Friday, October 04, 2013

Is Anything Real? (Correct Answer: Yes)

One of my philosophy students sent me this and asked what I think about it.

Here are some thoughts.

He spells "epistemology" wrong - that's not a good beginning...

As I'm watching this I think he can be accused of committing the "mereological fallacy" - see

Neuroscience and Philosophy: Brain, Mind, and Language

G.E. Moore once gave a proof that he existed. He lifted up his hands in the air and said, "Look." (G.E. Moore, Philosophical Studies) In other words, there is no good reason to doubt that I exist, and that I now see my hands.

"Is anything real?" Of course. There is no good reason to doubt this. Are there epistemological issues that are more complex than we might think? Yes. 

"Can science and reason ever prove, convincingly, that you don't live in the matrix?" His answer is "No." This may seem profound, but it's not. But there's no good reason to think we do live in the matrix. Just because we can't prove "convincingly" that we don't live in the matrix does not mean we can't know that we don't live in the matrix. See our logic book, again, on the irrationality of philosophical skepticism. (Vaughn, The Power of Critical Thinking)

"You are alone in your own brain." This is good old philosophical solipsism, a much-rejected idea.

"Everything you know about the world 'out there' depends on and is created inside your brain." I think that statement is philosophical nonsense. (Berkeley's famous esse est percipi; to be is to be perceived.) And, all science stands against this, since science is, precisely, the study of the empirical world (the world outside). This guy's thinking claims to be dependent on science, on scientific study of the physical brain. Science is based on philosophical realism; viz., that a real world exists independently of one's mind/brain. To draw on realistic studies of the physical brain (neuronal studies, e.g.) and then use it to argue against realism is absurd. So I think his reasoning is ultimately caught up in a self-refuting loop.

"You cannot know realism is true." False, if we understand "know" in a non-philosophical-skepticism way. A "realist" worldview is a "properly basic belief"; viz., something we can be said to "know" non-evidentially.

He cites the work of Martin Gardner. Note that Martin Gardner is not taken seriously in philosophical epistemological discussion. And, Gardner's worldview is philosophically questionable; at least, it's one worldview that has many opponents.

Needed: deeper epistemological study; phenomenology of perception study.

To sum up: This guy has a worldview himself (everyone has a worldview). He's making statements out of his worldview. Statements are sentences that are either true or false. He thinks his statements are true (obviously). They may (I'm not sure) be true, given his worldview. For all who don't buy his worldview (Berkeleyian idealism? Pierce's panpsychism?) his statements are false, and the questions that arise out of his arguably panpsychic worldview are irrelevant.