Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Emily & Joe

  1. Jan 12, 2006 #1
    The question of reality, existence and philosophy in general is (as most of us would agree on, I assume) based on human brain activity. We think with our brains, we process EVERY INPUT of information from this "existence" or "reality" or whatever you want to call it with our brains and generate thoughts and answers with our brains.

    I think the view on reality and existence will be dramatically changed in the future if we imagine this fiction:

    Let's say in the year 3048 (if the human race is still alive), technology and science has advanced so much that we have a 100% understanding of the human brain, and we have mapped every neuron. We have the technology to manipulate all the neurons in the brain in any way we like.

    Continue to "EMILY & JOE" if you are lazy :cool:

    PARENTESIS Some of you might already be thinking: "OK this guy is stupid. Of course we won't understand the brain for 100%, that is just impossible, etc."
    I don't think that is impossible at all, because the brain is right there, it's right in front of us, fully visible and reachable. We have the technology to measure what is going on in the nature of the brain (its electric activity and a great amount of its molecular chemistry), so figuring out the rest of it's molecular chemistry is just a matter of time (not a matter of single years, but 100-1000 years maybe).
    The other problem which we face with the understanding of the brain is its complexity of neuron-networks. The brain has millions and millions of neurons (brain-cells) and each neuron can have up to 200 000 connections with its surrounding neurons. So the amount of possible connections between neurons exceed 500-digit figures.

    Now, we put a human being (just for the sake of ease, called Joe) in a "brain-machine", from which we can create any stimulation we want on Joe's neurons. In other words, we can simulate ANY event to Joe. The person behind the machine (let's call her Emily) can CREATE a ”false” reality for Joe.
    Now imagine the following scenario:
    Joe doesn't know who Emily is, and Emily is the inventor of this machine and the only one in the world who knows about it yet, as it is a brand new invention. Emily has also been spying on Joe for a year, gathering all information she could get from who Joe is.

    Emily is now going to do an experiment:
    She follows Joe for a day, and when Joe is at Burger King (while in the bathroom), she pours a poison (which makes the victim to feel very sleepy 3 hours after drinking the poison, and urging for sleep, and while sleeping fall into a 10 hour coma) into Joe's beverage. Joe drinks his beverage and feels extremeley sleepy when at home a while later.
    Of course, he takes a nap on the couch and falls in the short coma. Emily breaks into his apartment and takes Joe to her lab (Joe is still in a coma and doesn't know anything). In the lab, she puts Joe in her "brain-machine", while in intervals giving Joe injections which makes Joe unable to move or do anything, but his brain is fully awake. As Joe is connected to the "brain-machine", he is thus a SLAVE to what this machine simulates for his brain.

    Now, she simulates the following scenario for Joe's brain:
    Joe wakes up on his couch, and to his great surprise, three chimpanzees wearing black suits are sitting in his livingroom. Just before he's about to freak out, one of the chimpanzees says:
    - Hey Joe, calm down. We aren't going to hurt you, we are from the CIA.
    We are here to ask you a couple of questions regarding apples. We believe the average knowledge of apples among the US citizens can be linked to one's violent and terroristic behaviours. We have picked out random citizens and you have been one of the chosen ones. The survey will take around 9 hours as we will ask questions and ask you to perform small tests.
    - But you are chimpanzees. How can you speak? Chimpanzees can not speak, and they can definitely not have been hired by the CIA! Joe bursts out.
    - We are genetically modified chimps... We have the same behavioural abilities as you human beings, one of the other chimps replies.

    So, Joe spends 9 hours with these three chimps. During the day, all the everyday things happen around Joe's house (besides the talking chimps of course), which confirms to Joe that what is going on is NOT a dream. His mind is perfectly clear, everything else seems normal, all his senses are working as usual. He's not feeling drugged etc etc.
    When the chimps finally leave, Joe sits down and thinks about what has happened. Although freaked out, he just accepts the happenings of this very strange day. He did after all spend 9 hours with the chimps, and he pinched himself at least 100 times to assure it's not a dream. He did all the things he could think of which one would do when proving to oneself that one is not having a dream. After a short while, he feels tired and goes to bed for the day, to wake up the next morning.

    But, everything that had been going on was just a simulation of Emily's brain-machine, as we (the readers of this post) know. Emily injects another "coma-substance" into Joe and takes him back to his apartment, putting him into his bed and makes sure all the things in his house looked just the way they did in the end of the brain-machine's simulation.
    Joe wakes up the next day, although freaked out, thinking about the events of the previous day with a smile on his face. As time passes, he tells the story to people around him, and of course, nobody believes in Joe. But will anyone EVER be able to convince Joe that his story about the three talking chimps wasn’t REAL?
    I’d say no.

    If you have read all the way to this point, I’d like to thank you for being patient albeit the extremely long post :blushing: . What I tried to do here was to post my theory of reality/existence:

    Reality is not universal, not absolute neither standing above anything else. The reality we sense, feel, perceive, is just a conclusion of all the experiences given to the brain. What seems to be so real, can be just as fake as in a computer stimulation just as in Emily’s ”brain-machine”. It’s not a matter of how ”real” something is. It’ just a matter of how convincing it is towards our brains. Existence in this very reality is just an illusion, as the brain’s function is to illustrate. Illustrate a picture based on photons and illustrate sounds based on pressure waves. We exist in the reality we find most convincing. The reality created by Emily’s machine to Joe, was just as convincing as the universe. For Joe, three chimps working for the CIA did indeed exist. Thus, for Joe, three chimps working for the CIA, doing apple-surveys, are just as real as EVERYTHING in this universe YOU find real.

    As we all now... a discussion/debate is dead when people agree on the topic... So... bring it on everybody :biggrin:
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 12, 2006 #2
    first of all, that was a great story :biggrin: burger king in the year 3048? :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

    and now for your theory regarding reality... there is something in our time that has the same phenomena on people - its called schizophrenia, so you dont need fancy "brain-machine" or 100% knowledge of the brain, you just need a mentally ill person to have his own convincing reallity that no one else but him sees.

    reallity can never be absolutely objective if it comes from people's memory, but by making an "avarage of experiences" you can get very close to it...

    the problem with saying that there's no objective reallity is that someone can say, for example, that in his reallity the holocaust, or apartheid, or all the genocides made by stalin didnt happen... because he gathered convincing evidence that proved it for him...
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2006
  4. Jan 12, 2006 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

    Hi ash'. Interesting story, thanks for the chuckle.

    This sounds like a "brain in a vat" type thought experiment. I'd agree there is no way for one to distinguish the difference between reality and 'unreality' in this case.

    I guess I've always dismissed this type of suggestion, that we are being manipulated or that reality is not what it appears to be, by recognizing it does nothing to help me personally understand reality. For Joe, were he maintained in a coma forever, it would not help him to understand reality for him to suggest that what was happening was not real. In order for Joe to benefit from such a thought, he'd need to be able to logically work through and distinguish reasons why he must be in a coma and not awake.

    I guess in a sense we are all doing that right now. We ponder what is reality and what is not, but such contemplations generally focus on how consciousness can arise as opposed to whether or not our reality is synthetic or not. I think we contemplate this same type of thought experiment on a much larger scale, such as whether or not a supernatural diety is actually in control as compared to Emily.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook