Thinking about Scepticism

[“Skepticism” looks better]

What is real? What if I chose neither? What if I chose both?

Unfortunately, these days scepticism is commonly associated with “climate change denial” or the Flat Earth Society. However, philosophically, scepticism is the notion that true knowledge can never be obtained. In my last article, I came to the conclusion that knowledge can never be obtained. Therefore, I am a sceptic. However, for the purpose of this essay, I will use the word “know” synonymous as “think [you] know” and “knowledge” as “what [you] think [you] know”.

It seems unfortunate that I covered “questioning reality” in the last article but in order to complete this philosophy essay, I will have to do so again (in more detail).

Déjà vu

[Was it the same cat?]

Sensory perception, Testimony and Inference can lead to the truth but there is a huge problem. If each of these links can be unreliable, then how is it possible to note whether a proposition is true?

The Matrix does a great job in questioning reality which ties in with truth which is required by knowledge. The movie’s premise is where humans have been enslaved by robots and everyone has cables connected to their brains that feeds their senses. The virtual world around them isn’t real, so any observation made within the matrix (the name of the virtual world) cannot be proven to be true. For example, Mouse points out that maybe everything tastes like chicken because the machines got it wrong.


Senses can be fooled and randomly inconsistent, so how can be determine if any of our observations are caused by the truth?

-Me, 2K18

Before we explore the thoughts of other people, we will have to establish that our senses are unreliable.


Moving on.

Un-Locke-ing the truth

17th century philosopher, John Locke proposed the idea that all people are born as “tabula rasa” or “blank slate”. Everything that you know is learnt from an experience, through one or more of the senses.

You learnt to talk from experiencing your parents talk to you while you tried to copy them. From there, you learnt a language and through that language, you learnt all you know.

However, I would like to append to his argument. Some people might argue that breathing, digestion and utilisation of the senses are utilised even before birth(except the breathing part), inside the womb. To make the distinction between instincts and knowledge, the human mind should rather be described as “tabula rasa et scalprum” or “blank slate and chisel” because the means to learn knowledge is given to us at birth.

Although everything we think we know comes from sensory perception (Empiricism), not everything we think we know is right.

This means that we should explore thoughts not rooted in physical perception.

It’s quite plane to see

A century before Locke, René Descartes decided that he wasn’t going to hold false beliefs so he let go of everything he thought he knew, then took time to examine each belief and accept only those which cannot be doubted.

Senses can be fooled at any given time, but Descartes proposed that perhaps there is an “evil genius” who’s goal was to feed false information and thoughts into people’s heads. He realised that it was impossible to disprove the evil entity’s existence, however unlikely. If you have evidence against their existence, maybe they tricked your senses into believing that you found evidence because that’s what they want you to think. This meant that every thought in his head could be doubted as every thought may have been put there through deception.

However, Descartes knew that he was doubting and although the evil entity could have made him think that he existed, it couldn’t have implanted thoughts in him if he didn’t exist. This is what led to his “foundational belief” which he wrote in his book, Meditations on First Philosophy:

For some reason, this guy looks like Guy Fawkes.

“Cogito ergo Sum”, or “I think, therefore I am”, meant that he is, at least at a bare minimum, a mind having thoughts. While a lot of philosophers saw this as the dead end of epistemology (study of truth), Descartes, as a Christian believed there was a God. He believed that no God would give him false, clear and distinct ideas without a way to disprove them and so he reclaimed almost the entirety of his discarded thoughts.

As one of the philosophers that disagree with his arguments after, I agree that cogito ergo sum is the rock bottom of rationalism (that reason is the best source of knowledge). However, the best chance we can have of finding the truth is through the senses given that after all, all we can try to know is from experience.

It might have been. I’m not sure.

[referring to the cat]

17th century philosopher, John Locke agreed that empirical beliefs are not always reliable but instead of rejecting all of his beliefs, he categorised perception into two categories:

  1. Primary qualities (objective)
  2. Secondary qualities (subjective)

Primary qualities include things like mass, density, shape and size while secondary qualities include colour, taste and sound. Primary qualities are indisputable while secondary qualities can be up for debate.

Locke believed that primary qualities are certain and that they could instantly be perceived, but 17th philosopher George Berkeley argued otherwise.

Imagine a colourless, texture less apple. Chances are you imagined a grey-scaled apple with a completely smooth texture. Berkeley asserted that you can’t perceive primary qualities without using secondary qualities. For example, you can’t perceive the shape or size of an apple without colour that contrasts it from its background.

I couldn’t find a picture of an invisible Apple

This lead Berkeley to his own fancy Latin phrase

(Insert George Berkeley pun)

How 17th century bishops flex their Rolex’s

George Berkeley came to the conclusion: “esse est percepi” or “to be is to be percieved”. There is no such thing as matter, only perceptions. It also occurred to me, at that age of 9 or 10, that to exist(at least from a subjective point), is to be perceived. Unless you witness, via any of the senses, a thing, then it effectively never happened to you.

When I was younger, I used to close my bedroom door and feel as if time is passing by; when I check the clock, only a minute had gone. Other times, I fell like nothing had happened so it felt like I lived for an instant, but in reality, an hour had passed. This led me to wander whether time had had passed outside my door during those moments. When you walk out, it feels like everything is in sync but if outside world silently vanished and reappeared when you opened the door, would you notice? If everyone was frozen for a billions of years, until the solar system was in its current position relative to itself and resumed, unless you were an astronomer how would you know?

I assume they’re Schrodinger’s cats. A-actually, I assume they both are and aren’t, just like us.

Likewise, if your room was silently sent to a “timeless oblivion” and suddenly returned to where/when it was, to you, it never happened.

Berkeley theorised that people are just minds collecting information in a world of nothing but perceptions. He believed that when nothing is there to perceive something, they don’t exist. Some people might struggle to wrap their head around this but a good analogy would be what is known as “second death”.

When a person‘s metabolism stops and they die, they can no longer interact with the world directly; they can’t push an object or say what they think. However, it is said that people die a second time the last time somebody mentions your name. While people remember you you can influence them, Nikola Tesla, although he died poor and alone, his brilliance influenced Elon Musk to name his company after him.

The most selfless genius I know

However, think about your great grandparents, maybe you’ve heard something about them from your parents. Think about your great grandparents’ great grandparents. Chances are, unless they were somebody famous, they’ve been forgotten and for all you know, never existed ( might be a scam).

Berkeley decided that when you sleep, you’re not being perceived by even yourself. If so, you’re threatened with non-existence. Therefore, someone has to be watching you and everything else, all the time.

As all Christian philosophers do when they come across a problem they can’t solve, Berkeley concluded that it was God who is the ultimate perceiver, the reason why everything exist.

Personally, I see no reason why being asleep means that you do not exist. While you may not exist to other people (unless someone is dreaming about you, or WATCHING YOU IN YOUR SLEEP), they would not exist to you either while asleep. From a subjective point, you exist in your dream, your current reality is encapsulated by your dream. When you wake, you transition into another reality.

However, when I was anaesthetised during a appendicitis surgery, I did not exist for those moments. You have to be anaesthetised yourself to know what it feels like but basically, you don’t remember closing or opening your eyes. You don’t notice time passing while you come to consciousness. In my subjective reality, in those moments, nothing existed, not even me.

It didn’t make me laugh

Just because I didn’t exist for a few hours doesn’t mean that I can’t later.

Clinical zombies

noun: clinical death

death as judged by the medical observation of cessation of vital functions. It is typically identified with the cessation of heartbeat and respiration, though modern resuscitation methods and life-support systems have required the introduction of the alternative concept of brain death.

Basically, clinical death describes the stopping of heartbeat, breathing and brain activity. With the technology surely a doctor can tell if a person is actually dead or not, right?

There are a lot of records describing people waking during their own funerals and sometimes waking from their coffins. So many, that someone actually went through the effort of designing and implementing coffin bells.

Sorry, name doesn’t ring a bell

Unfortunately, despite advances in medical technology, according to the Independent, people pronounced dead waking up is not uncommon.

An interesting account is from a Reddit (link to Reddit page) user r00tdude (link to news article), who gave an account of two clinically dead experiences he had in a motorcycle accident.

Motorcycle accident. First “death”: immediately after the accident my body shut down from the pain and physical damages on my body. No pulse, no breathing and no consciousness

Second “death”: I was in agonizing pain after surgery so I received loads of pain killers. The pain, coupled with an immense amount of pain killers, caused my pulse to drop to around 10bpm and my respiratory system shut down.

“ Both times I was just ‘not there’.” he says, according to the article but not found elsewhere (maybe it was in his videos).

Nonetheless, I brought this up because although his mind didn’t exist (at least that’s my interpretation) during those minutes, it restarted existing afterwards. I don’t believe that there needs to be a cosmic being for things to exist.

So what is reality? (TL;DR)

Oh look, another cat!

The real question is whether or not it matters

My stance on the matter is that we are nothing but perceptions. We cannot know (from this point on, by “know” I refer to a JTB with appropriate causal connections) anything but of our own existence.

When you always feel the need to add a meme to every article


René Descartes said “cogito ergo sum”

John Locke said “tabula rasa”

and George Berkeley said “esse est percepi”

but to that I say, “non res” (Google Translate it)

If you can’t tell the difference between reality and belief, then it can’t effect you. If it did, you’d notice it.

If your senses make assumptions about the real world (that looks like an apple) and everything you do leads you to believe in those assumptions (it smells, feels tastes like and apple) and it works for you (it appears to digest in your body and add nutrients into it with no problem), then for your purposes it doesn’t make a difference.

Life’s too short to worry about things that don’t matter. Ask questions such as these, but don’t linger in it for too long. Have fun, go outside (or not, depending whether all the perceptions you have lead to you believing that it’s safe to or not). Be happy in life.

Here’s a comic to get you started.

A Year 11 ex-Philosophy student