Saturday, June 18, 2005

Solipsism: It's not just for breakfast anymore

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, solipsism is (author's italics):
the doctrine that, in principle, 'existence' means for me my existence and that of my mental states. In other words, everything which I experience - physical objects, other people, events and processes, in short, anything which would commonly be regarded as a constituent of the spatio-temporal matrix in which I coexist with others - is necessarily construed by me as part of the content of my consciousness.
My personal objection to solipsism has always been that it is a doctrine with essentially no meaning. You may, if you wish, choose to believe that reality exists purely as an artifact of your own mind, but all this allows you to do is, for example, to rename physics or chemistry as branches of psychology instead of physical sciences. What a non-solipsistic physicist would call "new physics" would just be relabelled as "previously subconscious thoughts" by the solipsist, and so on.

An argument that seems to fall into the same trap as solipsism is nicely illustrated in the article "Science of Theology, the Religion of Physics: Part I", in which the author writes:
In the re-emerging debate over creationism, intelligent design and evolution, much has been made of the need to keep religious faith out of the classroom. If this were accomplished, it would, of course, be a great loss, for if religious faith is removed from the classroom, physics, chemistry, and biology will have to be dispensed with and the hard sciences will be completely lost to us. This is a point that is lost on most of the people in the debate.

Take, for instance, the foundational premise of physics: reality exists. As members of a Christian Western culture, we often have a hard time understanding how fully those two words represent a specific religious viewpoint. To assert that reality is not an illusion, but is, in fact, substantial, is to take sides in a long-standing religious debate.
The author may, if he wishes, decide that the philsophical foundations of physics or even all of physics is religous, but that still involves nothing more than relabelling physics as a form of theology. The author, by adopting this stance, is merely obliging his opponents (those that believe that physics is allowed in public schools but religion is forbidden) to rename their stance to allow what they might call "physical theology" but to forbid what they might call "invocatory theology".


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