First, I am aware that most of the essays regarding solipsism and the existence of philosophical zombies conclude that there is no way to confirm or refute them.

From my perspective, there is a vast knowledge in several fields (such as quantum physics) that I’m not even able to grasp, and even if I spent years reading about these subjects, some concepts will still remain as a mystery for me.

If these concepts are understood by other people assumed to be p-zombies, how can I be the only mind in the world if I am not able to comprehend them and they can?

The idea I’m stuck with is if creations can be more complex than their creators. So in the case that solipsism was real, how can coexist a unique “me” and theories and formulas created by this mind that cannot understand them.

Excuse me if I am mixing up the concept of p-zombies and solipsism, in the case of this question it seems to me that they convey the same concept.

Thank you

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    I really like this question. It reminds me of Wittgenstein's discourse on the concept of private language, and though I don't know so much that it outright refutes solipsism, I would say it counts as evidence against the thing. Strong evidence, no less. If I can find some good quotes from the SEP or other material I'm familiar with, I'll try to type up a solid answer in those terms. Jul 18, 2022 at 0:23
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    I've heard this point explained as you having deliberately forgotten things you know in order to give yourself the illusion that there are things you don't know. I can't say I find this argument compelling.
    – user4894
    Jul 18, 2022 at 1:21
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    Of course, creations can be more complex than their creator, if any. Biological species have no creator, and they are plenty complex. A sole mind need not comprehend all that is happening in it (or any of it), unless it is assumed to be God's mind. If it is surprising it is because of this historically inculcated rationalist idea that before mind does something it conceives it, and then wills it to persist, while being self-aware the whole time. And that is not how minds we know function at all. They mostly have no clue what is really going on in them even when they are aware of it.
    – Conifold
    Jul 18, 2022 at 3:44
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    In a solipstic dream did you ever get puzzled therein? Note the puzzle is within the dream during you sleep, after you wake up possibly you may explain and replay every detailed mechanism of the encountered puzzle... Jul 18, 2022 at 5:31
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    Indeed if one hadn't learned a concept in real world then one could hardly even dreamed about it, not to mention to understand it therein. Similarly if your reality is really a dream of your own then when you see other minds can grasp a concept which you cannot, it could be the mechanism designed a priori based on your karma or whatever, and you're doomed to keep the course, unless perhaps you become awakened one day. Once you grasp it you'll grasp it afterwards all along... Jul 18, 2022 at 19:55

3 Answers 3


Unfortunately, I don't think this argument really works. It might be the case that you don't understand those ideas because there is nothing to understand (i.e. the ideas are simply insubstantial fantasies which you dreamed up to answer questions such as "what do scientists do?" or which Descartes' evil genius created in order to deceive you). The only way to dispel this possibility is to understand those ideas, at which point the idea must necessarily exist, but the argument no longer works in the first place.

Of course, solipsism has many problems with it, I just don't think this is one of them. The greater difficulty is with ideas that you do understand, but which you did not personally create. Solipsism has to offer some sort of explanation for where those ideas came from, and this explanation basically needs to assume that there's something dramatically wrong with your senses or overall understanding of the world. There is no compelling reason to accept such an assumption, so solipsism can be rejected as implausible.


Your argument is reminiscent of Wittgenstein's discourse on private language:

The idea of a private language was made famous in philosophy by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who in §243 of his book Philosophical Investigations explained it thus: “The words of this language are to refer to what only the speaker can know — to his immediate private sensations. So another person cannot understand the language.” This is not intended to cover (easily imaginable) cases of recording one’s experiences in a personal code, for such a code, however obscure in fact, could in principle be deciphered. What Wittgenstein had in mind is a language conceived as necessarily comprehensible only to its single originator because the things which define its vocabulary are necessarily inaccessible to others [emphasis added].

Immediately after introducing the idea, Wittgenstein goes on to argue that there cannot be such a language. The importance of drawing philosophers’ attention to a largely unheard-of notion and then arguing that it is unrealizable lies in the fact that an unformulated reliance on the possibility of a private language is arguably essential to mainstream epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics from Descartes to versions of the representational theory of mind which became prominent in late twentieth century cognitive science.

This connects up with the conceptual problem of other minds:

Thomas Nagel once wrote:

The interesting problem of other minds is not the epistemological problem… It is the conceptual problem, how I can understand the attribution of mental states to others. (1986: 19-20) [emphasis added]

Bilgrami agrees (1992). Some philosophers go further than Nagel and insist that the conceptual is the fundamental problem; others see little in it (Hyslop 1995). How one understands this problem is a matter of some contention (Gomes 2011). What all agree is that the problem is associated with the work of Wittgenstein, and in particular section 302 from the Philosophical Investigations:

If one has to imagine someone else’s pain on the model of one’s own, this is none too easy a thing to do: for I have to imagine pain which I do not feel on the model of pain which I do feel. That is, what I have to do is not simply to make a transition in imagination from one place of pain to another. As, from the pain in the hand to pain in the arm. For I am not to imagine that I feel pain in some region of his body….

The gist of it is that we do not learn many, or even most, words purely "on our own" but in response to our social environment. We have direct, internal knowledge of this fact (see Kant's "refutation of idealism" in the first Critique for a broader example of the deeper principle). So even if we suppose that our consciousness were the only consciousness to exist, we will still end up having to assert the existence of something that is not our consciousness, and which hence is not us (on the solipsistic model), although this one other being might be thought to exist just so long as we exist anyway.

Pragmatically, let us suppose we find ourselves believing in other minds and attributing them to the entities we observe speaking and writing around us and to us. Imagine that our first exposure to the other-minds problem is not occasioned by our own practices of doubt, but due to questions coming from these outside quarters. So we are imagining that a possible philosophical zombie is the one teaching us about the possibility of philosophical zombies. If we have no reason to believe that these beings are not zombies, we have no reason to believe them when they "say" that such zombies are possible. So what basis do we have for believing in such a possibility? If I tell the hypothetical zombie, "I directly know, beyond doubt, that you are not a zombie, although it is logically possible that you could have been, so to say," they have nothing to gainsay us with. The maybe-zombie might reply, "You don't know that," but again, they are not in a position to defend this claim pragmatically.

Now, are we being honest with ourselves if we say that we know that we are not the only minds in the world, that there is an external world (whatever that means), etc.? It might be that the concepts of possibility, uncertainty, knowledge, etc. are all amorphous enough that at the end of the day, the issue of our self-honesty, here, goes deeper than that. "I know what knowledge is," might be rephrased as, "I am directly aware of what I use the word knowledge to refer to in general, maybe not before and always, but at least at this moment: I stipulate that..." The skeptic who always asks, "How do you know?" tries to avoid playing an assertion in this language-game, but if you rejoin them with, "What do you mean by, 'How do you know'?" then the game is up. Not that you win and they lose, or even quite that the game goes to default, but more as if the game itself is seen to have been an illusion from the start. Conifold claims in a comment that:

If it is surprising [that our minds might contain ideas that they cannot understand] it is because of this historically inculcated rationalist idea that before mind does something it conceives it, and then wills it to persist, while being self-aware the whole time. And that is not how minds we know function at all. They mostly have no clue what is really going on in them even when they are aware of it.

This whole line of reasoning presupposes that we have real evidence about history, the inculcation of ideas, "how minds we know function at all" (knowledge based on what, exactly?), and a cynical overgeneralization about the scores of billions of human beings who have ever lived. We can grant that the concept of clarity is not itself clear to everyone, all the time, except that we can also grant that there are "possibly" no such things as concepts (as such) or even beliefs, for that matter. If no one believes anything, then no one has any false beliefs, and no one ever misunderstands what they believe or how they believe it. "Am I always dreaming?" ends up interchangeable with, "Am I always awake?"

Addendum. Still, for all that, I would also like to mention the idea that we might have all possible concepts preloaded into our minds from the get-go. I don't recall if it was John Searle or Jerry Fodor who suggested/argued for this claim, but it's out there. In that event, there might be concepts that we don't consciously understand as yet, but which we might come to understand some day. You say in the OP that you think some notions will remain mysterious for you perpetually, but how certain are you of that? If you are immortal, can you say with so much confidence that after a trillion years of reflection, you wouldn't grasp physics even beyond the kind we are working with in this era?

  • Thank you, this was a very insightful response. Regarding your last question, it would open a whole debate regarding the limits of the knowledge we can acquire. But I think time does not make up for a lack of complex reasoning ability, even if it is an almost infinite time. A blind man will not come up on his own of the concept of sight unless an external force informs him of its existence.
    – Vikter
    Jul 18, 2022 at 17:27
  • @Vikter, apparently there are vests that deaf people can wear, that vibrate in such a way as to trigger the deeper neural cause of sound qualia in those who wear them, giving them those qualia even though their normal hearing system is inoperative. Or, that is my interpretation of what I've seen(!) about these vests. Admittedly, I don't know that they work as well for people who have always been deaf. But I always wonder if blind people can see in their dreams... Jul 21, 2022 at 0:49

I think Berkeley responded to this concept fairly well when he said:

"I say in the first place, that I do not deny the existence of material substance, merely because I have no notion of it, but because the notion of it is inconsistent, or in other words, because it is repugnent that there should be a notion of it. Many things, for aught I know, may exist, whereof neither I nor any other man hath or can have any idea or notion whatsoever. But then those things must be possible, that is, nothing inconsistent must be included in their definition. I say secondly, that although we believe things to exist which we do not perceive; yet we may not believe that any particular thing exists, without some reason for such belief: but I have no reason for believing the existence of matter."

-George Berkeley, Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous

Obviously, Berkeley is proposing Idealism as opposed to Solipsism, but I believe the reasons are much the same:

  1. Every person experiences reality through perception.
  2. Nothing can be proven to exist without experiencing it via perception or explaining it via perception. (This isn't to say reality cannot exist at all independent of a perceiver, for as Berkeley observes "many things, for aught I know, may exist", but that you cannot conclude there is a reality that is independent of perception since "I nor any other man hath or can have any idea or notion whatsoever" of this proposed reality).
  3. Because of premise 1 & 2, No reality may exist independent of a perception, because the only tool for any validation of existence is perception.

THEREFORE: Proposing something must exist because you cannot explain it is not sufficient to state that it exists independent of perception or exists independent of the perceiver.

I would propose the arguments for Solipsism are much the same.

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