Philosophy Fridays: Am I Here?

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble on about some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “Am I Here?” referring to you the reader, not me Rey, in under 700 words. Heh.

Well, says someone, because I: can feel the keyboard; see the words on the screen; can smell my room; hear the hum of the hard drive.

But that introduces a problem since you’re saying, in effect, that the only reason you know anythings is because your senses work.  But does that mean that a person who doesn’t have a sense of touch should assume that there is no such thing as surfaces that interact with nerves?  Anyone who has seen the Matrix knows that Neo didn’t really know anything beyond what the computer told his plugged in brain. So maybe, you’re not really here, neither is that sofa, nor the keyboard. Things that taste like chicken are an accident of programming by the Matrix.

Others, realizing the limitations of their senses might stop and say that there’s no real way to know that we are here and lose hope. Since it is impossible to rationally substantiate so we might as well either give up or do something that we can bide our time with (maybe like playing games or something). That just strikes me as depressing.

I don’t think we should be going around scratching our heads wondering if we really exist or not since people don’t seem to work like that naturally. I mean, if you want to sit down you just sit down; not because you’ve received proofs that establish the chairs existence.

Take the movie A Beautiful Mind. John Nash (Russell Crowe) had a problem differentiating from the real and the unreal but one thing was obvious: the people that kept showing up didn’t age. That was enough to tell him something was going on. Now, this wasn’t an outright scientific proof but it was enough to tip him off that things are probably different from what his mind was telling him.

In the matrix, Neo didn’t have proof to establish he was in the Matrix but enough things had happened to make being trapped more probable than not. When he took the red pill it wasn’t because of a blind leap of faith in the dark but because the probabilities had shifted.

Let’s go back to our chair. Say we arrived at the thing and it pops out of existence for five seconds then pops back. Even if our senses tell us “the chair is here now” the event that occurred seconds before makes us nervous about sitting down.

Now, let’s remove sense data by one step. Say you entered a room fill with frightened people all pointing at the door on the other side while saying “Don’t open it; there’s a black hole back there.” You have absolutely no real data about the existence of the void or even the possibility of this sort of thing going on; but you have a room full of people confessing to the thing. Now if that room full of people consists of known liars, you’d doubt what they’re saying but you still might not open the door. But if the room was full of people you know who have no reason to make stuff up about black holes, you might be nervous about the door.

So I think it is fine to not doubt that you are here, and plus, you have no reason to assume that maybe you’re somewhere else since nothing has affected those probabilities. You may not be able to prove it definitively (even Neo came out of the Matrix not expecting that he was in Another Level of the Matrix) but you have no reason to expect otherwise so you have no reason to doubt it.

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