Solipsism Vs Realism
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Are you the new person drawn toward me?
To begin with, take warning-I am surely far
different from what you suppose;
Do you suppose you will find in me your ideal?
Do you think it so easy to have me become
Do you think the friendship of me would be
Do you think that I am trusty and faithful?
Do you see no further than this façade-
this smooth and tolerant manner of me?
Do you suppose yourself advancing on real
ground toward a real heroic man?
Have you no thought, O dreamer, that it
may be all maya, illusion?
Have you ever suspected that your world and all of its contents may just be a dream? Can you prove that this universe is real? Which do you know for sure? What do you know with absolute certainty? Isn’t it possible that this could be a dream? One of the most fundamental debates in philosophy concerns the true nature of the world. Is it a ghostly plane of sensations and ideas or is it a solid reality of atoms, energy and matter? Solipsism is the theory that only consciousness exists and nothing else can be proven to exist. Solipsism can be simply stated as: nothing exists; all is a dream. Solipsism and Realism are completely opposing views of the world. Realism can not be proven and solipsism can not be disproved.
Not much is needed to describe realism, because realism is how virtually everybody experiences the world. Realism states that the universe exists independently of being perceived or thought of. Realism is a belief in an independently existing reality with its own qualities, but this can not be proven. Realism puts fort the idea that there is an independently existing reality that we are touching and feeling. In the context of the Zen Koan, ‘If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it does it make a sound?’ realism says yes to this question. On the other side of this argument is solipsism. Solipsism would say not to this question. In fact solipsism would say no to the tree falling in the woods, because nobody is there to see that either. Solipsism says consciousness exists, but anything else is based on faith. Realism says ‘I am XYZ’ and believes the description to be out there and independently existing.
So what does the word, “real,” mean? To say that something is real means that it exists independent of being perceived or thought of. In other words only that which exists objectively is real; which we can never know.
“The dream-marks are all present; you
should have recognized them earlier.”
Is this world actual or is it only an experience of consciousness? Even that it feels real is just an experience of consciousness. Isn’t it true that the idea of and the experience of real is just a concept and experience in the consciousness? Consciousness is the only thing that can be proven to be real. Everything else is taken on faith. Everything, that we know, exists in consciousness and is dependent upon consciousness. That simple statement, if looked into deeply, clearly shows that realism can not be proven. Nothing can be proven to have any independent reality, because it is all in consciousness. Nothing can be proven to exist independent of being perceived or thought of. Anything that seems to be is simply arising in consciousness. Even concepts that are contrary to this are just simply arising in consciousness. Everything is in consciousness. Nothing can be proven to exist independent of consciousness. That would be impossible. For example the world, the sun, the moon, the stars can not be provent to exist independent of consciousness. We can not prove that there are actually substances that underlay our experience of them. We can’t say that matter is there. We simply can not, in any way, prove it.
“So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from
all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial
thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and
weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
In the context of solipsism the word ‘you’ does not refer to the ‘you’ a person might think of as their body, or any of the conceptual attributes you might attribute to your sense of being. The feeling of having a body or a unique identity is just a feeling or experience in consciousness. None of these things can be proven to independently exist. To state it another way, none of these things exist ‘out there,’ independent of out mind.
Solipsism states basically the same thing as the cogito. The cogito is the famous philosophical statement by Rene Descartes that states ‘I think, therefore I am.’ This is a statement of solipsism. It states that I am, I know I am because my very thought that I might use to try to deny my existence proves I exist. Everything else ca be doubted, because I can not prove it actually exists independent of my consciousness. The only answer to the question, ‘What do you know for certain?’ is that you are. Not only is ia a fact, but it is the only fact that can be proven. The only fact that we can know is that consciousness exists. No individual things can be proven to be real, and real meaning existing independent of consciousness.
“We are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves.”
-Bill Hicks; comedian
Solipsism is also expressed in many Buddhist statements such as, ‘All there is, is consciousness,’ or ‘All is One’ (meaning all is one consciousness) or simply ‘consciousness is.’ ‘Consciousness is’ means that consciousness exists and nothing else does. That sounds like a bold statement, but it can not be disproved.
Independently existing matter might actually be so. In other words there might actually be substances underlying our experiences of them, but it can’t be verified. I can not prove that this is not just a mental experience (no different than a dream). To prove that would prove realism, which like I said can’t be done. We can not know for certain that anything exists independent of consciousness. Consciousness is the only provable reality. The seemingly external world, to include other people, are just representations in that consciousness. That all these representations have no independent existence is where the ‘life is a dream’ analogy comes from.
“In what concerns you much, do not think that
you have companions: know that you are alone
in the world.”
-Henry David Thoreau
All this inquiry basically comes down to asking the question, “Exactly what do I know for certain?” The answer to that is ‘I’ am experiencing sensations, feelings and thoughts and they appear as the world, my body and my mind. To illustrate further; what I know as the world is appearing as sensations in consciousness. My body is appearing as feelings in consciousness. All I can know is that experiences are arising in consciousness. None of these risings point to each other, connect to each other or contains each other in any way because that would just be conceptual risings in the consciousness and not independently existing.
Although solipsism can not be disproved it is considered a belief or theory. But, it takes no belief or theory to see the world in a solipsistic way. Actually, solipsism is what is left after all belief and theories have been shattered. On the other hand it does require beliefs and theories to see the world from a realism point of view.
“If man will strike, strike through the mask!
How can the prisoner reach outside except
by thrusting through the wall?”
-Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
So, as the doctrines of philosophy state, we can not know whether or not there is actually physical matter or just an experience of it. But, we know that what we call the physical world is ultimately just sensations taking place in consciousness. It has reality only as sensations, feelings and thoughts appearing in the conscious awareness. The only thing that can be known with certainty is that we are experiencing matter within our mind. Physical sensation would not even be possible without consciousness. Think about it, all sensation or experiences must involve a reference and that reference exists by only in the mind. If I feel something as ‘hard’ to the touch I only experience it like that in reference to an experience of something feeling ‘soft.’ It can not be disputed that referencing exists only in the mind.
“Illusion recognized must disappear.”
-A Course in Miracles
Even if there was a physical reality that actually underlined our experience of it, our experience of it would still be completely of the consciousness. So even if there were physical matter we could still say that the universe, as we experience it, is entirely the creation of consciousness. Ultimately no experiment can be designed, by any means, to disprove this. Solipsism is unfalsifiable. One can not know with any certainty that any of this (the world) is real. All experiences are simply a dream.
“The end of illusion is the end of you.”
So, solipsism can not be falsified. Nobody can prove that there is actually matter underlying the experience of it. More to the core of solipsism, nobody can prove that there is anything other than the consciousness having an experience of something. No matter how consistent those experiences may seem it adds no proof. The very concept and experience of consistency only exist in consciousness. It has no reality, and to define reality again, it has no independent existence. It does not exist outside of being thought of or perceived.
However you look at it, that point of view is taking place in consciousness. If you are skeptical, that skepticism, logic and even ideas of an inside self or outside reality exist only in consciousness. Even what you consider your self is imagined. The ‘self’ is just thoughts conceptualized as a mind and then conceptualized as a person. To sum it up, life is but a dream.
“I’ll sing this song the rest of my life until
I drop dead; whether anybody listens to it
or not is of no importance to me.”