August 2, 2007



[sol-ip-siz-uh-m] -noun

1. Philosophy. The theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist.
2. extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc.
Related forms
ipsismal [sol•ip•siz'•mal] adj.
ipsist [sol'-ip-sist] noun adj. solipsistic [sol-ip-sis'-tic] adj.


sol alone + Latin ips(e) self + ism] Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2006.

The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines
solipsim [as the] belief that only oneself and one's experience exists. Solipsism is the extreme consequence of believing that knowledge must be founded on inner, personal states of experience, and then failing to find a bridge whereby they can inform us of anything beyond themselves. Solipsism of the present moment extends its skepticism [that knowledge or even rational belief is possible] even to one's own past states, so that all that is left is me, now. [Bertrand] Russell reports meeting someone who claimed that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that more people were not so as well.


Samuel Johnson, circa 1772 Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Samuel Johnson LL.D. (1709-84) or Dr. Johnson, as he is most often regarde, is one of England's best known literary figures. He was a poet, essayist, biographer, lexicographer, literary critic, wit. He is the most quoted English writer after Shakespeare, and is the subject of the famous biography Life of Johnson (1791) by James Boswell.
[Left.] James Boswell (1740-1795) author of the famous biography the Life of Johnson. He is also the eponymous source of three English words: Boswell, Boswellian, and Boswellism, which stand for "constant companion and observer."

Here, from the
Life of Johnson (1791), Boswell speaks, recounting Johnson's famous refutation of solipsism sans the term solipsism, however, because it will not appear in print until 1880:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it -- "I refute it thus."

To readers who prefer the visual channel for learning, take a look at the three Venn diagrams below. They were
designed to explain solipsism by a blogging philosopher who uses the .

A philosophical adventurer—
nom de blog Xocxoc—at the website titled "Xocxoc's Irreverent guide to Philosophy" devised the following Venn Diagrams to illustrate his understanding of philosophical solipsism. It may take a bit of mulling (as it did me) to make sense of the diagrams, but they made good sense me and may prove useful to you.

This first diagram represents the philosophy of solipsism. It is the view that everything we can see (R) and prove (P) is just an illusion. Reality (A) has a whole separate existence. What if our dreams are the reality and the waking world is illusion?
This diagram represents the Objectivists / Empirical view that everything we see (A&R) is in fact real. Just not everything has been proven (P). Anything we cannot observe, however, such as Heaven and Area 51, must be set aside as myth.
This is the largely popular middle of the road view, which says that what we think to be true (R), is for the most part true. That everything we can prove (P) is true absolutely (A). There is also room for stuff that is proven true, but does not seem to be true, like quantum physics, and Dick Clark's real age.
Assuming that the last one is the case, there is a large chunk of absolute truth we cannot even fathom. This provides a big loophole for all sorts of weird beliefs. I mean, hey, we can't prove everything, can we?


A peculiar, detailed invention of solipsistic behavior appears in "A Voyage to Laputa," Chapter Two, of Johnathan Swift's satirical critique of human behavior, Gulliver's Travels (1726). Laputa, interpreted by visiting Lemuel Gulliver to mean the Flying or Floating Island, is an island detached from land and sea, afloat among the clouds. It is a fitting locale for people whose minds are preoccupied exclusively with theories of music and mathematics, which, to disadvantage of all Laputians, they are unable to translate into reality, by, for instance, composing a sonata or designing a bridge. They are, as we say it today, psychologically ungrounded.

Although Swift's book (of 1726) does not use the word "
solipsistic" (which was first recorded in 1880) to describe the speculative scholars of Laputa, they are most certainly are:

Their heads were all reclined either to the right or to the left; one of their eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the zenith. Their outward garments were adorned with the figures of suns, moons, and stars, interwoven with those of fiddles, flutes, harps, trumpets, guitars, harpsichords, and many more instruments of music, unknown to us in Europe. I observed here and there many in the habit of servants, with a blown blatter fastened like a flail to the end of a short stick, which they carried in their hands. In each blatter was a small quantity of dried pease or little pebbles (as I was aft . With these bladders they now and then flapped the mouths and ears of those who stood near them, of which practice I could not then conceive the meaning. It seems the minds of these people are so taken up with intense speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the discourses of others, without being roused by some external taction upon the organs of speech and hearing; for which reason those persons who are able to afford it always keep a flapper (the original is climenole) in their family, as one of their domestics, nor even walk abroad or make visits without him (153).Jonathan Swift. Gulliver's Travels. New York: Washington Square Press, 1969.

Pen & Ink Drawing by Bloggin'John

On the Untoward Effects of Solipsistic behavior among
the Men of Laputa in Their Relations with women.

It is the men of Laputa who are engaged in self-absorbed contemplation, not the women, who, in Gulliver's view, "have abundance of vivacity." Having been dismissed sexually by their husbands, the wives "contemn [disdain] their husbands, and are exceedingly fond of strangers," from among whom they
choose their gallants . . . for the husband is always so rapt in speculation, that the mistress and lover may proceed to the greatest familiarities before his face, if he be but provided with paper and implements, and without his flapper at his side (159-60).
May all cerebrally intensive solipsists — male and female — take heed, then, of their partners' corporeal appetites and needs.
SOLIPSISM in the vernacular,
i.e., in everyday English
Thus far we have considered solipsism as a philosophical stance. We will now move on to consider the vernacular, every-day, meaning of solipsism.
Recall that the American Heritage Dictionary defines solipsism in the vernacular as
"extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc."
Put another way, solipsism is
"a perspective based on one’s own individual situation rather than a miltiperson perspective. It is an act of solipsism to assume that others enjoy the things that you enjoy."—The Urban Dictionary Submitted by bpw on Oct 5, 2003.


From The New Yorker
f [Michael] Bloomberg's media tease turns into the full-blown affair of an independent Presidential campaign, who would benefit? New York, for starters. Or, at least, the glittering constellation of news and entertainment companies, Wall Street firms, political consultants, civic boosters, paid gossips, columnists, pundits, publicists, and solipsists who feed — and turn batten
* on — the impression that unless something happens in New York, it doesn't happen. —George Packer, Comment. Mr. Independent. "The Talk of the Town" The New Yorker, July 2, 2007.
*To feed gluttonously on, glut oneself; to gloat or revel in.Online OED

These New York solipsists are not totally self-absorbed as are the mind-manacled characters afloat on Laputa. These lusty Big Apple urbanites are outgoing, mutual participants in the cosmopolitan experience, interactive with each other in the middle of "The New York moment," whether the moment be quotidian or extraordinary — as only New York can exhibit the extraordinary.

Note the opening words in the Random House definition of vernacular
solicism: "
extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc." (emphasis added). It would take "total preoccupation" or "complete preoccupation" to reach the domain of philosophical solicism.


"Nixon's Solipsism: Has Bush Gone Too Far?"
By Richard Lacayo
President Bush will start the new year [2006] preoccupied for a while with a fight over whether his responsibility to prevent another attack gave him the power to push aside an act of Congress - or, to use the terms of his harshest critics, to break the law. Bush and his supporters say that the President has the power to take extraordinary steps to protect the nation and that sometimes nothing less will do. His opponents say that the war on terrorism can be fought just as well, if not better, without novel interpretations of the law and that the White House reasoning sounds all too much like Richard Nixon's famous exercise in Oval Office solipsism: "When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal."

CNN Editorials, Jan. 2006

By a communications consultant
FROM: Lee Hopkins' Better Communication Results

September 12, 2005.

Podcast-Related Syndromes:

"Further cause for concern: Podcast Solipsism"
By Lee Hopkins

Professor Sallie Goetsch has found evidence of a deeply disturbing phenomenon she has nicknamed, “Earbud Isolation”. With the more formal title of ‘Podcast Solipsism’, Professor Goetsch has uncovered yet more proof of the potentially life-threatening spread of podcast-related diseases.

[Professor Goetsch notices] that sufferers of this ravaging disease can be found with earbuds in place during shopping trips, errand running and even Parent Teacher exchanges. . . .

This new world of podcasts is a dangerous place - be careful out there, and when ever concern strikes, see a qualified medical expert, like your local family doctor. Or me.
—Lee Hopkins

A Response to “Further cause for concern: Podcast Solipsism”
Laura Says:
September 12th, 2005 at 11:48 pm
I’ve actually seen signs of solipsism in unlikely places….in the office, where professionals in their 30’s are so plugged in, they won’t answer their ringing phones! And on the sidewalk, a 60-something, white-haired lady was so “into” her iPod, she nearly knocked me over as she hummed tunelessly while power walking. Let’s be careful out there, people.

From an essay in Blogcritics Magazine, by Dawn Olsen, April 08,2006:

Our society is getting fatter, while we are being bombarded with unrealistic versions of what's normal and healthy. Where's the disconnect? Hollywood and the fashion industry are mostly to blame. A perfect example is that whack job Lindsay Lohan.
Once a healthy-looking attractive teen, she has now become the embodiment of yo-yo weight loss and weight gain.

She even admitted to having an eating disorder (but of course later denied it) in an interview that, as far as I am concerned, showcased her spiral into dangerous self-obsession and solipsism.

Lohan (with a similarly drained Nicole Richie at right) is just one example, but there are dozens who show a lack of concern for their health in an industry that forces them to choose between an attractive, healthy weight and an emaciated, anorexic frame.
Written by Dawn Olsen. "Harry Potter Author Rowling Takes On
Hollywood's Ultra-Thinness Message,"
Published April 08,2006. (
(Photo from



Recent sighting, April 29, 2010
"But the appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was her first television interview since the scandal erupted. And it was a surreally solipsistic and New Age-ish account, in which Ms. Hunter’s “truth,” as she put it, trumped all other concerns, including all the lying. “Our hearts were louder than the minds,” is how Ms. Hunter explained her decision to have an affair with a presidential candidate whose wife has cancer."  — ALESSANDRA STANLEY, "One woman's 'truth':  Rielle Hunter Talks with Oprah," The New York Times, April 29, 2010.


July 29, 2007


The Hubble Space Telescope's
view of Deep Field South

Unveils Myriad Galaxies

myriad adj. [mir'ee-id]

1. Constituting a very large, indefinite number; innumerable: the myriad fish in the ocean.

2. Composed of numerous diverse elements or facets: the myriad life of the metropolis. myriad noun

1. A vast number: the myriads of bees in the hive. 2. Archaic. Ten thousand.

[Greek murias, muriad-, ten thousand, from murios, countless.]— the American Heritage Dictionary
Throughout most of its history in English myriad was used as a noun, as in a myriad of men.

In the 19th century it began to be used as an adjective, as in myriad men; this usage became so well entrenched that many people came to consider it as the only correct possibility. [emphasis added]

In fact, both uses have not only ample precedent in English but also etymological justification from Greek, inasmuch as the Greek word murias from which myriad derives could be used as either a noun or an adjective.

Both uses may be considered equally acceptable
, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's “Myriad myriads of lives." [emphasis added]

This poetic, adjectival use became so well entrenched generally that many people came to consider it as the only correct use. In fact, both uses in English are parallel with those of the original ancient Greek. The Greek word mrias, from which myriad derives, could be used as either a noun or an adjective, but the noun mrias was used in general prose and in mathematics while the adjective mrias was used only in poetry.”
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: 4th. Ed. 2000.

MYRIAD IN CURRENT USE — as an adjective:
I know people don’t proofread their myriad daily e-mail messages, and I have certainly been chagrined to discover, say, that I fired off “bike” when I meant “back.” JAIMIE ESPTEIN July 8, 2007 The New York Times Magazine, On Language. "Sentence Sensibility."

Katherine Whiteside, the author of ''The Way We Garden Now,'' tested six pairs of gloves while building a raised-bed potager. She cautioned that ''no one pair of gloves is going to do the myriad of different tasks there are to do in the garden.''By Susan Guerrero, The New York Times. PHYSICAL CULTURE | "Gear Test With Katherine Whiteside, Garden Writer; "As the Gloves Go, So Goes the Garden" . Published June 4, 2007.

makes no reference
at all to the word's "poetic" overtones or lingering 19th Century preferences. He chooses, instead, to deal with the
controversy of "myriad of things" versus "myriad things" as nothing more than a question of wordage, i.e., the number of words involved. He prefers parsimony which was expressed well in The Elements of Style by Strunk and White: "Let each word tell."
To make your phrase more concise, use myriad as an adjective <a myriad drugs> than as a noun <a myriad of drugs>. Here the better use is illustrated:
  • "June 1996: Telectronics resumes production after wrangling over myriad legal and manufacturing issues."[1]
  • "Back when we still thought America was a melting pot instead of a collection of hyphens, the crux of combining myriad nationalities into one was in that oath."[2]
In short, prefer "myriad issues" over "a myriad of issues."
Prefer "myriad nationalites" over "a myriad of nationalities."

[1] Al Lewis, "Pacemaker Firm Pulls Plug," Rocky Mountain News, 14 Dec. 1996, at 1B.
[2] Pat Truly, "The choice All Immigrants Must Make," Baltimore Sun, 14 Jan. 1997, at 9A.
Page 441 in Oxford Dictionary of American Usage.

Thus, Garner would have Katherine Whiteside's words revised as follows: "Katherine Whiteside, the author of ''The Way We Garden Now,'' tested six pairs of gloves while building a raised-bed potager. She cautioned that ''no one pair of gloves is going to do the myriad of different tasks [read myriad different tasks] there are to do in the garden.''

The usage issues surrounding myriad can be addressed simply by asking and thoughtfully answering this question:

. If in a student paper a college English Composition teacher reads

"the extravaganza engendered a myriad of memories,"

should the teacher underline (with the usual red ink) the words a myriad of memories and in the nearest margin write "Usage: Change to myriad memories."?

nswer #1

Brian A. Garner, Bloggin' John, & other careful writers say

Yes. Change "myriad of memories" to the more concise "myriad memories."
Answer. #2

From easy-going, permissive types, such as the editors at Merriam-Webster's who include no Usage Note at all about myriad in neither their Third Edition of the Merriam-Webster's International Unabridged Dictionary nor The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage (1989).
"Say, ah [answers our non-prescriptivist respondent], I haven't thought much about this, but either way sounds O.K. to me. I think I've heard the "of" tucked in there hundreds of times — maybe not a "myriad of times" (Ha, ha. A joke. Get it? "myriad of times" ?) — but often enough to say I'll go with the majority [read crowd —B.J.] and say,
mm'No. "A myriad of memories" is just fine. So — hah! — is "a myriad of times".'"

————————————————————————————————— Coleridge's tribute to Shakespeare:

John Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), we read the famous bon mot coined by the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge in praise of the Renaissance Master:
QUOTATION: Our myriad-minded Shakespeare.
: 5281
: Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)
ATTRIBUTION: Biographia Literaria Chapter xv. Note 1.
IN THE PLURAL, from the Columbia Guide to Standard American Usage:
myriads (plural n.) Hyperbolic but Standard

As a noun, myriad means “ten thousand,” but its most frequent sense is “any very large, indefinite number of persons or things,” as in We could see a myriad of stars or We could see myriads of them.

The plural is hyperbolic but Standard
: "myriads of issues"
[example and emphasis added—B.J.].

The Standard adjective myriad simply means “innumerable”: There were myriad stars in the sky.

The Columbia Guide to Standard American English.
Copyright © 1993, Columbia University Press.
Arrayed here,
the most common options:

*Myriad possibilities .... Standard. Concise.
B]*A myriad possibilities .... . Standard. Concise.
nA myriad of possibilities .... .Standard. "of."
nMyriads of possibilities .... Standard. Hyperbolic. "of."
nA myriad myriad possibilities . .... Poetic. Hyperbolic.
nMyriad myriads of possibilities .... .Poetic. Hyperbolic. "of."
nMyriad upon myriad possibilities ... . Poetic. Hyperbolic.

* Preferred forms in school English.—B.J.