For all I know, I might be asking this question to programmed beings.

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    How do you know we exist outside of your imagination? I'm sure you've spoken to people in dreams where they seemed real and acted as if they were conscious.
    – JimmyJames
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 15:42
  • Would a programmed being be able to tell the difference between a conscious being and an unconscious being? Could someone verify its judgement? Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 17:03
  • Entirely depends on your definition of "conscious".
    – zzzzBov
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 18:09
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    Supposing that everyone else were philosophical zombies and I didn't know it, and I couldn't tell the difference between them and me. They all behave as if they were conscious even when they are not. Then, for all practical matters, I can only assume everyone else is conscious. But even if I wanted to know the truth, how could I tell? Perhaps, if the answer is solipsism, it is best not to find out. Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 18:36
  • We can not know "for sure" that we are not brains floating in a vat and being fed false perceptions and thoughts by aliens, etc. There is no end to what we can not know for sure. Could you provide context to make your question more substantive?
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 20:39

6 Answers 6


According to the argument from analogy, I infer the existence of mental states in other people, by analogy with myself. Just as I observe a correlation of my own behavior with my mental states, so I can infer the presence of appropriate mental states in others when I observe their behavior. I have already pointed out the limitations of this form of argument. The problem is that in general with inferential knowledge there must be some independent check on the inference if the inference is to be valid. Thus, for example, I might discover that a container is empty by banging on the container and inferring from the hollow sound that there is nothing in it, but this inferential form of knowledge only makes sense given the assumption that I could open up the container and look inside and thus noninferentially perceive that the container is empty. But in the case of knowledge of other minds there is no noninferential check on my inference from behavior to mental states, no way that I can look inside the container to see if there is something there.

By John Searle, from his book Mind - A Brief Introduction, page 23: The Problem of Other Minds


We cannot know from any observed behaviour that another person is conscious. This is the 'other minds' problem and it is well known. There may be other ways to know but if there are they lie outside of the natural sciences. The natural sciences cannot establish the existence of consciousness. It is reliant on untestable first-person reports.

  • +1 for mentioning the name of the problem, leading the OP directly to e.g. plato.stanford.edu/entries/other-minds as one of the first Google hits...
    – AnoE
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 19:51
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    I strongly disagree. If you mistreat a dog, spanking him, isn't he feeling anything? If you spank a chimpanzee, are you only "disassembling a machine"? One has to have a very shallow interpretation of "knowledge" and "consciousness" to think like that.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 19:58
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    Yes, but you're relying on common sense and intuition/empathy, and a lot of philosophers have no time for these things. They'd call it 'folk-psychology'. Yes, I know, bonkers, but it is the case that a consciousness other than our own cannot be formally proven or demonstrated but only inferred. This would be the reason why solipsism is unfalsifiable. . . .
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 12:14

Dao De Jing, chapter 58, says:


Which may be translated as:

Disgrace brings luck on its side,
beyond luck disgrace is hidden.
Who knows how will this end?
There are no certainties.

The point here is: there are no certainties. You can never be sure, so solipsism is still a possibility. However, if you're alone in the world, this brings two practical problems:

1) Your existence would be somewhat miserable, wouldn't it? To think that every moment, since you were born, since you breastfed in your mother, you were always alone, is very... empty! The emotional on us, our instincts, surely deny this. And intuition is a very strong form of knowledge.

2) Looking through parcimony, it's easier to accept that other people like us exist (materialistic view) than to think they're all some kind of dream (idealistic/metaphysical view). I don't see any good reasons why a metaphysical view should be more important than a material, sensorial view.

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    Your second point gives the impression of conflating solipsism with idealism. The latter by no means implies the former.
    – brianpck
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 17:31
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    @brianpck It doesn't imply. Solipsism is only a kind of idealism, one among many.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 19:52
  • It is not more parsimonious to reify the multitude of phenomena than to reduce them to one, as becomes possible when we view these phenomena as epiphenomena with no inherent existence. Indeed, it could hardly be less parsimonious. Sir William would be turning in his grave.
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 10:32
  • @PeterJ If you think only with your intellect. But if you use your intuition, your "emotional intelligence", the thing is different. That's the argument given to John Nash by his wife in the biographic movie A Beautiful Mind so he didn't become utterly crazy. And that's what Laozi meant when he said he knew things "intuitively".
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 12:24
  • @PeterJ And even according to strict parsimony, in the solipsistic scenario there are two different things: the solipsistic person and the other entities. In the naturalistic scenario, everybody is a person, there's only one kind of thing. This way parsimony denies solipsism.
    – Rodrigo
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 14:32

In vedic philosophy, It is believed that the atmosphere surrounding us, or our perception of reality surrounding us can be clouded by our biases and so can be untrue but it doesn't render the reality of our surroundings untrue, it is only the perception which can be debated not the existence.


JimmyJames nailed it in his comment. Any discussion of the nature of consciousness is irrelevant. To prove something "for sure" is establishing a level of certainty at 100%. Consciousness requires existence. Can you prove at 100% that I exist? I think that you cannot. Therefore, you cannot prove at 100% that I am conscious.

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    It's welcomed to give an explanation for a downvote, but there is no need to ask for one. Everyone on SE knows: sometimes you get a downvote. If you consistently get ununderstandable votes, that is something to bring up on Philosophy Meta, where we can discuss it in more depth.
    – user2953
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 5:12
  • People ask for an explanation on downvotes. Why the big deal? I'm seeking to understand his point of view. This is pretty routine on SO. Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 11:47
  • Here, it is much more uncommon. In the past, people almost felt like they had a right to know the reason for a downvote, which made things uncomfortable.
    – user2953
    Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 15:57
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    @Keelan - yes, I see that attitude from time to time. OTOH, it's really helpful to know someone's disagreement, particularly in an area such as philosophy where we want to dig deeper. Understanding another's view can reveal gaps in our own thinking, helping us in that quest to dig deeper. It should always be okay to ask for an explanation. It's an indication that the disagreeing person has an opinion worth hearing. Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 16:58

Consciousness is a spectrum, all things having some amount of it. Even things we perceive as inanimate objects still have some, but just a relatively smaller amount. Consider an atom of your brain, on its own it does not appear to have any consciousness, but you have consciousness, therefore a fraction of your consciousness is coming from that atom. You can come up with levels of consciousness all the way up to the top and down to the bottom.

Your own personal consciousness acts as a component to many larger consciousnesses. If, for example, you work for a company, then the things you do effect what the company does. The things you observe make up part of the observation capability of your company. Similarly, components of your brain are making different observations and directions, giving you consciousness when they are combined as a whole.

At the very top, you would see that the universe itself has at least some degree of consciousness because of you, considering that your observations, thoughts, and actions effectively alter the "decisions" the universe makes. Your impact as an individual is relatively small, and the universe is doing a lot of things that you do not know about, so the rest of the universe's consciousness must come from others.

To address your specific uncertainty as to whether we are programmed beings, my thought is that it would not matter. As long as each of us act as a component of a larger consciousness, then we each have our own consciousness, even if we are characters in your dream, multiple personalities, or whatever. The only thing that changes is the relationship between our consciousnesses and yours.

I suppose my answer looks weak without references... I don't believe anyone who wrote previous works has a special window to know more about consciousness than anyone else. The logic of the contents should make a far better gauge.

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