My master’s thesis is finally finished

Here she is, my firstborn child, finally fully developed after years of metaphorical pregnancy. Title and abstract:

Skepticism, epistemological fictionalism and the metaphysical claim that the brain is a virtual reality engine

The primary aim of this essay is to present and defend “virtualism” – essentially, the claim that the brain is a virtual reality engine, meaning that the world of experience is, literally, a virtual reality somehow computationally generated by the brain. The most challenging objection to this theory is that it undermines itself by having to admit its own virtuality, i.e., untruth. In preparing my defence against this, I introduce “epistemological fictionalism” as an attempt at establishing a first philosophy based on global skepticism, inspired in particular by the ancient skeptics and George Santayana. The entire first part of the essay’s two parts deals with epistemological fictionalism, the problem of justifying belief in general, and my reply to the objection that virtualism is self-undermining. In the second part, virtualism is finally expounded, and a wide range of philosophical consequences are explored. In most of what I discuss here, I rely heavily on Antti Revonsuo and Thomas Metzinger.

I think most of you will find part two a lot more interesting than part one. Please tell me what you think, even if you haven’t read the entire thesis, or very closely.


Which one is the meditator?


A possible evolutionary origin of the concept of the soul

I’m reading Thomas Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel, and found a great idea by someone else, quoted by Metzinger in a footnote. The context is a discussion about the flexibility of the body image, the way we can extend our sense of body ownership to tools, e.g. the way proficient drivers “feels” the boundaries of their cars.

If external objects can be reconceived as belonging to the body, it may be inevitable that the converse reconceptualization, i.e., the subject can now objectify its body parts as equivalent to external tools, becomes likewise apparent. Thus, tool use may lead to the ability to disembody the sense of the literal flesh-and-blood boundaries of one’s skin. As such, it might be precursorial to the capacity to objectify the self. In other words, tool use might prepare the mind for the emergence of the concept of the meta-self, which is another defining feature of human intelligence. (footnote at p. 80)

A very exciting new perspective on these issues. And Metzinger takes it further:

It now looks as if even the evolution of language, culture, and abstract thought might have been a process of “exaptation,” of using our body maps for new challenges and purposes [...] (p. 81)

This line of thought continues later in the book. Looking forward to getting there.


The need for a narrative structure to one’s life

There is a human need to understand our lives along strong and clear narrative lines. Two ways to acquire such a narrative:

  1. Live an interesting, outgoing life where you collect personal experiences that can be told to others. By telling stories from your life, you simultaneously gain a narrative of it for yourself. Without reflection, you become the author and protagonist of your own life story.
  2. Invent a narrative, or accept one presented to you by another, and believe in it. Become a believer. This option is traditionally associated with religion.

I wonder if there is a statistical correlation between being an atheist or materialist and living an interesting life. Personally, I do think the fact that my life is uninteresting to the people I know and talk to, significantly contributes to my fascination – dare I say, attraction – to religious belief.

Added: I guess a third option is to write a particular kind of diary.


Insanity

Only the fewest of us will manage to go through life without losing our minds – if not to psychedelic drugs or radical philosophy, then to ambition or the rhythm of habit. Or to each other.


The future end of football history: Team Human

In 1997 the IBM computer Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in chess. In a few years, we might have enough computing power to challenge humans players in other games and sports. Like football: On the one side, Team Human, made up of the best players in the world for each position; on the other, 11 soft but clever Japanese robots.

This might have a uniting effect on us.


Two great Schrödinger quotes

“Every man’s world picture is and always remains a construct of his own mind and cannot be proved to have any other existence.”

Erwin Schrödinger wrote these insightful words in his 1958 book Mind and Matter. Here is another quote from the same book, in my opinion outright amazing:

“The reason why our sentient, percipient and thinking ego is met nowhere within our scientific world picture can easily be indicated in seven words: because it is itself that world picture. It is identical with the whole and therefore cannot be contained in it as part of it.”


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