With so much going around, some people dying, others going crazy, have you ever had the impulse to think if all this is even real or just part of a very bad dream? No matter how much we would wish to deny something so bad happening around us, it’s just not possible for the rationals amongst us to ignore it because it certainly feels way too “real”. But other than this gut feeling, this deep sense of intuition, what else do we have as some justification for our belief that things around us are not fake? How are you so sure that this mobile you are using, your comfortable bed, the delicious food made by your mom, or even your own mom is real? Is it not possible that in reality, you are just sleeping and having a very vivid dream of reading this post. In fact, what proof do you have that you really are who you perceive yourself to be? Like I think that I am an Indian girl with a terrible English accent, but I might be a 19-year-old boy living in Britain who is just dreaming about being a girl in India (that wouldn’t be so bad I guess, I get to have the accent).
In short, it seems that I don’t have any sufficient justification that my perceived reality is the actual reality except the fact that I just firmly believe to be the case. But, just a belief, however strong it be, is never sufficient to claim something to be true. For instance, beliefs based on hallucinations unknown to me don’t seem justified, let alone true
It follows from above that if I can’t rationally justify my knowledge about reality, I can never know anything for sure and only have some unjustified intuitions about it. But is this state of knowledge satisfactory or sufficient for any of us? Pause for a moment here and ask yourself, would you be satisfied living a life not “knowing” if whatever’s happening around you, and to you is real or not?
Now, through a simple thought experiment called the Nozick’s experience machine, I want to convince you that no matter how stupid and worthless it might seem, you do care about having this kind of knowledge. The machine is such that by plugging into it, you get to have any kind of experiences you want, and you get to decide these experiences before plugging into it. For instance, I can select for having an experience of a life where I am always winning, and the machine will then let me have this experience once I plug into it. However, everything is fake in this computer world. My relationships with my loved ones, my loved ones, my experiences and even me. In reality, it is just someone fooling around with my brain. Also, once you get into the machine, you would forget that everything is fake. Considering all these factors, would you like to plug yourself in? Would you be truly happy living in a world where anyone you think you love does not even exist and you’re just led to think that way? I believe that the answers to both these questions is no because we don’t just wish to have experiences, we desperately want them to be real as well. They wouldn’t even make sense to us if we know that they’re only going to be fake. For instance, winning would feel worthless if it’s just me playing and everything is designed to make me feel good about myself. Experiencing true and passionate love would be nonsensical and hollow when the person I love never even existed. When though about it this way, does it really not matter to us if the world we’re living in is real or some computer-generated bullshit?
If you are (hopefully) convinced with this argument, consider asking yourself what rationale do you have for believing in your perceived reality. As this post is already long enough, I would be back with a “satisfactory” answer to this question in my next post. Till then, feel free to post any comments/criticisms/possible ways to justify your perceived reality and try not to think too much about it (that is never fun, trust me).
-Shourya Mohaniya is a student of Mathematics and Philosophy