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Why can’t solipsism be validated?
It’s because it’s a theory. It shows that while philosophical findings appear reliable, the search continues, meaning it leads to one revelation after the other. In short, the theoretical perspective is that there will never be any credible evidence to humanly prove or disprove that it is only “I” that exists.
Describe a solipsism obsession for people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
A person will have intrusive thoughts about her existence. She will thus question endlessly whether her life is real or if other people are just figments of her imagination. However, analysing whether it is only “I” that exists is a corresponding mental compulsion that strengthens the obsessional fear.
Can you reassure someone who has solipsism OCD that they are not the only one that exists?
No, because reassurance is a compulsive response. It increases the strength of the obsession in the way analysing does.
What else makes you say that?
I say it because while solipsism is a theory of interest, in OCD, a person’s intrusive thoughts about it are biologically incorrect. Therefore, one cannot grab hold of something that isn’t tangible and make sense of it.
Is solipsism OCD linked to existential OCD?
Well, they both relate to existence. When people get intrusive thoughts about the meaning and purpose of life, they tend to ruminate about it but never come up with any satisfactory conclusions. It’s because, as with all obsessions, people cannot reason with nonsensical thoughts.
How can people live with the possibility that it is only “I” that exists?
Having the confidence to live with something that cannot be proven is part of the process of recovery that includes cognitive therapy and exposure-response prevention (ERP).
How does cognitive therapy work?
First, people attach all kinds of meaning to intrusive thoughts and become enmeshed with imaginative ideas. It’s these meanings that a therapist helps a person change in cognitive therapy. For example, a person discovers that just because s/he has thoughts about solipsism or existentialism, it doesn’t indicate a literal meaning about those thoughts. Therefore, cognitive therapy further assists in helping her to allow the intrusive thoughts to come and go without engaging with them.
What about ERP, how can that help?
It teaches a person that the unknown is always there. Subsequently, when exposed to her fears, s/he sees the importance of response prevention. That means, resisting compulsions, such as seeking reassurance, checking the internet and ruminating. Response prevention systematically helps reduce the intensity and frequency of her intrusive thoughts.
Do you have an example of an exposure technique?
For a solipsism obsession, one technique is to write exposure notes that briefly tell someone that it is agreeable to exist alone without an explanation. Or in existentialism OCD, people can write notes to themselves that say it’s acceptable to be on the earth without knowing how or why the world was created or continues to carry life. They would read their notes repeatedly or read them aloud until they tire of the obsession.
Do you have any additional information about this topic that includes recovery goals?
Yes, Fred Prenzil talks about it in his article titled “To Be or Not to Be, That is the Obsession: Existential and Philosophical OCD”.