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Philosophy is the love of wisdom which attempts to explain the unanswerable questions of the world. Over the course of history, the vast span of these questions has increased but their weight and intrigue have always remained the same.
In defining philosophy, we must define the love of wisdom. To define the love of wisdom, we must define wisdom. Wisdom is an aspect of the mind relating to the use and application of information. As knowledge is the collection of information in an individual, wisdom is the conglomeration of knowledge and virtue to act with appropriate judgement. Therefore, we can define philosophy as the love of being a good person, perhaps extending that to what it means to be a person.
On that note, what does it mean to be a person anyway? A living, conscious person is made up of body and mind. What then if a person’s brain is placed into another body. Is the person in the body, or the brain? In addition, what were to happen if a surgeon started removing cells from your body and replaced them with those of someone else one by one? At what point would you cease to be you and at what point would you become the other person?
A person must also be conscious which means to be self-aware. In the field of psychology, hemineglect is the phenomenon where a person who has suffered brain damage such as a stroke will ignore one entire side of different object. Such examples include a person drawing a clock that only goes from 12 to 6 or such as in the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer walks into Jerry’s apartment having only shaved the right side of his face due to a blow in the head. Consider also what is called phantom limb syndrome in which amputees will report feeling pain or motion in their arms or legs despite their absence. Are these people conscious of themselves?
You may be conscious of yourself, which is great, but how can you be certain that the people around you are conscious of themselves? In the same way we can’t understand whether dogs or cats can be introspective, how can you be certain people whose minds you cannot delve aren’t simply providing appropriate output based on the input given like the “minds” of artificially intelligent robots? How can you be certain that you aren’t the only real person in the world full of “psychological zombies”? You are a real person, right? This is real life, right?
Everything that is inside your brain has been created by and depends on the continued existence of your brain. In other words, there is nothing that is able to exist in your knowledgebase that does not exist inside your brain. This problem in human capability is called the egocentric predicament. That which exists inside your brain as interpreted or “filtered” by your sensory information is called your phaneron, separating it from the real world. Because everything you know of the real world only exists in your phaneron, one could get the idea that everything in the world apart from them: kittens, water, even friends are just figments of their mind. This way of thought is called solipsism. A solipsist would ask, how can you be sure that the universe wasn’t created just a few seconds ago along with you and all of your memories? Similarly, how can you be sure that this moment you’re living in right now isn’t the flashback of your life you see before your eyes before you die? The opposite view of solipsism is realism and is considered the more common, healthy, and convenient view.
I’m going to leave you with a quote from Martin Gardner, a mathematics puzzle and science writer. He explains in one of his books,
“If you ask me to tell you anything that about the nature of what lies beyond the phaneron, my answer is ‘how should I know?’ I am not dismayed by ultimate mysteries. I can no more grasp what is behind such questions as my cat can understand what is behind the clatter I make while I type this paragraph.”
It is philosophy which lets us try to define the who’s and what’s of the world no more than the why’s and how’s. It allows us to give ourselves a model on which to set our beliefs: a system of beliefs for systems of beliefs. Moreover, philosophy is the voice that asks whether is it right to believe the beliefs you believe philosophy allows you to believe.