Haunted by solipsism

Ian asked:

I want to know how to deal with solipsism. I’ve been living in agony over it for the past several months and it just haunts me to no end. I makes life small and narrow and it feels like there is no point to doing anything.

What can I do about it?

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

I’ve written a number of posts on this topic, but I want to focus this time on the particular feeling of dread at being ‘alone’. The fact that this is a metaphysical and not a factual or contingent solitude seems little comfort when you see (or ‘seem to see’) your predicament so clearly.

Solipsism could be true. That is to say, so far as you could ever know it is possible that I don’t exist. The words that you are now reading on the screen are just phenomena that fill up your subjective (and the ‘only’) world. Where these phenomena come from (if that makes any sense for the solipsist) or what they ultimately represent remains a mystery. Why me?!

This is no comfort to you. But you and I are not looking for comfort, we are looking for the truth, aren’t we? To see this clearly, to experience the feeling of disorientation and indeed dismay is an achievement. You see more than others see. But, as I like to state to my students, ‘consider the possibility that you are wrong’.

I am stuck on a different but related point. I don’t believe that solipsism is true. I can’t prove this. (I once thought I could, but I now think I was wrong about the possibility of a proof.) But if solipsism is false, and you exist, and billions of other humans exist, I mean, actually exist and not merely ‘seem to exist’, then another question arises: why am I here at all?

I wrote a book about this with a long and clumsy title: I Might Not Have Existed But Someone Exactly Like Me Might Have Existed In My Place. It’s on Amazon, if you’re curious to read.

After years, decades in fact, of edging forward with this topic, I seem to have hit a wall. I believe that there is such a thing as The Real. I mean, how things really are, the ultimate explanation, or cause, or, I don’t know what — of everything. But, most importantly, the reason why I am here and not merely someone ‘exactly like’ me.

But what could this be? Not God, not ‘super-strings’, not any kind of matter, even ‘dark matter’. There is no reason, or possible reason that I can see or think of. So far as the world is concerned, ‘someone exactly like me’ would fulfil exactly the same function, server exactly the same purpose (if there was ultimately such a thing as ‘purpose’) that I serve.

What is most vexing is that 99.99 per cent of human beings simply do not see this wall. They are not prompted to ask the question. They are so enmeshed, sucked into this actual world and all its contingencies, that they don’t even know how to formulate the question in their own minds.

So, solipsism is ‘an’ answer but it is not a very good answer and it is not the only possible answer. In which case all one can do is keep searching. If you are interested in pursuing this topic further, you could look at my latest YouTube video, Living in the Dark.

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