Think about this, dear reader, what if I told you that only you existed in this world? You are the only true person amongst the 7 billion people in this world, while everyone else serves as a figure of your perception. You are not sure that everyone else exists, but you are sure that you exist because you are able to think for yourself, while you aren’t sure if everybody else can. The chair you’re sitting on, the people you interact with on a daily basis, your clothes, your work, everything you hold dear does not exist, or only exists as a figment of your perception. Nothing is true, nothing is real, and nothing exists except you.
This sort of thinking comes from the belief that only one’s mind is sure to exist, and that everything outside of it is unsure or does not exist; a philosophy known as solipsism (Latin: "solus" meaning alone and "ipse" meaning self). The gist of solipsism holds that only one’s own mind and thoughts can be considered true and valid in a world where everything else cannot truly exist, as perceptions or otherwise. However, there are three premises that are fundamental to solipsistic beliefs:
- The most certain truths are those that we contain in our minds: thoughts, experiences, etc.
- There are no proven links between mental and physical interactions (we cannot be sure that we are experiencing these phenomena as “ourselves,” as opposed to us being, say, a brain in a jar.)
- The experience of any person is private to said person.
However, there are certain variations of solipsism that help us to explain who, or what, we are exactly and how our interactions with the world help define who we are. One particular example of this is something called “metaphysical solipsism,” a form of solipsism where it is established that the self is the only true existing thing, but it goes a step further in saying that everything perceived is but a reflection of the self. Certain people, the world, current events, everything that is outside your realm of consciousness, metaphysical solipsists claim, is connected through the perceptions and impressions you mark upon the reality we live in. Therefore, everything does share a connection with each other, no matter how obscure you may think its is.
The next type of solipsism is “epistemological solipsism." Unlike metaphysical solipsism, which regards the external world as false, epistemological solipsism regards the rest of the world as unsolvable. Epistemological solipsism poses the theory the only way to know anything of this universe, regardless of whether it is a product of one’s perceptions or not, is to experience the universe through senses, and experiences. Aside from the senses, there is surely no way we (or I) can measure anything in the universe aside from seeing, and feeling everything we come across.
The third kind of solipsism is “methodological solipsism," the most extreme form of solipsism out of the three. Unlike the first two, which plants the seeds of doubt in our minds, methodological solipsism states that nothing in the external world–not even our own brains and minds–are true. Nothing we can sense is truly there. The only things that are true are our own thoughts and experiences. However, like the other forms, it still bases knowledge off of our experiences and says that we should utilize our thoughts and senses to the best of our abilities.
The 17th century French philosopher, Rene Descartes, made his famous statement, “I think, therefore, I am,” but the question we ask is no longer what does exist–instead, it is what does it mean to be “I?” In his theory, Descartes believed that we cannot be sure of anything as it is God, or some evil demon, who has created the world around us without any true explanation or reason for its being whatsoever; and through this infallibility, we are not sure of anything around us. However, Descartes pointed out that the only thing we can be sure of is that we, alone, exist. Maybe not in the form we come to know ourselves in, but we can be sure that our thoughts (if anything) prove our existence. As mentioned before, the main flaw in his theory is that we don’t know what the “I” means, and that one simple flaw could have numerous different meanings into which part of us truly exists. Whether it is our minds, our thoughts, or our bodies that exist, there must be one part of us that exists independently of the world we interact with. Even if it is independent of the external world, then what exactly is it we are interacting with? Our perceptions? Our visions? Our hallucinations? How can we even be sure that the bodies we possess to interact with the rest of the world are also not a result of our minds’ perception?
Even if we truly are the only ones who exist, then what are we? We cannot even know the answer. And interacting with a world where no answers are held will be of no assistance since the more we interact, the more grounded we become in our own subjective reality. If solipsism is true, then it would be one of the grimmest paradoxes we have ever come to face: stuck in a world we unknowingly created while at the same time fumbling for knowledge and meaning in a world that cares not for our existence.
So dear reader, in lieu of what I have told you, do you believe that you or your thoughts are the only ones that exist in this world? Even as I write this, I cannot help but express my true fears of the reality I created with absolutely no knowledge or memory of it whatsoever. All my memories, my friends, my family, everything I have come to hold dear–upon reading about solipsism and subjective realities–has made me worry that I may not be who I think I am; for all I know, I could be a brain in a vat. I’m not going to say for sure that I live in a world of my perceptions because I don’t have enough confidence to say so, but I cannot find enough evidence to suggest otherwise. I could be living a life trapped in my own mind, or in the mind of someone else, but I cannot be sure of anything aside from what my senses tell me, and what my thoughts say… and even then there is no crucial evidence of that.
Dear reader, I cannot offer any solutions, or any relief to the question because I cannot fully comprehend its nature. All I can say is that the thought of not truly existing gives me a chilling, but calming feeling, and solipsism helps to centralize the fear of non-existence into something I may not understand, but tolerate anyway.