Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Bad Argument (for atheism)

A famous sceptical scenario, BIV, asks you to imagine a disembodied brain (otherwise just like yours) in an alien scientist’s laboratory, being stimulated in such a way that that person (who’s brain it is), say X, seems to be in a world just like the one around you... and then asks, how do you know that you are not that person, X? The scenario is regarded as a sceptical one because it seems (the brain being disembodied) that X would not have real hands. But I think that X would have real hands if X was you; what would not be so real (as the things around us, by reference to which we all correctly interpret the word “real,” within our language) would be your brain (the one in the alien’s laboratory)—and so your brain might rightly, were you X, be thought of more or less as you now think of your soul (about which we know little). To ask, are you in such a BIV world? is to ask, do you have a soul? And to ask, does this Universe have a Creator? is to ask, is there such an alien scientist? But not even Dawkins would argue that since our hands do exist, therefore God doesn't!

6 comments:

Alejandro said...

Have you read Chalmers' essay on the Matrix as Metaphysics? He makes some very similar points there,

Enigman said...

No I haven't; I read some stuff by him about zombies (about which I agree with Searle, rather than Chalmers) and so I'd put his stuff to one side, to read later (but now I'll look that one up, thanks:)

Enigman said...

Hmm... very clever man, Chalmers! But I wonder, for example, about where he says (just before the boring bit:) "The creators might have started the simulation in 4004 BC (or in 1999) with the fossil record intact, but it would have been much easier for them to start the simulation at the Big
Bang and let things run their course from there."
Why would the latter have been easier, do you think?

It's no more trouble to start a DVD in the middle than at the start, and such creators would've been smarter than us; so I think that when it would be started would depend upon its purpose. There is something to be said for starting it when the first minds are incarnated, and doing reverse engineering from a desirable starting point, to get the earlier values; but also something to be said for starting it earlier than that, if part of it is like a visitor's book (etc.)

Alejandro said...

Yes, I'm not sure why that is true. If the whole purpose of the simulation is to deceive the subjects (or well, according to the argument not actually deceive; let's say "create an environment for them") then it would seem easier not to extend the simulation all the way back to the Big Bang, but just create directly an environment for the subjects to "interact" with that has a plausible record of the past. I agree that "where they started the DVD" would depend on their purpose. (If they wanted to create a very specific kind of environment for the subjects, but the "laws of physics" within the simulation are indeterministic, then they should better not start from the Big Bang, because they would run the risk of not getting the desired result. If the laws are deterministic, it seems a matter of choice.)

Enigman said...

Yeah; still, such transcendental computations are obscure... many thanks for the reference to Chalmers btw (not only was it heartening to discover that my thoughts on BIVs were not completely mad, his ideas are extremely interesting:)

Enigman said...

Many months later, and it occurs to me why this isn't a BIV world: can you imagine the characters in the city in The Matrix going into a cinema and watching anything like The Matrix there? That really wouldn't fit with the plot of The Matrix very well! Similarly, when Descartes first thought that a demon might be fooling him about the world, that seems possible; but when someone picks up a book by the famous Descartes, inventor of the analytic geometry that found modern science, and reads in that book about such a possibility, the very presence of that idea in a book in the world makes such a possibility highly unlikely. And similarly with the BIV scenario and now, after so many scenarios and movies, with anything of that kind.