Thursday, August 10, 2006


Whoever you are, and whether you really exist or not, you might have begun to wonder where I’ve been these past weeks, and the truth is, trying to find out if there is an external world (a world external to my thinking mind, including you) and if there is some way I might prove it. I.e., I got caught in the biggest philosophical web around. Try reading Timothy Chappell’s The Inescapable Self and see if you, too, don’t disappear for a few weeks, if not forever. At any rate, philosophy has this language game (a term Wittgenstein likes) in which you try to prove to yourself or another that there is no ground for doubting the existence of a world exterior to your mind. Here’s how it goes:
1. We seem to know about the external world by experiencing it.
2. But our experience could be exactly the same even if there were no external world.
3. We don’t know that our experience has been produced directly by an external world, rather than by a dream or an evil demon, or by the Matrix, or by Putnam’s (a philosopher) nefarious neurosurgeons manipulating brains in vats.
4. If we don’t know that crazy sceptical hypotheses like the one like the ones in step 3 are false, then we don’t know anything much about the external world.
5. So scepticism is justified.
[Be it noted that my spell-checker has never heard of the word "sceptical."] I just woke up from a nap, and here’s what collected in the puddle of my mind as I was sleeping. The problem here is with the mechanism of proof. That mechanism is language. The fact that even the best philosophical minds in the world can’t get language to bridge this gap and prove conclusively that there is a world external to the mind (Descartes painted himself into a famous corner on this one, you’ll recall: I think, therefore I am. He could make no further reliable proof of anything.) does not, logically, mean that it is not there. All it means, logically, is that our minds, using our language(s) can’t conclusively and rationally prove the existence of the external world. But, you and I know it is there. Our senses show it to us every day. And, too, we do not need to fall back on that worn-out word "faith" to prove it. We need no proof. We have it in our sensory tentacles all the time. Now let’s get back to work.