Brain in a vat

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by James R, Nov 22, 2016.

  1. birch Valued Senior Member

    this brain in a vat is maybe partly true but not in the literal sense. We may be simultaneously in different planes of existence as in different aspects of consciousness exist in different levels of reality so can see or know what your eyes can't as well as on the physical plane that we define it as.
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  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    The general idea of one's total identity being distributed far beyond the body state exhibited in an immediate moment, but that local instance of the person lacking awareness of the greater extension, also tumbles of out of perdurantism.

    Even though you may be conscious in most if not all of your temporal parts, each of those only has isolated cognition of itself. Due to the recruited memories and sensory information present in the body of that moment concerning that duration alone (and the "nearby" past moments preceding it which it may "be about").[*]

    No particular brain state has access to and can carry consciousness of the entire identity complex; it just makes its own slice of the overall entity "real" by showing it visually, aurally, haptically, etc. The commonsense interpretation of each temporal part turning on and off in sequence instead of all "being continuously on at once" results from their relational or connective order as experienced internally.

    - - - - - - -

    [*] Actually a milliseconds-long unit of human cognition would supervene upon a vast number of yoctoseconds that divide time at the subatomic level. Which arguably attests to the necessity of them co-existing slash perpetually enduring. A unit of human cognition cannot "fit" into a yoctosecond.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2017
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  5. danshawen Valued Senior Member


    Quite the teaser. With sufficiently "randomized" stimuli that were just consistent enough with prior experience, it would be next to impossible to tell if you were just a disembodied brain.

    One might imagine that removing parts of your own brain without sedation would be a pretty good test, assuming that is not something routinely done by skilled or unskilled brain surgeons in the simulation, wouldn't it? But then, the simulation could selectively cut out the sensory channels you were using to perform the surgery. Devious. A better plan would be to study brain surgery within the simulation and try the experiment on other victims first, to be absolutely certain that they weren't somehow "brains in vats". If they did not survive the test, they would leave the simulation and not come back, which while not as stimulating, would perhaps provide a satisfying enough endeavor all by itself. If you did the test well enough, it might even end in the eventual involuntary removal of your own brain to find out whatever might have been wrong with it. I don't think any of the referenced screenplays in Wikipedia have done a plot based on that scenario, but give it time. What happens to the character of Walter in "Fringe" was pretty close.

    If the laws of physics were not consistently adhered to or reproducible within the simulation of the vat, that would be suspicious, but not altogether unreasonable given sufficient time for the brain to adjust to it. Unfortunately, this is already the case, courtesy of the way science works and how finite minds must do their science and also and especially Mr. Gödel's incompleteless theorems. Inconsistency or incompleteness are your only choices in this universe, due to the nature of the symbolic structure of mathematics, or of science also, because it relies so heavily on this particular tool.

    One of the main reasons I don't contemplate reality to be a simulation of any kind is because it appears to be possible that the brain itself was created by the same process as all other life, by means of genetic variation and natural selection of both brain structures and ideas over untold millenia. By fortunate accident, when our large neocortex area began simulating and predicting the behavior of both other individuals and society, we ceased to be predatory reptiles and morphed into a creature that was both cared for by and cared about others of our species. Everything that is a work of man distinguished as the masters of this realm was accomplished only because, for those possessing a mammalian neocortex, it elevated the status of family, friends and society to something we regarded as valued much more than our next meal, a sexual partner or a competitor for available resources. Unless you work somewhere like Wall Street or the White House these days. Plenty of snakes in suits there.

    Fortunately, even the most tenderly cared for and capable brains eventually become useless and deteriorate to the point that the stimulation would not need to be very sophisticated to make life uninteresting, repetitive and/or terrifying. That was one of the more endearing qualities of the portrait of Mr. Burns.

    Philosophy is not science. There isn't even a test for what constitutes a pseudo-philosophy. A philosophy that avoids dealing with the nature of truth before discussing other things intimately related to the nature of truth would be my test, but that would include many assumed major works of philosophy.
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2017
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  7. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Yes. Switching briefly from this BIV scenairo to a tactic that an ordinary, dreaming brain uses to handle mishaps in its simulated realities...

    Depending on the degree of amnesia about the waking world or the amount of false memories dispensed to an "oneiric avatar", the latter often has its ersatz personal history and judgements mutably edited or retconned. So that inconsistencies or crazy anomalies are interpreted by the avatar as either "normal" or coherent with recollection. Of course, not everybody dreams the same way and thereby would be familiar with that. Some people never remember their dreams and others may always experience awareness or half-awareness that they're dreaming (i.e., no amnesia / memory substitution in semi-constant flux or only a partial amount of such).

    Back to either BIV or technological artificial realms in general... Assuming that not even quantum computers filling a warehouse could literally perform the processes for the unfolding and unobserved entirety of a whole universe (have the resources to maintain that inferred invisible existence as "real" everywhere), when either the illusion-seduced BIV's consciousness or a Matrix collective of inhabitants isn't around to experience quantitative operations as a tree falling in the forest... Then another gimmick could also be borrowed from the dreaming brain.

    The latter's ability to create a limited virtual environment on the fly for its perceiving avatar's POV (call it "algorithmic solipsism" or something). Whereas the dreaming brain's commitment to a world regulated by natural law is very sloppy (the events conform to emotional vagaries as much as reason), a computer source could more rigidly follow the cosmic principles and government of its VR program, within the context of those generated, external environment perspectives.

    Doubtless there would still be occasional incongruities with a BIV's or VR denizen's current sensations in regard to the simulated world's calculated "storyline of the past" of what transpired in _X_ location when not perceived. But that's when the safeguard revision of personal judgements / memory would kick-in (and far less needing to be used than with the brain's slipshod regulation of dream domains).
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  8. danshawen Valued Senior Member

    I seem to recall that my earliest memories of this reality, when first experienced at a tender age, were extremely "crisp", for want of a better adjective, whereas the ones I experienced much later that were of the same or a similar category of sensation seemed somehow much "duller", again, for the want of a better adjective. Perhaps this is because more processing is required almost immediately in order to relate previous experiences to new ones. Obviously, this function would also be a survival imperative. You would need to sharply remember whatever it was that hurt you the first time, in order to avoid pain or worse at subsequent encounters. If THAT feature is part of some sort of simulation, then it would need to be an extremely comprehensive and sophisticated bit of work, and of a variety that could convince anyone that intelligent design of some variety has to be behind the curtains of our level of reality. I needn't remind anyone that evolution created the brains which were designed to experience reality and function in this way. And the multitudinous brain designs that didn't never made it far enough in this reality to be able to reproduce those fatal flaws. A very nuanced simulation, I think anyone would agree.

    What would really be great in this reality would be some means of sharpening first impressions of experience so that it seemed new and fresh each and every time they were experienced. At some point, this doesn't need to be associated with a survival imperative. I'm talking about recreation based on this idea. It is possible, there actually are some experiences we have as adults that actually come close to this ideal. Once again, this probably is by design.

    My own mom, now in a nursing home facility and in the middle stages of dementia brought on by a relentless two year series of mini-strokes. Of course, there is no way she could now respond to such a question at this point in the progression of her condition, but my wonder is whether her condition might arrange things so that she could experience fresh sensation as though it were the first time she had ever experienced it. If that were true, that would indeed be wondrous, and also very much something I would myself look forward to experiencing. I'm not talking about death, but obviously, this will be a brief memory that each of us need experience only once, even if it is not memorable for very long. May yours all be crisp, and I mean that in the kindest way.

    A number of notables have commented on the possibility that we are living in some sort of simulation, but the final nail in the whole "brain in a vat" coffin, IMHO, would be, why in the realm of this reality or any other would anyone or anything go to all that trouble to simulate whatever we are responding to? Would there be a higher purpose to this activity, and if there is, what could it possibly be? Is it too much to assume, eventually we will all find out?
    Last edited: Apr 24, 2017
  9. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Yah, there is that: "What the devil would the aims be?" Not just in the context of BIV, but in the broad spectrum of simulacron traditions.

    Purely in the context of metaphysical recreation, I've gradually strayed away over time from assuming that any "higher level" we might be nested inside of would also be either supremely moral or have much empathy about our well-being. Which in turn allows vices, dark amusements, and power motives for the pursuing of such ventures (when others don't apply). Using humans themselves as an example that fills those transcendent shoes:

    Given the range of cruel experiments that was conducted on their captives, I could imagine the equivalent of Nazi researchers having a pathological curiosity about what happens in regard to: "This is a Jew's brain on long-term immersion in simulation". (Or gypsy, Jehovah's Witness, etc).

    Given all the characters that get killed right and left (often in torturous ways), video game creators seem to care little about the inhabitants of their digital sports. (Plus there's the melodrama featured in centuries of fictional literature or verbal storytelling, which was arguably our first superficial foray into world imitation.)

    Although I haven't kept up with progress in evolutionary computation offshoots for some time, I'm guessing that in the distant future any sophisticated A-Life entities falling out of such projects (which featured development via selection in virtual environments) probably wouldn't merit receiving special rights until an activist group got involved. Or to put another way: The researchers just run a program for _X_ years with zero concern about what tribulations finally produce A-Life designs or "advanced communities" which interest them.

    From another standpoint, however, endless physical regress or fallacies like the so-called "homunculus argument" eschew repeats. Of there figuratively being one nested Russian-doll inside yet another nested Russian-doll, or a particular scheme self-referringly being the reason / cause for itself at the next underlying or overlying level.

    In terms of this speculative territory, such "logic" would seem to prescribe that the "author realm" should be either modestly or radically different from what we're familiar with. Which is to say, an inter-dependent organization of components or the mechanistic / relational workings approach of nature should not be repeated, whether employed in the form of yet more computers or whatever equivalent devices. Yet clearly we are tentatively inventing simple "virtual realities" ourselves re-using that approach (setting up the possibility for iteration), so stratified redundancy isn't scurrying away just because one area of "proper thinking" dislikes the lack of novelty in "explaining" a situation with another version of itself.
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  10. danshawen Valued Senior Member

    Something like this:

    also produced a human mind, evidently from mammalian neocortical enhancements surrounding a reptilian brain.

    Think of reptiles as pets. Are you likely to become attached to one the way you would a dog or a cat? Would a reptile return any affection? That's the enhancement of adaptation that made cooperation with other humans possible. Your brain models a parent's, or a friend's or a mate's behavior while their brain models yours. It makes a big difference in terms of what manner of interspecies cooperation and societal structure is possible.

    I have owned two talking birds, both african greys, one male and one female. Except for Alex, they NEVER get the pronoun usage correct. There is no "you" modeled by a bird or a reptile's brain; only "me". The construction of the reptilian brain explains why. No detailed modeling of another individual's behavior is possible on the level humans or even other mammals enjoy. It also explains human adolescent and psychopathic type behaviors, but that's another story.

    There is another part of our brains still in development which means that religious worship provides a measure of endorphine reward on the order of sexual activity. Don't ask me what exactly that development is all about, because I don't seem to have that adaptation. It must be nice. I don't think I'd want it, mainly because a close relationship with an invisible friend would be a form of mental illness. Sounds addictive as well. Who needs that? What survival function could it possibly serve, in a setting other than a hive mind? If the human race is morphing into a society of orthodox religious insects, just sting me to death and be done with it. Not interested in riding that train to glory, or anywhere else.

    So, one heck of a "brain in a vat" simulation we seem to have going here. There are even animals that mimic many of the behaviors we attribute to functioning nerve cells or a brain which seem to have no structure that even resembles a nerve cell at all. A paramecium is just one example. It can respond to different environmental variables like hot and cold or the presence of nutrients, and even communicates with others of its kind using full duplex UV emitters and receptors. Not even a single nerve cell is needed in order for it to accomplish this. So in this regard, there is really nothing special about having an actual "brain", in a vat or otherwise.
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2017
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