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What Is Solipsism?

Dan Cavallari
Updated May 23, 2024
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Solipsism is the idea that a person's mind is the only thing that actually exists. It is a philosophical argument that maintains reality is based on the perceptions of one's mind, and therefore nothing really exists except for that perceptual reality of one's mind. Solipsism was first introduced by the Greek philosopher Gorgias and perpetuated to a great degree by Descartes, who emphasized the importance of finding the origins of knowledge and understanding through epistemology. This led to epistemological solipsism, in which only the knowledge and understanding of the individual philosopher can be known.

The general thought behind solipsism is that everything one sees, does, or feels is simply an extension of one's subconscious. It is a belief that everything in reality takes place within one's own mind, and therefore there are no actual outside forces acting upon the self. This philosophy calls into question the very essence of existence, and it also contends that existence and experience reside only in the mind and therefore existence may not be real at all. This relates most closely to metaphysical solipsism, a philosophical argument in which a person is the only thing existence and everything else is just a projection of that person's mental state.

Methodological solipsism is the idea that all philosophical arguments must be built from the individual's knowledge and understanding of reality. It contends that the self is the only proper starting point for building such arguments. However, there are several counter-arguments to such a philosophy, which include the certainty of death, the fact that life can be unpleasant and it would seem antithetical for one to create a reality that is painful and imperfect, and a person's inability to imitate another person's skills.

Related only tenuously to the philosophy of solipsism is solipsism syndrome, which is a dissociative psychiatric condition that causes the subject to believe all reality is internal and everything outside of them does not exist or exists simply as an ethereal or dreamlike state. People experiencing this syndrome often feel a detachment from reality, apathy, indifference, and intense loneliness, which can be dangerous and lead to other serious or life-threatening mental conditions. Astronauts living in space for long periods of time have experienced this syndrome, and it is believed that infants experience this type of world-view until they are old enough to grow out of it.

What Is a Solipsistic Person?

A solipsistic person believes that only their mind is sure to exist. Therefore, all things outside their mind exist in theory or concept only. Similar to a dream sequence, the events a person experiences are little more than images in their mind.

Solipsistic people are inherently skeptical of things that don't exist within their minds, including the thoughts and actions of others. They believe the universe began when they became conscious and will cease to exist once they die.

Solipsistic people believe all things within the material world, including all objects, places, and other living things, are uncertain. Human beings can't know, unequivocally, what exists in another person's mind.

Therefore, the question that lingers is, do those things exist in the material world at all?

Solipsism vs. Narcissism

The basic concept of solipsism is that the only mind that exists is one's own. While that might sound similar to narcissism, it's important to distinguish between the two because there are a few key differences.

Narcissism is a diagnosable psychological disorder. It has clearly defined signs that a doctor will recognize and address. This disorder brings with it a sense of apathy toward others, along with a sense of superiority. A narcissist will believe all other people exist but also considers those people to be significantly less important.

Solipsism, on the other hand, is a philosophical belief. Some religions adhere to it to show the conflicting interconnected and singular nature of the human world. A solipsistic person may not believe that other things and people exist outside their mind, but they also don't inherently assume they're better than other people, either.

What Is an Example of Solipsism?

There are three different types of solipsism: metaphysical, epistemological, and methodological. Each varies slightly from the next, but all stem from the same basic philosophy.

Metaphysical Solipsism

In metaphysical solipsism, the self is the only true existence. All other things, people, and realities are representations of that self.

Epistemological Solipsism

Epistemological solipsism is the belief that there's no true answer to what actually exists outside of oneself. People who adhere to this belief acknowledge the potential existence of a higher being or force outside themselves controlling the things the human mind sees as real.

Methodological Solipsism

Methodological solipsism is focused on the belief that only one's thoughts are real. Even the existence of the human brain is in question in the context of methodological solipsism because it only exists because the human mind says it does.

Is Solipsism Possible?

It's impossible to say whether solipsism is possible or not. Scientists, psychologists, and other researchers have attempted to study the concept for ages. However, there are arguments for both possibilities.

The Argument For Solipsism

Everything humans see and do happens within their minds. The things they see, hear, feel, taste, and think happen because the brain tells them so. Therefore, there's no proper way to prove the existence of solipsism because all proof would be contained within the human mind.

So, that means the main thing you should consider when asking whether solipsism is possible is the concept of solipsism itself. If humans exist within their own minds, wouldn't that mean the knowledge or proof of the existence of solipsism, or lack thereof, would simply be a product of the human psyche?

In other words, if scientists study the concept of solipsism then present proof of its existence, how can they be sure they're not simply experiencing something that's a product of their own mind?

The Argument Against Solipsism

There are generally more arguments against solipsism than for it, especially regarding the things humans are capable of knowing.

For example, when you consider things like adopting knowledge, it's difficult to argue that solipsism exists. Moreover, within the context of solipsism, it's challenging to account for the knowledge you acquire from others and the things you learn about things you haven't experienced firsthand.

Another way of looking at the plausibility of solipsism is in how humans interact with one another. For example, if you point at an object and ask someone to pick it up, that person will do so. Simply wanting that person to pick up the object wouldn't be enough to make it happen.

If it were enough, that would mean humans could bring things into being simply with the power of their minds. Yet, humans throughout the world suffer, which creates a conundrum. If humans can use their minds to make things happen, wouldn't they use their minds to stop the suffering of themselves and others?

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Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By anon274194 — On Jun 10, 2012

I found the truth, when I was a methodological solipsist, with some conviction that my world is a natural world. There's no matrix or a brain in a vat, rather it's a dream, and nothing could possibly have real existence except myself: the dreamer, yet there's no reality and it's all a dream. However, things exist in a dream, but if I don't sense it with bodily senses, it doesn't exist in this dream, isn't there, therefore if I'll never be aware of my own past actions, it doesn't exist, it's not my world.

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari, a talented writer, editor, and project manager, crafts high-quality, engaging, and informative content for various outlets and brands. With a degree in English and certifications in project management, he brings his passion for storytelling and project management expertise to his work, launching and growing successful media projects. His ability to understand and communicate complex topics effectively makes him a valuable asset to any content creation team.
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