Mar 31 2013: you can hit "edit" to add more time to your convo. It probably isn't irrational in the purest sense, but practically speaking I think we have to live as though it's untrue. We can't go around running people down in our cars because there's a tiny chance they may just be figments of our imagination.
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    Mar 31 2013: Solipsism is not irrational, but I think of it more as a "so what?" kind of thing. What would be the benefit for me one way or the other? Whether it's just me or reality is real - either way does not change anything for me. Or does it?

    Edit: Oh I think. So.. therefore I must exist. Because nothing could not be thinking this very thought I am thinking. A bit self referential, but oh well. So I know I'm here. But I really can't be sure anything else is there. I am the only axiom. Everything else is just theory.

    'cause I might really be plugged into the matrix. And maybe all the other people and the whole reality I see out there - well, it's just made up. Not real. It's just me.

    I think Descartes kind of bailed from a philosophical perspective and let God in with his so called "ontological proof of god". Nothing against God, but if you're going for Solipsism, I don't think God is part of that. But we have to remember that was over 400 years ago.
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      Mar 31 2013: What is solipsism with God? Because there is always the slim possibility that everything is in your imagination including "God" and the "external world".
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        Mar 31 2013: I agree. Another philosopher from about the same time, Blaise Pascal, said this about Descarte's admission of God into Solopsism:

        "I cannot forgive Descartes; in all his philosophy, Descartes did his best to dispense with God. But Descartes could not avoid prodding God to set the world in motion with a snap of his lordly fingers; after that, he had no more use for God."
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    Mar 31 2013: I think the question is inadmissible. It's like asking what was before the big bang.
    Rationality is a derivative of cognition. Solipsism is an epistemological singularity that leaves nothing outside of your cognition to be objective about.
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      Mar 31 2013: I personally believe nothing is "certain", just that everything is most "probable". In the way we base all conclusion on the past, and expect the future to be consistent with the past, while we don't "Know" whether the laws of physics will suddenly change.
      This is why I am a sort of agnostic about solipsism.
      While this is not to encourage rational and logical thought, and try to make the best conclusions we can with the data we have, and also not to encourage that we should live our lives as if "solipsism" is true. :-)
      Interested in your opinion.
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        Mar 31 2013: Solipsism maintains that it's only your own mind which you can be sure to be existing. Everything else is merely your mind's interpretation and you can never be sure about its existence. As a metaphysical extension of its position solipsism holds that nothing other than your mind exists. Everything else is projection of your mind.
        This is the stand of an ascetic and I reject it. I believe that cognition starts by an initial differentiation of self from the surrounding reality. It's only after this 'self' is established it can further differentiate or integrate realities.
        Mere your interest about my opinion is an expression of that differentiation.
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          Mar 31 2013: So basically you are saying:
          The universe creates cognition not the other way round?
          Because this isn't even "certain" in itself. There is no way to prove nor disprove it.
          While what I am saying, is that, yes! It probably is safer to assume you are real, and the external world is real. But this can't be certain in itself.
          I hope this makes sense! (I'm not sure I fully understood your argument!)
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        Apr 1 2013: I agree with you that the basic nature of the physical world is chancy. At the quantum level this chancy, indeterminate nature rule and it appears weird to our common sense notion because in our size of reality, the appearance of wave function collapse is many times higher and we find things as discrete and stable. This is known as quantum decoherence.
        I think we are immensely complex entities and evolved to interact with other very complex systems and make sense of them. This making of sense is through our experiences, and the experiences are through our consciousness. So, I think our consciousness emerged as a necessary tool for making sense of everything around us, it was not exactly waiting out there and we went into it.
        Very simple physical systems do not require to be conscious to engage with their surroundings.
        A human baby younger than 18 months do not recognize herself in mirrors. She is born with a rudimentary consciousness to just carryout biological functions.
        I would not say Universe creates cognition rather in certain parts of it where sub systems grow towards complexity, they start to behave extremely life like and may develop cognition as a necessary stage of their evolution.
        Have you ever played the game of 'Life'?
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          Apr 1 2013: Interesting.
          But I personally wouldn't say being "self aware" increases the likelihood of you existing at all!
          However this goes into a deeper form of solipsism, and non-existence doesn't it?
          While I can see your point, and must give it further consideration, and find it reasonable. :)
          (The Red dot test is pretty cool by the way! (the self aware test) And the "theory of mind" test.)
          I hope you don't mind if I don't give you a full reply at the moment, it is just that I will edit this reply later! :)
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        Apr 1 2013: "But I personally wouldn't say being "self aware" increases the likelihood of you existing at all!"
        For a solipsist Bernard White, sure. :)
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          Apr 1 2013: Haha!
          I see your point. :)
          Fine I am not certain of the external world existing, and am happy to accept that I may not be the one in existence. That is more what I meant.
          While I view that the only thing you can be certain of is your own conciseness not existence. Kinda complicated :S???
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        Apr 1 2013: Not at all. Consciousness has no standard model at all and it may not be as vexing as we take it to be. Dan Dennett has interesting things to say on it.
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          Apr 1 2013: I will watch that.
          Thanks for the link. :)
          I must admit I see much reason to assume this at the moment :
          I'm an agnostic about solipsism, but view it is far more probable (and will live my life) as if the world is real.
          my main problem is that evidence require some form of experiment. And I can't think of an experiment which would prove that everything is real, a bit like God, I can't think of an experiment which could prove or disprove these two hypothesises.
          While I accept your point, and will give it further thought!
          Have I repeated myself? :p
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        Apr 1 2013: Yes you did and I have no problem with that. If you care here are my two cents.
        Human brain is a big conjurer. Since consciousness is self referring it has a feed back loop that can amplify your sense of awe and make things appear more profound than those really are.
        Our whole experiential input have five sensory channels and their capabilities are so limited with respect to explorables that 'reality' is more of a potential than an existence. But sum total of your consciousness has am emergent quality - some call it insight - that can break through the haze and enable you to glimpse reality at times.
        I enjoyed the exchange with you. I shall share a story that my teacher told me.
        Your consciousness is an earthen pot with five holes with a lamp placed inside. You are trying to make sense of the surrounding with five spots of light illuminating almost nothing. If you have someone who can break the pot itself you will have enlightenment.