Solipsism is the philosophical idea that the only thing that can be known to exist is one’s own mind and everything outside of one’s own mind cannot be verified. The word ‘Solipsism’ (sɒlɪpsɪzəm) actually comes from Latin solus, which meaning is ‘alone’, and ipse, meaning ‘self’. It means that a person cannot know anything exists except for himself. Therefore, solipsism is a form of skepticism since it doubts the existence of everything except one’s own existence. Solipsism also means that everything that a person perceives to exist is a projection of his own thinking.
In philosophy, ‘Solipsism’ is an extreme form of subjective idealism that denies that the human mind has any valid ground for believing in the existence of anything but itself. The British idealist F.H. Bradley, in Appearance and Reality (1893), characterized the solipsistic view as follows:
‘‘I cannot transcend experience, and experience must be my experience. From this, it follows that nothing beyond myself exists; for what is experience is its (the self’s) states.’’
Solipsism is the fact (as much as any other so-called fact), that we create our dreams not only at night when we sleep but also in the day. As well as before we are “born,” and after we so call “die.” The dreams in the day only appear more “rational.” It is not that “we are the only thing that exists,” but that our consciousness is all that exists.
Solipsism corrodes any logic or evidence that would support the reality of experience. If our experiences are artificial, imaginary, or false, then any experience that might lead us to believe in solipsism could be part of the illusion and therefore unreliable. At the same time, any experience that might lead us to doubt solipsism could be dismissed for the same reason. As a result, solipsism is neither proved nor contradicted by any possible experience, which means that solipsism as a philosophy is practically meaningless. The idea is both unfalsifiable and unverifiable. True or false, we can’t know it or disprove it, and so we can’t make any meaningful decisions about it.
Solipsism was first recorded by the Greek presocratic sophist, Gorgias (c. 483–375 BC) who is quoted by the Roman sceptic Sextus Empiricus as having stated:
- Nothing exists.
- Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it.
- Even if something could be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.
Much of the point of the Sophists was to show that “objective” knowledge was a literal impossibility.
Solipsism works much the same way in our minds. If we wanted to, we could chalk up everything we experience as a figment of our imagination, including all signs to the contrary. But we’d have to do the same with all signs pointing to solipsism in the first place. And we have no tangible reasons to think it’s true in any case. Like the children’s song, we might well get hung up on the idea, but there’s absolutely nothing suggesting we do so other than the idea itself.