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Subjective reality as explained here:

Subjective Reality (SR), as I describe it, is the perspective that your true identity is the dreamer having the dream, so you are the conscious container in which the entire dream world takes place.  Your body-mind is your avatar in the dream world, the character that gives you a first-person perspective as you interact with the contents of your own consciousness.  But that avatar is no more you than any other character in the dream world.  This perspective is also not objectively falsifiable, so it cannot be proven wrong.  However, I find it a very rich and empowering way to interact with the dream world of reality on multiple levels.

Having those assumptions it's easy to arrange arguments to explain everything about how reality works, as is done here.

Are there some rational arguments to disprove this as explanation to everything?

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  • Are you challenging the claims that "This perspective is also not objectively falsifiable, so it cannot be proven wrong." ? – Sancho Aug 9 '13 at 20:23
  • @Sancho exactly! – leo Aug 9 '13 at 20:31
  • And thanks for retag the question properly, this is my first question. I even wasn't sure if this is on topic here. – leo Aug 9 '13 at 20:33
  • I second for migration then – leo Aug 9 '13 at 20:39
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    If I wanted to elaborate, I should probably have written a full answer in the first place. I could elaborate why this isn't a useful explanation. I could stress that its ontological commitments regarding existence of certain entities are not weaker than if the existence of some sort of reality is allowed. I could point to actual conscious experiences and question whether the proposed perspective is really compatible with them. However, if I look at the answers below, I prefer Sancho's answer as global refutation of solipsism over these more detailed refutations. – Thomas Klimpel Aug 11 '13 at 9:30

10 Answers 10

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Are there some rational arguments to disprove this as explanation to everything?

It is an explanation, but it is not a sophisticated/predictive one. An early quote from the cited work says,

However, if you believed in subjective reality, you have to reject the question entirely. You’d say that there’s no such thing as a tree outside your awareness.

Human infants learn a more sophisticated/adult theory called Object permanence when they're about two years old.

It's a "wrong" theory in the sense that there are other, contradictory, and more useful theories: for example if an allegorical ostrich simply hid its head in the sand to avoid predators, it would be eaten.

(See also Object Constancy)

On the other hand, the author claims that it is a useful or effective theory, because it has effects such as "you would stop picking fights with people around you" and become "very much like Jesus both in thought and in deed" -- so apparently his theory "works" (does good) for him.

It appears to be a meta-physical/religious belief, so perhaps engaging in "rational counter-argument" would be missing the point of what he's trying to say.

  • You are right is something that one believe or does not. But, there are arguments to be atheist for example. I was looking for something like that. However I agree with your last sentence. – leo Aug 9 '13 at 22:06
  • @leo I see theories as tools: use the right tool for the right purpose, use different tools for different purposes, use a theory when and if it is useful. My guess, about why Steve Pavlina thinks his theory useful, is that it's meant to lets you see yourself from the outside, view other things/people in your awareness as being as being just as important as you are, observe your interactions as if you were a neutral (perhaps egoless) third-party witness. However, Wikipedia says that "Egoless" and "solipsism" are possibly or usually seen as antonyms. – ChrisW Aug 10 '13 at 17:43
  • The "rational counter-argument" is certainly worth a try, as subjectivity becomes impossible to identify without its counterpart which does away with the foundation of the solipsistic argument. – Saul Aug 22 '13 at 12:18
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I think there are ways to question solipsism, but it can always be tweaked in one way or another to remain untouchable.

My favorite way to question it is this: solipsism says that everything that exists is actually a subjective experience of some "I" - you can define that "I" anyway you want.

The problem is that in order to do that, you need to have a distinction in place. You need to differentiate "I" from "not-I", so you can say that everything that exists is "I". Otherwise, the term "I" refers to nothing that could be distinguishable from anything else. Two cases then:

  1. If you establish that distinction, then you are saying that there is some "not-I", defeating the idea of solipsism.

  2. If you don't, then all you are saying is a kind of tautology in which "all that exists is", since you cannot separate anything to refer as "I" in "everything is I".

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Under the definition of falsifiability posited by Karl Popper, it is true that solipsism — the idea that only your own mind is sure to exist — is unfalsifiable.

Herbert Feigl wrote (emphasis mine):

I think that solipsism is not meaningless but so outrageously improbable as to be safely dismissed as false. Can't I be absolutely sure that it is false? Of course not. I can think of very fantastic hypotheses (somewhat akin to solipsism) which I could not possibly refute with finality.

[T]here are the assumptions of commonsense or scientific realism regarding the existence of the physical world or of other people's mental states, which according to Popper's way of construing them are as immune to refutation as is the doctrine of solipsism.

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    Solipsism is a colossal waste of time. And someone who happens to be solipsist will tell you everything is a waste of time anyway, including entertaining solipsism presumably. Ergo, who the heck cares, don't waste your time! :) – David H Aug 10 '13 at 3:26
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    @DavidH: Why would solipsists tell you everything is a waste of time? I can hardly believe that. Firstly I think that solipsists like to have fun, so there is something to spent your time on. Secondly, the sentence "everything is a waste of time" is eventually deconstructing its own potential meaning: if everything is a waste of time, then time can't be spent properly, thus has no value and hence can't be wasted. – Nikolaj-K Aug 12 '13 at 7:54
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Having those assumptions it's easy to arrange arguments to explain everything about how reality works, as is done here.

Are there some rational arguments to disprove this as explanation to everything?

To answer your actual question: It's not an explanation to everything.

For something to be an explanation it has to have explanatory power - that is, after you've heard the explanation, you should feel less confused and you should be able to predict things. An "explantion" that doesn't let you predict the future better than you already did has not explained anything to you.

This does not necessarily mean that it isn't true though. Maybe you are just the only person and all you see is something you make up in your mind. This cannot be disproved at all, because it's not a falsifiable idea - or as it is sometimes formulated, "It is not even wrong."

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But that avatar is no more you than any other character in the dream world.

This I know isn't true, if there is an avatar providing a point of view in a dream world for me, it is more me than the rest of the dream world. I know this feeling can be escaped somewhat with the use of drugs or perhaps some exercises (meditation or whatever), but there's a connection between myself and the significant avatar that can't be erased completely. This distinction can be chalked up to illusion, but if so the illusion does exist, and Subjective Reality is close enough to solipsism to be refuted by David Deutsch:

The solipsist, who believes that nothing exists other than the contents of one mind, must also believe that that mind is a phenomenon of greater multiplicity than is normally supposed. It contains other-people-like thoughts, planet-like thoughts and laws-of-physics-like thoughts. Those thoughts are real. They develop in a complex way (or pretend to), and they have enough autonomy to surprise, disappoint, enlighten or thwart that other class of thoughts which call themselves 'I'. Thus the solipsist's explanation of the world is in terms of interacting thoughts rather than interacting objects. But those thoughts are real, and interact according to the same rules that the realist says govern the interaction of objects. Thus solipsism, far from being a world-view stripped to its essentials, is actually just realism disguised and weighed down by additional unnecessary assumptions — worthless baggage, introduced only to be explained away.

The Fabric of Reality

SR and solipsism have no explanation for the distinction (or the perceived distinction) between self and non-self. In SR's terms, if it's all my dream, then what is doing all the work to make my avatar appear to be a separate, distinguished entity in that dream? A big, complicated, hidden, miraculous mechanism would be required to do that. But we can't scientifically prove it doesn't exist.

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I think our senses are far to accurate and detailed for it to be just all in our heads. The world is a big place and our brains collect a lot of information. We each have our own subjective view of things as individuals but as a whole consciousness i think life is objective due to the fact that the world is larger than us. Larger than our own subjective perspective. And we are aware of this. That is our reality

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I think it is not disprovable, but it requires some pretty shaky notions. One is that there is no cause for any of your perceptions other than your own will. And a lot of those perceptions are of suffering.

As usual, I am going to float the "Gnostic proof of God" argument. If you are alone in the universe, why do you hate yourself? Clearly your life could be a lot better, so why isn't it? If someone else (say, God) hated you, it would make some sense, but you are assuming you are alone.

In experience, if you do hate yourself, it is usually because you feel like you have failed some other being (say, God). But again, if you are alone, that makes no sense.

Most people intrinsically believe in an overall causal framework outside themselves, because life is always in some way hard, and they need someone to blame that on. There is 'Hell on Earth' even if 'Hell is other people."

  • +1 overall. I would tend to agree, but I think another way of framing your point is "it depends on how deeply you want to cling to the nutzo ideas you have" – virmaior Nov 5 '14 at 3:26
  • Yeah. The perspective from Berkeley is sometimes helpful. It is possible that some part of me hates some other part of me, and that the problem is the issue of 'who is me'? Higher-order transpersonal psychoanalysts sometimes take this perspective, as in Jung's notion of religion as action of the collective unconscious. So it is not so much nutzo, as moot. Whether I am me and you are you or we are all part of someone else, who cares? Well, very occasionally we might want to care... – user9166 Nov 5 '14 at 16:22
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Your Subjective Reality is called Brahman, or the Self, in Vedanta. Sankaracharya says in his short treatise on the Advaita Vedanta - Atmabodha (Self-Knowledge) [Self-Knowledge by Swami Nikhilananda] verse 6 - "The world filled with attachments and aversions, and the rest, is like a dream: it appears to be real as long as one is ignorant, but becomes unreal when one is awake." and verse 7 - "The world appears to be real as long as the non-dual Brahman, which is the basis of all, is not known. It is like the illusion of silver in an oyster shell." and verse 8 - "All the various forms exist in the imagination of the perceiver, the substratum being the eternal and all-pervading Consciousness, whose nature is Existence and Intelligence. Names and forms are like bangles and bracelets, and the all-pervading Consciousness is like gold."

To answer your question - Are there some rational arguments to disprove this as explanation to everything? - The Advaita Vedanta gives rational arguments to prove your Subjective Reality as the explanation of everything. In Sankaracharya's various writings he gives rational arguments to various arguments trying to disprove the Subjective Reality. Another good source is Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

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As a synthesis of the other answers: It is not rationally falsifiable but it is pragmatically irrelevant.

This is the usual way to conceive the world:

image

This is the solipsist way to conceive the world:

image

Because solipsism challenges reason and all knowledge about the world from their roots (the existence of the world out of the reason), there is nothing left to refute (or falsify) it.

For this same reason, solipsism leaves no basis to construct any knowledge. (The whole "tree" is challenged.) Thus, in practical terms, it doesn't add or remove any knowledge and there are not practical consequences. The existence of the world/Universe is challenged and everything inside that Universe, so there is nothing in that universe to falsify it.

If we are speaking about a "dream" then the only way to prove it right (but not to falsify) is to "wake up", but please don't try to put your head on some rails to "take a train".

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    This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post. – iphigenie Aug 16 '13 at 5:31
  • @iphigenie How not? \\ Q: Is it possible to refute subjective reality? \\ A: No, because it is not falsifiable. – Trylks Aug 16 '13 at 10:21
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    Your answer is supposed to be a full answer. That means, it's not supposed to rely on other answers, and to the reader, it should clarify your position without having to read the other answers. As it currently stands, your answer is nothing but a comment. It does not provide reasons, sources or argumentation. – iphigenie Aug 16 '13 at 14:45
  • @iphigenie Now there are two levels of argumentation, 1st: because it is not falsifiable. 2nd: because everything in the Universe is challenged, nothing can be used to falsify it. Please let me know if "we need to go deeper". – Trylks Aug 16 '13 at 15:45
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One cannot discover that something is subjective unless there is something objective to contrast it with. Otherwise one would end up in a situation where subjectiveness is impossible to identify as one would not know how is subjective different from something else which is absurd.

The notion of subjectivity depends on its dialectical opposite and vice versa. Subjectivity and objectivity are opposite sides of the same coin, there cannot be one without the other.

Of course, a Zen adherent would probably counter that there are neither any sides nor a coin either but that is another discussion.

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