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  • A film for your philosophical consideration: The Matrix.

  • You gotta remember the, uh, the humans floating in vats of KY jelly?

  • Tubes and wires keeping them alive, stimulating their brains, to make them believe that they

  • were experiencing the real worldthe world we all think we know?

  • Well, almost-20-year-old spoiler alert here: some of them come to find out that the real world was a

  • desolate wasteland, and the lives everyone thought they were living were just fabrications fed into their brains.

  • A select few wererescuedfrom the illusion, but some of them were so unhappy in the real

  • world that they chose to return to illusion.

  • But Neo -- and the others who chose to stay and fight --- were the philosophical heroes

  • of the movie, choosing truth at the cost of comfort and happiness.

  • After watching The Matrix, you mightve found yourself wondering: Could this be true?

  • Could we possibly be stuck in a dream world of someone else’s making, with no way to

  • tell that ourrealityisn’t real at all?

  • If so, youre not the first person to have wondered about these things.

  • In fact, the original Neo? The guy who really went into battle against the matrix of illusion,

  • in order to defend the Truth?

  • He was a 17th century mathematician. Named Rene.

  • [Theme Music]

  • Last time, we talked about Plato, and his belief that the ordinary reality of the material

  • world is only a shadowy approximation of Ultimate Reality.

  • Socrates, meanwhile, who was widely believed to be the wisest man in Athens, fretted about how little he knew.

  • Philosophers spend a lot of time obsessing about knowledge, wishing they knew more, and

  • worrying that theyre wrong about what they think they know.

  • They even, if you remember from the first episode, have a fancy name for the study of

  • knowledgeepistemology.

  • The philosopher who gets the gold star for taking this how-do-I-know-what-I-know paranoia

  • to astonishing levels is the early modern philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, Rene Descartes.

  • When you watch The Matrix, you should congratulate the Wachowskis for giving us such a great sci-fi adventure story.

  • But you should also remember that the archetype of the story actually has its roots all the

  • way back in the writings of Descartes, in the early 1600s.

  • For a story like The Matrix to get off the ground, the audience has to be willing to

  • entertain some level of skepticism.

  • And a skeptic is someone who questions whether it’s possible to know anything with certainty.

  • And Descartes was the mac daddy of all skeptics.

  • He was so skeptical, named a form of skepticism after himCartesian Skepticism!

  • Why was Descartes so skeptical?

  • Well, he realized that many of the beliefs he used to hold were actually false. We all

  • go through this; it’s part of what we call growing up.

  • Learning the horrible truth about Santa and the tooth fairy. That you can’t actually

  • buy everything you want and need for just $100. That your parents don't really have all the answers.

  • But realizing that he used to believe things that were false really got Descartes to thinking.

  • Because: When he believed those things, he didn’t realize they were false.

  • So what if some of the things he still believed were also false, and he just hadn’t realized it yet?

  • How could he know that his beliefs were true?

  • Well, after a bit of a freak out, Descartes realized that the only way to make sure he

  • wasn’t holding any false beliefs was to disbelieve everything. At least temporarily.

  • He offered this as an analogy: Imagine you have a basket of apples, and youre concerned

  • that some of the apples might be rotten.

  • Since the rot could spread and ruin the fresh apples, the only way to make sure there’s

  • no rot in the basket is to dump out all the fruit, inspect each apple in turn, and return

  • only the fresh apples to the basket.

  • Knowing that, just like rotten fruit, a rotten idea can spread and infect all the ideas around it,

  • Descartes up-ended the apple basket of his beliefs and decided to start from scratch.

  • If he examined each possible belief carefully, and only accepted those about which there

  • could be no doubt, then he’d know he was believing only true things.

  • So, Descartes began the arduous task of examining his beliefs one by one.

  • He started with empirical beliefsthings we come to know directly through the use of our senses.

  • And many of us think that our senses are the most reliable source of information. If I

  • can see it, and hear it, touch it, taste it, smell it, I must know it, right?

  • Not so much. Descartes pointed out that our senses fail us all the time.

  • You rush to catch up to a friend and realize, as she turns around, that your eyes played

  • some tricks on you, and youve just tapped the shoulder of a perfect stranger.

  • Food tastes wrong when youre sick. Drink too much and you feel like the room is spinning.

  • Water that’s room temperature feels hot when you come inside after playing in the snow.

  • The list goes onyou can probably think of countless times when your senses gave you faulty information.

  • And once you realize that, how can you ever trust your senses again?

  • And for Descartes, disbeliever of everything, iit got worse.

  • Have you ever had a dream so vivid you thought you were awake?

  • Youve probably had a dream that you were dreaming, or dreamed that you woke up from

  • a dream, but in fact were still in the dream.

  • Not everyone has had these experiences, but many of us have, and given that we don’t

  • always know that were dreaming while it’s happening...

  • HOW DO WE KNOW WERE NOT DREAMING RIGHT NOW?!

  • Maybe you just think youre watching Crash Course, but in fact, youre cozied up in bed, dreaming about me.

  • Which, hey, like, who could blame you?

  • But really, when you think about it, can you be SURE it’s not the case?

  • Now, you might be thinking, ok, sure, I probably deceive myself from time to time, without

  • knowing I’m doing it. But dreams end. And when I wake up, I realize that what I thought

  • I was experiencing was all in my head.

  • And the same is true for when my senses let me down.

  • Those are just temporary instances, isolated to a particular situation. As soon as the

  • situation changes, I can realize that my experience was false.

  • This qualitythe ability to check in with yourself and figure out that youre experiencing

  • a deceptiondescribes what Descartes called local doubts.

  • Those are doubts about a particular sense experience, or some other occurrence at a particular point in time.

  • Step out of that point, and you can check to determine if youve been deceived.

  • But what if ... EVERYTHING IS A DECEPTION?

  • What if everyone is experiencing the same false reality, from birth until death? What

  • if nothing is as it seems, just like in The Matrix?

  • This type of doubt, the kind you can’t step out of, and thus can’t check, is called global doubt.

  • And it’s the subject of this week’s Flash Philosophy. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.

  • Philosopher Bertrand Russell illustrated the concept of global doubt with this troubling thought:

  • What if the universe was created just five minutes ago?

  • In this scenario, known as the Five Minute Hypothesis, the creator of the universe could

  • have designed many elements of the world to make them appearpre-worn,” so as to seem old.

  • From dinosaur bonesfashioned by the creator, and planted for us to find, to that scar on

  • your kneeput there by the creator, along with the pre-loaded false memory of how you got it.

  • It seems crazy, but there’s just no way to prove that it isn’t the case.

  • The question for Russell was -- does it matter? Descartes thought it did.

  • But as a good Catholic, he couldn’t fathom a world in which God would plant globally

  • false beliefs in all of our minds.

  • So instead, he posited the existence of an Evil Genius, whose purpose in life was to

  • deceive us, and who was clever enough to do it.

  • Descartes didn’t exactly think such a being was likely to exist. But he realized there

  • was no way to rule out his existence. And as long as an Evil Genius was possible, he worried

  • that we were all stuck. Stuck in a radical skepticism, in which we really cannot trust any of our beliefs.

  • Everything we believe, every sense experience, every thought, they could all have been put in our minds

  • by the Evil Genius, who created an illusory world so seamless, we’d have no way of detecting the illusion.

  • Just like the machines created for the characters in The Matrix.

  • Descartes was at the point of despair.

  • But then...he realized something.

  • He had cause to doubt everything.

  • Everything EXCEPT the fact that he was doubting.

  • He knew he was doubting. He could be sure of that.

  • And if he was doubting, then he must existat least as a thinking thing.

  • After all, a doubt is a thought, and if there is thought, there must be a thinker having those thoughts.

  • So Descartes decided that he couldn’t know that he had a bodywhat he believed to

  • be his body couldve been part of the Evil Geniusdeception. But he must have had a mind,

  • or he couldn’t have been having these thoughts. This was Descartes’s ah-ha moment.

  • In his book, Meditations on First Philosophy, he declared:

  • Cogito ergo sum. “I think, therefore, I am.”

  • It’s one of the most famous realizations in philosophy – I cannot doubt my own existence.

  • I can doubt everything else, but I can’t doubt I am, bare minimum, a mind having thoughts.

  • This was Descartesfoundational belief, the first belief he put back in his apple basket.

  • And from there, he figured he could build back up to more certain beliefs.

  • Once he was certain that he was a thinking thing, he began examining his thoughts.

  • And one of his most clear thoughtswhat he called a clear and distinct ideawas that God exists.

  • He gave an argument for thiswhich were going to examine in a later episode.

  • But for now, take my word for itit’s got some problems.

  • And from there, he considered his beliefs about the physical world, and concluded that it, too, actually exists.

  • Ultimately, he determined, God wouldn’t allow him to have clear and distinct ideas

  • that were false, without some way to detect his own error. So, he concluded, the Evil

  • Genius is not actually fabricating lies that consume our every waking moment.

  • Descartes managed to reason fromcogitoall the way back up to having basically all

  • the beliefs he started with, back in his apple basket.

  • Which is the story of how Rene Descartes, with the power of skepticism, defeated the threat of the Evil Genius.

  • Much like how Neo ultimately short-circuited the Matrix, though considerably less impressive to watch, I imagine.

  • He found certainty through his discovery of the one belief that he simply couldn’t doubt

  • his own existence as a thinking thing.

  • But, there is a lot of debate among philosophers as to whether Descartes actually manages to

  • justifiably believe anything other than that he exists as a thinking thing.

  • And well talk more about that more next time.

  • This episode of Crash Course Philosophy is made possible by Squarespace. Squarespace

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  • Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over

  • to their channel to check out amazing shows like Deep Look, The Good Stuff, and PBS Space Time.

  • This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio

  • with the help of all of these amazing people and our Graphics Team is Thought Cafe.

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Cartesian Skepticism - Neo, Meet Rene: Crash Course Philosophy #5

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    羅紹桀 posted on 2016/05/06
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