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The Matrix as Metaphysics. David J. Chalmers. The Matrix. In The Matrix Neo is hooked up to a giant computer simulation. He has experiences of a normal reality in 1999. In fact, it is 2199, and his body is floating in a tank. A version of an old philosophical fable

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the matrix as metaphysics

The Matrixas Metaphysics

David J. Chalmers

the matrix
The Matrix
  • In The Matrix
    • Neo is hooked up to a giant computer simulation.
    • He has experiences of a normal reality in 1999.
    • In fact, it is 2199, and his body is floating in a tank.
  • A version of an old philosophical fable
    • René Descartes’ evil genius
    • The brain in the vat
brain in a vat
Brain in a Vat
  • A brain in a vat, connected to a computer simulation of the world, might have the same experiences that I do.
  • The brain in a vat has beliefs corresponding to mine.
    • I have hands
    • There is a table in front of me.
    • I am in Tucson.
  • These beliefs are massively false.
envatment
Envatment
  • Let’s say:
    • A matrix = an artificially-designed computer simulation of a world.
    • X is envatted (or X is in a matrix) = X has a cognitive system which receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to a matrix
the matrix hypothesis
The Matrix Hypothesis
  • The Matrix Hypothesis: I am (and have always been) in a matrix.
  • For all I know, the Matrix Hypothesis is true!
    • I can’t rule it out with certainty.
    • There may be many matrices developed in the history of the universe.
      • One “real” world, many “simulated” worlds.
      • More likely I’m in a simulated world?
envatment as delusion
Envatment as Delusion
  • Common view: If the Matrix Hypothesis is true, then I have massively false beliefs:
    • I do not have hands
    • There is no table in front of me
    • I am not in Tucson
  • I am completely deluded about reality.
reality as a hoax
Reality as a Hoax
  • “Perception: Our day-in, day-out world is real.
  • Reality: That world is a hoax, an elaborate deception spun by all-powerful machines of artificial intelligence that control us. Whoa.”

(from The Matrix DVD)

skeptical hypothesis
Skeptical Hypothesis
  • If so: the Matrix Hypothesis is a skeptical hypothesis
    • Its possibility suggests that we know very little about the world.
  • Skeptical argument
    • I don’t know that I’m not envatted
    • If I’m envatted, most of my beliefs are false
      • I don’t have hands, I’m not in Tucson, etc.
    • So I don’t know most of the things I believe
      • I don’t know that I have hands, that I’m in Tucson, etc.
the matrix reconsidered
The Matrix Reconsidered
  • I’ll argue:
    • The Matrix Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis
    • Even if I am envatted, I still have hands, there is still a table in front of me, I am still in Tucson.
    • Brains in vats have mostly true beliefs
    • If I am in a matrix, things are perfectly real.
appearance and reality
Appearance and Reality
  • George Berkeley
    • “Esse est percipi”
    • To exist is to be perceived
    • Idealism: reality = a set of appearances
  • If so: the matrix yields reality.
  • I don’t accept idealism
  • But will argue that nevertheless (for different reasons), the matrix yields reality.
envatment as a metaphysical hypothesis
Envatment as a Metaphysical Hypothesis
  • I’ll argue: the hypothesis that I am in a matrix is not a skeptical hypothesis, but a metaphysical hypothesis.
  • It is equivalent to a hypothesis about the underlying metaphysical nature of the world.
  • If accepted, this hypothesis might revise a few of our beliefs, but it would leave most of them intact.
three metaphysical hypotheses
Three Metaphysical Hypotheses
  • I’ll present three metaphysical hypotheses about the nature of our world, none of which is a skeptical hypothesis.
    • 1. A Creation Hypothesis.
    • 2. A Computational Hypothesis
    • 3. A Dualistic Hypothesis
  • (We’ll then be considering their combination.)
creation hypothesis
Creation Hypothesis
  • Creation Hypothesis: Physical space-time and its contents were created by agents outside physical space-time.
    • Cf. religious views of creation.
  • The Creation Hypothesis could be true.
  • The Creation Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis:
    • If the Creation Hypothesis is true, I still have hands, there is still a table in front of me, I am still in Tucson.
computational hypothesis
Computational Hypothesis
  • Computational Hypothesis: Physics is computational.
    • I.e., microphysical processes throughout space-time are constituted by underlying computational processes.
    • Just as chemistry is constituted by physics, physics is constituted by computations
      • Underneath particles are patterns of bits
    • E.g. Wolfram, A New Kind of Science
      • An underlying cellular automaton?
    • Perhaps: these computational processes are themselves implemented by more basic processes.
slide20

Computational Hypothesis

Atoms

110101101011011010000111

computational hypothesis ii
Computational Hypothesis II
  • The Computational Hypothesis could be true.
  • The Computational Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis:
    • If it is true, there are still electrons and protons (they are just implemented, as are molecules).
    • If it is true, I still have hands, and so on.
  • To accept it would involve revision to some of our beliefs, but not massive revision.
    • No more than quantum mechanics!
dualistic hypothesis
Dualistic Hypothesis
  • Dualistic Hypothesis: My mind is nonphysical and interacts with the physical.
    • My cognitive processes are outside physical space-time, and receives their inputs from and send their outputs to processes in physical space-time.
    • Cf. Descartes’ dualism.
  • The Dualistic Hypothesis could be true.
  • The Dualistic Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis
    • If it is true, I still have hands, and so on.
combination hypothesis
Combination Hypothesis
  • Combination Hypothesis: A combination of the Creation Hypothesis, the Computaional Hypothesis, and the Dualistic Hypothesis.
    • Physical processes were created by other beings, are computationally implemented, and my nonphysical mind interacts with them..
  • The Combination Hypothesis could be true.
  • The Combination Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis.
    • If it is true, I still have hands, and so on.
metaphysical hypothesis
Metaphysical Hypothesis
  • Metaphysical Hypothesis: The Combination Hypothesis, plus
    • The computational processes were designed by the creators in order to simulate a world.
    • [and maybe: The implementing processes, my cognitive processes, and the creators are all part of a broader domain.]
  • The Metaphysical Hypothesis could be true.
  • The Metaphysical Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis.
    • If it is true, I still have hands, and so on.
metaphysical hypothesis26
Metaphysical Hypothesis

Atoms

110101101011011010000111

Mind

Creator

matrix metaphysics equivalence
Matrix/Metaphysics Equivalence
  • Matrix Hypothesis:
    • ‘My cognitive system receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to an artificially-designed computer simulation of a world’
  • Claim: The Matrix Hypothesis is equivalent to the Metaphysical Hypothesis.
    • If I accept the Metaphysical Hypothesis, I should accept the Matrix Hypothesis.
    • If I accept the Matrix Hypothesis, I should accept the Metaphysical Hypothesis.
metaphysics matrix
Metaphysics  Matrix
  • Dualistic Hypothesis  My cognitive system receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to physical space-time.
  • Computational Hypothesis  My cognitive system receives inputs from the computational processes implementing physical space-time.
  • Creation Hypothesis  These computational processes were artificially designed to simulate a world.
  • Jointly: My cognitive system receives its inputs from and sends its outputs to an artifically-designed computer simulation of a world
    • The Matrix Hypothesis!
matrix hypothesis
Matrix Hypothesis

110101101011011010000111

Mind

Creator

matrix metaphysics
Matrix  Metaphysics
  • Matrix Hypothesis: Underlying reality is just as Metaphysical Hypothesis specifies
    • A computational implementation of physics, artificially designed, interacting with my cognitive system.
  • Things are the same at the underlying level, so things are the same at all levels
  • So the Matrix Hypothesis implies the Metaphysical Hypothesis.
the matrix not skeptical
The Matrix: Not Skeptical
  • The Matrix Hypothesis is equivalent to the Metaphysical Hypothesis
  • The Metaphysical Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis
  • So: The Matrix Hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis
  • Even if I am envatted
    • I have hands
    • There is a table in front of me
    • I am in Tucson
the matrix as metaphysics32
The Matrix as Metaphysics
  • If I discover that I am in a matrix, I should not reject my ordinary beliefs about tables, etc.
  • Instead, I have made a metaphysical discovery about what tables are made of.
  • The world is fundamentally made of bits!
life in the matrix
Life in the Matrix
  • So: people in the Matrix have mostly true beliefs
    • At least if the Matrix has been running for a long time.
    • A multi-vat matrix is needed for true beliefs about other minds.
  • Brains in vats are not deluded.
  • If we are in a matrix, things are perfectly real
    • It’s just that the world is fundamentally computational.
    • No worse than the world being fundamentally quantum-mechanical!
objection simulation is not reality
Objection: Simulation is not reality
  • Objection: The matrix is simulation, not reality
  • Response: The Computational Hypothesis tells us
    • Computation could underlie real physical processes
    • The computation must have all the detail of physics
    • The computation can itself be implemented.
    • The nature of the implementation doesn’t matter.
    • That it was designed as a simulation is irrelevant.
  • So a computer simulation could underlie reality
    • If it is the basis of our experiences.
objection deluded biv
Objection: Deluded BIV?
  • Objection: A brain in a vat might think “I’m out in the sun”, when it’s in a dark lab. Deluded?
  • Reply: The surroundings of the BIV in the brain’s domains are irrelevant.
  • Compare: A person with a Cartesian mind might think “I’m out in the sun”, while the mind is really solitary ectoplasm. Deluded?
    • Surroundings in the ectoplasmic domain are irrelevant,
  • What matters is the causal basis of the cognitive system’s experiences and beliefs, not the system’s surroundings.
objection neo has hair
Objection: Neo has hair?
  • Objection: Neo thinks ‘I have hair’.
    • This thought will be true if the Neo has hair.
    • But Neo does not have hair!
    • So the Neo’s thought is false.
  • Reply: ‘Hair’ means something different for a BIV.
  • For BIV, ‘hair’ refers to virtual hair, constituted by computational processes.
    • BIV has virtual hair!
    • Same for virtual chairs, tables, etc.
objection biv has world all wrong
Objection: BIV has world all wrong
  • Objection: If we are envatted, the world is nothing like we think it is.
  • Reply: I deny this. Even if we are envatted, there are still people, tables, football games, particles, arranged in space-time just as we think they are.
  • Deeper point: It’s just that the world has a further nature that goes beyond our common sense conception. E.g.:
    • quantum mechanics.
    • science reveals world’s structure, leaving intrinsic nature open
residual skepticism
Residual Skepticism
  • Matrix envatment is a non-skeptical hypothesis.
  • But other skeptical hypotheses remain…
the local matrix
The Local Matrix
  • Local Matrix: Only my local environment is simulated, not all of physical space-time.
    • E.g. The Thirteenth Floor
  • Akin to Truman Show skepticism: I still have hands, a body, a house, but false beliefs about things further from home.
  • Moral: Being in the Truman Show is much worse than being in the Matrix!
other skeptical hypotheses
Other Skeptical Hypotheses
  • RecentEnvatment: My mind was recently isolated and connected to a computer simulation.
    • Yields false beliefs about my present environment, although past beliefs are OK.
  • Chaotic Envatment: My mind is isolated and receives random stimulation from all sorts of sources that coincidentally yield apparent regularity.
    • Arguably: yields largely false or empty beliefs.
tentative moral
Tentative Moral
  • If we assume there is some explanation for the regularities in our experience, global external-world skepticism is ruled out.
  • Explanation yields reality?
conclusion
Conclusion
  • It’s not so bad to be a brain in a vat.
next time
Next Time
  • The mind-body problem
    • DP, Chapter 2
    • Descartes, Meditations 1 and 2