Comments made by philosophy lecturer at the University of Notre Dame
Laura D'Olimpio humans could be the subject of a science experiment
In reality, our brains are being kept alive in vat of nutrients in a laboratory
The nerve endings of your brain are connected to a supercomputer that feeds you all the sensations of everyday life
It's a questions that has baffled humans long before The Matrix; do we exist and what if we are living in a simulation?
While we have yet to have a definitive answer, one expert has waded through this philosophical quagmire to explain arguments about whether we are just a brain in a vat.
Writing for the Converation, Laura D'Olimpio, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Notre Dame Australia, said we can at least be certain we exist.
Writing for the Converation, Laura D'Olimpio, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Notre Dame Australia, said we can at least be certain we exist, even if our reality may bear some resemblance to that of The Matrix (screenshot shown)
Our Reality Is An IllusionConsider this: right now, you are not where you think you are.
The world you see around you is nothing but an illusion.
That's according to cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman who claims we're being tricked into believing our own reality.
He believes that what we are seeing around us is simply a façade that guides our way around a far more complex and hidden matrix.
In fact, you happen to be the subject of a science experiment being conducted by an evil genius.
Your brain has been expertly removed from your body and is being kept alive in a vat of nutrients that sits on a laboratory bench.
The nerve endings of your brain are connected to a supercomputer that feeds you all the sensations of everyday life.
This is why you think you're living a completely normal life.
Do you still exist? Are you still even 'you'? And is the world as you know it a figment of your imagination or an illusion constructed by this evil scientist?
The philosopher Hilary Putnam proposed this famous version of the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment in his 1981 book, Reason, Truth and History. Two brains in jars are shown
Sounds like a nightmare scenario. But can you say with absolute certainty that it's not true?
Could you prove to someone that you aren't actually a brain in a vat?
The philosopher Hilary Putnam proposed this famous version of the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment in his 1981 book, Reason, Truth and History, but it is essentially an updated version of the French philosopher René Descartes' notion of the Evil Genius from his 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy.
French philosopher René Descartes questioned whether we are essentially brains
While such thought experiments might seem glib – and perhaps a little unsettling – they serve a useful purpose.
They are used by philosophers to investigate what beliefs we can hold to be true and, as a result, what kind of knowledge we can have about ourselves and the world around us.
Descartes thought the best way to do this was to start by doubting everything, and building our knowledge from there.
Using this skeptical approach, he claimed that only a core of absolute certainty will serve as a reliable foundation for knowledge.
He said: If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.'
It is from Descartes that we get classical sceptical queries favoured by philosophers such as: how can we be sure that we are awake right now and not asleep, dreaming?
To take this challenge to our assumed knowledge further, Descartes imagines there exists an omnipotent, malicious demon that deceives us, leading us to believe we are living our lives when, in fact, reality could be very different to how it appears to us.
The brain-in-a-vat thought experiment and the challenge of scepticism has also been employed in popular culture. Notable contemporary examples include the 1999 film The Matrix and Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception (a screenshot from Inception is shown)
The brain-in-a-vat thought experiment and the challenge of scepticism has also been employed in popular culture.
Notable contemporary examples include the 1999 film The Matrix and Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception.
By watching a screened version of a thought experiment, the viewer may imaginatively enter into a fictional world and safely explore philosophical ideas.
For example, while watching The Matrix, we identify with the protagonist, Neo (Keanu Reeves), who discovers the 'ordinary' world is a computer-simulated reality and his atrophied body is actually suspended in a vat of life-sustaining liquid.
Even if we cannot be absolutely certain that the external world is how it appears to our senses, Descartes commences his second meditation with a small glimmer of hope.
While watching The Matrix 9screenshot shown), we identify with the protagonist, Neo (Keanu Reeves), who discovers the 'ordinary' world is a computer-simulated reality and his atrophied body is actually suspended in a vat of life-sustaining liquid
At least we can be sure that we ourselves exist, because every time we doubt that, there must exist an 'I' that is doing the doubting.
This consolation results in the famous expression cogito ergo sum, or 'I think therefore I am'.
So, yes, you may well be a brain in a vat and your experience of the world may be a computer simulation programmed by an evil genius.
But, rest assured, at least you're thinking.
THE TEST THAT COULD PROVE REALITY IS AN ILLUSION
The universe doesn't exist if we stop looking at it.
This is according a famous theory in quantum mechanics which argues that a particle's past behaviour changes based on what we see.
Last year, scientists performed an experiment proving this theory to be true on the scale of atoms.
According to the rules of quantum mechanics, the boundary between the 'world out there' and our own subjective consciousness are blurred.
When physicists look at atoms or particles of light, what they see depends on how they have set up their experiment.
To test this, physicists at the Australian National University recently conducted what is known as the John Wheeler's delayed-choice thought experiment.
The experiment involves a moving object that is given the choice to act like a particle or a wave.
Wheeler's experiment then asks - at which point does the object decide?
Common sense says the object is a wave-like or particle-like, independent of how we measure it.
But quantum physics predicts that whether you observe wave like behaviour or particle behaviour depends only on how it is actually measured at the end of its journey.
This is exactly what the Australian team found.
'It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,' said Associate Professor Andrew Truscott.