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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  11. Doreen Valued Senior Member

    If you, James, cannot KNOW if you are a brain in a vat, then how can you know your argument above makes any sense. It seems implicit in your response to Jan that he cannot know. Given that once you may be a brain in a vat or in a simulation - for how would a brain in a vat know it was not in a simulation - then all empirical conclusions that seems obvious may not be - all logical arguments that seem obvious may also not be. The brain in a vat or the consciousness in a simulation can have been easily misled or misled itself. Once you open to the possibility that you are a brain in a vat or consciousness in a simulation your certainties go out the window. Even those about what another consciousness may or may not KNOW.

    All you know about epistemology, brains, knowledge are also included, it seems to me in what YOUR position must conclude it cannot be sure of. Jan may be overreaching, but how would you know?
  12. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    We can still know that 1+1=2 because we define it to be so.

    Similarly, someone holding a hundred dollar bill while saying they have no money we can establish as illogical (i.e. a lie) because that's what we have decided constitutes a lie, and it is based on our perceptions - whether or not they reflect a larger objective world.

    We can hear words from others that we understand, and agree with them that 1+1=2 (or that money means not broke).
    Whether those others are simulations is beside the point.

    You could live in a padded room, having no contact with the outside world, and still establish internally consistent rules.

    In Jan'c case, he overreaches by asserting to "know" about a larger objective reality, when he can only speak to his subjective perceptions. We he checks with others, he finds that there is no consensus of whether God exists for all, so it's not the same as us defining 1+1 as equaling 2.
  13. Kittamaru Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Adieu, Sciforums. Valued Senior Member

    All one can do is make the best determination based on the evidence at hand - that is, I believe, the entire point James was trying to make. Jan's claim that he "just knows" he is not a BIAV is bunk because of this. Without an "outside" observer to confirm that he is or is not, in fact, a BIAV, there is no way for Jan to confirm 100% that he is or is not one.
  14. DaveC426913 Valued Senior Member

    And the problem, of course, is that we cannot know that an outside observer really is outside. We can't trust that "proof of outsideness" is not also false.
  15. Kittamaru Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Adieu, Sciforums. Valued Senior Member

  16. birch Valued Senior Member

    if you try to eat soup with a fork and then proclaim soup doesn't exist because it is straining through the fork (methodology), does that mean the soup doesn't exist?

    just as a brain in a vat idea is possible but not provable, many ideas outside of scientific methodology are just assumptively dismissed as non-existing or of no possible validity. practically and in the present, that makes sense but realistically, i don't think so.

    here is an idea: what if there are things that are true or exist that cannot be proven with scientific methodology? impossible? if you think it's impossible, i think that becomes a limited philosophical point of view.

    does it automatically mean something can't exist because another isn't there to percieve it or can't?
  17. Michael 345 New year. PRESENT is 72 years oldl Valued Senior Member


    The person KNOWS the soup exist because


    It does mean the equivalent of the person trying to record sound waves with a light meter

    Ain't going to happen

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    Such as what?

    Are there examples?

    I would contend there is a vast amount of stuff not understand and yes a lot of real stuff not found

    If if if there is stuff out there which cannot be detected by scientific methodology is there is another method which can be used?

    I think it might be more a practical realisation not to be trying to chase after anything which MIGHT exist and maybe a limited imagination

    More or less YES

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  18. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    I'll concede that it is possible that Jan might actually know he is not a brain in the same vat as mine, so to speak. It is conceivable that Jan is a person on the "outside", communicating with my brain via the computer connections. That is, perhaps I'm a brain in a vat and Jan knows it, and also knows that his brain isn't in a vat as far as he perceives it.

    But that only bumps the knowledge issue up one level for Jan. He might, in fact, know that his perception is that I am a brain in a vat, but that says nothing at all about whether his own perception is in any way more reliable than mine. He might still be a brain in a vat, being fed the perception that he's "really" on the outside looking in.

    So, as far as I can tell, Jan can't ever know absolutely that he is not a brain in a vat. Not unless the logic I take for granted in my vat has no actual correspondence with "real world" logic, whatever that might be.
  19. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    By some people, maybe.

    I'm willing to concede that there are things out there that cannot, in principle, be disproved scientifically - that is, there are many ideas and claims that are scientifically unfalsifiable, and which therefore probably don't count as "proper" scientific claims at all. The idea that we are all brains in vats is among those. That's one reason I would never make the claim that I am brain in a vat, as previously defined. My point here is that we can't know whether or not we're brains in vats. If we could, then presumably that knowledge would be in some sense "scientific", or amendable to scientific investigation.

    You tell me. What if there are? Most of those things presumably wouldn't have any important effect on the material world, because if they did then those effects would be measurable and analysable using scientific methodology.

    One small point though: science's job is not to "prove" things. Nothing in science is proven, in the strict sense, unlike in something like mathematics. The job of science is to explain regularities that we see in the world, which it does by making models that are accurately predictive of outcomes in the world.

    Can you think of anything important in the world that cannot be proven with scientific methodology? (*)

    Generally, in order to say that something exists, more than one person has to agree that it exists. That agreement can come about through shared experience, or through a convincing argument or demonstration, or in other ways.

    (*) You could well argue something along the lines of "What could be more important than knowing whether you're a brain in a vat, or not?" But the fact is, if you are a brain in a vat, there's literally nothing you can do about it. You might as well just live your life as if you aren't a brain in a vat. So, in that sense, it isn't very important at all.

    Similarly with something like God. What could be more important than whether there is or there isn't a God? Well, if God has no apparent effects on the material world, then God's existence is more or less irrelevant when it comes to getting on with your life - at least as far as I can see.
  20. birch Valued Senior Member

    i would disagree that there aren't things that affect us even right now that are yet to be proven with science. for instance, before the microscope, we weren't aware of bacteria. people still made do and accepted things as they were but they were still affected. we don't really know what does or does not affect us until we discover it. then we can connect the dots. it's like any discovery. we only know the current status quo as being all there is or the way it is, so it's considered the norm.

    i would even go so far to conjecture that spirits, ghosts and others energies may affect us and there may be no way to change it but if we could, our experience of life, possibly even our state of health could be changed. we can't be aware of that state of change until we experience it. one common example is being around positive people has an affect on our overall health, even physical just as being around negative people affects us too. even subtle things can have an impact. you may not be able to bottle it but they still affect us and are real.

    i once went up to the mountains to spend a few weeks and the difference i noticed in my health was remarkable because of the fresh air. i didn't realize how polluted or stale the air was in the city until i experienced a different comparison.

    also, for instance, i had a very powerful dream once. i was in a different world and this world was something that was being studied under a microscope of some sort. i was brought out of it and i was laying on a type of gurney. it was something of a lab with many people and instruments and everything was white. they 'apologized' to me, their apology meant my experience of this existence (lol). we were conversing and i understood what they were saying even though this was not a language i know.

    the most remarkable part of this dream was that there was this type of shower in the middle of the room which was from floor to ceiling and i was directed to enter it. a beam of light, which is the only way to describe it flowed through my being and highlighted as well as cleared all the dredge and debris and darkness from me and it was as if i was truly experiencing and understanding my true identity. i could truly feel and know who i was and understand and be clear and truly whole. there was nothing to oppress, weigh me down or obscure, which was normal here.

    while we take showers to cleanse ourselves 'physically', and of physical bacteria which we consider to be the only source or form of pathogen or parasite, this was more comprehensive and deeper as the light highlighted all the (spiritual?) debris and gunk/parasites that i had absorbed in this existence and it cleared/cleansed me of it. i have never experienced a sense of wellness, cleanliness and wholeness like that. but that dream, i think, was more than just a random dream because it showed me a state of higher being and state of well-being that is possible, IF, our quality of life can be raised to that level.

    also, this world was so beautiful. it had none of the atrocities, evil, malignancy, corruption, deceit or darkness that is par for the course here.

    it showed me the possibility of a higher state of being and a better place/worlds/universes may exist.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2017
  21. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


    You're shifting the goalposts a bit there.

    Previously, you suggested that there are "ideas outside of scientific methodology". Bacteria wouldn't be one of those. Sure, for a long time we had no idea about bacteria - we simply didn't know bacteria existed. But as soon as we became aware of its existence, Science was on the case, investigating and trying to learn more.

    I totally agree with you that we can't know what does or doesn't affect us if it is undiscovered. My claim is that anything important that we discover is likely to be amenable to scientific investigation. And, as for discovering new things under the sun, science is something that does that more consistently than any other field of human endeavour I can think of.

    The idea of ghosts and spirits has been around for centuries, but as far as I am aware no ghost of spirit has had any important effect on the course of history. Ghosts and spirits never tell us anything useful that we couldn't have found out some other way. No new scientific discoveries have ever come from ghosts. And, to put it bluntly, the evidence that ghosts and spirits exist in any form at all (other than in the human imagination) is very weak indeed.

    Yes, but science has an explanation for those kinds of things, too. Human beings are social animals. We are inevitably influenced by the people around us. So, being around positive people makes us happier, and vice versa for negative people. And yes, even subtle things can impact. My point is: there's no need to invoke any supernatural forces to explain this kind of stuff.

    Yes. The air quality in large cities is typically worse than in country areas. I notice it too.

    I don't want to burst your bubble here, birch. But it was a dream. Sometimes we have nice dreams. I like having that kind of dream. Some dreams can bring up personal hopes or feelings that can leave you feeling quite different when you wake up. But, again, I don't put down the feelings I get from having a good dream to some kind of supernatural agency. I think it's just my mind doing what it does when it dreams.

    And what about nightmares? Do you think those are equally a kind of message from some other world/beings/existence, or are they, again, a product of your own mind?

    One thing I would suggest you consider is this: when you first wake up after a dream, try to remember the details as well as you can. Then think about where some of the imagery might have come from. Have you seen the room or location in your dream before? Do you recognise the people or things in the dream from your memories? Because I think that dreams are mostly constructed from fragments of memory, with a dose of fantasy thrown in.

    Warning: it can make the nice dreams seem like a bit of a let down if you manage to identify a location, a person or whatever from the dream as something from your memory. But it makes sense. Where else could those images and scenes come from, other than your memories?

    Personally, I'm quite a fan of the idea that dreams are one way the brain goes about sorting out the important memories from the ones it doesn't think it needs to keep. Lots of people think that memory is like a recording of everything you've ever seen, and that you just have trouble accessing that recording perfectly, but I don't think memory is really like that. Memory is more like the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.
  22. Tralay Registered Member


    In fact, because they eyes of the robot are connected to the brain it would appear to the brain that it is looking out of it's own eyes and it could potentially look over at the brain that is in the vat and not associate itself with that brain. Of course it could go and mess with the wires and quickly deduce that the brain is indeed it's own, but for all intents and purposes it could be tricked. Now, going a bit further with it though, the brain that is in the robot would have to be hooked to the brain as well, in a way so as to mimic any situation that could happen to it as if it were the real brain controlling the body. The reason I say this is because, what if someone were to operate on the robot, and of course this someone would be a robot under the same circumstances, and perform a brain procedure, there would have to be the same movements let's say, when a certain area was touched on the fake brain as when touched on the real brain. This would assure that even the other brains in vats wouldn't be able to detect that they were all just brains in vats.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2017
  23. birch Valued Senior Member

    What i mean is there are the parts and the sum of those parts are to create an effect, even something as nebulous and fleeting as emotion or a thought. I could even say no two thoughts or emotions are ever exactly alike or can be exactly re-created as it was before. Can you bottle that? Can you see it as in evidence? Sometimes but not always. No, but it's still real. It has its own type of properties that go beyond the finite grasp of even solid, liquid, and gas, for instance.

    If you go back to looking at only the parts, you still miss the effect. Both are real on either side of the spectrum, just a different type of reality.

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