Prisons are designed to be inescapable, but even the toughest, most complex ones have flaws. The truly inescapable prison is the one holding your subjective experience captive.
Solipsism - the idea that the self is the only thing that can ever be known and verified; all else could be illusory. How you think you experience the world is different to how you actually experience it, in fact, you do not interact with the world at all. You have no direct link with what is happening outside of what your senses tell you. The disprovable conclusions that derive from this give birth to the lonely philosophical idea that is solipsism.
Experiencing the World
You think you experience the world directly through your senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, but this isn’t quite correct. You indirectly experience the world with them. The world is first filtered through your senses and then into your subjective experience. The only thing we can directly experience is our own mind, everything else is an indirect experience mediated by a third-party mechanism (your senses). You are relying on your mind to accurately interpret the world for what it is, but… what if your senses are wrong or are being fooled? How could your mind, and then, therefore, you, know that this world isn’t as it seems?
René Descartes, a 17th-century French philosopher, asks us to imagine a powerful demon determined to deceive us. This demon can mislead your senses and your understanding of reality. He can make it feel like you're living in a world full of family, friends and nature when actually, the real ‘you' is trapped with this demon in an unknown place. You think you are living your life as normal and reading this paragraph about solipsism, but the demon is clever enough to make it so convincing you wouldn’t think to doubt it.
The modern-day equivalent of this is the ‘brain in a vat' thought experiment. Instead of a demon, it is an evil scientist with a powerful computer hooked up to your brain feeding you inputs about the reality you think you’re experiencing. Essentially you're trapped in the Matrix without knowing it.
The point of these thought experiments, amongst other things, is to show us that you cannot experience anything without a mind and also, unfortunately, your mind can be deceived and you would be none the wiser.
There’s no evidence for these theories, but there’s also no good evidence against them. We have come up against a philosophical wall, one we cannot hope to tear down. There are no weak spots, not even a place to start.
The Privacy of Experience
The universe has not permitted you to experience anything outside of your mind.
Not the wind against your face, nor the smell of summer in the air, and certainly not the existence of other people’s minds.
How can you be certain others have their own subjective experiences? The Problem of Other Minds explores this very idea.
You cannot know if anyone else exists. The reverse is also true:
Only you know you exist.
I had this revelation when I was high in the shower, it was an epiphany that blew my mind and sent me down the rabbit hole of investigating solipsism many years ago.
What I discovered is solipsism is inherently a narcissistic view of the world. If you are the only one to exist, you are the most important being there is and ever will be. You could argue existence was made just for you. Quite the arrogant belief. Not that arrogant beliefs are automatically incorrect, mind you.
What if it were true that you were the only conscious being in the universe? Well, you certainly shouldn't act any different. If you start taking advantage of people, acting as if they're not real and only here for your sake… it’s not going to end well. No one else may be real. But how they treat you is very much real.
You could be the only conscious person in the world, and there’s nothing to say otherwise.