Ahh. My favorite philosophy problem. This existential crisis is documented in SciFi movies quite prolifically. The most notably being The Matrix.
Let “P” stand for any belief or claim about the external world, say, that snow is white.
- If I know that P, then I know that I am not a brain in a vat
- I do not know that I am not a brain in a vat
- Thus, I do not know that P.
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy - The Brain in a Vat Argument
From of postulate number 2, which in this case is a fact, this simple philosophical argument basically states that we know nothing about the world. Just like in that wonderful movie The Matrix , we have no idea that we are actually living a lie.
But in that movie there were discrepancies in the Matrix. They figured out that the world was fake. Wouldn't we know the world is fake too?
They figured out the world was fake because the world they were living in was a recreation of the world they once knew. There is a nature vs future argument to be made, that they knew the world was fake because they knew of their precious world through genetic memory, but that is another topic for another day.
So considering we have always been brains in vats, we wouldn't have a world to know a priori. And if we don't have any genetic memory, anomalies in our current world would seem commonplace.
So where does this leave us? It leaves us in a place where if you really think about it, we have no idea if the world we are experiencing is real or a simulation. It brings a lot of questions into play about why bother doing anything at all if its just a simulation? well, the problem is we don't know. Also, it seems like the only exist strategy is death. So we might as well make the best of the situation, if it is in fact a situation at all and none of it is real. Think about it. If we all are brains in vats, or aliens with 20 arms, or even a crazy crazy computer simulation, does it matter?
Say you are graced with the truth. What would you do with it? Would it change anything? There are two answers to this question:
- You are not a brain in a vat.
- You are a brain in a vat.
If you aren't a brain in a vat, this really doesn't change anything does it? You might as well not have read this article. Life is what it is. This is it. There is nothing else. You can ignore everything you just read.
But what if you are a brain in a vat? Again, does it change anything? What are you going to do about it? You can't stick it to the man... you're in this reality? Does it really matter? You can live what seems to be a perfectly happy life here in this alternate but real reality. So, it might in fact be inconsequential.
Either way, I'm pretty sure the beer stays the same, the sky is just as blue, and the sunset is just as relaxing.
Also, don't forget your towel.