There are some obvious common sensical beliefs on which people based all their other beliefs and actions. The real, corporate existence of the external world is one and probably the most important of them. This belief is so important that it makes the world reliable for people. These people who are sure of the existence of the external world start to relate with the world which we normally call as the life of people. Life does not just mean the years a person lived but includes his/her all relations to the external world. That is why being sure of the existence of the world is so important. Actually, in ordinary life, people do not even question its existence. They take it as presupposed and then start to live with it. Still, there are obvious facts and thought experiments that, from time to time, should make us suspect the existence of the world. The evil demon of Descartes, hallucinations, illusions, dreams and evil scientists are some of them. It may be seen too radical to say the existence of the world so let’s assume, for the time being, that these facts and thought experiments overshadow the certainty of the perception of the world. How can this be possible and moreover how come we still believe the real, corporate external world in our lives will be the subject matter of this paper.
I shall consider myself as having no hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as having falsely believed that I had all these things.
(Descartes 2004, 3) This is, in
Descartes’ terms, what the evil demon makes us believe all these years. All the
external things are nothing but dreams the evil demon makes us believe. Descartes
uses this thought experiment in order to justify the certainty of the existence
of the mind. On the other hand, he throws all the beliefs concerning the
external world into a hole which is full of doubts. If a person shakes the
grounds of his/her beliefs even once as such, how can s/he will be sure of them
again? Before this, more importantly, we should ask can a person really throw
his/her beliefs about reality. If so, what kind of reasons can justify such a
Most of the people agree that we get our basic beliefs about reality from the perception of external world. So, in ordinary life what perception suggests becomes our reality. That is why we need to assume an external world and moreover we need to trust its existence. Otherwise, our beliefs about reality will be damaged. Descartes’ first attempt to mistrust his perceptions comes from this. He clearly said that we cannot trust our senses through which we can perceive the external world since they can deceive us. First example, he uses is dreams. In dreams, we are experiencing the world as it is real in such an extent that sometimes we even cry in our sleep. So, what gives me the ability to distinguish dreams from real experiences? Can it be the case that what we are experiencing now as real is the dream and what we suppose as dream is the real world.
For Descartes, the answer is the memory since in dreams we have no link with past experiences. All we have is a momentary experience which, most of the time, has no causal link with past or future events. But, obviously Descartes is mistaken. There is nothing in memory that is related with the perception. So, even though memory can be a way to distinguish dreams from real experiences we cannot say it is because of perception. On the other hand, apparently we distinguish them. Berkeley introduces a solution to this problem which is much more helpful than Descartes’. He argues that there are three criteria that make genuine perceptions more intrinsically vivid than non-genuine counterparts: vividness of perception, its degree of independence from our will and its connectedness to previous and future perceptions (Litch, 2002: 21). But all of these are apparent in our dreams too. What is different is that, as he suggested, no continuity of the dream perceptions after we wake up. Moreover, our waking experiences do not continue after we sleep. That means we can distinguish these two because we wake up. In the movie The Matrix
(Wachowski 1999), Morpheus asks Neo a
"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? "
As Morpheus’ question suggests, the problem is not solved with Berkeley’s solution. In a dream that you are unable to wake up, we cannot talk about discontinuity. Dreams are not the only problems with perception. That is why we need to investigate other kinds of perceptions to find a definite solution. Illusions, hallucinations and simulated realities are the subject matter of our discussion from now on. But first of all, we need to have a better understanding of perception and why it is sometimes problematical. First thing we can say about perceptions is that they have an object whether mind-dependent or mind-independent. We perceive something. Since we begin with Descartes, let me first explain what he thought about perception. Descartes introduces a theory of representative perceptions. He thought that a genuine perception should be caused by an external mind-independent object and should accurately represent it (Litch, 2002: 19).Then we should say many perceptions in The Matrix are not genuine since they are not caused by an external mind-independent object. What gives these perceptions is a manipulation in the characters’ minds in Matrix. On the other hand, for Berkeley, there are no such things as mind-independent objects in perception. To be is to be perceived so objects are collections of perceptions (Litch, 2002: 25). This account makes the question about the knowledge of external world irrelevant. That is because in order to attain its knowledge, we only need to perceive it. So, in terms of this account we should say that since Neo perceives the world, Matrix is real for him. In order to see whether there is a problem on this account or not let me apply the three criteria of Berkeley on Neo’s experience of perception. In the film, Neo’s perceptions in the Matrix seems so vivid even to the viewers. Actually, from our point of view it is much more real than the world Morpheus presents as real since Matrix is much more like our reality in appearance. What about the independence of the perception in Matrix? In Neo’s point of view, before he discovers that Matrix is a simulated reality (which I will explain later) all his perceptions seem to arise independently of his will. But, actually this is not the case. His perceptions arose independently of his will but dependently of another person’s will, I mean the creator of the Matrix. So, we can say that what Neo has is a perceptual illusion created by someone else, not a genuine perception. This also seems to be the only valid reason according to which Neo changes his beliefs about reality. What Neo realizes after taking the red pill is that there is no such thing to perceive at all. That is why he becomes able to stop the bullets through seeing the real Matrix. So, this does not falsify my ideas about perception. Contrary, this justifies it: Neo’s reality is based on what Neo believes as real in terms of perception. After he realized that there is nothing to be perceived at all, he start to see the process of simulation as a computer program not as vivid perceptions. So, he starts not to believe the reality of them.
Now, let me introduce an important concept: illusions. This and the following concept, hallucination, are important since perception is defined as ‘openness to the world’. These two concepts becomes an obstacle to define perception as this. An illusion here may be defined, with A.D. Smith, as “any perceptual situation in which a physical object is actually perceived, but in which that object perceptually appears other than it really is” (Smith 2002: 23)
(Crane 2011). So in illusion, our
main concern is not whether the object exists or not; but whether we can
perceive it as it is or not. The problem in the illusion theory is the
following: if such kinds of perceptions are possible, then how can we be sure
that at least some of our perceptions are genuine. It seems to me that in
illusions we implicitly assume that there is an objective, mind independent way
of perceiving objects. So that, we can say some of our perceptions are
illusions and some are genuine. If we do not make this assumption, all kinds of
perceptions including dreams, illusions or hallucinations will be justified in
terms of representing the reality. This also explains why Neo start to believe
Matrix is not real after learning that Matrix is a computer-generated
simulation. In a way, he learns that his perceptions in Matrix are not genuine
ones. After realizing this, there is no way to believe for Neo that his
perceptions represent reality. That is to say, we need to add some extra
element in our relation between perception and reality. We get our basic
beliefs about reality from the genuine perception of external world. That is
why when we look at the spoon in the water and perceive it as if it is broken;
we know that this is not the proper way of perception. That is why we do not
believe the spoon is really broken.
Still, the problem is not solved. How can we decide whether our perceptions are genuine or not? Hallucinations are other kinds of perceptions that make the problem even harder. A hallucination in this sense is an experience which seems exactly like a perception of a real, mind-independent object, but where there is no mind-independent object of the relevant kind being perceived.
(Crane 2011) From the subjective
point of view, they are indistinguishable from real perception experiences. So,
it seems that there is no reason for a subject to take his/her hallucinations as
real perception experiences. The subject seems to see the objects. So, we
cannot accept the definition of genuine perception as the experience of
mind-independent objects around us since it can be easily imitated by hallucinations
One way to deal with the problem of hallucination and illusion is the sense-datum theory. Although there are some problematic sides of it, it may still be an explanation to what is happening in Matrix. Sense- data theory basically argues that although we are presented with mind-independent objects, we are not aware of them. Rather we are aware of the sense-data. So, in illusions, for example, the property we are aware is not in the mind-independent object but rather in the sense-data that we are aware of. That means we still keep on assuming the existence of mind-independent objects as they really are. In Matrix, what is real is just the Matrix as a computer program consists of all those zeros and ones. What the people of Matrix aware of are a world which is very like ours. So, there is nothing unreal in the existence of computer program. The perceptual illusion happens in the sense-data. This is, I think, an easy way to think in terms of Matrix since it explains how a person can be manipulated by a computer when the reality stays as it is. Still, sense-data theory cannot be a solution to the problem of hallucination since there is no corresponding object that gives us the sense-data. The sense-data that we are aware of in the case of hallucination is like coming to be out of nothing.
What I try to say is the following: in order to explain Matrix we need to give some role to the mind in perception. This is because Matrix is a place in which the minds of the people are manipulated. I think the body part of the subjects is not important in this world. This is solely because if those computers are so complex and sophisticated to create a simulated world in which all sensations and perceptions are imitated, then they can also give the subjects the sense of having bodies. That is exactly the same with the thought experiment known as ‘The Brains in the Vat’<!--[if !supportFootnotes]--><!--[endif]-->.
(Putnam 1981) That is why what
idealists argue can give a chance both to the existence of Matrix and The
Brains in the Vat. What idealists argue is that all objects and properties are
mental or mind-dependent. (Crane 2011) So, if you directly
manipulate the mind, you can also manipulate the perception of reality
accordingly. What can be problematic in the sense-data theory to explain what
is happening in Matrix is that it holds the sense-data experience in a
subjective level. However, in Matrix a common-sense-data is the subject matter.
The question is that is it possible to experience a sense-data not in an
individual level but in a community level.
What we are talking up to now is taking us to the concept of ‘simulated reality’. This is because Matrix is not an ordinary perceptual illusion experience that we may experience in our world. There is something different there. Simulated reality is the skeptical hypothesis that reality could be simulated- perhaps by computer simulation- to a degree indistinguishable from ‘true’ reality.<!--[if !supportFootnotes]--><!--[endif]--> In accordance with this description, one can argue that the concept of common-sense-data is possible in simulated realities. In these realities, what really is the computer program (instead of the external world) and what the subjects experience is a collective-sense-data created by these programs. On the other hand, the response given against the sense-data theory is still valid even in the Matrix case. Why should we assume the experience of sense-data rather than assuming the direct experience of the object? It seems to me that the problem of hallucination, illusion or simulation is much more possible in sense-data theory since it explains our awareness of the object not directly but through sense-data. If we accept the sense-data theory in explaining the Matrix, we can conclude that the whole system breaks down for Neo when he becomes aware of the object (in the movie it is the computer program) not the sense-data. This means there is a way to perceive the object directly rather than perceiving it through sense-data. Moreover, this way is much more enlightening to perceive the reality as in the Neo’s case. So, the sense-data theory can easily lead us to deception.
The failure of sense-data theory does not change my argument. I still think that the mind has an important role in perceiving the reality. It is such a crucial role that it can both manipulate the perception of reality and illuminate the true nature of it. Both are visible in Neo’s case. Another important account which gives an important role to the mind in the perception of reality is Kant’s. For Kant, reality is not ‘out there’ so that we can perceive it. It is something constructed by our minds (Litch, 2002: 31). He basically gives two kinds of world: noumenal and phenomenal. Noumenal world is the world of ‘things in itself’ and the phenomenal world is the world of objects as revealed in experience (Litch, 2002: 30). ince the objects for experience is in the phenomenal world, our knowledge is limited with it. So, in Kant’s view we can be sure that our perceptions accurately represent the objects in the world. On the other hand, we have to be careful about the objects since what are represented in our perceptions are not the objects in themselves. In order to understand Kant’s position, understanding internalism may be useful.
In the internalist perspective as Putnam argues a single world description cannot be given. So, unlike externalism, internalism rejects one true description of the world
(Putnam 1981). Objects do exist
within our conceptual scheme and our conceptions are not value-free. They are
shaped in accordance with our culture, biology so and so forth. So, our conceptions
define some kind of objectivity for us. This is the part of internalism which
we may compare to Kant’s theory of noumena and phenomena. We can only talk
about the reality as we experience it. Since we can never experience the
noumenal world, we can never describe the objects in themselves. I think
internalist perspective breaks down if we take The Matrix as a thought
experiment which is given as a counter-example. The Matrix and generally the
simulated realities, at first sight, seems to be a perfect example to the internalist
(but much more Kantian) picture. We can see the Matrix (computer program) as
the noumenal world and the perceptual illusion that the inhabitants of Matrix
are exposed to as the phenomenal world. The only thing that these subjects can
experience or know is the perceptual illusion the program gives them. They have
no accessing to the program (noumenal world). It seems to be such a good
illustration to the internalist picture until Neo reaches the knowledge of
noumenal world. Of course, this is a movie and anything may come true. But what
the philosophers do is not a different thing when they construct a thought
experiment to evaluate all possible situations. That is why I do not see any
absurdity in developing my arguments based on a possible world created by a
filmmaker. Back to the point, it is not impossible to imagine a reality over
and above all the things we experience as real now (which is already accepted
by Kant). What is important in this picture is beyond a level from what Kant
says. It is possible to imagine accessing that noumenal world. Up to this
point, this seems as if the only way to perceive the reality.
But of course, we do not have any red pills so how could we reach that noumenal world. Even if we have one, the internalist account has still some problems when it comes to understand the reality on the basis of perception. If we accept a reality over and above our experiences but say we have no access to that reality, then we can never know whether we are in a perceptual illusion or not. That is why, I think, internalism suggests that what is real is constructed in accordance with our minds. Accepting this would be ignoring the reality in order to find a secure base. A second case might be denying the reality over and above our experiences and constructing the understanding of reality solely on us. But, this time, I think, the perceptual illusion appeared on an individual level. Let me go back to the Matrix: take the movie as representing two different worlds. The one is a simulated world and the other is the real one. Most of the simulated people in Matrix did not know about the other world so that they can live in Matrix as if it is real. They believe it is real. On the other hand Morpheus or Trinity did know the other ‘real’ world. So, what they believe as ‘real’ is very different from others. Two different realities and two different kinds of people believing two different realities… For the ones who believe in the reality of Matrix, others are in perceptual illusion. The same goes for the reverse situation. So, we can still doubt from the understanding of reality on the basis of perception of external world.
A question should be arisen here: whether perception (especially seeing, since most of the examples we gave are related to seeing) entails believing?
(Audi 2011) This is important to
ask in here because if perception really entails believing then we have a very
little chance to escape from deception. It seems to me that in order to believe
people need more than just perceiving. Aristotle argued that perception is passive.
In part (but only in part) I agree with him. I think there are two kinds of
perceptions: conscious and unconscious ones. The ones we pay attention,
deliberately perceive are the conscious ones. This is the basis of our beliefs.
On the other hand it is undeniable that we have a lot of other perceptions
which we do not pay much attention. These are the ones we passively exposed. Of
course, this passivity is not exactly what Aristotle meant but still we can
make a connection. These are, in a sense, our potential perceptions. When they
are necessary we recall them by paying attention and accordingly use them in
order to believe. What I mentioned as genuine perceptions are the ones which
require consciousness in order to lead a belief. That belief is, most of the
time, the belief of reality.
The problem of hallucination and illusion is still not solves though we apply the consciousness into the picture. That is because in both cases we think we are conscious about what we perceive. In simulated reality, the problem is even harder since the aim includes the simulation of the conscious minds too. That is why we need to give an account which distinguishes these perceptual illusions from the genuine ones. Disjunctivism tries to do exactly this. Disjunctivists maintain that veridical perceptions and hallucinations are mental events (or states) of different kinds.
(Soteriou 2010) They are perceived
just like genuine perceptions but this is only the appearance. So, they have something
common with genuine perceptions; they seem just like them. But, they are
fundamentally different. They are subjectively indistinguishable from the
veridical perceptions. The question turns out to be the one that asks how
genuine perceptions can and a hallucination can be distinguished. There are
some suggestions to this question. One explanation depended on the
intentionality theory of perception. According to this theory, our perceptual
experiences are mental events (or states) with intentional contents that
represent the world as being a certain way (Soteriou 2010). So, this kind of
account necessarily assumes that there is a world which is perceived in an
objective way. So, the difference between genuine perceptions and
hallucinations is that genuine perceptions have object-dependent intentional
contents which are lack in hallucinations. Since we accept that
object-dependent intentional content (coming from the mind-independent object)
as a general fact which belongs to all people who have genuine perception, we
can distinguish who is hallucinating and who perceives in a genuine way. This
account also explains what is going on in Matrix. Since there is no
mind-independent object, there is no object-dependent intentional content. This
leads a collective deception and since everyone in the Matrix has the same
experience, there is no way to notice this deception within the Matrix. This
also explains Neo’s transformation in the way of exploring what is real and
what is not on the basis of perception. He comes to the knowledge of he has no
object-dependent intentional content when he saw all those zeros and ones after
taking the red pill.
Up to now I have talked mostly on the basis of what philosophers argue and I try to focus on possible solutions in accordance with their accounts. From now on, I want to give some points which should be remembered while evaluating the arguments mentioned above. One thing I have in mind is that perception is not a one sided process. I am affected in perception and also give direction to it as I stated earlier in conscious and unconscious perceptions. So, I have some control over it. That is why I can know I am not connected to a machine. I can close my eyes whenever I want and that stops my visual perception. In order to imitate this, the machine should be much more sophisticated to understand and imitate my will which seems impossible to me. Will is not a notion which can only be imitated by sending some electrical stimulus to the nerves. A computer does not expect me to close my eyes so it cannot give that sense impression. We have the ability to decide. How can a machine represent this? That explains Neo’s transformation again. When he took that red pill, he in a sense learned the control he has. He notices his will and the ability to decide. He cannot be manipulated anymore.
Of course, there are still some issues in which our minds can be manipulated like what is done by advertisers or politicians. They may create an illusionary democracy and make us believe to it. But this is not the same thing as making me believe that the sun is green. I will not believe that. Some semantics games can be played in this process. They may raise me in a society where I am taught of yellow as if it is green. But this is just the matter of words not what they stand for. Moreover, how is it going to give me the words that I decide to use? Even I do not know what I will say next most of the time. How can a computer guess what is happening in my mind? If these are all about nerves and electric impulses than science can explain them all. But it cannot. I even cannot explain what is happening in my mind. Self-observation is not vulnerable to socialization. That is why I can see how I got my beliefs. They may be right or wrong like in Matrix. But I can still see how I got them.
<!--[if !supportFootnotes]--><!--[endif]--> The person’s brain has been removed from the body and placed in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brain alive. The nevre 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 (see Putnam, Hilary, Reason, Truth and History, pg. 5-14)
<!--[if !supportFootnotes]--><!--[endif]--> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulated_reality