Brain in a vat

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

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    A bit of a tangent, but I found your claim that you just magically know that you're not a brain in a vat interesting.

    It seems to me that this is just a faith-based statement you are making, similar to most of the statements you make about your God.

    I also find it interesting that you claim that there is no need for you to "prove" these things. That is, you are expressing that you are content to believe what you believe largely without evidence.

    Emotionally, this is fine. Whatever floats your boat is good for you. Your mistake is in making false claims to knowledge. I think that you often confuse your faith with actual knowledge.
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  3. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    There are two options. My brain is in a vat, or it isn't. As far as I know, it isn't.

    Seeing as you got the wrong end of the stick about God, the chances are you've got the wrong end of the stick about faith.

    You believe the world operates purely naturally, I find it interesting that you haven't proved it. Can you?

    You would do, because that is how justify your position.

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  5. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Jan Ardena:

    So what you're saying is that you don't think you're a brain in a vat, but you can't be sure, after all. If that's what you're saying, that's reasonable. But then, a bit further down, we have this from you:
    Equally, currently there is absolutely no reason to think or believe that you're not a brain in a vat. So, I'm confused as to the basis on which you conclude that it is "more likely" that you have a real body etc. Given the information available to you, there's no way to judge the relative likelihood of being a brain in a real body vs being a brain in a vat having the simulated experience of a body.

    You claim that there is something "factual" about your conclusion, but I'm not seeing it. You have only your sensory experience telling you that you aren't, but you'd have exactly the same sensory experience if you were a brain in a vat.

    Now, you might well argue that it makes no practical difference to your experience whether you believe you're a brain in a vat or not, but that doesn't nothing to address the fact of the matter.

    Faith is believing you know stuff that you actually don't know - belief in the absence of evidence. A while ago, we had a whole thread on this. Remember?

    To my knowledge, I've never expressed any such belief.

    What is the alternative, though? That the world operates at least in part supernaturally? What does that mean, exactly? And how could we tell the difference between a world that operates completely naturally from one that operates supernaturally in some respects?

    Do you think you can "prove" this one way or the other? I don't think I can.The most I can say is that there's no obvious sign of anything supernatural operating in the world, as far as I can tell. But it's always possible that I'm wrong.

    It is, of course, true that people can have limited knowledge, and that people are sometimes mistaken.

    Clearly, it is possible for a person to think that the operation of the world is, at some level, supernatural. That appears to be your perception. But you don't know this - you only believe it. And, perhaps more to the point, you continually have a hard time convincing anybody that you are correct in this. What does that suggest to you? That everybody else is wrong and you are right, no doubt.
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  7. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    I know I'm not a brain in a vat.
    I have a brain, and it is situated in my body.

    That's not equal at all.
    Why on earth would you think you're a brain in a vat.

    Why would I need to think I am a brain in a vat?
    Where does that even come from.

    It is more likely that I have a body, because I actually have one.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    What matter?

    Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.
    Your definition is wrong, and mine is right.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    So you don't believe in operates purely naturally. Sorry. My bad.

    It's quite possible that some, people cannot tell the difference, and that some, can.
    Don't you think it's possible?

    Nope, I don't think I can.

    It most certainly is.

    That goes both ways, you only believe the world operates without the supernatural, you don't know it. Do you?

    Unless I say ''I'm going to convince people'', why would I need to convince people?

    Do you go around trying to convince people of things (especially things they don't want to be convinced of)?

  8. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    I mean I'm OK with it in that it's the only reason we've been at-odds.

    Acknowledging that - as far as you know - the world is the way it is (your brain not being in a vat, God existing) is a great leap from "I just know."

    So, I have no further bone to pick. The rest of the back and forth is essentially bifurcation of bunnies, from my POV.
  9. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member


    The difference is huge. The second one contains your own admission that your knowledge is limited, and cannot be shown to be true (or false).
  10. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    No it's not.
    It's the truth. I'm not a brain in a vat.
    It is true that I have a brain and it is situated in my body.

    Because I do not know everything, does not mean that I don't know, or recognise truth.

  11. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    As shown by me, and acknowledged by you, nope.
  12. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    Why are you so adamant that I am incorrect?

  13. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    On the contrary, I am satisfied that we are in agreement:

    In Post #228 you inadvertently contradicted yourself. I'm just protecting your credibility here.
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  14. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Jan Ardena:

    Your responses regarding the brain-in-a-vat hypothesis suggest to me that you are unfamiliar with this particular philosophical condundrum. If you're interested, try googling it for some more information. This is twice in the space of a couple of days whether you have jumped to unsupportable conclusions on two well-known philosophical questions.

    No, you don't know that. And previously you admitted as much. Now you appear to be back-tracking.

    That is your perception, but you don't (can't!) know it is true.

    Since you're new to this, I'll walk you through it.

    You're familiar with the idea of a computer simulation, I hope. You're also familiar with the idea that all of our senses are ultimately wired electrically through our brains. If appropriate electrical signals are applied to your brain, you can be made to experience things that are indistinguishable from your usual sensory experiences, except that the causes of what you experience are not "real" events but electrically "simulated" ones.

    For example, suppose we were to electrically stimulate the part of your brain that senses pain in your arm. Suppose that, as a result, you feel like your arm is being pressured by something (say a needle). Now, we ask you to close your eyes and answer the question: is somebody really sticking a needle into your arm, or is that just an artificial perception? You would have no way of knowing, since your perception of the pain/pressure would be identical in both cases.

    Now, extend this idea to the situation where we could somehow remove your brain and wire up every nerve to a computer that was able to duplicate the sensations your brain would normally receive due to "real" pain or "real" light or "real" sound etc. We could place that brain in a vat and you'd never be able to tell the difference between that situation and your having a "real" body existing in a "real" world (assuming a sophisticated enough simulation).

    If you were a brain in a vat, you'd still feel exactly as if you had a body, but you wouldn't actually have one. See?

    That's what's called a deepity, as I pointed out before. It sounds profound, but when you break it down it's meaningless waffle.

    There is always a possibility of something supernatural. You often make the same mistake about what you think atheists believe.

    It's possible. There's no objective evidence that it's true, of course.

    Right. I can't be 100% sure. But my belief is based on the absence of any good evidence for your position.

    You might, for example, care whether what they believe is true or not, perhaps out of a concern for them. Hypothetically.

    Yes! Absolutely. And I think that, in reality, you probably do too.

    No, people really didn't know.

    It is hard, from today's perspectives, to put yourself into the shoes of people who had far less knowledge than we do. For example, if you investigate something like the bubonic plague, people had very little idea as to what the risk factors were in transmission of the disease - in part because they had no notion of what the underlying cause might be.

    No, they really didn't.

    Just to emphasise: these are truths according to your senses. But if your senses are untrustworthy, what follows?

    You mistake is to take too many things on faith. You can't "intuit" truth. You may think that you can, but to do so is to put too must trust in the infallibility of your own perceptions. Human beings are notoriously easy to fool, and the easiest person of all to fool is yourself.
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  15. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Even 'notoriously' is an understatement. It is the default state of human perception.

    Jay Ingram's fascinating book Theater of the Mind is devoted entirely to the myriad ways our senses are fooling us every single moment.

    Our eyes (mine, Jan's, James') are lying to us about what we are seeing even we are are reading this sentence. We are not seeing what our brains tell us we are seeing.
    Same with our other senses.

    You can examine these - experiment with them for yourself - if you are of a mind.

    In a real sense, we actually are all brains-in-a-vat. Our bodies, nervous systems and flesh are the vat - and our brain does its best to fabricate - yes fabricate - a cohesive picture of the world - but it is far from accurate.

    This is the human state.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2016
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  16. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Actually, I think it's a great statement.

    It is Jan freely acknowledging - in his own words - that what he says he knows to be true is, in actuality, based on faith.

    That's really all I was trying to accomplish.
  17. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    I'be always maintained that I know I'm not a brain in a vat. We all know we're not brains in vats. Sure we can play games, go along with them for whatever reason. But eventually we get back to reality.

    Is that the truth, or just a perception with know way of establishing it's truth value?

    I'm not new to this, but thanks for the consideration.

    You are assuming that we are the brain. That our existence is nothing but sensation.
    Pain is associated with the body, and mind. So yes our minds can be induced to feel pain, while there isn't any pain to actually feel. Our mind can be induced to perceive all kinds of sensations as real.

    As usual you have to create a fictitious scenario, like ' if could completely remove your brain and wire it up to a computer.
    My response to that is wait until it happens.

    It's called no such thing, and what I said is no more profound than saying humans have eyes.

    You agree that it's possible. Good.

    "Good" in this case is relative. Right?

    What does that have to do with having to convince people of things they don't want be convinced of?

    As for caring. I think the worst thing one can do is try and convince somebody of something.

    No I don't. Sorry.
    I guess you must know why you need to convince people to think like you.

    So everyone thinking human being on the planet thought maggots spontaneously generated until science showed us this not the case. And you know this?

    Mind and intelligence also.

    There's nothing intuitive about my position. It is a fact that you, me, and every human being is not a brain in a vat.

    If we are, and/or there is evidence/good explanation that we are, then present.
    But to simply offer up a game as an alternative to what is factual is absurd.

  18. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    We know we can't take anything you say seriously as you lack knowledge of truth, and can say anything you like without having to justify it.

  19. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    It is interesting that you say that.

    Actually we know we can't take anything you say seriously, as you claim to have knowledge of truth. Which you don't.

    Since we know you are human, and therefore cannot know truth behind your flawed senses, we know your claim is false.
  20. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    Yes, and you also acknowledged that your knowledge of such things has a limit.
    i.e. "as far as you know"
  21. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    This is a classic believer's position.

    They insist that they are privvy to knowledge of truth, belied by the fact that, like everyone else, they are merely human, not Gods themselves.
    They provide no objective evidence of this knowledge or this truth, only their own convictions.
    Yet, they rail against the very word that defines that very thing: faith.
    It is a self-inflicted conundrum.

    More to the point, this is not new or unique by far. We can go to pretty much any random "strong"* believer and watch them walk, eyes open, into the exact same conundrum.

    * there are moderate believers who acknowledge their their beliefs are faith-based
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  22. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    Jan Ardena:

    You missed the point. You don't know what "reality" is. You only know what you perceive.

    You don't know you're not a brain in a vat. You just believe you are not.

    Now you're getting it! We can't intuit truth, like I said.

    If you're not new to it, you clearly haven't given it enough thought.

    You haven't thought this through. The "brain in a vat" is just a mental image of the situation. You might not have a physical brain at all, as such. You might exist entire as software on some kind of advanced computer, for all you know. You wouldn't be able to tell the difference. You'd still have all the same perceptions and beliefs that you have right now. Your experience of life and the world would be no different.

    You have no way to prove that you are not part of a computer simulation.

    Similarly, your claim that our existence is something other than "sensation" is vague and unproven. It's just one more faith-based belief you have.

    You have no way of knowing that it hasn't already happened. That's the point you keep missing.

    You walk around in the world thinking the world is real and you have a body and a brain, etc. You have a whole bunch of beliefs about this world you see, and some more based on what else you imagine is part of this world. But none of that would be any different if you were a simulated person in somebody's sufficiently-advanced computer world.

    Holding false beliefs can be harmful. If you care about other people, you don't want them to come to harm. You want them to be the best they can be. Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable, and people are resistant to it for lots of reasons.

    You and I hold different views on this, then.

    I'm not sure "need" is the right word. I'm not unrealistic about it.

    Another thing is this: I'm not so arrogant as to presume that all my views are the best ones, or that I'm always right about things. A good way to test one's own views is to try to convince somebody else. In the case that the other person does not think the same way, one is then exposed to objections and counterarguments that can lead one to a better understand of the positives and negatives in one's own position. It can also sometimes lead to changing one's own mind.

    I am puzzled as to why you would not want to try to convince somebody else that you are right about something, especially if that "something" is something that holds meaning or value for you, and that you believe is also valuable for other people. Wouldn't that be a selfish position to take?

    It's absurd to imagine that we can ever know what every thinking human being on the planet thinks about something at any given time. People believe all kinds of things. I'm sure that some people believed that maggots were created by the Devil to make old meat harmful to people, or something.

    Are you going somewhere with this point?

    What makes you think your mind and intelligence aren't simulated* in the same way as all of your other perceptions?

    (* Note: is a simulation of a mind the same as a mind? Quite possibly.)

    Great! You're the first to know. Congratulations, Jan.

    Please post your proof that you're not a brain in a vat.


    I'm not making the claim that I know either way, Jan. You are. The onus is on you to support your claim.

    If you think you have the proof, present it. You're all talk and no action, as far as I can see.
  23. Jan Ardena OM!!! Valued Senior Member

    Is that the true?


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