March 31, 2011
Shady thinkers who pat themselves and each other on the back drive away people who would be interested in more interesting contributions. Some of us might faintly hope that these people actually learn something, but when even a pointed statement (I mean how can I be the first one to point out solipsism) doesn’t wake them up to their own error, there is little hope of this conversation becoming elevated. Solipsism is a concept that is not merely absurd because of its own definition, but because it justifies inserting absolutely anything in place of reality, since you have purposely sabotaged your ability to know anything with any certainty.
How do insecure fundamentalists reply when their dogmas are questioned? Why, I think it’s safe to say they often respond exactly like Tige Gibson and John W. Loftus: some combination of misconstruing the argument, insulting their interlocutor, and acting as if they’ve been attacked. This is beside my point.
I’m interested in Gibson’s remark that solipsism justifies inserting absolutely anything in place of reality. I couldn’t help but think of Carl Sagan in Demon-Haunted World:
Consider this claim: as I walk along, time -as measured by my wristwatch or my ageing process -slows down. Also, I shrink in the direction of motion. Also, I get more massive. Who has ever witnessed such a thing? It’s easy to dismiss it out of hand. Here’s another: matter and antimatter are all the time, throughout the universe, being created from nothing. Here’s a third: once in a very great while, your car will spontaneously ooze through the brick wall of your garage and be found the next morning on the street. They’re all absurd! But the first is a statement of special relativity, and the other two are consequences of quantum mechanics (vacuum fluctuations and barrier tunneling, they’re called). Like it or not, that’s the way the world is. If you insist it’s ridiculous, you’ll be forever closed to some of the major findings on the rules that govern the Universe.
Sagan went on to note:
The average waiting time per stochastic ooze is much longer than the age of the Universe since the Big Bang. But, however improbable, in principle it might happen tomorrow.
Ian Pearson said that in two decades, one could converse with strawberry yogurt, and my question is this: if I’m a solipsist inserting absolutely anything in place of reality simply because I believe in God, what does that make Sagan and Pearson?