Brain in a vat theory

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Wozz
 
Reply Thu 20 May, 2010 08:09 pm
I've taken a liking to this theory and was wondering if anyone had any readings they could recommend for me. Authors, books, articles anything and everything helps.
 
qualia
 
Reply Thu 20 May, 2010 08:42 pm
@Wozz,
I think a good place to start is Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. Here you'll get a good grounding on this kind of super-substance mind-thing. John Searle brings it all up to date and has some nice stuff on A.I, intentionality, aboutness and qualia. For the sake of coherency, swat up on Heidegger's rejection of Cartesian dualism. In a nut shell, it isn't coherent to posit mind, then extensia (world), because humans are already-always-in-the-world. Humans are unitary phenomenon.
 
Wozz
 
Reply Thu 20 May, 2010 09:19 pm
@qualia,
Alright, that sounds good. Thanks!
 
VideCorSpoon
 
Reply Thu 20 May, 2010 11:31 pm
@Wozz,
This may be information you already know, but the brain in the vat scenario was posited by Hilary Putnam in 1981. If you are curious about looking up more about the actual theory from the lips of the author himself, check out his book Reason, Truth, and History. Truth be told, the book is not too impressive, but it does have a more extended elaboration on the brain in the vat scenario.

Definitely qualia has a very good point about Rene Descartes being the locus of the brain in the vat scenario. Specifically, I would look at the first book in his six part Meditations on First Philosophy addressing universal doubt. On an even deeper level, you can go back farther into Descartes primary methodological treatise entitled Discourse on the Method, which outlines Descartes style of rationalistic inquiry. In it, he outlines radical skepticism which doubts even the nature of the very things we see (a-posteriori truths) and instead focuses on the things that come before the senses (the a-priori truths). And of course, this is something that John Locke wholeheartedly refutes first and foremost in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, specifically in the refutation of innate ideas. This in turn may give you a very good idea as to the superficial differences in rationalists and empiricists.

You may also want to consider an alternate approach to the vat issue with Nick Bostrom's simulation argument. In it, instead of the brain in the vat scenario, we are actually put in a position where we could be part of an elaborate computer simulation.

I would honestly start with the basics though (Descartes, Locke, etc) and then get into Putnam because having a substantial foundation in the classical rationalistic/empiricist theories enables you to connect more subtle elements without forming a basis on a third or fourth tier philosopher.
 
ughaibu
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 03:02 am
@Wozz,
Wozz;166710 wrote:
I've taken a liking to this theory and was wondering if anyone had any readings they could recommend for me. Authors, books, articles anything and everything helps.
You might like Boltzmann brains arguments. For me, the problem with all these kind of arguments, is that they require a meta-world which has the same basic features as the apparent world, which undermines any doubts I would have about the veracity of the apparent world.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 04:54 am
@Wozz,
Wozz;166710 wrote:
I've taken a liking to this theory and was wondering if anyone had any readings they could recommend for me. Authors, books, articles anything and everything helps.


What is it about this theory you like? Do you think it is true? That would be a reason to like it, if you thought so. It would not be a reason for me to like it if I thought it was false, or highly improbable, as I do. I don't like it at all, for that reason.
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 11:16 am
@Wozz,
Wozz;166710 wrote:
I've taken a liking to this theory. . . .


Let's say, just for the sake of discussion, Wozz, that the Brain in a Vat Theory is true.

You ARE a brain in a vat.

What are you going to do now?
 
Jebediah
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 12:17 pm
@Wozz,
Wozz;166710 wrote:
I've taken a liking to this theory and was wondering if anyone had any readings they could recommend for me. Authors, books, articles anything and everything helps.


Dennet has a bit about it in "consciousness explained". But his point is that "possible in principle" is often less interesting than "impossible in fact".

Quote:
In the standard thought experiment, it is obvious that the scientists would have their hands full providing the nerve stumps from all your senses with just the right stimulations to carry off the trickery, but philosophers have assumed for the sake of argument that however technically difficult the task might be, it is "possible in principle." One should be leery of these possibilities in principle. It is also possible in principle to build a stainless-steel ladder to the moon, and to write out, in alphabetical order, all intelligible English conversations consisting of less than a thousand words. But neither of these are remotely possible in fact and sometimes an impossibility in fact is theoretically more interesting than
a possibility in principle, as we shall see.


Let's take a moment to consider, then, just how daunting the task
facing the evil scientists would be. We can imagine them building
up to the hard tasks from some easy beginnings. They begin with a
conveniently comatose brain, kept alive but lacking all input from the
optic nerves, the auditory nerves, the somatosensory nerves, and all
the other afferent, or input, paths to the brain. It is sometimes assumed
that such a "deafferented" brain would naturally stay in a comatose
state forever, needing no morphine to keep it dormant, but there is
some empirical evidence to suggest that spontaneous waking might
still occur in these dire circumstances. I think we can suppose that
were you to awake in such a state, you would find yourseif in horrible
straits: blind, deaf, completely numb, with no sense of your body's
orientation.

Not wanting to horrify you, then, the scientists arrange to wake
you up by piping stereo music (suitably encoded as nerve impulses)
into your auditory nerves. They also arrange for the signals that would
normally come from your vestibular system or inner ear to indicate that
you are lying on your back, but otherwise paralyzed, numb, biind. This
much should be within the limits of technical virtuosity in the near
future - perhaps possibie even today. They might then go on to stim-
ulate the tracts that used to innervate your epidermis, providing it with
the input that would normally have been produced by a gentle, even
warmth over the ventral (belly) surface of your body, and (getting fan-
cier) they might stimulate the dorsal (back) epidermal nerves in a way
that simulated the tingly texture of grains of sand pressing into your
back. "Great" you say to yourself: "Here I am, lying on my back on
the beach, paralyzed and blind, listening to rather nice music, but
probably in danger of sunburn. How did I get here, and how can I call
for help?"

But now suppose the scientists, having accomplished all this,
tackle the more difficult problem of convincing you that you are not a
mere beach potato, but an agent capable of engaging in some form of
activity in the world. Starting with little steps, they decide to lift part
of the "paralysis" of your phantom body and let you wiggle your right
index finger in the sand. They permit the sensory experience of moving
your finger to occur, which is accomplished by giving you the kines-
thetic feedback associated with the relevant volitional or motor signals
in the output or efferent part of your nervous system, but they must
also arrange to remove the numbness from your phantom finger, and
provide the stimulation for the feeling that the motion of the imaginary
sand around your finger would provoke.

Suddenly, they are faced with a problem that will quickly get out
of hand, for just how the sand will feel depends on just how you decide
to move your finger. The problem of calculating the proper feedback,
generating or composing it, and then presenting it to you in real time
is going to be computationally intractable on even the fastest computer,
and if the evil scientists decide to solve the real-time problem by pre-
calculating and "canning" all the possible responses for playback, they
will just trade one insoluble problem for another: there are too many
possibilities to store, In short, our evil scientists will be swamped by
combinatorial explosion as soon as they give you any genuine explor-
atory powers in this imaginary world.2
2 (footnote): 2. The term combinatorial explosion comes from computer science, but the phe-
nomenon was recognized long before computers, for instance in the fable of the emperor
who agrees to reward the peasant who saved his life one grain of rice on the first square
of the checkerboard, two grains on the second, four on the third, and so forth, doubling
the amount for each of the sixty-four squares. He ends up owing the wily peasant millions of billions of grains of rice to be exact).

Closer to our example is the plight of the French "aleatoric" novelists who set out to write novels in which. after reading chapter 1. the reader flips a coin and then reads chapter 2a or 2b, depending on the outcome, and then reads chapter 3aa. 3ab, 3ba, or 3bb after that, and so on, flipping a coin at the end of every chapter. These novelists soon came to realize that they had better minimize the number of choice points if they wanted to avoid an explosion of fiction that would prevent anyone from carrying the whole 'book" home from the bookstore.
 
Wozz
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 12:35 pm
@Wozz,
I wouldn't say I believe it 100%, I would say though that it appeals to me. Why? Probably because I am looking for more as to what after life is like. We have religion saying afterlife is beautiful then we have Plato saying death is necessary for ultimate knowledge. I could just like the idea of more after life alternatives. The idea that we are a brain in a fluid vat is a bit frightening as well, can you imagine dying and that's the end of your story? You can't see or hear all you do is think. You think with a dark dark setting. And as to Tictock man's question, if we concluded the theory is true, would you rather live in denial of the truth or accept what is to come?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 12:40 pm
@TickTockMan,
TickTockMan;166978 wrote:
Let's say, just for the sake of discussion, Wozz, that the Brain in a Vat Theory is true.

You ARE a brain in a vat.

What are you going to do now?


Try to get the hell out! What do you think? You think I want to make a career of being a BIV?
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 01:35 pm
@kennethamy,
Wozz;166993 wrote:
You can't see or hear all you do is think. You think with a dark dark setting. And as to Tictock man's question, if we concluded the theory is true, would you rather live in denial of the truth or accept what is to come?

What difference would it make?

kennethamy;166996 wrote:
Try to get the hell out! What do you think? You think I want to make a career of being a BIV?

That would be entertaining to watch. Or monitor, as the case may be.

Evil Scientist 1: "Hey! Check it out! Brain Number KA166996 is trying to get out!"

Evil Scientist 2: "Hmm. Should we program him to let him think he has succeeded?"

Evil Scientist 1: "Either that or we could make him believe he showed up to teach his philosophy class without his pants."

Evil Scientist 3: "I'm sick of these blobs of gray jelly taking up all my time. I say let's pee in
the vat fluid and see what happens."
 
Wozz
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 02:25 pm
@Wozz,
What difference would it make? Maybe, by accepting the fact that you're a BIV (assuming you could prove it) you could do something about it. What do we know causes little brain activity? I think it'd be interesting to revolt by providing the outermost reality with the least possible energy via our brains. That's assuming of course you know what energy etc.. etc..

Also, if I was to accept this BIV theory what's stopping us from saying the reality the BIV is suspended in isn't the only reality. What if there are many more..
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 04:22 pm
@Wozz,
Wozz;167024 wrote:
What difference would it make? Maybe, by accepting the fact that you're a BIV (assuming you could prove it) you could do something about it.


Such as? No matter what you did, or do, you would still be just a brain in a vat. Just a blob of cells bobbing around in some sort of fluid or some such. The only reason you would even be allowed to exist would be because the Masters of the Vat allow you to do so.

Wozz;167024 wrote:
What do we know causes little brain activity? I think it'd be interesting to revolt by providing the outermost reality with the least possible energy via our brains. That's assuming of course you know what energy etc.. etc..


What would you be revolting against? Being a brain in a vat?

Wozz;167024 wrote:
Also, if I was to accept this BIV theory what's stopping us from saying the reality the BIV is suspended in isn't the only reality. What if there are many more..


Again, what difference would this make? One reality, or 10,000 realities. If we're all wired together into this one particular reality, and we're all buying into it, what difference does it make?

If there is a reality outside of your brain in the vat (and it seems by default there would have to be), and I'm part of the reality outside of the vat, what possible difference in the world would it make to me if you're just a brain in a vat?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 04:35 pm
@Wozz,
Wozz;167024 wrote:
What difference would it make? Maybe, by accepting the fact that you're a BIV (assuming you could prove it) you could do something about it. What do we know causes little brain activity? I think it'd be interesting to revolt by providing the outermost reality with the least possible energy via our brains. That's assuming of course you know what energy etc.. etc..

Also, if I was to accept this BIV theory what's stopping us from saying the reality the BIV is suspended in isn't the only reality. What if there are many more..


I would never accept it-never! Never! Never!
 
Wozz
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 04:42 pm
@Wozz,
Maybe it would not make a difference to you tictock but you cannot speak for others. Again, if someone is constantly hitting you are you gonna accept it? No, you tell them to stop or physical action takes place. If we accepted the theory would we feel used by some other force? I don't understand how non of this could not matter. Maybe you'd like to sit in some liquid while an evil scientist harvests power off you. Maybe some would do all they possibly could to make sure they did not give that evil scientist what he wanted. I can't believe if there were 10,000 other realities we discovered we wouldn't be sitting here in this forums discussing the possibility of more.
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 04:59 pm
@Wozz,
Wozz;167075 wrote:
Maybe you'd like to sit in some liquid while an evil scientist harvests power off you.


Who said anything about harvesting power? This is a discussion of a brain in a vat. Not a whole body, like in The Matrix.

Would you argue that in this case, just a brain and no body, that it would somehow matter what you did?

You would never, and could never, escape your own mind, as it were.

And really, is it your own mind? If your reality is being programmed into your brain by forces outside of the vat, how would you ever know the difference?
 
Wozz
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 05:56 pm
@Wozz,
This is why Philosophy is great, I don't have answers as to how I would know the difference. All I was asking for was reading material on the subject.
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 11:52 pm
@Wozz,
Wozz;167113 wrote:
This is why Philosophy is great, I don't have answers as to how I would know the difference. All I was asking for was reading material on the subject.


Indeed you were. Now you have some suggestions on reading material, and also a few questions to keep in the back of your (?) mind as you read about this theory.

If you get tired of reading, I might suggest you watch a movie called Dark City. It deals with a very similar subject in a way I found more interesting than The Matrix. Maybe not so much about the Brain in a Vat theory, but about how our memories can be manipulated.

Enjoy.
 
Wozz
 
Reply Fri 21 May, 2010 11:56 pm
@TickTockMan,
Yeah? I'll look into it. Thanks Tictok and everyone. I watched a movie called Memento recently which was pretty interesting how one attempts maintain a sense of "self" even though he has short term memory. This theory is pretty limited in a sense though am I right? (the vat theory)
 
TickTockMan
 
Reply Sat 22 May, 2010 12:33 am
@Wozz,
Wozz;167200 wrote:

This theory is pretty limited in a sense though am I right? (the vat theory)


On one hand, yes, the Brain in a Vat theory is very limiting, as it seems to leave one trapped in one's own head with no real bridge to any sort of external reality.

If one accepts this theory, it seems to me that one traps oneself in a very limited existence where even if one "wakes up" to the truth, there is little that can be done about the situation.

I find that idea rather discouraging. Hence my remark of "what does it matter?" Not in the sense that it is not important to the individual brain, but in the sense that nothing can be done about it. This was, of course, similar to Cypher's realization in The Matrix. The difference in The Matrix was that they weren't really brains in a vat though, but actual physical humans hooked up to machines with at least the possibility of crossing a bridge to an external reality, but I hope you see my point.

On the other hand the Brain in a Vat, as a theory, offers unlimited possibilities for playing "what if" and as a springboard for discussions of the idea of alternate/parallel/multiple realities and universes which I find far more entertaining than the more limiting idea of just being a brain in a vat.
 
 

 
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