Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Essay: Experimental Evidence of the Existence of an External World

Here's exactly the pagan solstice celebration gift you were yearning for: a proof that the external world exists!

(Caveat emptor: The arguments only work if you lack a god-like intellect. See footnote 15.)


In this essay I attempt to refute radical solipsism by means of a series of empirical experiments. In the first experiment, I prove to be a poor judge of four-digit prime numbers, in contrast to a seeming Excel program. In the second experiment, I prove to have an imperfect memory for arbitrary-seeming three-digit number and letter combinations, in contrast to my seeming collaborator with seemingly hidden notes. In the third experiment, I seem to suffer repeated defeats at chess. In all three experiments, the most straightforward interpretation of the experiential evidence is that something exists in the universe that is superior in the relevant respects – theoretical reasoning (about primes), memorial retention (for digits and letters), or practical reasoning (at chess) – to my own solipsistically-conceived self.

This essay is collaborative with Alan T. Moore.

Available here.


clasqm said...

Looks like the outside world decided to prove its own existence!

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Maybe I should have left that spam there, rather than deleting it, clasqm. Then your comment would make more sense.

(However, the spam is insufficiently clever to provide evidence of a non-solipsistic source, by the pattern of reasoning I use in the linked paper.)

Charles said...

Neat paper. Are you familiar with Burge's "Computer Proof, A Priori Knowledge, and Other Minds"? It has a (much) longer argument for a roughly similar conclusion about the existence of an intelligence other than oneself.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Thanks for the tip, Charles! I hadn't noticed that one. I'll check it out.

Callan S. said...

I was thinking, what if you mapped the extent of it, what do you get? Like remembering three digit numbers? Okay, simplify it and test it again. Then simplify it again until you get it right every time. Then do that for other tests.

If each type of test is like an angle, a direction, then a series of these is like a map.

What does it map?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Callan, I'd be more inclined to map the other direction: What does the universe give me that I cannot provide myself?

Callan S. said...

Is that mapable, Eric? Especially given the very topic? Really complicated and literally impossible to remember number combinations? I'd almost think your only way to map in the other direction is to map yourself, for that's as much as your going to grasp of it's shape is where your shape ends in it?

Am I understanding your question (to some degree, atleast)?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

I'm not sure I understand your concern, Callan. But the idea of the experiment is to use letter and number combination that are beyond my ability of remember but that I can see in retrospect have been consistent over time because the parts that I do remember fit into a stable pattern that I had not been able to see until later.

Callan S. said...

I thought you meant, rather than mapping your own incapacity to remember numbers/letters, to map 'the other way' as you seemed to say? Mapping your own incapacities I got, but mapping the other way boggles me? I'm quite lost there? Maybe I didn't understand your mention of mapping the other way? Anyway, if it's interesting to continue with, otherwise just adding a sub note to my prior comments :)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Our discussion here has got so abstract and derivative, I've lost the thread. If you're interested to try again to frame your idea, I'd like to hear.

p.c. said...

If you are dreaming your experiment, how can you know if there's a real world?
Perhaps your mind is divided in two parts: conscious and unconscious.
Best regards,

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

@ p.c.: We acknowledge that possibility and don't claim that our results rule it out. Radical solipsism, as we define it, would be false even if the only thing that exists other than my stream of conscious experience is my unconscious mind.