The Brain in a Jar

There is a rather nutty theory in Science and Philosophy known as the Brain in a Vat or the Brain in a Jar theory. In this thought experiment, we imagine a mad scientist creating a machine into which he can place a human brain. This machine is called a “brain vat”. The brain vat keeps the brain alive, and it also allows the scientist to create virtual stimuli and feed these into the brain. Hence, the brain kept inside can experience these stimuli in the same way in which a normal human sensory system does. Doing this, the scientist can create an entirely fictitious world that feels completely normal to the brain held captive. This sounds eminently creepy to me!

But the idea of the Brain in a Vat (or the Brain in a Jar) theory is that no brain could ever know whether it is affixed inside a skull, or kept inside a vat. Therefore theoretically, it could never know whether everything it experiences is real or simply an illusion. It tells us that we cannot confirm the existence of anything except for our own consciousness. This theory may sound familiar since it is the basic plot of the movie “The Matrix” (which also includes some elements of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” theory).

This thought experiment was proposed by René Descartes, a French philosopher, back in 1641. (You may find it interesting how his experiment initially used an evil demon instead of a vat – that’s scary!) The vat was only proposed later by Gilbert Harlan, in 1973 to update the experiment.

This experiment puzzled philosophers ever since, it definitely puzzles me too. On that note, have a lovely week ahead- even if it’s all an illusion!

– SaaniaSparkle 🧚🏻‍♀️

183 thoughts on “The Brain in a Jar

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