and The Matrix
this unit, we have been discussing how we “know.” The modern American philosopher,
Hilary Putnam, popularized a well-known thought experiment highlighting the
problem of skepticism and our knowledge of reality. To understand Putnam’s
experiment, we need to consider how we normally obtain knowledge of reality.
Our knowledge of reality usually begins with sensory input. While each of our
five senses perceives the world according to their individual means, we will use
seeing as an example. Light is
reflected off of objects and enters through our eyes, which focus an image of
these objects to the back of our eyeball, where it hits our optic nerve. Our
nerve transforms this image into electrical/neural impulses that travel through
the optic nerve up to where it is plugged into the brain. The brain then
processes these impulses where they are transformed into an image in our mind.
What our minds experience is an image of the outside world, similar to how a
television projects an image captured by a television camera.
Putnam’s thought experiment, you imagine that your brain has been severed from
the nerves connecting it to your senses (eyes, ears, nose, etc.) and has been
removed from your skull and placed in a vat filled with the nutritional fluid
necessary to keep your brain alive and functioning. Electrical wires have been
spliced into your sensory nerves that are connected to the sensory inputs in
your brain. The other ends of these wires are connected to the outputs of a
giant super computer. A man sits at the keyboard of this super computer,
inputting data. This data is transformed into electrical/neural impulses that
travel through the spliced wire/sensory nerves and into your brain. The brain
processes this information as if it were from your senses. Hence, you have
whatever image the man at the keyboard wants you to have. Suppose he inputs
data that you are sitting in a café in France, drinking an espresso. He
includes all the usual sensory data, including the smell and taste of the
coffee, the hardness of the chair and table, the cool breeze blowing by, the
sounds of the traffic, and the view of the Eiffel Tower. You experience all of
this exactly as if you are really there. In such a situation, you would have no
idea that you (or at least your brain) are actually sitting in some vat in some
1999, Putnam’s thought experiment became the basis of a megahit movie, The Matrix. However, Putnam was not the
first to suggest that there may be a problem with perceiving and knowing
reality. A number of philosophers have wrestled with this problem. This brings
us to your assignment, described below.
Module/Week 5’s Reading & Study folder, there are 3 short readings. Your assignment
is to read them and then write an essay of at least 600 words (in current MLA, format) addressing some of the questions listed below (in the
“Questions to Consider” section). You
must address the first question; then, choose 1 of the other questions to
you are free to quote from sources, quotations will not count towards the
minimum word count. Plagiarism of any kind will result in a 0 for the
assignment and may result in being dropped from the course.
about the readings: The first reading is a synopsis of The Matrix. If you have seen the movie, this will function as a
review for you. If you have not seen the movie, you may choose to do so.
However, you should know that the movie is rated R for language and violence. It
is not necessary to view the movie to fulfill the assignment, as the synopsis
is enough to consider the questions. The second reading comes from Plato’s
classic work, The Republic. It is in
the form of a dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon, a brother of Plato, and
contains the famous cave allegory. The third and final reading is a section
from Meditation I, from Meditations on
First Philosophy by Rene Descartes, who offers some reasons to doubt his
Questions to Consider
and contrast The Matrix with the
readings from Plato and Descartes. What are some similarities and differences?
we prove that the world we are experiencing is real? How do we know we are not
dreaming, living in a Platonic cave, or trapped in some sort of matrix?
the end of the cave allegory, Socrates implies that most men would want to
escape the cave and see reality as it really is. However, in his betrayal of
Morpheus, Cypher implies that it is better to live in the artificial world of
the Matrix. Which is better: the harshness of reality, or the “ignorance is
bliss” of illusion? Defend your answer.
much of our knowledge is based on sensory experience, and since our senses are
imperfect and can be deceived, can we ever be certain that our beliefs are true?
Defend or explain your answer.
must address the first question, followed by 1 of the others from the list.
Submit this assignment by 11:59 p.m. (ET) on Monday
of Module/Week 5. Your assignment will be checked for originality via the
SafeAssign plagiarism tool.