Why isn't extreme solipsism the valid interpretation of quantum mechanics? Obviously, as a community, it would be virtually impossible to find a consensus that this is true. I suspect (actually, I know) at least some physicists are secret extreme solipsists.

Are you? Tell me why extreme solipsism is invalid, besides you just don't like it.

  • That sounds interesting. Could you share with us the relevant background infos? Like: In virtue of what should extreme solipsism be a valid, and maybe the best, interpretation of quantum mechanics?
    – Lukas
    Nov 30 '14 at 9:51
  • I guess my question is, by Occom's razor, isn't it more likely that there is only one observer, not many. The only evidence for many observers is my senses, and those are obviously completely unreliable. i.e. I can see outside the world is clearly flat, and not a sphere. Is there any REASON by QM, there must, or even should be, more than one observer for the entire universal system? Nov 30 '14 at 13:37
  • In the QM sense of observer, yes, there are clearly other observers. Things are 'observed' in the QM sense by a camera or instrument that I might see the image from, whether or not I ever actually do. So the two definitions of observer are not the same. More than just other humans, other physical effects that eventually have macroscopic representations are all 'observed' independent of you.
    – user9166
    Nov 30 '14 at 17:08
  • I like any solipsism and i think it is valid. Moreover i encourage you to fight it as much as you can. If you are curious about it then you are one of us. Mistake of many philosophers is to think that solipsism is a last point with answers, it is wrong. Solipsism is the beginning of something bigger than the rest of our knowledge, much bigger. That is why people hate it -- its too complicated. Its much easier to think that you are just a small cog in the big machine of universe. It gives people escape. U should think about solipsism itself if you have energy and feelings. U don't need QM.
    – Asphir Dom
    Nov 30 '14 at 17:33
  • U may wish to read amazing book "Star Maker" by Olaf Stapledon. To find a symphony to a deep and melancholic solipsism inside. Beloved writer of Lem.
    – Asphir Dom
    Nov 30 '14 at 17:38

Extreme solipsism isn't a valid interpretation because you can do experiments where you're not the one observing. Observers don't have to be conscious; they just have to be entangled with the observable.

Required reading: Lubos Motl's blog.

Whether you're a solipsist or not, you have to define "observer" to mean something other than you.

  • U don't understand solipsism. Moreover it is not allowed to use word conscious in the context of science. Exactly the problem of "others" is the main motto of solipsism. Thus solipsism being bigger than anything in the universe. Or perhaps the size of the universe.
    – Asphir Dom
    Nov 30 '14 at 17:43
  • @AsphirDom - There is definitely a lack of understanding somewhere, though I think you've misplaced it. My point is that QM doesn't care about "others" because observers are not other minds. As a solipsist you might doubt all of science, and as a quantum mechanic you might note that uncertainty is not overtly in contradiction with solipsism, but that's about as much as they touch each other. (Also, I have no idea what you mean by "it is not allowed" for science to use a particular word or try to measure a particular phenomenon. Scientists may find it unrewarding when they try, though.)
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 30 '14 at 20:04
  • Good point. My point was that physics does not disprove solipsism, if one thinks so he misunderstands what solipsism is. Conscious as being not defined, or better to say not being observed by, can not be subject of science. It can be the horizon or wish of scientific method but not its subject at the moment. We do not need to repeat fairy tails from mass media. Conscious can be subject only to itself. This in a way can be its definition.
    – Asphir Dom
    Nov 30 '14 at 23:43
  • @AsphirDom - That might be true of your consciousness, if you're unwilling to experiment with it. But if you accept the possibility of other consciousnesses, one can use the scientific method to learn things about them. I agree that it's technically too challenging presently, but it's not in principle impossible (at least, we have no indication yet that it is).
    – Rex Kerr
    Dec 1 '14 at 9:41
  • You can't do an experiment where you are not the observer. You could onlymimagine you are doing such an experiment. Jan 28 '15 at 22:19

Solipsism is a valid interpretation of quantum mechanics, just as it is a valid interpretation of any physical theory. The problem is that it is not informative: it does not explain anything (why those equations? why electrons and quarks?). So solipsism is probably the last resort, if any other interpretation fails, but we might want to try other interpretations before.

Perhaps what you have in mind is not full-blown solipsism, but something like: reality can be described by a wave-function, and the wave-function collapses when I become aware of its state. That would indeed solve the measurement problem, perhaps without any non-local action involved.

The problem then is: why would you prefer that version to full-blown solipsism? Because you believe quantum physics is predictive. But why so? Because you believe what they say in textbooks, or what scientists say (if your a scientists, what other experimenters say--you probably never tested the whole theory on your own, and in any case you built up on the work of past scientists). But if you really believe other scientists, then it seems that you are not really a solipsist.

The problem I emphasise here is that science itself is a social endeavour. Assuming physics is correct is not very compatible with assuming solipsism, and a solipsist interpretation of quantum mechanics seems inconsistent.

  • Great answer, although believing what other's say isn't a refutation of solipsism. I meet people in my dreams and they say things, and I believe them if what they say is logically consistent and makes sense to me. I actually think there is direct evidence of solipsism. Specifically "I think therefore I am", and the fact that I see that there is a difference between the past and the future, and I'm not sure if you do or if you're even really there. Determinacy seems to depend on observation, and I only have evidence of one source of observation. Nov 30 '14 at 13:26
  • You can believe what others say but you have no particular justification to do so. Solipsism is often interpreted as an extreme form of scepticism: only believe what you have irrefutable justification for, i.e. your own consciousness. If this is the motivation behind solipsism, then you should not particularly trust others (e.g. others will tell you they are conscious!). No systematic disbelief, but no trust either: something neutral perhaps. But arguably science requires a minimum trust in others, not this kind of absolute neutrality. Nov 30 '14 at 15:06
  • I agree with everything you just said, except the last sentence. Why do I need to trust my dream characters? I should believe or disbelieve what others say based on my internal analysis of what they are saying. If a dream character say, "2+2=4" I analyse that, and agree. If you say, "2+2=5", I deduce this is internally inconsistent, and I disbelieve. I agree I have no justification to believe you are conscious, although if you say 2+2=4, I would believe that, because I can internally deduce that for myself. Nov 30 '14 at 15:18
  • Ok, then why would you believe in the whole content of quantum mechanics, that it is the fundamental theory of your phenomenal world, and that it is in need of an interpretation? Physicists hardly compute the quantum state of small atoms. Do you have slightest evidence that quantum mechanics is a good exlanation for your whole experience, including the complex behaviour of highly developed animals? I suppose not. Believing in fermions and bosons is completely irrational if you are a solipsist. Believing only in phenomenal appearences is a far more economical theory. Nov 30 '14 at 16:02
  • Well, I believe in QM because it's rational and internally consistent. Well, honestly I am assuming it's rational and consistent, but that seems to be a good assumption. I admit many people [or holo-deck characters anyway] can do [or seem to do] math better than me! Thanks for the answers guys, I reformulated my question as "Does quantum mechanics imply more than one observer, or can I get away with solipsism because of Occam's razor?" philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/18338/… Nov 30 '14 at 16:13

Extreme solipsism is not an interpretation of quantum mechanics at all. So even if extreme solipsism should turn out to be valid, it won't become an interpretation. The fact that it is compatible with quantum mechanics doesn't mean much either. Even if your favorite alternatives to it would not be compatible with quantum mechanics, it would just mean that either quantum mechanics or your favorite alternatives to extreme solipsism are questionable.

  • Yeah, I know that's the standard answer. I see why, because of the the uncertainty principal, which requires at least ONE observer. I am certainly an observer. I don't know why I need you at all, other than I'm lonely. Nov 30 '14 at 13:30
  • @JimMaguire you underestimate the lonely part and treat it like physics. Which is not at all correct.
    – Asphir Dom
    Nov 30 '14 at 17:54

Extreme solipsism is unlikely because I am here giving you an answer you don't want.

If you are God, then why would you make me up to bug you? Doesn't it seem you could find better ways of being disagreed with? I mean, I have a whole range of family relations and 'non-inlaws', etc. among whom I am immersed. And evidently you bothered to dream each of them up as back-story just so that when my character became relevant, I would be silly enough to be annoyed by your question.

If you are really alone, then why have you made things so hard for yourself, in two ways: 1) why is there so much detail that serves so little purpose? and 2) why do observe people acting as if you do not exist most of the time. And how can you possibly learn anything from either of these two things? But you have to admit that you do often learn from looking closer at seemingly meaningless detail, or from analyzing other minds.

If we are both aspects of something else, the 'real' single observer, then that is no longer extreme solipsism, it is basic idealism. You have admitted Plato's God, who is the outside basis for both of our realities.

To me, the most likely answer to the observer paradoxes in quantum mechanics is that only animals really experience time, because memory is a function of an exothermic mechanism, the brain. Real causation may have some other pattern, inconsistent with the second law of thermodynamics, while we cannot observe any state of being that does not follow that law, because we could never remember it. Time might go back and forth, retrying solutions until one obeys the laws of nature, locally or globally, failing over and over again, and we would never know, because only the last forward trace would be left without undoing in our memories.

This seems like a kind of like a biological-mechanism-level solipsism, but it is really the exact opposite: the 'weak anthropic principle'. It does not rule out other effects' reality, it just says that humans will not experience them, and their behavior does not have to make clear or consistent sense in the terms of the things that are basically biological, like time.

  • U started so good but ended up being not interested in God. That is sad. U understand all those questions about details and such exist in many soul universes too? U were created as a reflection of one part, and that part as you stated does not believe in solipsism, thus U are the reflection of possibilities and not a burden as you saw yourself through the eyes of solipsism. Moreover we/you do not posses enough knowledge to understand what the real trouble is. Maybe the real trouble is to be alone and almighty (in a sense). Bammm, now you are here. Can be it makes something easier. U dont know.
    – Asphir Dom
    Nov 30 '14 at 17:50
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    I just really think questions about physics, especially quantum dynamics, need to be answered in religion-neutral terms.
    – user9166
    Nov 30 '14 at 18:55
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    I also don't think something like reflective monadism (a la Leibnitz or Whitehead) or other versions of convergent universalist pantheism, is solipsism. It requires a single being of which we are reflections or interpretations. This is a grounded idealism, as opposed to something like Berkeley, which is solipsism -- an ungrounded idealism.
    – user9166
    Nov 30 '14 at 19:09

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