Saturday, June 06, 2009

Harsh Realm

I’m beginning to wonder if certain SF scenarios aren’t fostering an irrational skepticism among some believers and unbelievers. In SF scenarios like The Matrix, Harsh Realm, and Dark City, most of the human inhabitants are systematically deluded about the real world. Does this mean that you and I can be thoroughly deluded about the external world?

There are several problems with that inference:

i) Even in these SF scenarios, there is a real world. An objective, extramental world outside the subjective illusion.

ii) The ability to imagine delusive thought-experiments doesn’t mean that you can actually be deluded about the external world. Rather, that only means you can imagine yourself to be deluded about the external world.

I can imagine many things. I can imagine that I’m Superman. Does that mean I can be Superman?

iii) Finally, appeal to SF scenarios of this type is too one-sided. Yes, there are SF scenarios in which a person is fed false memories or virtual stimuli. And these are the only memories he ever had. That’s the only “world” he’s ever known.

But as SF buffs surely know, there are also SF scenarios in which we have the opposite phenomenon. For example, we have futuristic espionage scenarios in which an “asset” is kidnapped, sedated, and fed virtual stimuli.

In this virtual world, his actual memories remain intact. However, his actual memories are at odds with his virtual past.

The only way for him to escape is to divulge classified information to virtual characters–who seem utterly real. And the “escape” is, itself, a virtual illusion.

The point of this experiment is to make the asset doubt himself. He begins to question his memories. As a result, he starts to lower his resistance.

He would never voluntarily divulge classified information to an actual interrogator, but within the virtual world he’s no longer sure who he can trust or distrust–because he can no longer trust himself. Or so he thinks.

Although the asset begins to question everything he used to believe, that doesn’t alter the fact that he retains accurate memories of the real world. He doesn’t cease to know what the real world is like just because he begins to harbor doubts. It’s possible to doubt what you know–even though you know it.


  1. Steve,

    I don't know if you saw the comment I posted at least a few weeks ago about N.T. Wright's new book on justification, but would you mind reviewing it?

  2. Actually, I don't plan to review the book. I assume that someone like Guy Waters or Tom Schreiner or D. A. Carson will review the book.