What Is Solipsism?

In the comments to the post, Even The New Republic Now Calls for a Party Purge of Corporate-owned “Centrists”, James Schipper, an excellent writer, differs regarding my definition of solipsism:

Solipsism, strictly speaking, is the philosophical theory that only I have consciousness. After all, I have no access to your consciousness, so how can I know that are conscious of anything. I can only observe your behavior.

It also means extreme egotism. See here.

a theory holding that the self can know nothing but its own modifications and that the self is the only existent thing; also : extreme egocentrism.

Or here.

Self-absorption, an unawareness of the views or needs of others.

The solipsist differs from the narcissist in that the narcissist is an egotist and has a very high opinion of himself. The solipsist may have a high, low or neutral opinion of himself, but no matter, all he thinks about is himself. The egotist does not care about other people – they’re jerks who really don’t give a damn. The solipsist may well give a damn about others, but they don’t have time to think about them, as they’re wrapped up in themselves all the time. The narcissist won’t go to their friend’s Dad’s funeral because they doesn’t care that the friend’s Dad died. The solipsist doesn’t go because while he wanted to go out of sympathy (solipsists are sympathetic to others), they were too busy thinking about themselves, and they forgot to go. Or they  went to the funeral, but they couldn’t get into empathizing because they were wrapped up in their own issues during the service. Similarly, the narcissist doesn’t listen to you because you are not important. They don’t care what you think. You’re nothing; it’s like you are not even there. There is a callousness about this type of thinking. You’re essentially nothing, a zero to them. The solipsist is trying to listen to you, but they’re having a hard time since their mind keeps thinking about themselves and their own stuff, so they keep asking you to repeat things. The solipsist is not really callous – he’s just self-absorbed! The narcissist is just an jerk. There are antisocial tendencies built right into the essence of narcissism. If you tell the solipsist he’s a solipsist, they’re going to feel hurt because most of them are nice people, and they are really are caring and empathetic towards others, but it’s not apparent due to their extreme self-absorption. The solipsist will resolve to think about themselves less, but they may fail. There are therapies for the solipsist. If they’re not too unhealthy, you can get the solipsist to ask questions to others about their lives and get them to talk about themselves, their lives, their feelings. Have them ask, “And how did that make you feel? That must have felt terrible. I can’t imagine feeling that way…And do you hate your father now because he left you at age three? How do you feel about him now? What do you propose to do about these feelings?” Most people love it when you ask them about themselves, their lives, their histories, even the inner workings of their own minds, since they don’t get to talk about themselves much. Then have the solipsist listen to the other person because after all, everyone has something interesting to say. This is good because it gets the solipsist out of their head for once. Then have the solipsist reflect on the experience of listening to the other and how good it felt to get out of their  head for once. There are rewards for being an empathetic listener. Narcissism is much more difficult to deal with because narcissists by their nature never think that there’s a problem. They enjoy their narcissism, and they don’t know how to get outside of it anyway. It’s all they know. Egotism can be dealt with, but when it gets to the point of narcissism, it’s almost too late. The narcissist can be treated but rarely is, since once again, the narcissist can never see that there is a problem. All personality disorders are characterized by solipsism or self-absorption. This is why people with personality disorders often seem to have poor memories. I have told personality-disordered persons very important ongoing facts about my life (such as that I collect a trust fund from my late grandfather every month), and then several months later, repeated that fact to them. Every time, they acted like they were hearing it for the first time. “Really? You get a trust fund? I never knew that!” That’s because they were hearing it for the first time in a way. They registered this important fact about you, but then quickly forgot it, since it’s about you, so it’s not that important. It’s not that they don’t care about you, but more that the personality-disordered person is usually running around in their own head thinking about themselves most of the time, and facts about others are assigned a lesser importance and hence drop out of memory. One therapy of the solipsist or the egotist is to bluntly tell them, “You know what? You are not important at all. You’re nothing really. No one is important. We are all nothing. We are all grains of sand on the beach or blades of grass in the field.” If you say this to your average person, they freak out, because it offends their egotism and their sense of “niceness.” But it really is true if you think about it. The difference between this thinking and an that of an antisocial or narcissist is that the antisocial/narcissist thinks that they;’e God and the rest of the world are grains of sand at Waikiki. When you lower your own ego to the same debased level as everyone else’s, there is a freedom from the cage-trap known as egotism. The great philosopher Alan Watts talks about this a lot. He’s written a lot on solipsism.

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12 thoughts on “What Is Solipsism?”

  1. That type of “forgetting” of things that people have already communicated is also sort of like saying, “gosh, that couldn’t have been too important, or I’d have remembered it.” I mean, it seems like it’s about control or self-aggrandizement, to remember or forget certain things like that. The mindset that details are beneath a person seems to show up a lot these days, and it tends to lead to really big problems in organizations. A person can feel like he or she is on top of the details of something, but it ends up being an illusion. That’s not entirely the same, but it’s similar. I used to listen to this radio show a lot, and people would call in and just would be unable to answer questions or converse. The hosts of the show would ask a question, and then the person would pause, as if to say, “what kind of a stupid question is that.” I’m not explaining it well, but it was just this sense of a person being unreachable.

    1. Yeah I’ve dealt with people like that a lot. The same folks who “forget” really important stuff about your life. Every time you ask a question it’s like their response is, “What a stupid question!” It’s a really good way to shut down a conversation. Really anti-social behavior.
      In the case of the one person who did that to me a lot, my late father, he really did care, but he cared more about himself than about me, so details about me were quickly forgotten. He was just all wrapped up in himself all the time and details about others were assigned lesser importance in his brain, and hence dropped out.

  2. That’s too bad, about your father. The forgetting part actually ends up getting me worried, because I wonder, on some level, if there’s an issue with the person’s memory. I can’t help that, but I think it’s more that society isn’t set up to allow people to remember details anymore. The “life of quiet desperation” that the average person lives makes things a little animalistic, in terms of fight or flight, kneejerk responses to tasks that demand multitasking. I used to feel like I should be more about handling logistics and moving on from task to task and being less of a detail person, but I don’t think that any more. It’s strange the way dealing with logistics is not really about details. Being conscious of logistics (constant multitasking) seems to be about taking small steps on the road to the big picture (or the road that is the big–and, frequently, unclear–picture).

    1. Constant multitasking is ok. I have OCD and it’s good to my mind off the rat wheel in my head. I think that keeping busy is good for anyone really.
      I don’t think there is anything wrong with these people’s memories.
      My advice is to get really interested in other people. Then when you see them again, bring up the stuff you remember about their lives and ask them how things are going with that. People are fascinated that you are actually interested in their boring and stupid lives because it seems like hardly anyone is.

  3. I guess, as you say, it’s multitasking at the expense of ratiocination or attention to detail, more than multitasking per se. There can be a tendency, among people in my family, to get into “point-making” a lot. It seems like one-upmanship at times, but it’s really just a habit and can seem to convey a lack of interest or concern. In person, my tendency is to focus excessively on the other person and ask too many questions. I sometimes think that online communication and the other types of constraints on human communcation, such as those that are imposed by the social structures and conventions and everything, can be lacking in subtlety and can seem inherently antisocial.

  4. “All personality disorders are characterized by solipsism or self-absorption. This is why people with personality disorders often seem to have poor memories.”
    Wow…can I just say, upon reading this how much I can relate. I have so much trouble just remembering a persons name when I first shake their hand because I am too concerned with how I will go about saying my own. I really need to look into some Alan Watts literature, thank you.

  5. Very interesting article. I think my ex boyfriend was a solipsist because he always was so self-absorbed, always trying to find solace in the stories of complete strangers. He never connected with people of value, but wanted to feel complete by connecting with anybody available to speak to him. He would also relish talking about “his accomplishments”, “his evolution as a human being”. What pissed me off the most was how he claimed that the world was an illusion, a reflection of his thoughts.
    It was truly tiring to hear him speak about himself, hours on end.
    When he got me so fed up I pushed his buttons, and became atrocious just so that he could break up with me. His abandonment issues had traumatized him, so I had to leave him to his delusions… It wasn’t a big deal because in the end he just thought he must have had a part of himself cause a nuisance in his life!

  6. Awesome article @Robert Lindsay. Thanks for producing it. I think I’ve been living with a solipsist for the past 9 years. It’s taken me a while to realise this. I’ve used terms such as “narcissist” and “selfish” in the past but I then did some research on anti-social behaviour and noticed that I wasn’t describing my wife correctly. I’d say that she’s simply a solipsist and by definition, solipsists can be anti-social.
    I’ve been thinking about her behaviour for the past 9 years, so I didn’t reach this conclusion overnight. This journey has been spectacular and enlightening, however, it’s also been frustrating.
    I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve had to do research on cognitive biases, fallacious arguments, narcissism, cognitive dissonance, the stockholm syndrome and personality disorders and I’ve also been through a few cognitive behavioural therapy sessions myself.
    Unfortunately, our brains weren’t given to us with manuals.

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