A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Becoming Aware Through Illusion

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 16, 2008

I wrote about the following scenario in last post…

A baby’s brain is put in a vat, and connected with wires to a generator of random electrical impulses. By mere chance, though random, those electrical impulses happen to be such that the subject which is related to the brain is under an illusion of living what we would call normal life within a society. (If you think that other parts of the body are needed for such an illusion to be possible, just imagine the whole body in the vat, like in Matrix).

I don’t see anything wrong with the possibility that I, myself am a subject related to such brain (or body) in a vat.

Personally I think that central notion in the relation between the subject and the world is the notion of awareness. First, we can think only about things of which we became aware of, things that somehow appeared as intentional content of our perceptual or other cognitive acts. And second in other as basic requirements for thinking and communication in general, the intentional content needs to be intrasubjectively and intersubjectively transcendental – i.e. it should be such that I can think about it multiple times, and also such that other people can think about it (the same thing) also. Given those requirements those things of which we think can’t be literally in me, or can’t be literally in my mind, and I think again the notion of awareness nicely captures that relation in which the person gets acquainted with something which is not himself, but which can become now subject of his thinking.

So, for me, in the case of the vat-scenario, the questions relate to the awareness of the person related to the brain in a vat…

What can be said about the awareness of the person in the scenario described? If we allow that the person is aware of something (minimally allowing that I’m such brain in a vat, I should be aware of enough things so that I could understand such scenario), then how could he become aware of those things even he was subject of perpetual illusion?

I guess first it is straightforward to say, that if I’m the person subject to such illusion, that nothing I have seen is real. That is, none of the people I have seen, none of the animals, none of the objects, plants and so on is real. So, it can’t be that I become perceptually aware of any person, animal, plant, object, and so on, through my life under perpetual illusion. And yet, for me to even say what I said, I need to be aware of the notions of objects, animals, plants and people, (and of course the notions of illusion, brain, vat, random electrical signals, chance, and so on)…

In the discussion of the meaning of common nouns, however I was saying that there are no concepts in our heads, that are meaning of those nouns, but that their genesis in our becoming aware of multiplicity or possibility of multiplicity of things which show certain similarity. So, in this case, what I should say is that though I never become aware of the things belonging to any of the kinds of things I named, I became aware of the possibility of multitude of things which would show certain kind of similarity – that is, I became aware of a possibility of kinds of things. What about specific kinds?

I would say yes. Given that the similarities in question are possible, I became aware of possible specific kinds, and when I talk about trees, animals, humans, and so on, while those might not be multitudes in the real world, they are possible multitudes which share certain possible similarity. Hence, I think there is nothing problematic for me to think about those kinds, and talk about them, even I never became aware of anything which belongs to them.

Interesting question here appears if it might turn out there to be real multitudes of things which relate to the kinds that I became aware of while subject of perpetual illusion. I would think that some minimal overlapping has to be possible, if I want to still claim that I could be a brain in such a vat.

Of course, if we follow Kripke and Putnam, even I became aware of possibility of some stuff which I call ‘water’ while under perpetual illusion, it won’t be true that I became aware of water. That is, not just that I haven’t seen any water while under perpetual illusion (which is really non-problematic I think), but because I haven’t seen any water (nor I’ve been in contact to anybody who has seen water), it can’t be that I can be aware of water. I guess, I need to be careful with my intuitions on this point, as it is easy for them to be tricked by the complexity of the scenario. I will continue thinking about this issue in the next post…

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