Philosopher: You know, you really can’t prove that the external world is not a dream.
Average Allan: Okay. What are the practical implications of that idea?
Philosopher: I dunno.
Inspired by xkcd and a conversation with Ziek.
Filed under Philosophy
Some philosophers now speak of “approximate truth” or “justified belief” rather than “proof” because of this problem.
I enjoy the discussion of philosophy, but only up to a point. After hours of discussion, whether or not you believe the external world is a dream, and whether you call it “proof” or “justified belief,” you still get up and eat a cheeseburger.
However, this approach has not prevented me from getting in several hours worth of devilish philosophical arguments with people who know more about it than I.
Almost no philosopher will actually say that the external world is an illusion. The puzzle is precisely about the best way to argue that this possibility is unlikely.
The fact that we will live our lives based on the assumption of the external world is actually an argument to believe in the external world. This would be a pragmatic justification. If it is useful to believe something, then you might as well believe it.
It’s not something I believe out of mere convenience. Rather, whether or not the external world is a dream is an entirely moot point because my behavior remains unaffected by either conclusion. The practical implications of skepticism are irrelevent, and there is no reason to prove skeptics right or wrong.
Still a pragmatic justification, for sure, but I would never believe something just because I “might as well.”
I agree that it isn’t “only” a “might as well” situation. The point is more about “what beliefs are justified.” Many people do have to have the assumption that the outside world is real. If we found out somehow that the outside world is an illusion, behavior might be changed.
Consider an analogy to Hume’s argument that induction can’t be “proven.” Although it can’t be proven, we will nonetheless assume that the future will in relevant ways be similar to the past. To not have this assumption could be disastrous.
I follow your logic, and I guess I have to agree that behavior could be changed by the knowledge that we live in a dream. However, the word “if” makes the argument moot. “If” we found out that the external world is an illusion, we might live differently. The hypothetical situation is not instructive because it is just that: hypothetical.
This hypothetical concept of a world – in which we can prove the external world is a dream – is impossible. It implies that somewhere there is not a dream world, but reality. Rinse, lather, repeat, and you have the same argument start again.
This is not to say that it is impossible that the external world is a dream, merely that it is fundamentally impossible to prove either way. Therefore it is moot, and thought experiments misguided.
I’m just waiting for Ziek to get involved here.
I submit exhibit A:
and direct your attention to the line –
“the philosopher’s prayer: please show me I’m here
so that I can be okay to go”
ahh… that beautiful meeting of philosophy and poetry; be still my beating heart.
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