There have been many articles, videos, etc. where I have encountered a philosophy similar to the following, so I'm sure it has a name, I'm just unable to find it and therefore to read up a bit more about it. Here goes:

Reality is relative, there is no absolute frame of reference. The only thing that exists is me, and 'my' universe is what I believe it to be. There is no such thing as 'the' universe. When I change my mind about something, reality changes to accommodate it, and when I learn something new, it spontaneously comes into existence. Basically, if a tree falls in a forest but i haven't seen it before, the tree doesn't even exist. If I have seen it before, but I don't hear it fall, then it didn't fall.

I have read a bit about postmodernism and it seems kinda similar, but I don't think its the same. Is there a name for this?

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    "Reality is relative, there is no absolute frame of reference. " is postmodernism, perspectivism – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 20 at 14:16
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    It's true that what you're describing is 'solipsism', though I'd hesitate to call that a school of philosophy. Solipsism is typically a result that philosophers try to avoid, and it's usually used a way to show that a theory fails if it entails solipsism and cannot accommodate many minds. – transitionsynthesis Jan 20 at 19:30
  • @transitionsynthesis isn't that mostly because solipsism is a philosophical dead-end, and so unproductive as a field of study, rather than that it doesn't constitute a school of thought (even if only one without any serious adherents)? – Tristan Jan 21 at 10:11
  • Watch out for the Dread Solipsist! – Nat Jan 21 at 15:04
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    @Tristan: "School of thought" is ill-defined in this context. If you define it to mean "a group of like-minded people," then you can establish that it's not a school of thought by demonstrating that nobody seriously believes it. If you define it to mean "a way of thinking," then it's a school of thought, but so is everything you can come up with. – Kevin Jan 21 at 19:40

The first sentence expresses relativism, and then the rest makes clear that it makes everything relative to the individual subject. That position is called solipsism. Solipsism makes the individual subject the only reality.


It doesn't work. Solipsist relativism. A tree falling in the woods isn't like a quantum event which remains uncertain as long as the system is isolated. You not seeing a butterfly on the other side of the world, doesn't stop it causing a hurricane - sensitivity to initial conditions and the conservation of information mean unseen events are still meshed into 'your' world.

A much more interesting perspective is about intersubjectivity (see Indra's Net), and 'peer to peer' reality. This can deal with the Private Language argument, that the detail of your world depends on language for you to observe it, and that embodies a shared collaborative practice. But, it makes clear that objectivity is an illusion, there is only reified intersubjectivity, a universe made up of points of view none of which are fundamental, or have primacy, and contain abstractions or 'reflections' of each other.

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    I don’t get how this makes a point against solipsism (“it doesn’t work”). Wikipedia: “...solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside of one’s own mind is unsure”. How does the tree and the butterfly make an argument make a point against the brain in the vat? How can you be certain about any other subjectivity other than your own? Only certainty we have is about one’s own mind existing - that’s at least how I understand solipsism. Btw. I am not trying to argue that it is a very ‘interesting perspective’ - I am just saying that I don’t get how your arguments shows that ‘it doesn’t work’. – dingalapadum Jan 22 at 0:02
  • I am probably missing something , maybe you can point me towards it. But what I mean is: how does the tree, the butterfly, QM or information conservation argument get rid of the “dream”, “brain in the vat”, “descartes demon”, “simulation hypothesis” points? Couldn’t all those arguments be embedded within one’s own reality? Or as Democritus puts it: “[...], Senses talking to the intellect: ‘Foolish intellect! Do you seek to overthrow us, while from us you take your evidence?’”. How does any physical or logical argument get one out of that clinch? – dingalapadum Jan 22 at 0:18
  • @dingalapadum Here is how I understand CriglCragl - lets say you are brain in the vat and you see tree fallen in the forest. It is reality for you but also this reality had to be consistent with everything you observe. So for "brain in the vat" tree did fall even if you did not observe it because fall of the tree had to be simulated or calculated ahead of you observing it including related interactions. – Piro says Reinstate Monica Jan 22 at 6:26
  • @dingalapadum: Comments are not for extended discussion. The original post question frames the solipsist's direct experience as sole arbiter of events, but unknown indirect experience must 'fix' what happened as well, as Piro says. The 'killer' case against solipsism is the Private Language argument, that the emergence of self-awareness & conceptual thinking in our childhood, depends on language, created by other people & their subjectivities. – CriglCragl Jan 22 at 11:16
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    Note that this doesn't yet make an argument against solipsism; it simply denies it. A solipsist simply sees things different. – ChristopherE Jan 22 at 16:42

"Basically, if a tree falls in a forest but i haven't seen it before, the tree doesn't even exist."

This is akin to phenomenology, where existence is interpreted "as relation to the cognitive faculty" (ref.). However, if you consider all the discoverable things that you have never seen, then the tree exists in that set. Its existence can be loosely inferred, until such time as you actually see it.

  • This is wrong. Phenomenology is not a philosophical school of thought. It is the name of a study involving qualia and the structure of consciousness (i.e. the "hard problem"). – forest Jan 21 at 6:48
  • Seems ok to me : "Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. ..." - plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology – Chris Degnen Jan 21 at 12:20
  • E.g. from elsewhere in the aforementioned page : "For Brentano, physical phenomena exist “intentionally” in acts of consciousness." – Chris Degnen Jan 21 at 12:23
  • Also : "In phenomenological reflection, we need not concern ourselves with whether the tree exists: my experience is of a tree whether or not such a tree exists. However, we do need to concern ourselves with how the object is meant or intended. I see a Eucalyptus tree, not a Yucca tree ..." – Chris Degnen Jan 21 at 13:08
  • and : "Phenomenology studies (among other things) the nature of consciousness, which is a central issue in metaphysics or ontology, and one that leads into the traditional mind-body problem. Husserlian methodology would bracket the question of the existence of the surrounding world, thereby separating phenomenology from the ontology of the world. Yet Husserl’s phenomenology presupposes theory about species and individuals (universals and particulars), relations of part and whole, and ideal meanings—all parts of ontology." – Chris Degnen Jan 21 at 13:09

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