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 I didn’t. Or, at the very least, Descartes’ suppositions on existence superseded Gorgias, who first used the term.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.