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Appearance and Reality

  1. Mar 2, 2004 #1
    Does anyone know of other good, simple or well known metaphors for our relationship to reality besides Plato's allegory of the cave?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2004 #2
    The original movie planet of the apes strikes me as a good metaphor.
  4. Mar 2, 2004 #3
    the matrix?
  5. Mar 2, 2004 #4
    Ya, defenitely the matrix, that one was too obvious for me to think of.[b(]
  6. Mar 2, 2004 #5


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    The equivalent of the Matrix movies in philosophy is the "brain in a vat" scenario.
  7. Mar 3, 2004 #6
    Yeah, I thought of the Matrix. It's quite good, and does raise the issues. But it's not actually right. Neo escapes the Matrix for a world that is not significantly different. Also if possible I was hoping for something from a recognised philosopher.

    Philosophers must have used some other metaphors, but I can't remember coming across any. Everyone seems to refer to Plato.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2004
  8. Mar 3, 2004 #7
    The Absolute, maybe? (Brahaman Philosophy and Buddhist variation)

    Descartes' Dream Skepticism (the brain-in-a-vat thing)

    Baudrillard's Simulation and Simulacra (which, it is rumored, The Matrix idea was based on).
  9. Mar 3, 2004 #8


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    Hillary Putnam is a recognized philosopher with regard to brains in a vat, although her major (and controversial) contribution is to assert via semantics that we cannot possibly be brains in vats (she proposes that saying "I am a brain in a vat" is a self-refuting notion). I myself think that this objection can be circumvented rather easily.


    David Chalmers, working off the same sort of reasoning about what the language and perception of brains in vats really refer to, has come to the conclusion that the 'brain in a vat' hypothesis is not a skeptical one, in the sense that a brain in a vat that thinks 'I see a spoon' is not actually deluded in this belief at all. Rather, this belief turns out to be true, basically because the brain in the vat is not referring to what we would think of as a 'real' spoon but rather is referring to what is ultimately a 'computational,' computer generated spoon existing in its computational, computer generated world. If I recall correctly, Chalmers includes the idea (which you noted in your post) that the 'real' world in which the brain in the vat exists need not be ontologically similar to the 'computational' world that it confronts in its everyday experience, even though this is how it turned out to happen in the Matrix.


    I'm not sure who originated the brain in a vat argument, but it seems to just be a modern interpretation of Descartes' demon. Both are analogous to Plato's cave allegory. Neither implies that the 'actual' world must have the same sort of properties that the perceived world has, so they should both work fine for your purposes.

    edit: Although, there is a difference. Plato's cave allegory includes the notion that 'true' reality is fundamentally different (richer, more complete, etc) from perceived reality. The demon/brain in a vat arguments make no claims about how 'true' reality corresponds ontologically to perceived reality. They only overlap with Plato's argument in the important idea that reality may not be the way perception portrays it to be.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2004
  10. Mar 3, 2004 #9
    Thanks to everyone. It seems a bit discourteous to discount these helpful answers but I still feel that Plato's is the only decent metaphor.

    The brain in the vat analogy is interesting and relevant, but in the end seems to overlook the fact that we know already that we are a brain in a vat, or rather a mind in a brain in a vat in a head on a body. IOW IMO it's not really a metaphor for appearances and reality in any significant metaphysical way, but rather just shows that there are limits to how far we can trust out senses to tell us the truth. As you point out Hypno, Plato's metaphor says a lot more than that.

    The two Brahman and so on have the reverse problem. They're on the very edge of the world of appearances from the start, and more nearly characterise reality rather than represent the relationship between it and the world of appearances in an easily grasped way.

    I don't know Boudrillard - I'll check him out.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2004
  11. Mar 3, 2004 #10
    I don't really understand the original question, Canute? Clarify, please: what does "our relationship with reality" mean? Aren't we real?
  12. Mar 3, 2004 #11
    I'm not good at clear explanations, Hynogogue would do it better, but I'll have a go.

    Clearly we are real. But reality comes in two varieties, relative and absolute. The 'world of appearances' is relative reality. (I suppose these days 'epiphenomenal' might be a better word). In this world we have a 'self' and there are pianos, hair dryers, electrons, quasars and so on. All these things are known by their appearances, and only by their appearances.

    The question is what is it that underlies these appearances. In academic circles this is the 'problem of attributes'. The problem lies in trying to figure out what is left once the appearances (attributes, aspects) of phenomena are removed, IOW what are they appearances of.

    In 'analytical' philosophy this is an unsolvable problem. Kant, for instance, says that we cannot know the 'noumenal' or the essence of things, agreeing with Plato. Popper, Spinoza and even Roger Penrose say much the same in different ways. Roger McGinn also agrees and adopts 'mysterianism', the notion that some things are beyond human knowing. It's about the longest standing philosophical problem that there is.

    I can't balance the views of these philosophers since I haven't ever come across a philosopher who argues that appearances is all that there are, although perhaps somewhere in Ayn Rands muddled metaphysics is a different view. (But it's a difficult issue. Buddhism does assert that appearances are all that exists, but that is using the words in a significantly different way).

    'Ultimate reality' is therefore the noumenal, the essence, the fundamental substrate of existence, the thing than underlies appearances, the end of the scientific reduction of substances, the state of the cosmos which gives rise to the Big Bang and which even now and forever must be there, beyond superstrings and quantum fluctuations, as the foundation for the existence of anything.

    It is this that Plato said lay beyond our powers of reasoning, percieving or conceiving, the cause of the shadows on the wall that we call 'me' and 'the universe'.

    His allegory makes this clear, asserting that we are chained to our benches unable to see beyond the cave exit, in fact unable to see the exit at all.

    In epistemilogical terms this is the 'meta-system' that must exist for any formal system of reasoning to exist. In ontological terms it is why anything at all exists.

    Theists call this God but I'd say, without offending anyone I hope, that this seems a very illogical idea on analysis. Still, there has to be something that lies beyond science, otherwise metaphysics wouldn't exist.

    If that doesn't make sense I'll try it a different way.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2004
  13. Mar 4, 2004 #12
    That's interesting Canute, so it's as if many philosophers come against this barrier in which the true reality of things or true form or essence can't be made clear but the feeling of it is there and was suggested by Plato, almost like that question what is "mud" in which the true form of mud is difficult to find because it is so many things to everyone so which is true and what criteria does one use to say which is more true of what mud is, what most seems to determine the perception of what is truthful?
    I wonder what the world would look like to a raven? What it considers reality would surely be different from what I consider reality, but then what if I were a bird to some advanced alien lifeform, how would I ever figure out what reality was beyond nesting and reproduction?
    I like analytical philosophy most, I think Plato was an analytical philosopher, and a sinister barbarian with all the thinking he instigated.
  14. Mar 4, 2004 #13
    That isn't quite right. Philsophers do not conclude that there is a reality beyond appearances just because they have an intuition or feeling. They also know it has to be there for purely logical reasons.
  15. Mar 4, 2004 #14


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    Gee, how do they get logic to tell them about reality? AFAIK, Kant couldn't do that and admitted it. Hegel claimed to, but according to Feuerbach, let alone Marx, he was wrong.
  16. Mar 4, 2004 #15
    Logic tells us it is there, but you're right to say logic tells us nothing for sure about it's nature.
  17. Mar 4, 2004 #16
    I suggest.. Your own mind..
  18. Mar 4, 2004 #17
    Re: Re: Appearance and Reality

    I suppose you're right. In a back to front sort of way it's true that our own minds are metaphors for Plato's cave. That's what he was trying to say.
  19. Mar 11, 2004 #18
    Originally posted by Canute

    Does anyone know of other good, simple or well known metaphors for our relationship to reality besides Plato's allegory of the cave?

    We see the world as we assume it exists....
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2004
  20. Apr 28, 2004 #19
    What about the one about the three blind men and the elephant?

    Or what about ... Ibn Tufayl's Philosopher who 'evolves' on an Island? ( ... I'm not sure about the last one though ... )

    I jus looked up this one:

    "We are as the flute, and the music in us is from thee;
    we are as the mountain and the echo in us is from thee.

    We are as pieces of chess engaged in victory and defeat:
    our victory and defeat is from thee, O thou whose qualities are comely!

    Who are we, O Thou soul of our souls,
    that we should remain in being beside thee?

    We and our existences are really non-existence;
    thou art the absolute Being which manifests the perishable.

    We all are lions, but lions on a banner:
    because of the wind they are rushing onward from moment to moment.

    Their onward rush is visible, and the wind is unseen:
    may that which is unseen not fail from us!

    Our wind whereby we are moved and our being are of thy gift;
    our whole existence is from thy bringing into being."

    [Masnavi Book I, 599-607]

    ... sounds nice ...
  21. Apr 29, 2004 #20
    Ah yes. I'd forgotten the elephant. It's not quite the same but it's similar. Thanks. I don't know Ibn Tufayl. Not sure I understand the message in the poem, but enjoyed it.
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