January 25th, 2007



Solipsism is an epistemological position that one's own perceptions are the only things that can be known with certainty. Metaphysical solipsism is the variety of idealism which maintains that the individual self of the solipsistic philosopher is the whole of knowable reality and that the external world and other persons are representations of that self having no perceptual independent existence.

An intriguing paradox concerning solipsism was described by the British writer Eric Bond Hutton in 1989. As a child Hutton often had lucid dreams in which people and things seemed as solid and real as in waking life. This led him to wonder whether life itself was a dream, even whether he existed only in somebody else's dream. Once in a while he would have a pre-lucid dream (in which one suspects that one is dreaming). He always found these somewhat disturbing, but one day hit upon a magic formula to be used in them: "If I find myself asking 'Am I dreaming?' it proves that I am, since this question would never occur to me in waking life." Yet, such is the nature of dreams, he could never recall it when he needed to. Many years later, when he came to write about his childhood fascination with dreams, he was struck by a contradiction in his earlier reasoning. True, asking oneself "Am I dreaming?" in a dream would seem to prove that one is. And yet that is precisely what he had often asked himself in waking life. Therein lay a paradox. What was he to conclude? That it does not prove one is dreaming? Or that life really is a dream?

Similar in nature, though not involving any paradox, is Zhuangzi's Dream. Zhuangzi, the ancient Chinese philosopher, once had a vivid dream in which he was a butterfly, fluttering happily here and there. Suddenly he woke up, but afterward was never certain whether he was a man who once dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

I wonder if I'm living in a world of my own creation?