Knock, knock, knock, Are You a Brain In a Vat?


Even if we don’t live we will never come to know.

Imagine an evil scientist.

You are brought to his operation table. He hacks open the skull and eases out your brain without damaging a single cell. No issue as long as you remain unconscious, numb.

After all it is only a scrap of imagination.

Now the scientist carefully puts your brain into a vat of nutrients, so that the cells are happy and ticking. He connects all the nerve endings of your brain to a super-duper computer to provide them with the usual quota of sensory inputs in the form of electric or chemical impulses.

With the right dose, in the right combination, the brain flickers into life. You can help it see girls, sky, blue whales, depending upon the program the scientist runs in the computer.

Now listen more attentively. The scientist can even make the brain think that it is still in your skull, and is reading this article. With the right combination of sensory inputs through wires, the brain in the vat thinks that it has a body and is moving through the street, catching up with that beautiful girl in each stride.

Thoughts and sensations are fed into your body every second, so that the mass of flesh inside the vat now falls in love with the girl. The mass of flesh wonders why the girl is not impressed by its personality and that lovely mop of hair on him. The mass of flesh gets frustrated at the meaninglessness of life (ironically) as the girl spurns his love.

If the scientist is also a good story teller, he might have prepared a good story board with a beginning, middle and end. At the end of the experiment, when the scientist gets tired with your brain, he pulls the plug by running the final program – suicide, accident, or heart attack.

This is a scary situation imagined by an American Philosopher, Hilary Putnam in his 1981 book, ‘Reason, Truth and History.’ Rene Descartes inspired him. The 1999 film, ‘The Matrix’ also tread the same path.

Here is more shock from another philosopher, Nick Bostrom:

What if we are already inside a computer simulation.

Look at your feet? Are they real? Or are you just a mass of grey matter in the liquid, which gets a sudden spurt of chemical impulse at the right spot to imagine that it has feet deep below? Now think about your father, mother, brother, teacher, friends all those neighbours. How can you be sure that they have a life outside the program designed for you?

The question has always perplexed scientists and philosophers. One thing is sure. We will never know whether we are already in the vat or not.

Scientists say, in future it is highly likely our civilization will reach a level of technology such that it can create incredibly advanced computer simulations of human mind and the environments they inhabit. And in due course the simulated minds outnumber the biological ones.

So the crisis: Both the simulated and the biological minds might think that they are real, but one of them is wrong.

And the resolution: It doesn’t matter who all are simulated and who are the real ones. Because both the groups never realize that in their lifetime.

Sometimes you might be so sure that you are not a simulated mind but that could also be a compliment to the quality of programming.

“The computer is so clever that it can even seem to the victim that he is sitting and reading these very words about the amusing but quite absurd supposition that there is an evil scientist who removes people’s brains from their bodies and places them in a vat of nutrients.” – Hilary Putnam

So the question: Are you an envatted brain?

No?

Good programming.

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Knock, knock, knock, Are You a Brain In a Vat?, 10.0 out of 10 based on 4 ratings

About Manu Remakant

Manu has written 297 stories in Rum, Road & Ravings. You can read all posts by here.

9 Responses to Knock, knock, knock, Are You a Brain In a Vat?

  1. VAT a story!!!!!!!! just lyk jack handy says “For mad scientists who keep brains in jars, here’s a tip: why not add a slice of lemon to each jar, for freshness?”
    cheers :)

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  2. Damn!!! Now to add to all those answerless questions in my question paper, I don’t even know if I am a brain in a vat?!!?? Whew!!

    (Psssst…….can I bribe that mad scientist into feeding my brain with all the answers to my exams???)

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  3. r u trying 2 call God, a mad scientist???? Or better still a mad scientist, God???

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  4. Hessa:-) Pooja, good thinking for the exam time. Lekshmi, we can leave the Almighty from the issue (although you have a point there). I am talking about a mad scientist who knows how to connect things and generate thoughts and imagination.

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  5. Yeah I like it , meet girls in street ,rocking ,I wanna to meet the mad scientist bcoz just book a trip , friend this is the only way to rock in 40’s .

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  6. Kannan:-)

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  7. There is this novel ‘Brain’ by Robin Cook, which deals with brains in vats. Was reminded of that.
    P:S- I didnt complete the novel, Mr Cook made even brains-in-vats boring! :-/

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  8. sir, once u mentioned this in our class….. really interesting…..

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  9. Great… Interesting and thought-provoking!

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