Puzzling About Solipsism

I’m not sure how to frame this.

Imagine that you’re talking to someone about imagination, and you exclaim, “I’m not even convinced that you are not a figment of my imagination!”. Now, it is easy to imagine saying something like this. But can you imagine saying it convincingly?

The best way to sound convincing is to be convinced. And since you’re simply trying to convince yourself and the listener that solipsism can’t be ruled out, it ought to be easy. And perhaps it is easy. Most people can probably imagine it being easy.

But you would also be able to easily tell the difference between rehearsing the statement to an imaginary person and making the statement to a real person. That is, you wouldn’t feel any urgency to also convince yourself that you were unable to tell the difference between the two activities, while convincing yourself that solipsism can’t be ruled out.

This itself is not very puzzling. Rehearsing and performing are two separate things, whether your target is an imaginary person or real. And you can rationalize the difference in other ways. What is puzzling is the fact that people so naturally straddle this fence. It’s practically automatic.

I want to get a firm grasp of that process. What happens in our brains that allows us to so easily hold conflicting public and private truths while being convinced of both? What is the mechanism? And why is it so natural? What are the factors that might cause this split to be more or less easy to achieve?

Maybe it’s linked with the way that our mirror neuron system is able to tell the difference between our own face in the mirror and the faces of others. Or maybe it’s linked with the way the frontal lobe continuously inhibits mimicking behavior. We probably just don’t know.

4 thoughts on “Puzzling About Solipsism”

  1. It could be that we have different neurons to track different hypothesizes. We are probably are not fully convinced of any of the various hypothesis, although we vocalize the one that has a higher probability than the others.

    During learning, it does not make sense to discard all of the bad hypothesis neurons when the sampling rate is slow, the sample size is small, and the sampling instrumentation is noisy.

    This is my hypothesis, anyway.

  2. That’s probably how belief-formation works. I can’t find the papers now, but there were some experiments showing that people will change their answers to trolley problems (e.g. “Would you shove a fat man in front of a trolley to prevent 5 people from being killed?”), based on how stressed they were — suggesting that most people have both consequentialist and deontological moral instincts, and the environment can affect which of the two hypotheses they choose to act upon.

    I’m wondering specifically about the cases where a mind holds two (usually two) mutually exclusive truths in mind, and “wobbles” between them. It’s not a passive agnosticism, because people actually take action based on these beliefs, and you can experimentally measure what people do. The trolley problems are one example. All of the x-phi experiments on determinism vs. libertarian free will seem to show a similar thing — people’s actions in the laboratory prove that almost everyone “wobbles” between determinism and free will. Another example would be the way that we all know we’re going to die within the blink of an eye, but we keep on living by pushing that awareness out of consciousness. Our awareness of our mortality “wobbles”.

    So I think there might be a general mechanism in the mind that sits just atop belief-formation and enables us to hold opposing contraries in mind and actually simultaneously inflate both of the hypotheses to the point that either could inspire action, depending on which way we wobble.

    And I suspect that this general mechanism of being able to hold to and “wobble” between hypotheses with conviction is a fundamental faculty of human nature, which might be the basis upon which self-awareness and deceit rest.

  3. I think we have more than just 2 hypothesis going too. We could have 15 or 100 or 10000 different hypothesis going at once.

    I made an artificial neuron learning algorithm based on this idea once. I think you’ve seen it.

  4. Yes, I’ve seen your paper and code, and I think the 15+ hypotheses theory holds for a great many scenarios. A broad sample space is essential for most decision making.

    I’m more interested in the cases (whether minority or not) where there are clear contradictions and dualisms, and motivation to keep both in mind, with conviction. I believe that, out of the 15-10,000 hypotheses we consider, we tend to settle on only two, and we allow ourselves to “wobble” between those two.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *