Solipsism – Part Two
Yesterday we began a discussion on solipsism, the theory that the only real thing that exists in one’s self. This topic was brought about from a request so many thanks to the reader who requested it. Most followers of this theory quote Descartes. Interestingly enough, his famous quote of “Cogito ergo sum’ and its translation, “I think, therefore I am” are not actually real. Descartes really or rather reportedly states “I think, I exist.” So the theory that only the true self exists is based upon a translation that…should not exist.
Samuel Butler once said “Poetry resembles metaphysics: one does not mind one’s own, but one does not like anyone else’s.” The same might be said of the solipsist. I am also reminded of a quote from Christopher Hitchens: “I suppose that one reason I have always detested religion is its sly tendency to insinuate the idea that the universe is designed with ‘you’ in mind or, even worse, that there is a divine plan into which one fits whether one knows it or not. This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me.”
Solipsism seems a type of arrogance to me and certainly is at odds with helping others or seeking to improve our world. If all that is true is myself, then the only person I would need to help would ne myself. The conditions of those somewhere else might not really exist and therefore I would have great reason to ignore their plight. In fact, if the only real truth is my own condition, then I have no need to act with consideration for others. Sounds a bit like a current political candidate…or many of them.
I am not the only “self” on this planet. In and of myself, I could not successfully treat the water I drink while at the same time operate the electrical plants that provide my abode with electrical current. I cannot dig the road bed upon which I drive and then fill it in and pave it. I can and have grown some of my own food but I cannot grow all I need to be as healthy as I wish to be. And on those occasions I am in need of medical attention, I cannot operate on myself.
Has mankind ever been wholly and completely self-supporting and living off the grid? Of course but do we really want to go back to those times? There would be no technology such as what you are using to read this. There would be plagues and pestilence, famine in even greater numbers than we already have and far less sharing of beauty.
I think my greatest problem with solipsism is the limitations it puts upon the arts. I can doodle and color. I can carry a tune. I can create music but I am not a world-renowned master of these. I am thrilled to see a print of the Mona Lisa, a picture of the Venus de Milo, a scale model of the Parthenon. While an artist often works alone, the architecture of the world has never been a solo project. Orchestras play notes conceived in solitude but they are played together and create harmony. None of this is truly possible of only the self is real.
Talk to someone who has lost sight and ask them if a tree still exists even though they cannot see it. The hearing impaired sit among us and watch mouths move. Their reality is silence and yet, they know communication is still being conducted verbally in spite of their inability to hear.
Solipsism prevents the possibility of better tomorrows imagined by those who think differently than I. I have a few talents but none like those of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. The fashion designer who creates a new silhouette, the chemist who develops body armor that is weightless, the scientist who helps increase our ability to grow more food in less space. This are all skills that began as dreams.
Dreams play a huge role in our believing in tomorrow. Does solipsism provide for tomorrow? How does it make today better? We need to live outside ourselves, in my humble opinion. We need each other. That is my reality. What is yours? Think about that as we delve into our concluding part three next time, please.