Measured Against Reality

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Solipsism is Everything That's Wrong With Philosophy

There was an article called Top scientist asks: is life all just a dream? on Digg yesterday. I read that article, and I yelled, “This is what’s wrong with Digg! Solipsism is the stupidest thing ever!”

In case you’re unfamiliar with Solipsism, it’s basically the position that nothing exists outside of your own mind. It’s essentially the philosophical argument that any five-year-old can discover and espouse as elegantly as the best philosopher, and in my experience most children do figure it out for themselves at some point.

It makes me angry for one very specific reason: even if it’s true, nothing changes. Yes, for all we know nothing outside of our consciousness actually exists and it’s all just a construct of our minds. But in that case what changes? Not a thing. Besides, it’s a ridiculously wasteful hypothesis, very unparsimonious, and you’d think it would have been sliced to pieces by Occam’s Razor long ago.

Why is it wasteful? Because in order for it to work, there has to be something that creates our consciousness (in the case of the aforementioned article, a computer simulation). But then we have to explain how that got created. All that it does is add another, pointless layer of complexity to the universe, one that we can never see or test and which is unparsimonious, and as such should be thrown out.

Appealing to the apparent fine-tuning of constants for life is also pointless. Imagine that, beings that can think find themselves in an environment that’s conducive to beings that can think. Quite the surprise! There may very well be no other way the universe can turn out, but maybe not, and either way the fact that we find ourselves in such a universe is not a surprise, and NOT evidence for an intelligent designer of any form, computer or god. To get to that conclusion requires healthy doses of sloppy thinking.

Solipsism embodies everything that I loathe about philosophy: untestable, predictionless, unparsimonious, and absurd. No one who seriously considers it as a possibility should call themselves a scientist.

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  • I don't know anyone who actually espouses this particular philosophy. Solipsism really exists only to shut down debate and make everybody have a lot of no fun.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic!, at 1:02 PM, November 01, 2006  

  • I'm a solipicist. And you can't prove that I'm not, especially because I can't prove that you are.

    By Blogger tlow, at 4:43 AM, November 03, 2006  

  • I agree with you, when you say that it is problematic - or ridiculous - to view the universe as "nothing but a simulation on some computer".

    But I think that the main reason this is problematic is, that a distinction is made between the computer (hardware) and the simulation (software).

    There are actually many things in physics, which is easier to understand, if you view it as some kind of "calculation" processes. The wave/particle duality might be an example, I guess?

    Another example: It might be even theoretically impossible to simulate the universe on a computer FASTER than the universe itself. Not that a simulation of the universe uptil now has to be impossible - but it would necessarily take MORE than 14 billion years (the age of the universe).

    What I am saying is, that there are good arguments for viewing the universe itself as a kind of Quantum Computer - without making a dictinction between hardware and software...

    By Blogger mogmich, at 7:31 AM, December 03, 2006  

  • I think people tend to get very annoyed with solipsism without really understanding what it is.

    Solipsism is really just a challange to naive realism, a way of way of contesting or at the very least *highlighting* an assumption that we all hold - in this instance that there really is a reality entirely external to ourselves.

    Dont let it wind you up, philosophy (especially epistemology) is just about challenging and sorting out what we *actually* know from what we assume to know.
    Even if you are completely sold on the scientific branch of philosophy, epistemology is still something you should champion or at the very least leave open to consideration.

    btw your argument against solpsism as simply envoking another unnecessary layer of complexity could just as easily be used against something like big-bang theory.
    If you want to follow a line of reasoning which takes simplicity to the primary desirable attribute, then youd really have to throw out alot of current scientific theory - Which more often than not simply leads us to even more complex sequences of questions rather than giving us a set of absolute answers.

    By Blogger oly, at 3:55 AM, December 11, 2007  

  • I didn't know it but the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist. In the history of philosophy, solipsism has served as a skeptical hypothesis. 23jj

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