Allow me to wax philosophical for a moment. I just had a discussion with someone who subscribes to some very general solipsist beliefs, that we don’t really exist and reality is an illusion. This is something I refer to as skepticism on overdrive, where they are so completely and totally skeptical of absolutely everything, to the point that they don’t actually accomplish anything.
Essentially, the argument is that because you can never be absolutely certain of your knowledge, because there is nothing that you can know with absolute, perfect certainty that it’s true, then all knowledge is flawed and thus, in the minds of these extreme skeptics, virtually anything is possible.
This kind of skepticism has been around forever and has been attacked by everyone from Descartes to Bertrand Russell to G.E. Moore with different levels of success. I’ve actually used the argument when I’ve suggested that an incredibly complex super computer might be feeding you all of the things that you think you experience in reality as a response to Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” argument. In fact, that was part of his response to the skepticism argument, that you can actually be certain that you’re real because you can think. I think that’s been pretty much done away with. His other argument is that there must be a God because in order for you to be able to conceive of a perfect being, such a being must actually exist. This is complete bullshit, but I won’t go into that here. Then we grew up and we got to Russell, who argued that while we can’t ever know for certain, it is simpler to rely on our personal experiences of reality than to conjure up super computers or mad geniuses to explain what can be more easily explained by reality as it actually seems to be. I’m not quite on board with Russell necessarily, but he’s a lot closer. And then you get Moore, who simply says “screw the skeptics” and puts it all in their lap to prove that any of the things they claim are actually so. It doesn’t actually prove anything, but I give him an “A” for effort.
Personally, I go for a much more logical approach. No, we cannot ever know anything for absolutely certain. It is impossible. Expecting the impossible is idiotic. Move on. Therefore, acknowledging that, we have to operate in a manner that actually accomplishes something. If we just give in to extreme skepticism, where we know nothing and doubt everything, we don’t actually bring about anything meaningful. We just sit there noodling our imaginary navels until our imaginary bodies starve to imaginary death because we didn’t bother getting any imaginary food. It is a totally useless perspective to take. Therefore, regardless of our absolute knowledge about anything, we still have no choice but to act as if our knowledge is reasonable and reliable, at least until we have some reason to think otherwise. We have to act as though reality is actually real because if we don’t, we seemingly die and the whole question is moot anyhow. The ultimate reality really isn’t relevant to our apparent existence, period. Philosophers get the hell over yourselves and move on.
This doesn’t impress the solipsist crowd though, who want to think they’ve figured it all out and don’t like it when I point out that, no matter what solution they want to come up with, they are defeated by their own philosophy that they can’t possibly actually know anything, including that they are a brain in a vat, in a dream, being programmed by a computer or aliens or whatever delusional nonsense they come up with this week. They haven’t figured out anything except how to look like idiots.