Applied Solipsism

Philosophy is one of those areas of study that people outside the field have a hard time finding applications for. It enables the basis of logic, and so underpins all of computer programming, so computer geeks should have at least a subconscious grasp of the fundamentals of philosophy. In theory anyway.

My own visceral feelings about “solipsism” tend to be negative, based on the assumption that it leads people to act selfishly, as if their viewpoint were the only one worth considering.  This may indicate more about me than about solipsism, and I’m probably conflating it with derealization and other psychological disorders.

Portrait of Gandhi in 1931

Portrait of Gandhi in 1931

But lately I’ve been thinking about how it could be used positively, to drive positive thought experiments, plans, and even solutions.

Gandhi wrote “As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.” (Often paraphrased as “Be the change you want to see in the world.”) This is that, with the twist: waiting to see what others do is forbidden, because the experimental assumption is that there are no “others” to wait on.

Whatever problem, task, or stressor is foremost in your mind, try thinking about it solipsistically: what if you are the only real agent of change? What if it were up to you to bring peace to the world, to cure cancer, to fix the economy stupid, to get that pothole repaired, to organize your finances, to make your family safe, to make yourself happy? This is not just a variant of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. You can come up with ideas that involve other people doing thing, but you’re still the driver: how can you get those apparitions to do what you want? Or encourage the behavior you’re looking for?

Wikipedia's Be Bold slogan

Wikipedia’s Be Bold slogan. Made by Wapcaplet. To .svg by Oile11. (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Wikipedia has a slogan: Be bold. The idea is there is you could make suggestions, discuss them in committee, and maybe one day do something. Or you could go ahead and do something and then work out any problems afterwards.

Just like you are the only agent of change in this experiment, now can be the only time for change. The same way that, of all the beings out there, you can be sure only that you truly exist, of all the times past, present, and future, you can be sure only that now truly exists. Maybe your memories were created by REKAL. And of course tomorrow never comes. You can make plans, but you have to make them right now. You can dwell on your memories, in nostalgia or regret, but you have to dwell right now. The only time you can do anything is right now.

It can also help you change focus from others, envying their lot or doling out unwanted advice on how they can fix their problems. You can’t be as sure of their lot and their problems as you can of your lot and your problems. And really, why should their lot matter?

But don’t be a jerk. Solipsism as a thought experiment to see how you can improve yourself, your family, your village, or your world is great. Solipsism as a way of doing whatever you want because, hey, you’re the only one who matters: no.

No one can carpe diem the way you would.

—jhunterj

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