Monday, March 27, 2017

Something to celebrate: Ten years of philosophical blogs

!!! Solve the quiz and stand a chance of winning a book !!!

Sometimes I feel myself like a brain in a vat. Do you know what I mean? Here is how Hilary Putnam describes it:
“Imagine that [an evil scientist has removed a person’s brain] from the body and placed in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brain alive. The nerve endings have been connected to a ... computer which causes the person whose brain it is to have the illusion that everything is perfectly normal. ... [A]ll the person is experiencing is the result of electronic impulses travelling from the computer to the nerve endings.”  So, “if the person tries to raise his hand, the feedback from the computer will cause him to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the hand being raised. Moreover, by varying the program, the evil scientist can cause the victim to ‘experience’ ... any situation or environment the evil scientist wishes” and to make that the victim remembers it later, like (my examples) that he read a certain book, watched TV, made a trip to Amsterdam, etc. “It can even seem to the victim”, so Putnam, “that he is sitting and reading these very words about the amusing but quite absurd supposition that there is an evil scientist who ... places [brains] in a vat of nutrients which keeps the brains alive.” In short, this envatted brain-person has the illusion to be a completely normal person. (Hilary Putnam, Reason, Truth and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981; pp. 6-7). However, Putnam argues that such a case is not possible, at least not if the victim’s brain has been envatted already during his whole life, already from before the time that he begun to give meanings to the objects in the world around him.
However, my situation is somewhat different. I am sure (but maybe Descartes’ devil has deceived me) that at least during my younger years, I wasn’t an envatted brain, but that I had a real body with a brain in my head; walked with real feet on this earth; discussed with real persons about the mind-body problem; and read real books about envatted brains or, for instance, Robert Dahl’s story “William and Mary”. However, now, sitting here behind my computer, I often think that I am only a brain in a vat instead of a person with a complete body. According to Putnam such a case that a brain has been envatted later in life, when the victim had already developed meanings in his or her head, is quite well possible.
Why do I think that I am a brain in a vat? Well, each Monday I sit behind my computer and write a blog. I send it to the world via my computer. Then the blog appears on my computer screen. And sometimes I receive feedback via my computer. So, actually my relation with the world is entirely dependent on my computer – anyway blogwise –, just as the world of a brain in a vat is computer-controlled. Who will prove that my computer hasn’t been programmed by an evil scientist? Therefore I wondered whether I couldn’t I make a test that proves that my blogs are real. I often thought about it and finally I developed such a test. Furthermore, I decided to do the test on a special day. For today, the day that I upload this blog to my blogwebsite, it’s exactly ten years ago that I published my first blog here. Yes, it is really exactly ten years ago, for I published my first blog on March 27, 2007. Moreover, a few weeks ago I published my 500th blog. Therefore I HAVE SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE!!! And you, my dear readers, can take part in this celebration. If you send your messages to me, there will be no doubt that this blog isn’t faked, for each message will be different. How should an evil scientist – or Descartes’ devil – find the time to forge all the mails you’ll send to me? The more messages I’ll receive, the more likely it is that I am not an envatted brain.
In order to stimulate that you’ll send me your mails, I have made a little quiz. It consists of two questions. I am sure that you can answer them. If your answers are correct, you’ll have the chance to win a book, written by me, namely my book Running with my mind, which contains a selection of my blogs, or if you prefer, I’ll send you the Dutch version (see the column left of this webpage).
Here are my questions:
1. Which philosopher has been mentioned most in my blogs till the day of today, March 27, 2017?
It’s an easy question, isn’t it? It’s so easy that I have made a second question in order to decide who will be the winners of the quiz:
2. How often has this philosopher been mentioned in my blogs till the day of today, March 27, 2017?

There are three books to win for the best answers to these questions. The winners will be those who answered question 1 correctly and who gave the correct answer to question 2. If no one knows the correct answer to question 2, I’ll give the books to those who are nearest to it. If there are more than three winners, I draw lots in order to decide who’ll get the books (as usually in such quizzes, there is no correspondence possible about my decision who are the winners).
You can send your answers before next April 23, to this e-mail address:
[the contest has been closed]
Don’t hesitate to send me your mails. I want to be flooded with mails for the more I get, the more I’ll be sure that I am not a brain in a vat. And don’t hesitate to add your personal comments on my blog if you like!


Irina Kolosovskaya said...

Hello, Henk! Congratulations on the 10th annivesary of your blog! Keep writing and sharing with us! Best wishes to you and to your blog!

HbdW said...

Thank you, Irina.

Lia Weeda said...

Van harte gefeliciteerd met je 500ste blog!!
Groetjes Frans en Lia

HbdW said...

Dank je, Frans en Lia

Laure Jestin said...

Bravo pour ton 500ème blog!
Groetjes Laurayne

HbdW said...

Merci, Laurayne!
Groetjes, Henk

Svitlana Sibirtseva said...


It's always interesting to read your blogs!
Let's see who wins the book!:)

HbdW said...

Thank you, Sveta.