HOW I KNOW IM NOT A BRAIN IN A VAT*
The philosopher Hilary Putnams brain-in-a-vat hypothesis (BIV) offers a contemporary variation on a theme we first encountered while studying Descartes. Consider the following thought experiment:
“[…] imagine that a human being (you can imagine this to be yourself) has been subjected to an operation by an evil scientist. The persons brain (your brain) has been removed from the body and placed in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brain alive. The nerve endings have been connected to a super-scientific computer which causes the person whose brain it is to have the illusion that everything is perfectly normal. There seem to be people, objects, the sky, etc; but really all the person (you) is experiencing is the result of electronic impulses traveling from the computer to the nerve endings.”
Kind of creepy right? In this paper, the student must analyze the BIV thought experiment, and the philosophical problems it poses. The format must take the form of a dialogue (i.e., an imaginary conversation) between none other than the rationalist Rene Descartes and empiricist John Locke. Throughout the discussion, integrate responses to following questions:
1) How would each thinker answer the question: how does one know they are not a brain in a vat?
2) What are the distinctive features of the rationalist and empiricist approaches to human knowledge?
3) How does each approach account for the fact that things are not always as they appear to be?
The conversation style should be done similar to a Socratic Dialogue as illustrated in either the Apology or the Republic from the introduction or chapter 2, in which Socrates cross-examines his interlocutor using the dialectical method. Incorporate the class material whenever it is appropriate. Remember, your primary objective is to communicate that you have read, thought about, and understood in some detail the rationalist and empiricist positions as developed in chapters two and three.
Moreover, feel free to do any outside research to supplement your dialogue. I only ask that you properly cite any and all of your sources (including the textbook) and include only sources that have scholarly credentials (i.e., no websites!!! you may only use peer-reviewed journal articles and books from academic presses)
Furthermore, I would encourage you to be creative with this assignment. Im not only looking for a substantive conversation between characters but also an interesting one!!! You are free to set up the dialogue anyway you wish, putting your characters in the setting of your choosing (using a narrator at the beginning is fine). However, I do want the characters to stay on topic the whole time and not waste large parts of the dialogue using dressed up, flowery, or poetic language. Be sure that each section of the dialogue has a clear theme and refrains from bouncing around from point to point without a clear direction or structure.