How do you know that the Universe is real? What a stupid question! I mean, it’s obviously real. I’m a physical organism that inhabits Planet Earth, which goes around the Sun every 365 days in a galaxy called the Milky Way. I was born into a physical reality, and now I’m here, living in it. I see it, smell it, feel it, and I hear it. I agree, my perception of the world is not perfect, and sometimes they can deceive me, but in general, they show me that there’s something out there, right? Not so sure…

Solipsism Explained

The only way we know and will know the world is through our senses, or putting it in another way, through our mind. Your friends, family, YouTube, the Eiffel Tower, your swimming pool and the Sun, all are not known directly but indirectly, with our mind as an intermediary. Actually, everything that we saw, see, and will see will be known through and by your mind alone.

Then again, how do you know that the Universe is real real if the only thing that you can possibly know is your own personal mind? How do you know you are not in a dream and each and every one of your loved ones are mere figments of your imagination? Could it be the case that only your mind exists and you are ultimately alone in this Universe?

The belief that your mind is the only thing that exists is called Solipsism, and while it’s based on correct observations, it’s complete non-sense and ultimately foundationless. Let’s explore it.

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Either You Are God Or…

If it’s true that my mind is the only thing that exists, it must be the case that the Universe which I’m actually observing was created by me – it was my invention. All history and scientific theories that I learned, from Einstein’s Relativity to the Hawking Radiation, all the music that I’ve heard, from Mozart to – unfortunately – Justin Bieber, all the movies that I watched, were produced by me. Basically, I should be God. But, am I?

Well, first of all, I don’t remember being that intelligent. I cannot even begin to imagine how I developed all the natural laws that exist and are being discovered. I cannot even play some chords in my guitar without failing horribly, how could I ever compose Mozart’s Requiem?

If everything is a figment of my imagination, I miraculously created all of the Universe with its extreme complexity, somehow managed to split myself into two beings – the one that is constantly creating the story that I find myself into, and the protagonist, who is looking through my eyes. And to make matters worse, I completely forgot about this intelligent part of me, which would have been useful in my high-school math exams.

If this sounds a little bit far-fetched, it is because it is.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s razor is a principle in philosophy that essentially states that “t” when presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions.

If I cannot find my car, aliens could have possibly stolen it but since it requires fewer assumptions to say that somebody stole it from me – I presume that the latter hypothesis is correct.

Same with saying that my mind is the only real thing, that I was the one who created everything in Existence and that, unfortunately, I don’t remember any of this, requires a quite a bit of explanation contrasted with the idea that the world and other people existed before I was even born.

But this is not the only place where– in my opinion – the “theory of solipsism” falls short, not even close. Let me explain with a thought experiment.

Welcome, Mr. Robot

Let’s say that in the not-so-far future, some extremely intelligent group of scientists discover a way to make a robot conscious or, in other words, make it aware of its own existence. After thousands and thousands of hours coding, working, philosophizing and discussing, they finally make it.

Unlike an iPhone or your “Smart” TV, they designed a robot that knows – just like you know – that it is alive. He can see a sunset the same way you do and appreciate the beauty of it, he can listen to the birds singing, feel the sand on its hands and smell the sweet scent of a flower. The scientists, very excited about their new invention, decide to download into his software the English language so now it is able to communicate with them and most importantly – think. So it begins learns about science, music, art, politics and obviously philosophy.

Everything was going fairly well for the little robot until one day he starts reading Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy. In his book, the philosopher tries to discard all belief in things that are not absolutely certain, and then tries to establish what can be known for sure. He then reaches the conclusion that the only thing he can know with absolute certainty is that he thinks – or famously put: “I think, therefore I am”.

With this thought disturbing his mind, our robot comes running to the scientists and tells them that the only real thing in the Universe is him and his mind and that all of them are just figments of his imagination and how could he possibly know that it not otherwise.

After hearing this, the scientists thought about all the work they had to put in to make their robot come alive, not to mention the almost impossible task of making him think and speak those same words he was using to negate their existence. They had no better response that just laugh about the irony of the whole situation. Our young robot was negating the existence of the things that actually enabled it to formulate that statement in the first place.

For a person to even think and consider that the only real thing in the Universe is him or her, lots and lots of stuff need to happen.

Before a person can even produce a logical statement, life, awareness, sensations, perceptions, emotions, symbols and concepts need to be developed. Before a person can even speak, language needs to exist in the first place. And for language to exist, it needs the existence of society and other human beings.

The Untenability of Solipsism

A non-linguistic solipsism is unthinkable and a thinkable solipsism needs language. Solipsism therefore needs the very thing that it seeks to deny. That solipsistic thoughts are thinkable in the first place implies the existence of the public, shared world that they purport to call into question.

Basically, for a person to even consider that solipsism is true, he needs language – and language is, as we said, a public and social creation. Solipsism denies the very foundations it relies on.

Thus, rending this pseudo-philosophy non-sensical. Not to mention that if we get a bunch of solipsist philosophers in a room to discuss it, it will be quite a challenge for them to figure out who is the real one.

Anyways, Who Am I Really?

There you have it, we’ve just debunked solipsism. We showed that it miserably fails the Occam Razor’s test and it denies the same foundations that it is based upon. But if you have a good memory, you might remember I began that solipsism is based on correct observations.

It is true that the only way we can truly know the universe is through our own mind and strangely enough, even though science can predict with extreme accuracy the changes and fluctuations in our shared experience, it cannot explain how and where this mind comes from.

And when we say, “our mind”, what are we referring to? Who and what is the one that’s aware and receiving perceptions? You might say that is the brain, but don’t be so sure – there might be more than what meets the eye.

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