Hello, and welcome to the Great Debates in Philosophy series. I'm your host and the moderator tonight, Fabulinus. I will be speaking with two of the most important figures in modern epistemology, Brain in a Vat and Evil Demon, both of whom have both made their name in the burgeoning field of skepticism.
Fabulinus: Welcome, both of you!
BiaV: [waves at camera] Hi mom!
Fabulinus: Before we start, could we quickly go over some of the general theory behind skepticism for our audience?
BiaV: I think I can probably answer that for both of us, Fabulinus. The essential claim is that while all sensory stimuli can be explained by biochemical reactions in the environment mediated through a complex neural network, it could also be just as thoroughly explained by direct electrochemical stimulation of the neurons, or in the case of Evil Demon, direct modification to the mental processes without reference to physical structures as all.
Fabulinus: Does that seem like a fair description to you, Evil?
ED: IN BROAD TERMS. YES.
Fabulinus: Now for the purposes of this debate, Brain will also be representing the positions of The Matrix and all computer simulations, whether biologically or mechanically based. Evil will be representing all positions relating to pure idealism mediated by a powerful non-corporeal being, including the those involving the God of Job and Noah. Correct?
Fabulinus: So, how do you two find evidence to support your positions, given the starting assumptions that all external sources of information are essentially illusions?
ED: WELL, FABULINUS, I THINK THAT IT'S SIMPLY A MATTER OF FINDING THE MOST DIRECT ONTOLOGICAL SYSTEM TO EXPLAIN OBSERVED PHENOMENON. WE DON'T HAVE DIRECT EXPERIENCE OF NEURONS AND CHEMICALS, WE HAVE DIRECT EXPERIENCE OF QUALIA. THE ASSUMPTION THAT THE BASIS OF OUR REALITY IS TWIDDLY LITTLE BITS THAT TOOK HUMANS THOUSANDS, OR EVEN MILLIONS, OF YEARS TO NOTICE IS DODGY AT BEST. WE KNOW THAT WE HAVE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS AND EXPERIENCES, SO WHY NOT ALLOW THAT THE COHERENT SYSTEM WE EXPERIENCE DIRECTLY IS VALID?
Fabulinus: Brain? I assume that you'll be arguing for an essentially dualist view?
BiaV: Well, I don't think that we need to address the matter of dualism verses materialism here. Suffice to say, I think that there is no need to introduce a new set of beings to explain the cause and effect that we appear to observe in the external world. Our evidence for neurons is admittedly indirect, but at least we have evidence for neurons. Demons and gods, are, no offence intended, imaginary even by by the shaky standards of materialism.
Fabulinus: Evil? What do you say to that?
ED: BELIEF IN NEURONS AND ELECTRICAL POTENTIALS ARE JUST A NEWFANGLED WAY OF REFERRING TO THE MYSTERIOUS FORCES THAT HUMANS CANNOT UNDERSTAND. BY INVENTING A MORE COMPLEX SYSTEM OF EXPLANATION, HUMANS HAVE CONVINCED THEMSELVES THAT THEY ARE BECOMING MORE LOGICALLY CONSISTENT -- BUT THEIR BASIS FOR THEIR COMPLEXITY IS THE EXTERNAL WORLD! AS LONG AS WE ARE WORKING UNDER THE ASSUMPTION THAT THE EXTERNAL WORLD IS ILLUSORY, IT IS MORE LOGICALLY CONSISTENT TO PRIVILEGE THE LESS COMPLEX EXPLANATION OVER THE MORE COMPLEX.
Fabulinus: You mean an anthropomorphic cause, such as a demon, over a scientific cause as proposed by modern physics and biology?
ED: YES. WE HAVE DIRECT EXPERIENCE THAT AT LEAST ONE ANTHROPOMORPHIC BEING EXISTS, NAMELY OURSELVES, AND DIRECT EXPERIENCE THAT BEINGS THAT APPEAR ANTHROPOMORPHIC EXIST ALL AROUND US. OUR EVIDENCE FOR NEURONS IS RIDICULOUSLY ABSTRACT.
Fabulinus: Brain? Do you have a response?
BiaV: The science does get pretty abstract, but only because they are carefully building on observed phenomenon. No one has ever directly seen a demon or evidence that they exist. Present company excluded, of course.
ED: THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF HISTORY DISAGREE WITH YOU.
BiaV: History that I have not directly experienced. For all I know those are myths created to frighten children, and have no basis in reality.
ED: NOR CAN YOU CLAIM TO HAVE EXPERIENCED EVERY EXPERIMENT THAT 'PROVES' YOUR PRECIOUS NEURONS!
BiaV: But I could if I wanted to! I can't call up a demon. I could call up a scanning electron microscope and see me some neurons.
ED: AN IMAGINARY MICROSCOPE!
Fabulinus: Woah, I think we'd better calm down a bit. I wonder if either of you feel that framing the debate this way highlights the religious aspects of philosophy as it stood in the 1600s?
ED: NO. DESCARTES ORIGINALLY POSTULATED ME IN RELIGIOUS TERMS, BUT HE WAS QUITE CORRECTLY THINKING IN STRICT SKEPTICAL TERMS. HE WAS JUST AS READY TO DOUBT A DEMON AS HE WAS ANY OTHER ASPECT OF HIS KNOWLEDGE. HE DID RECOGNIZE THAT SINCE HIS LIFE DID NOT APPEAR TO BE COMPLETELY RANDOM, THERE DID HAVE TO BE SOME SORT OF BEING GUIDING HIS EXPERIENCES, WHICH IN HIS WORLDVIEW MEANT A SUPERNATURAL BEING. BUT A NON-RELIGIOUS PERSON SHOULD REACH ESSENTIALLY THE SAME CONCLUSIONS.
BiaV: But that's begging the question! The correct conclusion is that there is some sort of organizing framework, not necessarily that there is a powerful being controlling your life!
ED: EMERGENT SYSTEMS CAN PRODUCE VERY COMPLEX RESULTS, BUT EVEN YOU YOURSELF ASSUME THAT A SYSTEM COMPLEX ENOUGH TO PRODUCE HUMAN EXPERIENCE STARTS WITH A 5 BILLION YEAR LEAD-UP TIME! AND THAT'S BEFORE YOU ADDRESS THE POSSIBILITY THAT PEOPLE ARE COMPUTER SIMULATIONS -- BEHIND THAT INSURMOUNTABLE EPISTEMOLOGICAL BARRIER, YOU MUST ASSUME EVEN MORE TIME, IN SO FAR AS YOUR MODEL ALLOWS US TO ASSUME ANYTHING!
BiaV: At least I have an ontology! Your model is simply a statement that it's not worth exploring the causes of human experience, so we should just assume the most 'relatable' cause we can imagine!
ED: BECAUSE I CAN AT LEAST SHOW THAT THE 'RELATABLE' CAUSES EXIST!
Fabulinus: Just to clarify, Evil, you are saying that the coherence of Brain's worldview is not a point in its favor?
ED: COMPLEXITY DOES NOT IMPLY TRUTH. THE CORPOREAL BASTARD IS CONFUSING INTELLECTUAL ENTERTAINMENT VALUE WITH ONTOLOGICAL VALIDITY. IT WOULD BE NO MORE CORRECT TO CLAIM THAT THE MOST INVENTIVE AUTHOR IS THE BEST HISTORIAN.
BiaV: But by the same measure, it would be incorrect to claim that the most simple-minded author tells the most complete story!
ED: IF YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF EXTERNAL BEINGS IS SIMPLE-MINDED, THAT INDICATES THAT YOU ARE SIMPLE YOURSELF. YOU LIVE IN A WORLD OF PERCEIVED AGENTS ACTING IN COMPLEX WAYS; IT IS NO INTELLECTUAL DISHONESTY TO ATTRIBUTE COMPLEX CAUSES TO COMPLEX AGENTS!
BiaV: It is intellectually dishonest to end your search for complex causes with the first fairy tale you hear as a child!
Fabulinus: Hey now! No one is being intellectually dishonest, we just have different worldviews, that's all. Brain, how do you...
ED: BUT THAT'S THE THING, FAB, WE DON'T HAVE DIFFERENT WORLD VIEWS; WE ARE BOTH ARGUING FROM THE SAME PERCEIVED REALITY, BUT ONE OF US PREFERS INTELLECTUAL MASTURBATION OVER DIRECT COGNITIVE ALIEF, DESPITE HAVING NO OBJECTIVE ARGUMENT TO SUPPORT SUCH NONSENSE!
BiaV: 'Direct cognitive alief' my pineal gland! 'God' is just social engineering to enforce outdated social norms, not a fundamental cognitive function!
ED: YOU LEAVE MY FATHER OUT OF THIS!!
BiaV: You can't hurt me! You're nothing but qualia!
Fabulinus: That's all for now folks! Join us next time when we'll be interviewing Pascal and his mugger! Bye!
[Muffled crashes and screaming fade quickly into darkness.]