PAPER TOPIC NUMBER THREE
PAPER TOPIC III
that you were so sure was real?
What if you were unable to wake from that dream?
How would you know the difference
between the dream world and the real world?"
- Morpheus, THE MATRIX MOVIE
In the first chapter of The Problems of Philosophy published nearly 100 years ago in1912, Bertrand Russell writes "in daily life, we assume as certain many things which, on a closer scrutiny, are found to be so full of apparent contradictions that only a great amount of thought enables us to know what it is that we really may believe." (See Chapter One: "Appearance and Reality" in Russell's The Problems of Philosophy.)
He then goes on to wonder whether a table, the table in his own study is the same as the one he sees and concludes that it is "evident that the real table, if there is one, is not the same as what I immediately experience by sight or touch or hearing. The real table, if there is one, is not immediately known to me at all, but must be an inference from what is immediately known by me]"
And this conclusion Russell believes implies that "what we directly see and feel is merely 'appearance', which we believe to be a sign of some 'reality' behind" and he wonders, "if the reality is not what appears, have we any means of knowing whether there is any reality at all? "
Any reality at all?
What do you think?
"Ordinarily you have no doubts about the existence of the floor under your feet, or the tree outside the window, or your own teeth," as Thomas Nagel puts it in What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy. "In fact most of the time you don't even think about the mental states that make you aware of those things: you seem to be aware of them directly.
"If all your experience were a dream with nothing outside, then any evidence you tried to use to prove to yourself that there was an outside world would just be part of the dream. If you knocked on the table or pinched yourself, you would hear the knock and feel the pinch, but that would be just one more thing going on inside your mind like everything else. It's no use: If you want to find out whether what's inside your mind is any guide to what's outside your mind, you can't depend on how things seem-from inside your mind-to give you the answer.
"Some would argue that radical skepticism of the kind I have been talking about is meaningless, be' cause the idea of an external reality that no one could ever discover is meaningless. The argument is that a dream, for instance, has to be something from which you can wake up to discover that you have been asleep; a hallucination has to be something which others (or you later) can see is not really there. Impressions and appearances that do not correspond to reality must be contrasted with others that do correspond to reality, or else the contrast between appearance and reality is meaningless.
"And although we get the idea of dreams and hallucinations from cases where we think we can observe the contrast between our experiences and reality, it certainly seems as if the same idea can be extended to cases where the reality is not observable.
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Last Modified: 11/05/11
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