You imagine that you know yourself better than anyone else in the world, but do you really know who you are?
Questions like this are what Descartes discusses in his two meditations, where readers are led to question everything. In his first meditation, Descartes focuses on doubt. To do so, he states how he must forget everything he has ever known “and start again from the foundations” (Descartes, 1). The overall focus of the first meditation is that Descartes talks about a “malicious, powerful, cunning demon” that deceives him (Descartes, 3). This demon inputs dreams that trap Descartes’ judgments and make us wonder: if when we are dreaming, are we just dreaming while we’re asleep, or is all of life a dream? I suppose that it is possible that a demon can be controlling our lives, but I don’t see why some demon would be doing this.
It is fair to say that one is doubtful of these claims. If one believes this theory, in order to have a justified true belief, S must contain strong evidence that supports such P. I suppose that this situation could be possible in another world, but there isn’t much to any evidence that supports this idea in this world.
Descartes goes onto his second meditation and discusses the human mind. He starts off stating that “everything [he sees] is fictitious. [He] will believe that [his] memory tells [him] nothing but lies. [He] has no senses. Body, shape, extension, movement and place are illusions. So what remains true? Perhaps just the one fact that nothing is certain” (Descartes, 4). He, next, chooses to discuss the senses and how valid they are by focusing on a piece of wax. The senses led to the mind drawing conclusions that the solid and liquid wax forms were the same, but this is not the case. In addition, if you were holding a piece of ice, you would conclude that the ice is cold because that is the answer you get from your sense of touch/feel. According to Descartes, we don’t really know that the ice is cold (Pynn, 1-2); our senses cannot be trusted at all times because there are instances when they can fool us. How do I know that I am actually feeling the back of my desk chair right now, or my fingertips pressing against the keyboard? This could all be a lie.
Bostrom’s essay about post-human simulations contradicts Descartes views on the mind. Where Descartes argues that the mind is the only thing that truly exists, Bostrom discusses the possibility of our minds possibly being run as an ancestor-simulation “rather than among the original biological ones” (Bostrom, 1). How do we know whether or not this is the case? One can wonder for all of his or her life, but will there ever be evidence to prove this is the case? Would those in control of our minds ever allow us to notice such evidence? Therefore, we cannot know that this is the case. Also, our “thoughts” would not truly be our own if we are being controlled by others, so is our mind even uniquely ours? The justified true belief account requires evidence and it is unclear if we will ever have that. I have to see Bostrom’s theory as a possibility because who knows? In another possible world, this could be the case, or even in our own world. We wouldn’t know any different unless those controlling us made us aware.
For all we know, we could all just be brains in vats being controlled and none of these experiences of life are reality. Like the Doubtful viewpoint in the first meditation, “this discovery makes me dizzy…” (Descartes, 2)
Handout 2: The First Meditation (Professor Geoff Pynn): http://www.niu.edu/~gpynn/322_H2.pdf