Can someone identify this school of thought?


There have been many articles, videos, etc. where I have encountered a philosophy similar to the following, so I'm sure it has a name, I'm just unable to find it and therefore to read up a bit more about it. Here goes:

Reality is relative, there is no absolute frame of reference. The only thing that exists is me, and 'my' universe is what I believe it to be. There is no such thing as 'the' universe. When I change my mind about something, reality changes to accommodate it, and when I learn something new, it spontaneously comes into existence. Basically, if a tree falls in a forest but i haven't seen it before, the tree doesn't even exist. If I have seen it before, but I don't hear it fall, then it didn't fall.

I have read a bit about postmodernism and it seems kinda similar, but I don't think its the same. Is there a name for this?


Posted 2021-01-20T13:21:52.407

Reputation: 173


"Reality is relative, there is no absolute frame of reference. " is postmodernism, perspectivism

– Mauro ALLEGRANZA – 2021-01-20T14:16:54.590

3It's true that what you're describing is 'solipsism', though I'd hesitate to call that a school of philosophy. Solipsism is typically a result that philosophers try to avoid, and it's usually used a way to show that a theory fails if it entails solipsism and cannot accommodate many minds. – transitionsynthesis – 2021-01-20T19:30:55.930

@transitionsynthesis isn't that mostly because solipsism is a philosophical dead-end, and so unproductive as a field of study, rather than that it doesn't constitute a school of thought (even if only one without any serious adherents)? – Tristan – 2021-01-21T10:11:43.043

Watch out for the Dread Solipsist!

– Nat – 2021-01-21T15:04:05.177

1@Tristan: "School of thought" is ill-defined in this context. If you define it to mean "a group of like-minded people," then you can establish that it's not a school of thought by demonstrating that nobody seriously believes it. If you define it to mean "a way of thinking," then it's a school of thought, but so is everything you can come up with. – Kevin – 2021-01-21T19:40:44.553



The first sentence expresses relativism, and then the rest makes clear that it makes everything relative to the individual subject. That position is called solipsism. Solipsism makes the individual subject the only reality.


Posted 2021-01-20T13:21:52.407

Reputation: 5 348


It doesn't work. Solipsist relativism. A tree falling in the woods isn't like a quantum event which remains uncertain as long as the system is isolated. You not seeing a butterfly on the other side of the world, doesn't stop it causing a hurricane - sensitivity to initial conditions and the conservation of information mean unseen events are still meshed into 'your' world.

A much more interesting perspective is about intersubjectivity (see Indra's Net), and 'peer to peer' reality. This can deal with the Private Language argument, that the detail of your world depends on language for you to observe it, and that embodies a shared collaborative practice. But, it makes clear that objectivity is an illusion, there is only reified intersubjectivity, a universe made up of points of view none of which are fundamental, or have primacy, and contain abstractions or 'reflections' of each other.


Posted 2021-01-20T13:21:52.407

Reputation: 5 272

2I don’t get how this makes a point against solipsism (“it doesn’t work”). Wikipedia: “...solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside of one’s own mind is unsure”. How does the tree and the butterfly make an argument make a point against the brain in the vat? How can you be certain about any other subjectivity other than your own? Only certainty we have is about one’s own mind existing - that’s at least how I understand solipsism. Btw. I am not trying to argue that it is a very ‘interesting perspective’ - I am just saying that I don’t get how your arguments shows that ‘it doesn’t work’. – dingalapadum – 2021-01-22T00:02:39.057

I am probably missing something , maybe you can point me towards it. But what I mean is: how does the tree, the butterfly, QM or information conservation argument get rid of the “dream”, “brain in the vat”, “descartes demon”, “simulation hypothesis” points? Couldn’t all those arguments be embedded within one’s own reality? Or as Democritus puts it: “[...], Senses talking to the intellect: ‘Foolish intellect! Do you seek to overthrow us, while from us you take your evidence?’”. How does any physical or logical argument get one out of that clinch? – dingalapadum – 2021-01-22T00:18:52.790

@dingalapadum Here is how I understand CriglCragl - lets say you are brain in the vat and you see tree fallen in the forest. It is reality for you but also this reality had to be consistent with everything you observe. So for "brain in the vat" tree did fall even if you did not observe it because fall of the tree had to be simulated or calculated ahead of you observing it including related interactions. – Piro says Reinstate Monica – 2021-01-22T06:26:57.717

@dingalapadum: Comments are not for extended discussion. The original post question frames the solipsist's direct experience as sole arbiter of events, but unknown indirect experience must 'fix' what happened as well, as Piro says. The 'killer' case against solipsism is the Private Language argument, that the emergence of self-awareness & conceptual thinking in our childhood, depends on language, created by other people & their subjectivities. – CriglCragl – 2021-01-22T11:16:08.213

I agree: _some kind_of other subjectivity must exist (for instance descartes demon. Or the beings that created the simulation for me.). But which subjectivities are real, that I can’t know. People I interact with are all P-Zombies... – dingalapadum – 2021-01-22T11:57:24.023

1Note that this doesn't yet make an argument against solipsism; it simply denies it. A solipsist simply sees things different. – ChristopherE – 2021-01-22T16:42:14.580

@ChristopherE: You mean, inconsistently. Of course a determined solipsist can bend all the evidence to fit that. And we will laugh at them like we do QAnon fantasists who can't make sense of the basic facts of their world. With every word you use, you draw on human community created by interacting subjectivities. To be a sole individual arbiter of meaning is just like having a private language, incoherent. – CriglCragl – 2021-01-22T17:20:32.043

Well, I didn’t mean inconsistently. I don’t think solipsism is in any way compelling either, but you haven’t mentioned a contradiction. – ChristopherE – 2021-01-23T16:34:02.187

@ChristopherE: In the example given, the solipsist who hasn't seen the tree fall so denies it has, would have to ignore some trace effect or evidence, say a seismic echo, that would make the outcome real or not real. These effects or evidence, have to be expanded by a rational person, to include the community of scientific observers applying standards of evidence - because experience tells us what they see will be replicable, or the evidence remain, if the solipsist scrutinises it. Either consistency, or a private reality, not both – CriglCragl – 2021-01-23T17:26:09.270


"Basically, if a tree falls in a forest but i haven't seen it before, the tree doesn't even exist."

This is akin to phenomenology, where existence is interpreted "as relation to the cognitive faculty" (ref.). However, if you consider all the discoverable things that you have never seen, then the tree exists in that set. Its existence can be loosely inferred, until such time as you actually see it.

Chris Degnen

Posted 2021-01-20T13:21:52.407

Reputation: 3 038

This is wrong. Phenomenology is not a philosophical school of thought. It is the name of a study involving qualia and the structure of consciousness (i.e. the "hard problem"). – forest – 2021-01-21T06:48:52.473

Seems ok to me : "Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. ..." -

– Chris Degnen – 2021-01-21T12:20:01.820

E.g. from elsewhere in the aforementioned page : "For Brentano, physical phenomena exist “intentionally” in acts of consciousness."

– Chris Degnen – 2021-01-21T12:23:02.947

Also : "In phenomenological reflection, we need not concern ourselves with whether the tree exists: my experience is of a tree whether or not such a tree exists. However, we do need to concern ourselves with how the object is meant or intended. I see a Eucalyptus tree, not a Yucca tree ..." – Chris Degnen – 2021-01-21T13:08:14.970

and : "Phenomenology studies (among other things) the nature of consciousness, which is a central issue in metaphysics or ontology, and one that leads into the traditional mind-body problem. Husserlian methodology would bracket the question of the existence of the surrounding world, thereby separating phenomenology from the ontology of the world. Yet Husserl’s phenomenology presupposes theory about species and individuals (universals and particulars), relations of part and whole, and ideal meanings—all parts of ontology." – Chris Degnen – 2021-01-21T13:09:46.577

@forest Perhaps the reason for our disagreement - if we are having one - is that I view reality through a phenomenological lens, since it is my primary point of view. I see the materialist point of view through the phenomenological one. – Chris Degnen – 2021-01-21T13:17:36.737

My issue with this answer is that phenomenology is not a "school of thought" anymore than biology or psychology is. All it does is try to solve the "hard problem of consciousness" (in the case of neurophenomenology). – forest – 2021-01-23T04:39:11.263

@forest Might I ask if you align with one of these traditions? : "analytic philosophy is the philosophy of Frege, Russell, Moore, Wittgenstein, and their followers. Phenomenology is the philosophy of Brentano, Husserl, Scheler, Heidegger, and their followers. Pragmatism is the thought of Peirce, James, Dewey, and their followers." (ref.)

– Chris Degnen – 2021-01-23T09:10:29.510

I've very rarely heard of it referred to as a philosophy. Perhaps it is a philosophic view with the same name as the study? – forest – 2021-01-23T09:13:02.440

It does make me wonder how differently followers of the various traditions view the world. I think they may not all end up at the same place, albeit by different paths. – Chris Degnen – 2021-01-23T11:14:01.047