Epistemology

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Have you ever considered the possibility that the fundamental makeup of our universe is something completely different from what science has led us to believe? Perhaps our world isn’t made up of protons, electrons, atoms, and molecules, and that all of our theories of quantum mechanics and macro/microphysics turn out to be incorrect. Perhaps we were created for a greater (or smaller) purpose than we are aware of. How would you react if you were to learn that our universe is nothing as we thought it to be? For David Chalmers, he believes that we should not be alarmed or afraid of a drastic change in what we think of as reality; granted, this altered reality presents itself plausible in theory. In his paper, The Matrix as Metaphysics, Chalmers explores the possibility of our world being similar to that of the one in the movie The Matrix (details of what type of world this is will be explained later), and asserts that it is plausible that we could be living in such a world right now. In this paper we will look into David Chalmers’ reasons for believing the possibility of this type of world to exist, and more importantly examine his argument that if it did, then we should not have to disregard a large number of our former beliefs, just that we are merely gaining more knowledge of the world around us.

Chalmers begins his paper by drawing similarities between The Matrix and the philosophical fable of the brain in a vat. This fable is useful to those that haven’t seen the movie, for the story of the brain in a vat tells a similar account to that of the world that exists in The Matrix. The fable goes somewhat like the following. A brain, separated from its body, is floating inside a container, and that container is sitting inside of a scientific laboratory. The scientist behind the procedure has arranged so that the brain will receive the same sort of inputs that a regular embodied brain would receive. In order to achieve such a procedure, the brain is connected to a vast computer simulation of a real world. Which inputs the brain receives is dependent upon the simulation set in place, and when the brain sends out signals these outputs are then assimilated into the simulation. The brain believes it has a body, believes it is living in a real world like you and me. From the point of view of the brain, it believes it is a real existent person, that it has a body, that it is living in a real world like you and me, but in fact it is just experiencing a simulation. While there are differences, this roughly is the premise behind the movie The Matrix. Now, do not misconstrue Chalmers’ intention as implying that our world is run by machines and that one day someone like Neo will come and rescue us from the endless deception that is our world (although, technically we cannot rule out such possibilities). His intended message is that if we were to find out one day that we live in such a world as The Matrix, then we should not regard our lives as consisting of a large number of false beliefs, rather we merely have learned fundamental differences about the world around us than what we originally believed. We will expand more upon this later. First, we will look at Chalmers’ reasoning behind why such a world could exist.

Given the able technology, one can imagine such a thing as an artificially-designed, computer simulation of a world possible of existing. If this simulation is able to recreate the entire physics of a world down to every last particle, then this elaborate deception is more than capable of making the brain in the vat or what Chalmers refers to as the “envatted being” believe it is very much living in a world similar to you and I. Not to be confused with The Matrix, Chalmers calls such a vast, elaborate computer simulation a matrix. Of course, this might make one have the question “How do I know I am not experiencing a simulation right now? How do I know I am not part of a matrix?” That’s exactly it,...
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