Tuesday 25 March 2008
Brain in a VAT
Subsequent to the suggestion made by Susan Marie a few days ago I am in the process of designing a book synopsis for my publisher. It is my intention to write a book discussing the philosophical underpinnings and subsequent implications of CTF. We have touched upon this subject many times on this blog and I am of the opinion that a really fascinating book could be written on this subject.
As part of my research I have started to re-read the fascinating The Matrix & Philosophy book edited by Professor William Irwin of Kings College Pennsylvania. (I know that Bill is an occasional reader of this blog so if you are out there in cyberspace, Bill, maybe post a comment). As we are all very aware The Matrix movies are profoundly itladian in their philosophy so a book on this subject will be full of fascinating parallels. One that particularly caught my attention last time I read the book is a thought experiment suggested by retired Harvard philosopher professor Hilary Putnam.
Professor Putnam's 'brains in a vat' proposal can be found in his "Reason, Truth & History" (Cambridge University Press, 1981, pp 1-21). He proposes a scenario:
"Imagine that a human being (you can imagine this to be yourself) has been subjected to an operation by an evil scientist. The person's brain (your brain) has been removed from the body and placed in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brain alive. The nerve endings have been connected to a super-scientific computer which causes the person whose brain it is to have the illusion that everything is perfectly normal. There seem to be people, objects, the sky, etc.; but really, all the person (you) is experiencing is the result of electronic impulses travelling from the computer to the nerve endings. The computer is so clever that if the person tries to raise his hand, the feedback from the computer will cause him to 'see' and 'feel' the hand being raised. Moreover, by varying the program, the evil scientist can cause the victim to 'experience' (or hallucinate) any situation or environment the evil scientist wishes. He can also obliterate the memory of the brain operation, so that the victim will seem to himself to have always been in this environment. It can even seem to the victim that he is sitting and reading these very words about the amusing but quite absurd supposition that there is an evil scientist who removes people's brains from their bodies and places them in a vat of nutrients which keep the brains alive. The nerve endings are supposed to be connected to a super-scientific computer which causes the person whose brain it is to have the illusion that..."
Putnam then adds an interesting twist on this scenario. He adds:
"This time let us suppose that the automatic machinery is programmed to give us all a collective hallucination, rather than a number of separate unrelated hallucinations. Thus, when I seem to myself to be talking to you, you seem to yourself to be hearing my words. Of course, it is not the case that my words actually reach your ears — for you don't have (real) ears, nor do I have a real mouth and tongue. Rather, when I produce my words, what happens is that the efferent impulses travel from my brain to the computer, which both causes me to 'hear' my own voice uttering those words and 'feel' my tongue moving, etc., and causes you to 'hear' my words, 'see' me speaking, etc. In this case, we are, in a sense, actually in communication. I am not mistaken about your real existence (only about the existence of your body and the 'external world', apart from brains). From a certain point of view, it doesn't even matter that 'the whole world' is a collective hallucination; for you do, after all, really hear my words when I speak to you, even if the mechanism isn't what we suppose it to be. (Of course, if we were two lovers making love, rather than just two people carrying on a conversation, then the suggestion that it was just two brains in a vat might be disturbing.) "
Is this not exactly what I suggest is happening in my Bohmian IMAX? However unlike Putnam (and, by implication the writers of the Matrix - the Wachowski Brothers) I suggest a neurological scenario by which this may be an actuality and not a speculative fiction. I present evidence that for most of those reading these words (specifically those who experience deja vu) this life, this 'phaneron', is an illusion, a Maya, created by the brain itself.
I do not need bizarre 'brains in vats' or malevolent aliens to bring about my thought experiment - just observed neurological science and subjective experiences as reported by many of my readers and thousands of others around the world - and in doing so present not only an alternative paradigm of existence but also a potential explanation of why mortality may be an illusion.
Of course, as I continue to stress, this is just a theory ......