Apart From Solipsism, We Have the World

Descartes started this solipsism nonsense. I didn’t. Or, at the very least, Descartes’ suppositions on existence superseded Gorgias, who first used the term. Our post Enlightenment world, influenced as it is by both Descartes and Locke, has upheld solipsism as an ideal of empiricism for so long that it’s difficult for us to envision another way. We think, therefore, we are. By extension, as long as we keep thinking, we will continue to exist.

This is a strange conceit. Solipsism is, at core, a philosophical construct wherein the individual views himself and the world around him using only his own inner experiences as a reference, with the obvious assumption that he couldn’t possibly step outside his own experiences. I’ll repeat: it’s a strange conceit, and it’s not likely to occur in reality, not in its pure form, anyway, unless a person is suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder. Still, those who espouse cold rationality generally toss it out as an accusation in the same manner that they call down logical fallacies like curses on would-be debaters who slip into them. That one is a pure solipsist is rarely true; yet, dare to make an argument from experience and you will be accused of being one.

Cold rational types seem to have forgotten that the brain is a complex machine. The way it processes experiences and then uses those experiences in decision making is not exactly a mystery, but it isn’t fully understand, either. Pop science writers have attempted to narrate this mystery into sound-bites—ineffectively, I might add. But the fact is, at some level, we are wired to make decisions off experiences. Our brains grow wiser through error and correction. We are better able to make decisions after a lifetime of experiences than when we’re young and less experienced.

Going back to my initial statements, scientists attempt to prevent experientially based interpretations—that is, interpretations made from biases—from skewing facts. They attempt to be anything but solipsists, in other words. They do this through testing and retesting and through peer reviews. Of course, they aren’t always successful because they’re relying on an empirically based model that has its roots in solipsism. The scientific method uses observation and experience and inductive reasoning to produce theories about the natural world. This method rejects a broader perspective, such as can be gained through intuition or faith, for one that’s achieved through the basic solipsist tenets.

While humans are rarely true solipsists, they fit the defintion to the extent that a) they’ve been heavily influenced by empirical philosophy and b) their brains are wired to learn from experiences. I bring this up because a strange irony occurred earlier this evening. I was accused of using solipsism after I made an argument from experience—not a great argument, mind you, but the kind I tend to make in blog comments. However, the experience of which I wrote, of learning to rely less on the left hemisphere of my brain, has actually given me a broader perspective, one that has expanded my mind to more than an empirical way of thinking. I’ve come to trust in emotions, intuition and faith as valid aspects of the human consciousness. In essence, my empirical model of inductive reasoning through experience, which is a solipsist’s method of reasoning, has been tempered by its own forces.

If you’re a little confused, don’t worry. So am I. It’s past midnight, and I’m sleep-deprived. But you’ll notice an odd juxtaposition if you read the start of the post, where I claim that cold rational types pull out the insult “solispism!” when people make arguments from experience. What’s truly odd about it is that cold rational types use solipsism by default because they’re in love with the scientific method. This leaves me shaking my head. Human beings are a strange, complex lot with generally disordered minds. They aren’t honest about how they make decisions, most likely because they can’t take a peek into the cogs of their own minds. They don’t intentionally drop information for processing in their prefrontal cortices. Hence, they are unaware of how very illogical they can be.

And so I’ll openly admit, with all the awareness I possess, that I have used and will continue to use solipsisms. And I will use inductive reasoning and still be illogical. I will make arguments off my experiences, whether they happen to be the experiences in the lab or in the library, and I’ll use observations to conclude that my experiences don’t appear that different from the people around me. Then, I’ll reach for the dreaded emotion and intuition to make sense of my experiences on a deeper level. After all, as a solipsist, I’ve learned how necessary not being one is.

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16 comments

  1. Do you think patriarchy has any rights since its source is natural law? I remember your response to my first comment here immediately made some diplomatic concessions about natural law and equality, but then right away basically neutralized them with an appeal to equality before the law. Then I remember you said something once about wondering why men don’t recognize or don’t want to act against this current direction our culture is taking since it is the result of the actions of certain alpha men. So I was wondering if you acknowledge patriarchy only as an inevitable force of nature that you fight against and whatever it achieves despite your efforts is all it deserves?

    1. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the concept of patriarchy, as much as I have a problem with its legalistic use in Christianity. I’m not sure what context you’re coming from in asking me these questions, though. Was it VD’s post from yesterday? If so, I simply have a problem with arranged marriages under the simplistic philosophy that everything was better in the days of patriarchy when fathers chose husbands for their daughters. That time never existed. It was always more complex than that, and spouse choices, no doubt, varied from family to family and also varied by class status.

  2. It’s been sinking in on me more and more that women are women first no matter how smart they are it’s always the same

    1. I’m not a “woman first”. I am, first and foremost, myself. Part of that is “woman”, but there are other facets as well. Christ-follower, autodidact, logical, failing health, brunette, near-sighted, Hoosier, Southern transplant, gardener, Childfree. I’m like a stew of the various things that contribute to my personality. I don’t happen to think that “woman” is the predominant ingredient. I like to think that “Christ-follower” is ingredient #1, as anyone who is born again is a new creature, and I like for that creature to lead.

      But you know, I am a woman. I’m not ashamed of it and I don’t think of it as shameful or as something for which one needs to apologise. That fact that you seem to, by this and other statements I’ve seen you make elsewhere, indicates perhaps your too-strict adherence to prejudices you’ve cultivated out of an essential need.

  3. I assume you know, because I’ve said it and I’m thinking you may remember, that I do not put much stock in appeals to emotion or anecdata as tools upon which social policy should be enacted or altered.

    I do, think, however, that experience is the _essential_ tool for learning any sort of skill. I used to teach knitting; in that it is a picture of how any craft can be painstakingly described and demonstrated but until one’s hands perform the actions it’s all foreign and meaningless. You can read a thousand texts on how to knit but you’ll never have a scarf if you don’t take up the needles.

    I think much the same about writing, cooking, gardening, sex, prayer, childrearing, childfree living, pretty much any act that involves you as an individual creating something. I think that’s one of God’s essential lessons for all of us. We are made in the image of the Creator but we cannot create without being slaves to the master Time. We cannot say “let there be scarf” and have a scarf appear.

    I think, also, this is why evolution is fundamentally easier for us to “believe in”. We understand–from experience, natch–that creation takes time and is a slow process. That IS what it is for us. The act of speaking into existence is foreign and on some level frightening.

    Funnily, a lot of people consider “emotion” and “experience” to be identical. This amuses me because they are not. Emotions are one of the outcomes of experience but they are not the cause or purpose of most of our life’s living. At least not for all of us.

    You know, being an INTJ is really an interesting way to go through life. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it does involve some explaining.

    1. Emotions aren’t experience in of and of themselves; they’re mixed up w/ experience. In any case, I’ve learned not to discount them. I’m like a cancer patient who has survived and lived to tell about it. I’ve learned not to be so left-brained, an I will warn others that they might be in for big issues if they worship at the footstool of cold rationality. When a doctor gives you brain-balancing exercises to overcome physical illness, you know there’s something wrong (for the record, I’m not sure they helped much, but the idea had come from new research).

  4. It’s an experience based argument. They always try to keep a foot in each camp and never to say anything definitive. But I’m really starting to believe you can’t really ever explain something to a woman. Of course I’m working this out here for myself and I appreciate it because I know I’m irritating sometimes. I doubt I’ll be discussing it with women elsewhere because like I said discussing things with women is like walking into a swamp. Based on your last comment I think vd’s instinct was right about the solipsism.

    1. Dan, you say, “It’s an experience-based argument.” What’s an expience-based argument? Who tries to keep a foot in both camps–all women? And what camps are these that they try to keep their feet in? You are the one not being definitive this time.

      As far as making an experience-based argument–or using solipsism–I never claimed that I didn’t or hadn’t. And what last comment are you talking about?

      Let’s discuss solipsism for a moment: if I use personal experiences, I use them contextually, as do most people. If I’m writing an academic paper or taking a math class, I use facts and figures and then reflect on these facts and figures and look for wider patterns. If I’m blogging, I use personal experience as a way to get to know people. For example, I write memoirs on this blog. I wouldn’t find blogging to be anything special or different if it were just another area of my life that was merely academic (I already have too many of those). Many people view blogging in the same way I do–they’re like interactive journals. Others don’t blog this way–they just want the facts–and that’s fine. It’s just a different way of looking at blogging.

      As far as you not being able to explain anything to a woman, that is a solipsistic statement because it’s based off your experiences w/ women. It’s right to learn from your experiences, but if no women can understand what you’re saying, you might want to look at yourself as much as at women. I know I have difficulty understanding what you mean because you use vague statements that you often leave w/o context (see my questions to you above).

      And then, ultimately, you seemed to have missed the irony in my post. Or maybe you didn’t. I can’t tell. But it would be good to remember that empirical scientific methods are inherently solipsistic because facts and figures must be filtered through human minds. However, there is a time and place for different types of experience-based arguments. All people use them–even VD. Even you–all your arguments against women are based off your own experiences. Think about that for a moment.

      Lastly, I’m glad you stop by here. You don’t annoy me, though I must admit that some of your comments on this post have frustrated me.

  5. Yeah, all women, I think, or most women. The last comment you made before I made that comment. No you missed my irony. I forgot what the scientific method is a long time ago. I think I learned about it in elementary school. . .
    I’ve been developing a vague statement strategy with women because of the futility of otherwise explaining stuff. I don’t think it’s me because men understand when I explain things even if they completely disagree. I’ll have to come back to this later because this coffee shop is closing and I’m leaving town for a while.

  6. This

    MY long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
    Toward heaven still,
    And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
    Beside it, and there may be two or three
    Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough. 5
    But I am done with apple-picking now.
    Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
    The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
    I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
    I got from looking through a pane of glass 10
    I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
    And held against the world of hoary grass.
    It melted, and I let it fall and break.
    But I was well
    Upon my way to sleep before it fell, 15
    And I could tell
    What form my dreaming was about to take.
    Magnified apples appear and disappear,
    Stem end and blossom end,
    And every fleck of russet showing clear. 20
    My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
    It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
    I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
    And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
    The rumbling sound 25
    Of load on load of apples coming in.
    For I have had too much
    Of apple-picking: I am overtired
    Of the great harvest I myself desired.
    There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, 30
    Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
    For all
    That struck the earth,
    No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
    Went surely to the cider-apple heap 35
    As of no worth.
    One can see what will trouble
    This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
    Were he not gone,
    The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his 40
    Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
    Or just some human sleep.

    I know by knowing, what do you mean?

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