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The philosopher Descartes once posed the "brain in a vat" question regarding whether we could truly know this world was true "reality" or not.

The popular movie "the Matrix" posed this same issue. If our perception of "reality" is essentially from brain impulses, It's foreseable that some advanced civilization could create a "virtual world" that hooks up to the brain and re-interprets perceptual data, creating a matrix-like world that is indistinguishable from reality.

The question is then, how do we know we are not living in that world right now? And totally unaware of the fact that what we experience as "reality" is really a highly-advanced simulation?

asked Dec 28 '11 at 18:01

MarcT's gravatar image


edited Dec 28 '11 at 18:45

Is it possible for reality to be a simulation of what? It is not possible for reality to be a simulation of reality.

As for the rest of your question, the answer is that reality, i.e. existence, is an axiomatic concept. We know that existence exists, i.e. that reality is reality, because we perceived it, and we have formed a concept of it.

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/axiomatic_concepts.html http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/existence.html http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/perception.html

(Dec 29 '11 at 09:03) anthony anthony's gravatar image

This is not an answer, but it's an interesting theory on the subject. http://www.simulation-argument.com/

(Dec 29 '11 at 11:37) DarthGalt DarthGalt's gravatar image

One particularly egregious technical flaw in that theory is that a computer within a simulation would necessarily have to have less computing power than the computer making the simulation, though.

This is besides the obvious reductionism being used to lend credence to the "substrate-independence" assumption.

(Dec 31 '11 at 09:49) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Aside from the fact that you are contrasting your "matrix-like" scenario from reality, the "brain impulses" are apparently caused by something.

A stimulation of the brain generated by a probe from a neurosurgeons equipment placing a low voltage stimulation to an area within the grey matter which resulted in a flash of color to the patient would still be a valid response to a stimulation, albeit an unusual one.

We would determine the nature of existence just as we do, by identification via consciousness of the identity of existence. You begin with the perceptually given, and abstract from it, step by step, establishing the logical and hierarchical order, maintaining the contextual relationship, building in the guidelines discovered for elimination of error along the way.

answered Dec 28 '11 at 21:02

dream_weaver's gravatar image

dream_weaver ♦

The hypothetical "simulation of what one experiences as reality" was already discussed in a previous Objectivist Answers question, "How do you know that we aren't just living in a matrix?" There is a quick link to that quesion (and answers) in the lower right area of this webpage. That discusssion also includes a reference to a section in OPAR that discusses it (pages 139-141) in relation to "Knowledge as Hierarchical," "Rand's Razor," and the fallacy of the stolen concept perpetrated by philosophers on a scale that amounts to conceptual "grand larceny."

Describing "a recent skeptic," OPAR explains:

This individual does not merely use advanced knowledge [such as the existence of scientists, electrodes, brains, madness, effects of electrodes on brain function] while ignoring its roots; he uses the knowledge to destroy its own roots [to cast doubt on such basic facts as rocks and other directly perceptual existents]. And he does not merely misappropriate in this fashion a single term, but a complex body of conclusions. He is guilty not merely of one stolen concept, but of conceptual grand larceny. This is the kind of anti-hierarchical corruption that makes philosophies such as skepticism possible. It is this kind of philosophy that Rand's Razor slashes off at the root.

A few paragraphs earlier, introducing Rand's Razor, OPAR explains (in part):

Rand's Razor ... states: name your primaries. Identify your starting points, including the concepts you take to be irreducible, then establish that these are objective axioms.

Objectivism points out that advanced knowledge depends on and presupposes more basic knowledge, and that one cannot rationally assert the certainty of the advanced knowledge if the more basic knowledge is held to be in doubt.

Skeptics, of course, logically end up doubting everything, including the scenarios used to induce doubt. They disintegrate knowledge. OPAR puts is this way:

Today's philosophers ... not only fail to integrate their theories; they crusade for nonintegration, insisting that every question they study is independent of the others, that philosophy consists of "piecemeal analyses," and that the cardinal sin is system building.

"Brain in a vat" scenarios are just one example of the methodology of disintegration. The pioneer of modern disintegration techniques was Immanuel Kant, building on some initial steps by others, including Descartes.

answered Dec 30 '11 at 02:16

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Dec 28 '11 at 18:01

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Last updated: Dec 31 '11 at 09:49