Philosophy: The Mind-Bender Discussion

The Mind-Bender Discussion 3


The purpose of this discussion is for you to think critically about epistemological and metaphysical questions and why you think the way that you do and for you to argue for them. It is easy to say what you think, but it is hard to back it up in a debate. This is an extreme case but working with it makes every-day cases easier.

The Case:

Despite what you may think, I don’t exist. I am not a human and neither are any of your classmates. You are in a computer simulation right now, you are not actually looking at a phone/computer screen reading this text. Actually, you are nothing more than a brain floating in a vat of liquid with electrodes inserted in various places. Many years ago, at around the time of your first memory/experience, a group of alien anthropologists came across a smoldering husk of a planet, obviously ravaged by war. They used their advanced technology to reconstruct Earth starting from the year of your first memory and managed to clone a human brain. You taking this class was planned out by them so that I could tell you this and they could gauge your reaction. Everyone you have ever known is nothing more than a computer program.


1. For your initial post, you need to:

a.) Think carefully about the above case and then explain whether you think the people you know have a mind, are they conscious, do they feel, etc. supposing that you are just a brain in a vat. Going outside of the case for a moment, all of your real evidence that other actual people have minds, souls, or experiences is the same as if you were in this simulation, can you still be sure that other people have those things? Moreover, you have no evidence that you are not in fact in such a simulation.

b.) Say why you think that. As always with these cases, you should not say merely that this is how you feel, but rather explain why you have that feeling.

c.) Say how you think another student may reply to your stance.

2. Reply to 2 other students in this class who have opposing views to you or take on the role of the devil’s advocate and object to them. And, if possible, avoid replying in the way that they thought someone might reply.

To Succeed:

1. Make sure you are clear about your stance, that you do not devolve into name-calling and uncivil behavior.

2. Debate and replies to replies are encouraged as this is practice for real-world debates.

3. Make sure that you have all of the above points in your posts.

4. I will comment replies if the post is very off-the-mark in the interpretation of the case, if it is unduly inflammatory, or otherwise not appropriate.

Important notice: You are the only brain in a vat, there are no other cloned. All other people are like NPCs in a video game.

For a real-world case where people have been fooled by clever AI programs, check out the following links:

AI Teaching Assistant Jill Watson (Links to an external site.)

Ted Talk

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