What if You are Actually a Brain in a Vat?

This could be you!
This could be you!

If you study much philosophy, you will at some point understand why Athens condemned Socrates to death. Not that he was Corrupting the Morals of the Youth, the formal charge, but that philosophers ask uncomfortable, if not ridiculous, questions. Since I always wanted to be certain, to know, I gravitated to epistemology, that is, the study of how we know anything. I mean, we want to know stuff, we don’t want to buy a ticket on the the ship of fools, do we?

Last night I checked in with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to see if they’d come up with any new slants on epistemology since that moment a few years ago when I realized I don’t know s**t from apple butter-a very liberating experience, actually.  Of course they have come up with new slants. Philosophers have to earn their keep, don’t they? I couldn’t stop laughing, I hope I didn’t keep anyone else in the house awake as I laughed my way through “contextualism” and the “Moorean Response” into the wee hours of the morning. The question under discussion was: How do you know you have hands? Maybe you’re actually a Brain in a Vat (BIV) and just think you have hands.

What say ye? Could you be a BIV? How do you know you’re not a BIV? ala Matrix? Paragraph after paragraph of reasoning and jargon on the burning issue of whether you are a BIV and only imagine that you have hands. (And feet and legs and all the other appendages you so falsely think you have.)

See why they executed Socrates? Do you want the answer to how you know you’re not a BIV? Are you sure? The answer is, as the answer always is ultimately in epistemology, is that you don’t know and you can’t know. Lest that tidbit of bad news paralyze us as we go through life, we choose to believe things based on probabilities. I have never heard of brains being kept alive and conscious in vats; it’s very improbable. And besides, I’m hungry and wondering what to make for breakfast-and I intend to make breakfast with my hands, thank you very much.

Try to have a great day. Je’ 🙂


Update: Just to show that most everyone wants philosophers to “Stop, it already!” I discussed the BIV thing with my little grand daughters yesterday. (They always drag me away and ask me to tell them stories) While we were eating, eight year-old Maddy, a sweet little girl really, asked me:

“Neena, do you need a fork?”

“No, I can eat this chicken with my hands, thanks.”


“Unless I’m a BIV and don’t have any hands….”


We both laughed uproariously, causing the adults in the room to stare.

“It’s philosophy,” Maddy said in her defense at telling her Neena to shut up.

The adults nodded in sympathy and went back to their meal.


    1. You are unusual then-I enjoyed it-but most people find it too scary to contemplate for more than maybe-2 minutes? 🙂

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