The Invisible Gardener: Part 1 Wisdom (Famous Philosophical Thought Experiments 1)

The Parable of the Invisible Gardener is a philosophical thought experiment originated by John Wisdom. It’s main application is to religious language and how people lead to different conclusions about the existence of God from the same evidence. However, it demonstrates a wider issue within science. It attempts to demonstrate that our conclusions from scientific method are subjective, and may not lead to how the world actually is. 
The parable first originates in John Wisdom’s Gods. It talks of two men who stumble across the garden. One of the men notices the flowers and concludes that a gardener must attend the garden. The other notices the weeds in the garden and concludes that there cannot be a gardener. They argue back and forth. The first man highlights the fact that they haven’t seen a gardener while the second responds the gardener could be invisible. The second then highlights how the flowers have been put into rows and how that requires an intelligent being to carry out. The second denies this as it could have occurred by chance. 
Both of them are presented with the same evidence. They both can see the flowers, the rows, the weeds and the lack of gardener. However, they still reach a different, opposing conclusion to each other. 
One thing this version of the parable demonstrates is that people can be presented with the same  evidence within the world and still lead to very different conclusions about God. Some people may see the order of the world, how well our ecosystems work together or how beautiful the world is and conclude it must have been created by a God. These ideas lead to arguments such as that from design and the cosmological argument. On the other, some may see the pain and suffering of the world such as those living in poverty or the emotional agony of losing a loved one. This leads to the problem of evil and from this some conclude that a God could not have created this world.  
This creates problems for those using the world to argue for the existence of God. If we can view the same evidence yet reach different conclusions on God’s existence, our belief that God exists or doesn’t exist must be to some extent subjective. If such beliefs are subjective, then we can’t truly prove that there is a God. Our ideas cannot be proven right as evidence does not necessarily lead to the right answer. 
However, the parable doesn’t just illustrated problems with arguing for God’s existence.  More gravely, it leads to problems with all our scientific statements and observations and whether they are purely subjective. For example, there are instances within science when two people are presented with the same evidence but reach different conclusions or they favour one hypothesis over the other. An example of this, highlighted by Kune is the geocentric and heliocentric models of the universe. The geocentric model was developed by Ptolemy in the 2nd Century CE. The model of the universe had the sun rotating around the earth. However, in the 16th Century, Copernicus developed the heliocentric model of the solar system (one similar to the model we have today) where the Earth rotated around the sun. At the time, there was equal evidence for both of the models. There were some thing’s Ptolemy’s model could explain and Copernicus’s couldn’t and vice versa.  Despite this equality of the two models, the heliocentric model was picked over the geocentric one. 
This illustrates a strong epistemological problem. If we can view the same evidence and yet come to different conclusions, how can we ever know if we are right or not? When we make epistemological claims, we want to think that we can know things which are true about the world. In particular, a world with set properties which do not change and exist independently of us. These properties or the facts we gain are not subjective. We look to gain this knowledge by looking at external evidence. This is used to guide us to a correct answer via deduction. However, if the same evidence can lead us to separate answers, only one of which can be right, it would suggest external evidence does not mean we can gain the right answer. Our beliefs are instead subjective and influenced by our own biases.
This is deeply counter-intuitive. So how do we solve this epistemological problem?
Part 2 will look into this question and how Flew attempts to adapt the parable in order to solve this question.  Part 3 will be evaluating both parables and seeing where this leaves us in terms of God and scientific language. 


Are You Dreaming?

We are constantly perceiving things. Right now, you are receiving the sensation of specific rays of light hitting your eyes which your brain is interpreting as this article. From this sensory information, you have deduced that the electronic device you are reading this article from is within a material realm separate to yourself, occupying space and time. However, some philosophers have challenged this assumption. As Descartes suggests, it could be argued that, because our perceptions are exactly the same when we are awake as when we are dreaming, that it is possible that we could still be dreaming when we think we are awake. If this was the case, instead of your electronic device existing in an external world, it would be a product of your mind. This is something most people find uncomfortable and counter-intuitive to accept. This article explores this problem (as stated by Descartes) and some possible resolutions (through Locke, Hobbes and Berkeley) but it will ultimately conclude that, while we can be persuaded that we are not dreaming, this does not necessarily mean there is an external world.

Descartes explores the problem in Meditations on First Philosophy as part of his method of doubt (a method of examining knowledge where you doubt everything until you find something you are certain of). He believes that there is no difference between our perceptions when we are awake or when we are asleep: if we were to stand near a fire while we where awake, the sensation of heat and light would be exactly the same as if we were dreaming. We would feel the warmth and possibly the pain of the fire in the exact same way in both scenarios. This would lead to not being able to have a distinction between the sensation of being awake as dreaming. Therefore, if we cannot tell the difference between when we are awake and when we are dreaming, then it is possible that we are now currently asleep. We would not be detecting an external world but instead one produced by the mind.

Locke attempts to deal with this problem in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by rejecting the idea that the sensations we experience while dreaming are the same as the the ones we perceive while awake. He defends this by using passivity and vivacity. When we are awake, the sensations we experience are more vivacious than when we are dreaming: in the case of the fire, we would not feel the heat of the fire in a dream in the same way as if we were to experience the heat of the fire awake. This is because the heat of the fire when awake would feel more vivacious or real than experiencing the heat of the fire while we were dreaming. The pain would feel stronger. Therefore, we can make a distinction between our sensory experience when awake and when we are dreaming so we can tell currently that we are not dreaming.

However, while the argument can provide evidence that we are currently not dreaming, it cannot disprove it completely. While the majority of the time our dreams do not have the same vivacity as our awake experience, there are some dreams that do. There are dreams where we wake up after them and question whether they were real or not. We have to figure out whether we were genuinely next to a fire or whether it was part of the dream. A common example of this is people feeling like they are falling when in reality they are dreaming. Therefore, it is still possible that we are dreaming, it just happens to be an incredibly vivid dream we are experiencing with the same vivacity as reality. Because of this, Locke’s argument does not completely work in disproving the idea that we are currently perceiving a dream, despite casting it into doubt.

While the argument around vivacity may not sufficiently work, other distinctions can be made between when we are dreaming and reality. For instance, Hobbes argues in Leviathan they can be distinguished from each other through their varying regularity and continuity. When we are awake, there is a set pattern to our perceptual experiences which are governed by rules. Using this set of rules, we can make predictions about our future sensory experiences which are, most of the time, correct. For instance, if I want to put my hand in a fire, then I can predict quite confidently it is going to hurt. If the prediction turns out to be wrong, then often there are explanations to why this is. For instance, I may not get burned by the fire, but this is explainable by the fact my hand was covered in a fire proof glove which is a logical reason provided by the Laws of Nature. However, dreams do not follow this pattern – we can do things like fly which would break the rules of our regular experience. There would also be no rational explanation for this breaking of the rules apart from the conclusion that we were dreaming. Therefore, there is a distinction between when we are awake and when we are dreaming. Hence, we can conclude that we are not currently dreaming.

However, while it is possible to strongly suggest we are not dreaming, it doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that some want to gain from it. The whole question of if we can know whether we are currently dreaming is used as a criticism of assuming that there is an external world. By attempting to defeat this problem, philosophers attempt to maintain the existence of such a world. This doesn’t occur as it is possible to not be dreaming but still be observing a non-material world. For instance, Berkeley argues that we can tell that we are not dreaming by the irregularity of dreams compared to the regularity of when we are awake, but he does not insist on a material world. Instead, what we are perceiving is a mind-dependant world. However, while dreams are produced by our own minds, what we call reality is produced by an intelligent “all-perceiving perceiver”. The regularity of our experience is not due to an external world, but because of the rationale of this perceive who projects this bunch of ideas into our brains. Berkeley’s idealism is most often rejected nowadays due to its inclusion of a God which most people don’t believe in. However, the point still stands that we can accept that we are not dreaming, but this does not necessarily mean there is an external world.

Descartes puts forward the idea that it is possible that there is no external world and we could be dreaming. Locke’s argument of vivacity goes a long way to solving this problem, but it is not strong enough to remove the doubt. Hobbes provides a more persuasive argument of regularity that is more convincing. However, while we have a strong argument to suggest we are not dreaming, this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that realists are looking for; we cannot conclude there is an external world from demonstrating we are not dreaming.

Does Santa Exist? The Problem of Existence

This piece was influenced by Dr Christopher Janaway during an Ancient Greek Philosophy Lecture
We make the distinction of existence daily but its relevancy increases at Christmas. This is because of Santa. As a society, we teach children that there is a being who delivers them presents on Christmas Eve. They gain empirical evidence of this by receiving presents or going to visit “Santa” in his “grotto”. However, as they grow up, there are things that don’t make sense. How can Santa deliver all those presents in one night? How can Santa be eternal when everythingelse we perceive in the world is constantly changing? In the end, by the time we have reached adulthood, we have decided that Santa does not exist. 
However, what do we mean by existence? We believe we can assert that, if we were perceiving a chair in front of us, that said chair exists. However, other objects such as unicorns and Santa do not exist. This is an odd conclusion as Santa must exist in some capacity because we have a concept of Santa within our minds. Yet, we acknowledge this existence is a different to a chair existing. What do we mean by this distinction?  
This was a problem that was discussed in one of my Ancient Greek Philosophy lectures with Dr Christopher Janaway, The initial distinction I proposed was that things that “exist” are material objects existing in a world independent of the mind. That is to say, anything that is physical exists. Anything that does not have physical properties does not exist. This explains the distinction between Santa and the chair. If we apply this to the example above, the chair is in a physical world and is made of material matter. Therefore, it exists. However, while we have a concept of Santa, we cannot assert that he exists. That is because a being that has the properties that the concept of Santa has (for instance, being able to deliver presents to all children in one night) does not exist in the external world and demonstrate the physical properties Santa would have. 
However, while this is sufficient for the example above, Janaway correctly pointed out that there are some things we claim exist that do not exist within the physical world suggesting this definition incorrect. For instance, we would claim that the concept of numbers exist. Also, while there are physical aspects to a university such as Kings College London including its location or the people who make it up, it is dependant on a mental concept which connects all of the physical aspects together. Both of these do not purely exist in the physical world. However, we would still argue that they exist. Therefore, my initial argument that existence is defined by whether a concept exists in an independent, material world is unsuccessful. 
This, though, creates difficulty for someone defining existence because it means we cannot explain the distinction between why we would assert that Santa doesn’t exist but a chair we are perceiving does. If a concept of a university that is non-physical can be argued to exist, then why can’t we argue that Santa also exists? If there is no defining feature between them, we could conclude that both the chair and Santa exists. This is clearly a counter-intuitive position and as a result we must find a way to reject it. 
There are two possible responses, the latter more credible than the former. Firstly, we could reject the existence of the examples used by Dr Janaway. To declare that numbers exist is a controversial statement to make. It is not the point of this blog to explore the philosophy of mathematics. However, a possible theory (for example) is that numbers are purely categorisations of empirical evidence, For instance, we get the concept of the number “two” from viewing couples of objects, such as two swans or two cars. In the case of the concept of the university, we could argue that it is a series of experiences instead of the university itself existing. If it is the case that neither of these exist, then they cannot be used to criticise my original definition of existence. 
However, I think there is a more promising method of dealing with Dr Janaway’s criticism that doesn’t depend on an entire area of philosophy and that is to change the definition of existence to something more subtle. In order to do that, we need to make a couple of distinctions. Firstly, the idea of a concept. A concept is an idea or thought existing within our mind. This can be distinguished from what it resembles. For instance, if we have a concept of a chair, this can be distinguished from a chair that exists in the external world. The concept is able to resemble what it concerns due to reflecting the properties of the object. For instance, the concept of a chair resembles an actual chair because it resembles it having four legs, having a back and platform on the four legs as well as being made of a sturdy material. However, part of the concept of the chair is it being a physical object within the external world. If the chair, then was not within the external world, we would argue it does not exist. What this highlights is that existence is not a question of whether an object has physical properties, but whether the object it represents aligns with the expected properties of the object. 
How does this apply to the examples we have used so far? In the case of numbers, it is not within their concept that they have physical properties; we would not find the number two in the middle of a field. Therefore, numbers being immaterial does not challenge their existence as their immateriality aligns with their concept. This contrasts to Santa. As part of Santa’s concept, he is expected to be a physical being in the external world. This is demonstrated by the fact he is expected to deliver presents, an action requiring physicality. However, there is no object within the external world that has the properties of Santa. Therefore, as there is no object fulfilling the conditions of the concept of Santa, we conclude he doesn’t exist. This more subtle explanation of existence deals better with Dr Janaway’s problem as it explains why we say Santa does not exist but numbers do despite both being immaterial entities. 
To summarise, existence is difficult to define. Initially I proposed the definition that refers to whether an object exists in the external world. Dr Janaway correctly highlighted this was wrong due to us believing numbers exist but that they are immaterial. This challenge was successfully dealt with by suggesting existence is a method of asserting whether there is an object which resembles the concept, as it allowed for a distinction between the existence of immaterial numbers but the non-existence of Santa. 

Do Mental Health Conditions Exist? A Response

This post responds to a literature which contains content that breaks the blog’s ethics. Because of this, there are no links or any advertisements for the book. While the post engages with the literature, it should be noted that the blog does not support, encourage or condone the opinions that are set out in the book. 


A while back, Max. J. Lewy asked me to review his latest book Gas Lit By A Madman; On Philosophy, Madness and Society. The book looks at multiple themes around mental health, such as its existence, it’s treatment and the idea of responsibility when with a mental health condition. On reading it, this book greatly disturbed me due to the various ideas the author appeared to be promoting. Therefore, I decided to investigate these issues myself and demonstrate my reasoning on why I reject his book. This blog post will be rejecting Lewy’s loose claim that mental health conditions don’t exist.
Trying to interpret Lewy’s attitude towards mental health conditions and their existence is incredibly difficult; the book jumps from problem to problem with not much guidance or organisation. Often, there are contradictory points. For instance, he claims he does believe mental health problems are real but then proceeds to give arguments to their non-existence. I believe what Lewy is trying to argue is that the way psychiatrists view mental health disorders is incorrect. Therefore, I will proceed on this assumption.
Lewy lists multiple reasons as to why we may experience feelings of anxiety, depression and despair, such as the political shambles of current world governments. He argues that such causes justify such feelings. Therefore, he argues that such feelings should not be labelled as a mental illness or “problems” as they have sufficient causes. Therefore, mental illness does not exist.
The first issue with this argument is that it confuses the multiple meanings behind the word anxiety, despair and depression. For instance, anxiety as a feeling and anxiety as a disorder are two separate concepts. Anxiety as a feeling is referring to the inner sensation of nervousness we feel in stressful situations. Anxiety as a disorder includes this, but also other behaviours or symptoms, such as a racing heart or being unable to get out of bed in the morning due to fear.  I feel Lewy is making the point that feelings of anxiety don’t mean you have an anxiety disorder, particularly if they are “justified”. However, looking at the sensation of anxiety alone cannot lead to the conclusion of whether mental health conditions exist or not. Therefore, his argument is inconclusive.
This limited interpretation of the topic also leads to another error. Lewy looks purely at what would justify an anxious response. Therefore, he is “pulling a rabbit out of the hat” and concluding something trivial; that justified responses aren’t an anomaly or illness. However, in reality, there are times when people have an unjustified anxious response. For instance, having to talk to a loved one or cooking. To be anxious in these situations is unjustified and therefore, by Lewy’s same logic (though I don’t agree with it) it would prove the existence of mental health conditions, disproving Lewy’s argument.
The basic issue with Lewy’s first argument is that he fails to acknowledge the full complexity of mental illness. Mental illness can include the incorrect triggering of certain feelings as examined above but it also includes the regularity of such feelings, the thought processes behind these feelings, the behaviours that they lead to and how these behaviours impact on the ability to lead the life that an individual wants to lead. Even if Lewy concluded that all anxious feelings were justified, it would not be able to comment on whether mental health conditions existed as a whole. Because of this, how justified an emotion is cannot be used to determine whether mental illness exists.
Lewy also attempts to use a similar argument for paranoia. Lewy doesn’t provide a set definition for paranoia which makes interpreting his argument problematic, but he does explore the issue of the government maltreating patients in secret government experiment. I think his fundamental point is that we have justification to be suspicious and therefore it should not be considered a problem. As a result, paired with the argument above, it cannot be used as a sign to highlight a mental illness.
This argument fails due to the misunderstanding of paranoia. Part of my understanding of paranoia and what makes it different to an entity such as doubt is that there is a lack of evidence for the belief that is being held. This can be demonstrated by the example of a person who believes their partner is cheating. This belief would be described as doubt if the person had some basis for this belief. For instance, his partner had cheated on him in the past. However, this belief would be paranoia if they had no evidence their partner was cheating. In the case of the government it would not in fact be paranoia but scepticism as it is founded in past evidence. Therefore, the example of the government cannot be used to comment on the existence of paranoia and hence the existence of mental health conditions.
Lewy also argues that because we cannot know for certain if a person has a mental illness, then mental illnesses are not real. He uses the example of someone pretending to be the queen of England.  It could be concluded that the person is mentally ill, or it could be that they are pretending to have one or there is a rational explanation for their behaviour. From this, he proceeds to conclude that mental illness is merely an appearance which is used to construct social norms and defame eccentric individuals.
The major problem with this part of the argument is that it confuses two different areas of philosophy that cannot be used to prove one another. The existence or essence of an object is a different issue to one of having knowledge. It is a very subtle difference but still an important one. In this case, there is a difference between whether we can know someone has a mental health condition and whether mental health conditions exist. This creates an issue, as raising into question if someone has a mental health condition cannot be used to challenge the existence of mental health conditions in general because it is still possible for other people to have mental health conditions even if the person in question does not. It is also possible that mental health conditions exist without knowing for certain that they do or do not exist. This means Lewy’s method of using knowledge becomes invalid and cannot disprove the existence of mental health conditions.
Lewy does attempt to use knowledge in a different way to create another argument. He looks at the phrase “I didn’t know I was depressed”. I assume he imagines this being used when someone has gone to the doctors and has received the diagnosis of depression which is the knowledge being gained. However, for Lewy this is a contradiction. How can we not know that we are experiencing a specific sensation? We are the only ones immediately aware of our feelings. If we were depressed, we would be the first to know. Certainly, a doctor would not be aware of this sensation before us. For Lewy it seems, by doctors giving us this label, they are telling us to feel a certain way and are making us more unhappy than we were originally. Therefore, the condition not only doesn’t exist but the label is causing damage to those in a vulnerable position.
However, I reject this argument due to the practicality of the phrase. If someone has received the diagnosis of depression, it would be highly unlikely that they were not aware they were depressed. They would have noticed that they were not happy or not enjoying the activities that they used to. They would have picked up on the fact they were struggling to get out of bed or were constantly tired. Therefore, the phrase can be accepted as contradictory but that is because it is a phrase that would never be used.
However, a better refutation of the argument lies with the multiple interpretation of the sentence . It would be illogical to not know you were depressed in terms of sensation, demonstrated in the argument above. However, it is logical to not know you were depressed in terms of a diagnosis. This is due to the change in the nature of the knowledge being examined. The feeling of depression is an internal knowledge that we directly perceive. However, the diagnosis of depression is a factual one. This is a piece of information we gain from the outside world which we gain via our senses which is a name that is given to various behaviours and sensations. While it is illogical to not know about a sensation, it is logical to not know that these sensations have a collective name. Therefore, there is no contradiction within the statement and Lewy cannot conclude that depression is merely a label that makes people feel worse via this method.
Lewy’s dismissal of mental health problems can be reduced to the final argument I am going to discuss; he argues that, to diagnose someone with an illness, there needs to be a set of specific causes of specific ailments in order to separate the atypical and the typical. Psychiatry cannot do this and therefore cannot assert that the mental health conditions that they label are real.
This argument is difficult to disprove, not because it is a good argument, but due to the lack of evidence it stands on. The only reasonable stance to take is to deny that psychiatry can’t do this. It has the DSM manual which has a specific breakdown of each mental health condition and the symptoms that each condition has. While Lewy does insult the DSM, he provides no real solid arguments for why we should reject this, particularly when many psychiatrists who have spent many years studying mental health abide by this guide. Therefore, his argument cannot disprove the existence of mental health conditions by arguing that the symptoms are not detailed.
Lewy has a number of flaws in his argument, mostly due to his lack of identifying nuances, defining the terms he is using in a systematic and clear manor and providing sufficient evidence for his points. If he had done this, many problems that he faced would have been avoided; lack of clarification between sensations and conditions, defining paranoia, asserting clearly what he is arguing against etc. Because of this, Lewy’s argument that mental health conditions do not exist cannot be maintained against the rigorous philosophical method.

Blog Ethics

Hello guys, I hope we are all doing well. This is a message from the editor. It has been a while so I apologise; I am currently switching up how I do my blogs and it is taking longer than expected. I will have some blog posts coming out shortly. However, they will be based on a book that expresses offence to some minority groups. Because of this, I have felt it necessary to write a code of ethics. Please feel free to read over them. If you have anything that you would like me to add then please message me. I want people to feel this blog is supportive. 

1. This page values equality for all. We believe that this blog is a space that should be accessible to everyone, no matter what background a specific individual is from. Everyone has a right to feel safe on this blog. Therefore, as long as it causes no harm, this blog supports freedom of sexual expression, religious expression and the right of individuals to follow their own ends.

2. This page supports and validates everyone’s struggle, including those of minorities. This can include (but is not confined to) women, members of the LGBT+ community, religious minorities and those suffering from chronic physical and mental health conditions.

3. This blog believes that the best method of challenging ignorance is by engaging with the literature and demonstrating why they are offensive or wrong. However, it will not actively promote literature which contain hate sentiment, including sentiment that is aimed against minorities. It will also be noted within the blog article that the literature does contain hate sentiment and make it clear that this is unacceptable.

4. However, criticisms may still be expressed on this blog. For instance, an exploration of God’s existence which concludes he does not exist may be posted on a blog post. However, this does not undermine the blog’s overall support for people practising the faith of their choosing.What this blog will not stand for is negative stereotypes, hate speech and discrimination which are promoted directly or indirectly. For example, the promotion of the idea that all Muslims are terrorists.

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