Brain in a vat

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by James R, Nov 22, 2016.

  1. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps you should start a new thread, if you really want to discuss the mind-body problem, or abiogenesis, etc..

    This is a thread primarily about knowledge, and a thought experiment that helps elucidate questions of knowledge. To get back on-topic:

    This is illustrative of the brain in a vat gedanken. Within a simulated world, you would be just as certain, as you seem to be here, that the simulated brain is necessarily causative of the subjective thoughts and identity. But if the you are a brain in a vat, the simulated brain and its simulated electrical emission have zero to do with your actual brain (which very well could be the total repository of all your thoughts and identity). IOW, correlated data is not knowledge of cause. You can correlated your mind to that simulated brain all you like, but this simply does not constitute causative knowledge.

    Correlation does not imply causation.
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  3. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Again, where did I make a claim? What "original statement"? Where did I make a "truth" claim? Quote it, or this is all just a witch hunt.

    I've expressed skepticism of the claims of others, that they refuse to show evidence for. Instead you insist on shifting the burden to someone who has made no evidence-based claim. That is intellectually dishonest. I've provided both evidence and reason for my skepticism, including neural plasticity and correlation not implying causation.
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  5. Yazata Valued Senior Member

    Posted to wrong thread. Deleted.
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  7. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Even if you disagree that a lack of a causative connection to reference allows for positive knowledge, the brain in a vat thought experiment is still an argument for dualism. You may think you are justified in thinking the brain causes the mind. But if the you are a brain in a vat, the simulated brain and its simulated electrical emission have zero to do with your actual brain (which very well could be the total repository of all your thoughts and identity). So if you are a brain in a vat, what you consider your brain does not cause your mind, hence the brain and mind are different things (dualism).

    Thus my earlier statement that a person can either know they are not a brain in a vat or must accept some sort of non-physical reality (by their own estimation).​
  8. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    At this stage I don't see why.
    While we have no proof for causation of the brain, mind and consciousness, in reality, it is the only solution open based on what we currently observed.
    You may feel that your expression of agnostic skepticism is justified due to the lack of said conclusive evidence, but you have no alternative to offer.....and you ignore all the signs that do point to a link between the three.
    I see in some of your posts you are asking for proof...again, that's not what scientific theories in general are about.
    All experience tells us that the mind, brain and consciousness are linked....just as experience and knowledge confirms abiogenisis as the only scientific answer to the question of life, despite being ignorant of the exact path and method.
  9. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

  10. youreyes amorphous ocean Valued Senior Member

    Dear James R, I would like to ask you a question. Supposedly you lived in a bubble. The bubble was The World, everything that could ever exist in your universe, everything that could be proven by you.

    Now, outside of the bubble was something else, something like the Truth, which you would never, and I repeat never would have founded out. Meanwhile this truth has direct consequence to the creation of you and the bubble and everything in it. Now here comes the question, would it matter to you if you knew the truth? That outside of the bubble was God, that you were indeed a brain in a vat, that this is all matrix? Does it matter?

    Because to me it does matter, however it matters to me because having faith in something that I can never prove, does indeed change the quality of my life. Believing you are a brain in a vat, something that you cannot prove, makes you feel entrapped? Believing you are in a bubble that God created, makes you feel controlled and miniscule? Believing that there is nothing outside your bubble? Makes you feel empty and meaningless?

    Having no means to prove that which cannot be proven, gives you a choice to decide yourself what to believe in, for the sake of living a life that makes you feel fullfilled.
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    I like knowing the truth, as far as it can be known, so philosophically it would matter to me.

    Practically speaking, if there was nothing I could do to change my circumstances, given the knowledge of what's outside the bubble, then knowing what's outside wouldn't matter that much. If you have no option but to accept your lot in life, whether it be as a simulation in the Matrix, as a brain in a vat, or as a puppet of an evil demon, then you've got no option but to get on with it as best as you can.

    Knowing the truth (and knowing for sure that it is the truth) would certainly change one's outlook on life, even if one could do nothing about it. It would be like suddenly finding out (and knowing for certain) that God exists, or that aliens are watching the Earth.

    Why would you have faith in something for which there is no convincing evidence?

    I don't know. If I am a brain in a vat (which is a possibility, after all), then I still feel like I'm free to act as I choose, within the usual limits that we think apply to non-brains-in-vats. Right now, as things stand, I don't feel particularly trapped, so I'm not sure that knowing that my world is an illusion from the vat would make me feel more trapped. I think in a sense it would; the idea would take some getting used to. But, as I said, in practical terms I would have little option but to go on living much the same life as I already have, with or without out-of-vat knowledge. What's the alternative? Decide life is pointless and kill myself? I already have the option to believe that, hypothetically, vat or no vat.

    I can't see that it makes any difference whether God or an evil scientist (or just a curious one) created the bubble/vat. The lived experience is the same either way.

    My bubble seems like a full and varied universe to me. So, the answer to this one is, for me, is: no more than knowing there's nothing outside the universe makes me feel empty and meaningless.

    In the absence of good evidence, I like to keep an open mind, rather than randomly picking something to believe in.
  12. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Most people find their own subjective, anecdotal evidence to be compelling...even though that's not usually compelling to others.

    Similarly, do you find the absence of evidence compelling evidence of absence? Or are you agnostic? If so, does that agnosticism extend to materialism and scientism?
  13. youreyes amorphous ocean Valued Senior Member

    That is the point I am trying to make, neither you or I will ever find out the truth, lets start from that.

    Please elaborate the difference between "open mind" and "randomly picking something to believe in".
  14. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Have you not excluded the middle: the simple acceptance that we can not know whether we are a brain in a vat or not? This middle would appear to not need to accept any sort of non-physical reality nor to need to exclude it. It would remain a possibility.

    Furthermore, your conclusion also appears incorrect in that if the simulated brain fires in exactly the same way as the envatted brain fires (giving rise to the mind) then the simulated brain and the envatted brain are one and the same with regard giving rise to the simulated "I".
    One could argue that if the envatted brain is giving rise to the "I" in the simulation then the identically-firing simulated brain is giving rise to a separate "I", but since they are both experiencing the same thing, in the same place and time, they are absolutely indistinguishable, they are the same thing. Thus the simulated brain is causing the "I" within the simulation as much as the envatted brain is.
    If, however, the simulated brain is not firing in the same way so as made unable to give rise to its own "I" then there would in essence be a duality, as there would be no causation between simulated brain and the "I" within the simulation.
    So it seems one is still left at the starting block on the issue of duality, whether you think you're in a simulation or not, whether you think you can know or not.
  15. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    Not any more than I find absence of evidence to be compelling evidence of non-absence.

    Am I agnostic about materialism and scientism?

    I think you'd have to explain what you mean, exactly, by materialism. If you mean the idea that all phenomena are reducible to interactions of matter and energy and other physical things, then I'm agnostic in the sense that I don't think we will ever know for sure if this idea is true. On the other hand, I see no good reason to doubt that it is true.

    And scientism, being a belief that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview, to the exclusion of other viewpoints? I've never been a particular fan of scientism. In fact, I'm wary of anybody who claims to have ultimate answers and the One True Way of viewing the world. On the other hand, once again, I think that science is a powerful tool for gaining and testing knowledge, and I'm not aware of any viable candidate that might supplant "the scientific method" as a better way to generate reliable knowledge of the universe.
    Syne and paddoboy like this.
  16. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    The fact that we cannot know whether we are a brain in a vat necessitates that we accept the possibility that we may be. That also necessitates that we accept the possibility of a "non-physical reality" (by our own estimation). The option you think I've excluded is one and the same as my second option. Maybe you just needed the "possibility" part spelled out?

    No, the simulated "I" could only point to the simulated brain as its "physical world" (simulation) correlate. Whether the simulation mimics the real brain or not, the real brain must be the only real correlate, otherwise the "I" is not correlated to a real brain in a vat at all (violating the gedanken). It is nonsense to say that real and simulated brains "are absolutely indistinguishable, they are the same thing". If they were the same, you would not be a brain in a vat (again, violating the gedanken). If "the simulated brain is causing the "I" within the simulation as much as the envatted brain", it follows that there is no need for the real brain, and that the "I" is effectively an A.I., wholly correlated with the computer simulation (again, violating the gedanken).

    The only case in which the simulation could "give rise to its own "I"" would be an AI, uncorrelated to a brain in a vat....violating the gedanken.
  17. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    I completely agree. Neither is compelling.

    You seem to have fully understood my meaning. And again, I generally agree on both counts. There's no compelling reason why you should doubt materialism or the scientific method, as long as you understand their limits, as you seem to.

    I'm sure you don't agree with everything I believe, but I don't claim my personal beliefs are compelling either. Some people just seem to make overly-confident scientific claims that I have not seen compelling evidence for. I can't fault them for their belief, only for their inability to provide support comparable with the strength of their claims.
  18. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Maybe you needed to be clearer, given that there is a rather gaping difference between "accepting something" and "accepting the possibility of something". If you had meant "possibility" I would have thought you would have stated it. perhaps you will be more accurate next time.
    But thank you for your clarification and acknowledgement of your error, in communication if not in underlying thought.
    Where have I said otherwise? I'm not talking mere correlation here but actual causation. A causes B, A causes C but B also causes C. From A's point of view B and C are correlates but from B's point of view C is caused by B.
    It does not violate the gedanken at all: the envatted brain gives rise to the "I" that is experiencing everything within the simulation. The brain's activity is also mimicked by the simulated brain, which in turn gives rise to its own "I" but which inhabits the same spatial and temporal location within the simulation and is thus indistinguishable from the envatted brain's "I" while in the simulation, and is thus the same.
    This is entirely within the remit of the gedanken. As has been mentioned to you in the past, this thought experiment is not all about knowledge but about consciousness, mind, etc. This is one avenue along that path and it in no way violates the gedanken at all.
    Of course, as you say, the simulated "I" could only point to the simulated brain, but as argued above, the simulated brain is as much a cause of the "I" as the envatted brain. As mentioned previously, if the mimicked activity in the simulated brain is made unable to give rise to an "I" then the only cause would be the envatted brain, not that the "I" in the simulation could know.
    Yes, you would be a brain in a vat, as well as a brain in a simulation. They are in essence the same thing, one merely an extension of the other.
    And no, once again, it does not violate the gedanken: there is still the brain in the vat, still wired up to the computer and still experiencing everything as if they are within the simulation. No violation.
    If the AI could run autonomously then while the envatted brain is not hooked up they would be separate "I"s, but once they are synced and experiencing the same thing and reacting in exactly the same way then they are the same "I", and in this case the simulated "I" would effectively have redundancy in its causation.
    But for the time being let's stick to somethings simpler and let's assume that the simulated brain can't act autonomously, requiring the real-time input of the envatted brain. If the envatted brain is decoupled from the simulation, the simulated brain ceases to function etc, and the "I" within the simulation ceases, and only the "I" of the envatted brain (which was previously in the simulation) remains.
    So you keep asserting.
    But if the activity within your brain gives rise to an "I" then why would identical activity within a simulation not also give rise to an "I"? Why would those "I"s, generated from exactly the same activity, not give rise to the same "I".
    And, hopefully for the last time, no this does not violate the gedanken.
  19. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    I don't see much of a functional difference between accepting something and accepting the possibility for something (aside from present versus future). Either way you are positively allowing for its reality. Maybe you're just being pedantic...or just didn't bother to think that one through.

    Are you just trying to obfuscate what you're replacing with A, B, & C?
    Maybe you should spell it out instead. Because if C is "I", it cannot have two equally sufficient causes for one result, as that would necessitate two "I's".

    Nonsense. You're trying to get around the fact that two brains are sufficient to produce two "I's" with nothing but an ad hoc stipulation that two things can somehow (unexplained) be one thing. But we don't even need that argument, because if one "I" is generated by the simulated brain (no matter how faithfully mimicked), it is wholly a creation of the simulation system, i.e. AI. This simulated "I" would never be more than that...a simulation. Unless you're also stipulating that the simulation can magically make "a real boy" just like the Blue Fairy.

    How on earth is a thought experiment that expressly questions knowledge NOT about knowledge. The gedanken is: Can you know that you are not a brain in a vat? It is an update to Descartes' Evil Demon, which questions how you could know anything under the influence of a demon who is "as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me." Or do you really think systematic doubt speaks more directly to consciousness or mind? If so, how? Get around to making that argument already.

    At this point we have to wonder why you keep referring to what we can "know" but not "consciousness", if you're really arguing the latter but not the former.
    "Have you not excluded the middle: the simple acceptance that we can not know whether we are a brain in a vat or not?" - Sarkus​
    You seem to have confused yourself. Arguments that need this much mental gymnastics and contortion as justification aren't worth the energy used communicating them...much less the steam that must be blowing out your ears to formulate them.

    You probably don't even realize that a computer simulation, in a computer, and a real brain can never inhabit the "same spatial and temporal location", even in the simulation....because unless you're positing astral projection or something, the real brain "I" can only inhabit the real brain...not the computer. What the envatted "I" believes itself to inhabit is not real (definition of simulation).

    Again, magically making two things the same thing by ad hoc stipulation. You're NEVER a brain in the simulation. It's a simulation. It only has the power to create AI's, not real people. The only way to accomplish what you claim would be if it's an infinite regress if AI brains in simulated vats in further simulated worlds all the way down. Not only do you have to invent so much flotsam that parsimony is completely lost, but you make the gedanken completely trivial to boot.

    I suppose you'll now tell us how AI's mind and consciousness are so important to your argument.

    That is so blinkered it doesn't even warrant a serious response. Again, magically stipulating that two things, with their own sufficient causes, presto-chango become the same thing. Just to humor you, give me ONE concrete example of how that can happen.

    A real world gives rise to a real brain and "I", a simulate world can only give rise to a simulated brain and simulated "I". Two causes sufficient for two things in two difference environments NEVER product one thing. Even if identical, the causes are not the same.

    You can keep crying about your ad hoc stipulations not violating the gedanken all you like, but your protests don't change the facts.
  20. Kittamaru Staff Member

    Two causes in two environments can never produce the same result... is that what you are saying? If so... biology would like to have a word with you.

    In other words - because you cannot prove that you aren't living a simulation, you refuse to acknowledge the possibility. Got it.
  21. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Apparently you're chiming in without having any clue what we're talking about. He's saying they're the exact same thing, not that they are two identical results. Hell, the jumping off point for the current debate was me stipulating that we could be in a simulation. Read (comprehend?) the thread before introducing foot to mouth.

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    And I really don't think you have the wherewithal to square off against me on this gedanken. Sarkus, Baldeee, billvon, and even Capracus can think philosophical circles around you, and they didn't manage to so much as dent my reasoning.
    But sure, let's give you a shot.

    Do you think an envatted person could have a causal connection for his reference to his real brain? If you need a few links so you can bone up, I'd be happy to provide them.
  22. Kittamaru Staff Member

    In other words, identical =/= exact same thing... that is an interesting viewpoint. If it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck, and looks like a duck, one should reasonably assume it is a frog then?

    And I really don't think I give a damn what you think of me

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    If you are asking whether a person, who's brain had been removed and placed in a vat, hooked up to a simulation of their existing life, and given no prior knowledge that this event has happened, would know that they are no longer actually in their body but rather a brain in a vat, then I would say that depends entirely on two things:

    1) How good is the simulation. If it is "perfect" (think, The Matrix or better).
    2) How capable is the hardware running said simulation (is it able to fully simulate a large enough environment to be convincing)

    If both of those questions are adequately satisfied, and the subject is given no indication he/she has been placed into a simulation, then I would say said envatted person has no cause to suspect he/she is not in their body. It is nearly a reversal of an auto-epistemic argument, it seems, to say that "I do not have a body, thus I know I do not have a body" would hold true.

    As for a causal connection to his "real brain" - this seems to be a question that cannot be answered until the discussion as to the "real brain" concludes, given there appears to be dissent as to whether or not the grey matter three feet above your ass is the conclusion of the "real brain" in this thread. Per your comments in the other thread, it seems as though you are attempting to use an unknown (and supposedly unknowable) to justify a position... which, if I'm not mistaken, is a false dichotomy fallacy.
  23. Syne Sine qua non Valued Senior Member

    Still not with the reading? "Identical result" is not equal to "exact same thing". Can't you even remember your own example? You know, the example where you said, "Two causes in two environments can never produce the same result..." You're either that obtuse or that intellectually dishonest to leave "result" out of "identical results." Convergent evolution means two difference organisms independently evolving similar traits. It doesn't mean two different organisms become the exact same organism. See any light starting to dawn on the difference here?

    I would say, try to keep up, but you're falling all over your own face right out the gate.

    1) The gedanken already stipulates that you cannot tell the difference. Do you ever bother to read anything before introducing foot to mouth?
    2) The gedanken already stipulates that you cannot tell the difference. Do you ever bother to read anything before introducing foot to mouth?

    I didn't say "causal connection to his "real brain"", I said causal connection for his reference to his real brain. Again, do you need some time to bone up first?

    There is no question about "real brain". The gedanken stipulates the real brain is in a vat, and it is only aware of the simulated world. If you're questioning that, you're not discussing the gedanken of this thread.

    You can't even manage to know the topic...but thanks for playing.

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