The following is really my own conception, but I have no credentials in philosophy. Nevertheless, I find it quite compelling.

It is said (Hegel?) that mind has the property that (a) it is inside something, and (b) its contents are personal and private. (Of course, there are other properties).

It is also said, that the objects of material experience are ideas, that is, objects are ideas.

So, in the conception that I cannot know the contents of others' minds, and therefore that their conscious experience will be a mystery to me, how then is it possible that we may share "ideas", such as ornaments, or bodies, or the environment at large?

From a personal perspective, I have often failed to recognise the inner mental experience of others. But I now find it illuminating, that whilst their consciousness is latent, hidden, residual, when I show an other some ornament or other, I know, in some way or other, he is experience the same idea as am I!

So, it being that objects are ideas, and that the other's consciousness is generally unknowable, could I be forgiven for thinking that the two are connected? And to take it further, could I be forgiven for thinking that the latency of others' consciousness can go some way, in one way or another, into building the waking world of reality as we know it?

All this sets the foundation for my question, and you may or may not disagree with it. But I wondered if there is some name for this view, that consciousness builds reality (it being that reality is physical), and I'm sure this is not a complete theory.

  • I call it consensual reality, that we all contribute to it. But some people have told me that this is the wrong word, meaning consent. But I think of it as consensus, that we built it collectively. It is a great mystery, that all of us working in the dark of ignorance manage to assemble an elephant.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 5, 2022 at 0:27
  • Buddhism SE consensual
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 5, 2022 at 0:32
  • 3
    The general term for this class of beliefs is "idealism". Oct 5, 2022 at 1:55
  • 1
    I have long wondered why there are not more hard solipsists.
    – BillOnne
    Oct 5, 2022 at 4:12
  • 1
    "how then is it possible that we may share 'ideas'" - because (1) we have similar brains, (2) we perceive the same reality, and (3) we communicate our ideas to one another.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 5, 2022 at 11:42

4 Answers 4


"It is said (Hegel?) that mind has the property that (a) it is inside something, and (b) its contents are personal and private. (Of course, there are other properties)."

I think this is quite a confused set of statements. First of all, the description 'inside something' is vague, and it's also suggestive of the idea that the mind is contained in or bounded by a physical space.

Regarding whether mind contents are 'personal and private', I don't think that idealist philosophers would agree. Hegel believed that our minds have been shaped by the thoughts of other people through the language we speak, the traditions and mores of our society, and the cultural and religious institutions of which we are a part. That is the origin of his famous expression of the 'zeitgeist'.

As to whether objects are ideas - try reading the first paragraph of Schopenhauer's World as Will and Idea. (Of course, then there's the entire book, which is a canonical statement of German idealism, but the first paragraph lays out the gist in some important ways.)

There is a lot of support for the understanding that 'consciousness builds reality' amongst some in neuroscience, physics, and evolutionary biology. In fact if you really think it through, it's an unavoidable conclusion - this is what the fantastically elaborated hominid forebrain does. The implications are interesting, not least because they challenge the assumed scientific realism of the mainstream consensus.

Google the book 'Mind and the Cosmic Order' by Charles Pinter, which is a very recent title on this very issue. (It's not a philosophy book as such - one of its strengths! - although it has many philosophical implications.)

  • 1
    I agree that the statement "inside something" is vague, but by the same rote, how else could it be put? 'Inside the body', or 'inside the brain' would not be appropriate, but 'inside something' gives us the tenacity to assert 'inside' rather than 'outside', which is the general orientation of the mind. Nevertheless, I think your conclusion is helpful; it's just nice knowing I'm not the only person to have had this thought. Oct 5, 2022 at 9:32
  • Oh my! I've never read Schoppenhauer "in the flesh", but have taken your impulse and looked up his first paragraph in German. I must say, even though a modern writer would probably be fired by their editor for the overuse of nouns and very little verbs, it's very readable. Also unfortunately, the translation you linked (understandably) uses the word "idea" where S. uses "Vorstellung", which I could imagine is very misleading for someone like OP who probably uses the everyday meaning of "idea". A more sane translation would probably be "perception", "conception" or "imagination". ...
    – AnoE
    Oct 5, 2022 at 11:21
  • ... and then the first paragraph is basically a version of the allegory of the cave. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegory_of_the_cave (while not referring to this one, Schoppenhauer acknowledges that this idea is by no means new but well established in philosophy, including Vedanta from India, and also taking no time to diss Kant for missing it :D ).
    – AnoE
    Oct 5, 2022 at 11:22
  • "Vorstellung" is also often translated as "representation". And the resonance with Plato is not by any mean fortuitous.
    – Wayfarer
    Oct 6, 2022 at 6:07
  • Regardless of what our minds have been "shaped by", our thoughts and feelings are not immediately available to others; only ourselves. I am sure that's what Hegel meant by saying our thoughts are "personal and private". Nov 14, 2022 at 20:43

If I am understanding what you ask after, it can seem mysterious how a large whole comes about from many opaque parts.

But just because we can't see inside a 'container' and comprehend how the inner workings link to the outer whole doesn't make it difficult. There are many examples of collections that have independent parts.

My favorite example is an ant colony: each ant somehow chooses what to do, for reasons unknown, but it all works together. Another might be the Internet: millions of inscrutable computers connected and interacting. Or, an economy: you can't see what my bank accounts are doing, but they connect with everyone else's.

Wholes are different from a collection of parts, and humans seem to struggle with this. Not being able to "see within" the parts is a distraction. If you could, it would not be parts anymore.

  • 1
    I know exactly what you mean. I have been considering the example of an ant colony as well, and it is true each part creates something bigger in the whole. In addition to your thoughts, I would add, that there is something to be said about "action at a distance". At one stage in time it was very difficult to understand the workings of gravity. But now we know it has to do with additional dimensions and curved space. Perhaps additional dimensions are at play in the interconnections between opaque parts that create a whole? Oct 5, 2022 at 11:14
  • Isn't "emergent properties" the term for what you're describing?
    – Barmar
    Oct 5, 2022 at 14:30
  • @Barmar I think I actually answered the wrong aspect of the question.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 5, 2022 at 19:30

in some way or other, he is experience the same idea as am I!

You propose an identity between two experiences, but you foreclose on the more difficult problem, what constitutes sameness in this case. The issue is not between two different entities experiencing something, but the nature of experience even in the same creature at different points in time. Which in turn is the problem of the persistence of self.

  • In my defence, I've adopted a naïve approach, which considers the experience in question at face value. But taking your thoughts on board, I would more likely integrate the "sameness" issue into the various perspectives that all parties can have, for example, the different angles which two parties perceive some form or other. Oct 5, 2022 at 18:21

Your view is called Subjective Idealism. From the wiki:

Subjective idealism holds that only minds and mental contents exist.

From Berkeley's point of view of subjective idealism, the material world does not exist, and the phenomenal world is dependent on humans. Hence the fundamental idea of this philosophical system is that things are complexes of ideas or sensations, and only subjects and objects of perceptions exist. "Esse est percipi" is Berkeley’s whole argument summarized into a couple words. It means “to be is to be perceived”.

Berkeley makes such a radical claim that matter does not exist as a reaction to the materialists. He says “if there were external bodies, we couldn’t possibly come to know this; and if there weren’t, we might have the very same reasons to think there were that we have now”:[5] “a thinking being might, without the help of external bodies, be affected with the same series of sensations or ideas as you have.” [5] Berkeley believes that people cannot know that what they think to be matter is not simply a creation in their mind.

A very good introduction and the refutation attempts can be found in this video.

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