If one is willing to admit that they exist, that is to say that they have an internal world and subjective conscious experience, then one must also be willing to admit that they can never disprove the idea that they might be the only conscious being in the universe.
Or, is this merely nonsense?
Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one’s mind is sure to exist. That the cosmos sprang into existence when you became sentient, and it will vanish entirely when you die. As crazy as this concept seems, it rests on a tantalisingly irrefutable fact: each of us is sealed in a prison cell of subjective awareness. The wonderful and undeniably painful experience that is having what we call human consciousness.
All of us experience our own mind every waking second, but we can only infer the existence of other minds through indirect means. Other people seem to possess conscious perceptions, emotions, memories, intentions, just as we do, but we can’t be sure they do. One can guess how the world looks to me, based on my behaviour and utterances, including these delectable words you are reading, but you have no first-hand access to my inner life. This is a philosophical, and if you will, a potentially existential dilemma.
The solipsism problem prevents us from verifying or falsifying these and other claims. I can’t be certain that you are conscious, let alone a komodo dragon, avocado or even a chocolate bar. (Even if my own conciousness reacts pleasantly to the latter)
As long as we lack what neuroscientist Christof Koch calls a consciousness meter—a device that can measure consciousness in the same way that a thermometer measures temperature—theories of consciousness will remain in the realm of pure speculation. This loops us back to the original premise. How can we be sure we are not the only conscious being in the universe?
Even with our modern technology, the ability to sync up peoples brains to neuroimaging devices and pronounce to the world that these little signals on the screen equate to brain activity, we still cannot be sure that this is not some mere slight of hand that the universe has conjured up. We could merely be in some sort of cosmic story unravelling itself. Now, wouldn’t that be a spectacular show?
Rene Descartes tried to answer this question in two different ways. The first statement he expressed was: “cogito ergo sum”, which translates “I think therefore I am”. In his view, the simple fact of having structured thoughts proved his existence and therefore by association, the reality of the world around him. But later in his book, he considered that, even more cogent, was the fact that not only did he think he existed but also he doubted he existed; second statement :”Dubito ergo sum”, “I doubt therefore I am”. The basic fact of wondering whether he was part of a tangible world had to mean that the world and himself were thus real. Deep stuff huh?
Well, yes and no. I personally find it an interesting thought experiment, and a potentially liberating one if we view it through the right lense. However, as the entire concept is based upon the idea that one can never truly see someone else’s inner world or experience, it is entirely, by definition, impossible to prove or disprove.
So let’s think, love and understand one another as best we can. Assuming (or knowing if you reject solipsism) that each and every one of us is truly concious and worthy of love, support, and community. Let’s build the best possible future for the generations to come, and dispense with hate, fear and all the vile by products that come from these emotions. Or, atleast die knowing we tried.
Please feel free to share this with all your friends, like, comment and as always, tell someone you love them today.
Until next time.
M L Wood ❤