Vol. 2, Issue 31, August 17, 2004
Solipsism Conference Canceled Due to Lack of Participants
The philosophy department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor has announced that its fifth annual conference on solipsism has once again failed to attract convincing interest from the academic community, and consequently will not take place. It is the fifth time that the conference has been canceled.
"I can't really explain what has happened; the only thing I know with any certainty is that I regret very much not being able to make this conference succeed. It is frustrating," said Jeffrey Selfridge, chair of the department. "And I put out a particularly nice brochure this year as well."
Solipsism is implicit in many philosophies of knowledge and mind developed since the 17th century philosopher René Descartes; any theory of knowledge which adopts the Cartesian egocentric approach as its basic frame of reference is inherently solipsistic. However, the direct study of solipsism is a significant challenge. The University of Michigan's philosophy department, one of the most renowned in the country, has long been seen as one of the few centers capable of putting together a conference on this issue. Even here, however, the task has proven perplexingly daunting.
"When you come down to it, the size of the department isn't an issue," said Selfridge. "We may have nearly two dozen faculty, but I have always felt that the fate of this conference rests on my shoulders alone. If only there was a way to be sure of the support of my colleagues, we might have succeeded."
Other faculty members disputed Selfridge's account of the failed conference.
"How am I supposed to know what Selfridge is thinking?" said Joan Locke, associate professor. "How can I understand the minds of another faculty member, let alone the department chair? Since what I know directly is the existence and contents of my own mind, it follows that my knowledge of the minds of others, to the extent that I have such knowledge at all, has to be an inference from my own case. And in my case I am pretty lazy, so I suspect this played a factor in the failure of the conference."
Further complicating the matter is the assertion of the departmental secretary, Cindy Tremaine, who apparently told the dean that three hundred registration forms for the conference did in fact arrive in the mail.
"I gave Professor Selfridge the forms that came in every day, but he would always just stare at them and say he couldn't possibly attribute consciousness to the people signing up," said Tremaine. "He'd always start talking about putative conscious states and bridging gulfs and I don't know what else. I'm trying to transfer to the French department," she added in a conspiratorial whisper.
Another unanswered question is what happened to the registration fees, which allegedly totaled over $35,000. Tremaine has stated that Selfridge did not return any of the fees, but collected them daily into his office and closed the door.
"Experience is necessarily private," said Selfridge as he got into a new Lexus sedan, "and so, regrettably, I cannot convey what happened to those funds."