Solipsism, surprisingly hard to say

It all started with a lipstick.

As a teenager, I put on my favorite lipstick before school one morning and then walked two steps to my bed to put the lipstick in my purse. Only, when I reached my bed, the lipstick wasn’t in my hand anymore. My hand was still curled as if to carry something, but the lipstick wasn’t there. It wasn’t on or under the rug. It wasn’t under the bed. I hadn’t managed to kick it under my dresser. After ten minutes of searching, I had to leave for school, but as it was my favorite, I resumed searching when I came home.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. I tore my room apart. I looked in drawers to make sure I hadn’t absentmindedly dropped it inside. I looked under all the furniture. A few years later, when I married and moved out, I took most of the furniture with me, and I looked again. Nothing.

A recent post on Words from the Woods recalled all this to my mind because it’s when my entire philosophical outlook on life began to change. I began to disbelieve the entire concept of belief and began to think that the only thing I could be certain of at any given time is my own perception of reality. Later, I discovered that this is a loose version of solipsism, the surety that one’s own mind exists, but that one cannot be certain of the existence of anything else.

The lipstick was there, and then it wasn’t. Was it still present, but I had lost the ability to perceive it? Was I the only one who could ever perceive it in the first place? Did my girlfriends laugh behind my back when I “pretended” to put on lipstick no one else could see? I began to think that reality was nothing but a group of perceptions, unique to the individual at any given time. Belief became too stringent for me, too strong. To label any grouping of perceptions with the word belief is to change the perceptions themselves. As I said in Cat’s comments, a person who believes he can fly actually perceives himself as flying when he leaps from a building. But I perceive him falling. If reality is unique to the individual, though, I suppose that in some form of reality, he really does fly away.

My husband always asks me how I can function in the world when I don’t trust that things are real, when I have no belief in a true and fixed reality. Well, I don’t really think about it that much. I have to take my perceptions of previous days for granted. If I go to sleep in my bed, I expect to wake up there. However, if I suddenly woke up in a field, I don’t think I’d be as flabbergasted as someone who wasn’t a solipsist. If I woke up in a field, I would consider every possible reason, including the idea that I’ve always slept in a field, only my mind perceived it differently than it now does.

In fact, if you’re reading this now, how can you be certain that when you’re not reading it, or when I’m not commenting on your blogs, I even exist? Maybe I’m a person. Maybe I’m a thinking computer. Maybe I’m a figment of your imagination….or maybe you’re all figments of mine. ^_^

I tell my husband that every time I lose him in a crowd, I’m momentarily sad at the thought that he may never have existed in the first place. So far, I’ve always been able to perceive him again, though. Fingers crossed.

Philosophy is one of my favorite subjects, as you can probably tell. That and my love for anthropology are both reasons I write fiction and enjoy making up new societies. ^_^ If you’ve got any ideas, anything you want to discuss, throw it out here!

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4 thoughts on “Solipsism, surprisingly hard to say

  1. Barbara,

    I can’t tell you the number of times stuff like this happens to me. Your view definitely puts a new spin on things!

    Thanks for the mention and best luck in keeping those things near and dear to you within your perception. Wouldn’t want to lose DH too often!

  2. As a child I sometimes experienced similar thoughts, wondering how much of what I perceived really existed and how much was imagination. I liked daydreaming, and envisioned countless possibilities for every situation. I still do, though sometimes it feels more like worrying than imagining.

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