The Ethics of Mental Health on Youtube

Clickbait on the YouTube platform has been heavily contested within the community. However, for some, this has reached the realm of unacceptability as it has been applied to content discussing mental health. This sentiment was recently raised in a JackMaate video, Laurence McKenna on the Problem of Mental Health. Within the video, there are false assumptions made about mental health which leads Laurence to argue that posting mental health videos online when someone is not a mental health professional is morally wrong. This essay will argue against this and will highlight the importance of such content online.

Laurence feels that the way mental health is discussed on the YouTube platform is wrong. This is because some people claim they can cure everyone’s depression from their own experience but in reality, Laurence views depression as subjective and the content produced is unlikely to help them. This is made morally worse as it appears to Laurence that some may not suffer from mental health problems but are using it as an excuse to avoid responsibility, manipulate others and as a way to make money. He also points out that by having people who have  mental illness discuss it online, it encourages them to use it as an identity which makes processing their condition harder. It also creates the idea that further mental health problems are inevitable. He goes as far as to suggest that some people want their condition to create “drama” and “meaning” in their life. As a result, he argues that it is wrong for YouTube to encourage unqualified people to talk about mental health on the platform and it should be strictly mental health professionals who discuss it online.

The strength of  Laurence’s argument is the recognition of the fact that mental health conditions impact people in different ways. This is certainly true. For instance, some people may express depression by struggling to get out of bed or struggling to eat. However, for others, they may be able to lead a fairly active life, but suffer from suicidal thoughts. As a result, I think Laurence is right to conclude that it is unfair for a creator to propose that they can cure someone’s mental illness through their content due to the variation within mental illnesses and it is wrong to pray on someone’s desperation or hopefulness in this manor, particularly when people can be at their most vulnerable. However, this should not be over-emphasised as creators have become aware of this and do often put disclaimers at the start of their videos. Also, while it might not provide a complete cure, there may be some overlap between experiences which may aid someone who is mentally ill. This will be further discussed below.

However, the fundamental problem with Laurence’s argument is he tries to distinguish between those who “actually have” mental health problem and those who pretend, suggesting there are a number of people who fake their mental illness. It seems as if he equates people who make money online from mental health videos to those who don’t actually have mental illness. That is to say, those who talk about their mental illness online are using it as an identity to be a hero or are looking for “drama” in their life. This suggests that the illness is fake and is being used as a mask to gain attention. This could come from the assumption that mental illness is stereotyped as being quiet and withdrawn. However, this is not the case. As mentioned in the video, mental illnesses can affect people differently. It is possible for incredibly extroverted people to suffer from mental illnesses. On top of this, it should be noted that even if someone is over-exaggerating or viewing their illness as inevitable, it is not because they are actively faking their mental illness. It is instead often part of it. For instance, catastrophising every situation and a feeling of hopelessness is part of certain mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Manipulation can be the result of someone’s anxieties around being left alone. Such characteristics should not be used to invalidate people’s experience of mental health, it should be used as evidence for it. Furthermore, Laurence and Jack argue that mental illness is “subjective” or “experiential”. While I am sure they did not intend it, this could be interpreted as mental health conditions not existing as they cannot be objectively verified. While I agree there is some variation within mental illnesses, I would not go as far as to argue they are merely “subjective” – there is a fundamental check list for all mental illnesses which all health professionals use demonstrating mental illness is not subjective and as a result not fake. Therefore, it is an unfair assumption to label all people discussing mental health online as pretending to have a mental health condition in order to gain money. As a result, Laurence’s argument that discussing mental health online is wrong as those talking about it are faking their illness is incorrect as they are not faking it.

It could be possible to argue that, while not everyone pretends to have a mental health condition online, there are people who do use mental health conditions inappropriately to make money on YouTube. It is these people who Laurence is objecting to instead of everyone who posts mental health videos online. This is a leap, as, when paired with other arguments within the video such as the discussion about whether unqualified people should be encouraged to discuss mental health online, it would suggest he would be referring to everyone and is creating a blanket policy. Even so, the consequences of this adapted line of argument are undesirable as it then creates the question of how it can be told which creators are faking their illness and which are not. It is pointed out during the video that we as people are not qualified to be making the judgement of who has a “genuine” mental health condition and those who don’t. Therefore, it is inappropriate to be making a moral judgement on who should be posting mental health videos online and who should not be. While this may not be what Laurence was attempting to do in the video, it is certainly a consequence of his view point which should be taken into account.

One of the arguments that is discussed within the video for talking about mental health online is that, by discussing it online, it raises awareness. The group try to reject this argument as they believe that people are sufficiently aware of mental health and more content is not needed, supporting Laurence’s argument.  However, the video itself proves this to not be true. Jack himself admits to not believing panic attacks existed before he experienced his girlfriend as having one and Alex comes forward to discuss his experience of teachers not understanding his anxiety. It is also accepted multiple times in the video that the creators believe they do not have sufficient knowledge to deal with certain situations (for instance, suicide threats).  Therefore, it is evident that it is important to create videos on such topics as there is still some awareness that needs to be raised.

In addition, I feel the video looks at a too narrower bases for why people produce videos on mental health and what benefits it might bring to those who suffer from it. It is not just a bunch of greedy content creators praying on vulnerable people who are looking for a complete cure or people trying to be a hero and raise awareness. Mental health conditions are often isolating and lonely. Sometimes people with mental health conditions don’t have others around them that have the condition or understand what there going through. By sharing experiences, it creates a community of individuals who can support each other. What I am not suggesting is that those who are mentally ill should use YouTube as a place for therapy. There is no replacement for treatment from health professionals. However, in a similar way as there are support groups for those suffering from physical ailments so they can make friends with those who have similar experiences, YouTube can provide a similar support for those with mental illnesses. Therefore, this can be seen as why it is so vital to have mental health discussed on the YouTube platform.

While the fundamental idea expressed at this point in the video is incorrect, I believe they are attempting to express a different issue; there is a difference between raising awareness and educating. It may appear there is a slim difference between the two, but it is a fundamentally important one. Raising awareness is merely pointing out that something exists while educating is teaching someone about something. This difference is important because it demonstrates the contrast between acknowledging something (in this case, mental health) and being educated in such a manor where you can appropriately deal with it. I would argue that the latter is far more important. For instance, releasing balloons or stamping people’s hands with a mental health stamp for mental health awareness week has a limited impact on people’s lives. This would class as raising awareness. What is far more impactful would be to hand out leaflets explaining different mental health conditions, how they visibly affect people and what others can do to help those being affected by a mental illness. In the same way, I think it is important to create content which isn’t merely about raising awareness, but actively educating people on mental health topics.

The final issue I have with the video is the suggestion that only mental health professionals should discuss mental health online. I think Laurence suggests this in order to avoid the issue of people perpetuating their own mental health issues through the creation of content. This has been discussed earlier on in the essay. However, the importance of having people with mental health conditions discussing their experiences online has not been mentioned. This is not to suggest that mental health professionals shouldn’t put content onto the YouTube platform; they are important in providing the education which has been mentioned above. However, the experiences of those with mental health conditions are just as valid. This can be expressed by creating an analogy with physical illnesses, such as migraines. It is important for individuals to be educated on the symptoms of migraines such as immense pain, slurred speech, numbness etc. However, what is not expressed through this is what it is like to deal with migraines on a daily basis, such as how they impact on someone’s ability to go to school. This can only be provided by those who actually experience migraines. This is the same for those with mental health conditions. An expert can tell you a list of symptoms for a certain mental illness, but it takes someone who has that mental health condition to give you an idea of how this appears in a person’s daily life. Therefore, Laurence’s idea must be rejected as those who suffer from mental illness can make as valid content on YouTube as a mental health professional.

To conclude, the video expresses many incorrect ideas about mental illness and its place on the YouTube platform ( such as the idea some people are faking their condition). As a result, he falsely leads to a conclusion about how ethically moral it is to post mental health videos on YouTube. This essay has highlighted such assumptions and has explained why mental health content on the platform is important. Therefore, those who are producing mental health content should not be viewed as carrying out a morally wrong action.

Is Science a Dogma? A Response.

In today’s modern age, we accept scientific knowledge without question. However, this has been objected to by Rana, who argues that the fallibility of science means that we should not take it as certain, and accept that knowledge is fallible. This essay will explore this and lead to the conclusion that Rana is indeed correct because of the imitations of scientific knowledge.

Rana argues that Hume’s ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ is so spiritual that it is more spiritual than extreme religious people. This is because she defines spirituality as the recognition that we cannot be 100% certain within our ideas about the future. They reference Hume, who argued that most of the time we act out of faith and that there are limits to human understanding. They then controversially argues that science can equally be as dogmatic as religion, if we fail to accept that there are limits to it. Their conclusion is that we should accept there is a gap between a knowledge and reality. Therefore, we should become comfortable with knowing that there is something we don’t know.

Rana may raise excellent points in terms of science and knowledge. However, this does not necessarily lead to spirituality, which is the main focus of the article. Rana acknowledges some people who would consider themselves spiritual would not meet her criteria. However, some people who meet their criteria (who do not accept the totality of the science dogma) would not consider themselves “spiritual”. This would suggest there is something more to the term “spiritually” within colloquial use than what Rana has considered. Spirituality arguably is more often used to refer to the idea that the entirety of the universe is connected by some energy or “spirit”. Under this criteria, Hume would not consider himself spiritual. Therefore, while Rana creates her own definition of spirituality, it fails to match the colloquial use of the term and hence her article has limitations.

However, this undermines their argument minimally as this is not the focus of the article. I feel that the article’s purpose is not to give an accurate definition of spirituality. Instead, it is to highlight that science cannot give us all the certain answers that we think it can and that we should keep an open mind when looking for the truth. This has strong foundations, which can be highlighted by the history of science. For instance, people use to believe that illness was caused by miasma (bad air) until Pasteur proved Germ Theory (illness was caused by bacteria) in a series of experiments 1860-64. This suggests that knowledge which we gain from science is as fallible as other knowledge. Therefore, Rana is right to conclude that we can’t be certain in modern scientific conclusions.

I think Rana could go further with her argument; even if we could be certain in scientific knowledge, there are limitations with such knowledge. With science, we can only empirically prove so much, such as observations about the universe. However, questions extend beyond the universe we see. For instance, how the universe was created and what is outside of it. We can’t conclude these from observing parts of the universe because, as Hume states, we cannot conclude about the formation of a man from observing the growth of a single hair. Therefore, there is knowledge beyond science which it cannot prove. As a result, as Rana concludes, we need to have an open mind to truth, as what we view as certain is fallible and has limitations to what knowledge it can gain.

Some people may feel uncomfortable with Rana’s conclusion as it would assert that what we view as knowledge is fallible. If we assert that we know things about science and science can be wrong, then it is possible that knowledge can be fallible. However, this is an issue as some people see truth as a compulsorily condition of having knowledge. This contradicts the point above. They would then argue from this that science is most of the time correct, so we should ignore that science is occasionally wrong and assume it is correct to maintain our idea of knowledge.

However, this would be dependant on how close science is to being 100% certain. For instance, if science was 99.5% certain, then assuming that the scientific knowledge we have is most likely correct is mostly a safe assumption. However, if science is only 80% certain, then the gap between what science claims and the truth is large and therefore it is unjust to assume that the conclusions of science are true. Rana brings up themselves that our current laws of physics are based on 5% of the universe. Therefore, we cannot merely make the assumption that scientific principles are certain and therefore knowledge as it is not accurate enough.

Because of this, while it is uncomfortable to accept that science may not class as knowledge, it seems a more reasonable premise to accept than asserting science is 100% certain. But what is the result of this? I think it provides confirmation of Rana’s fundamental point. While we should take note of scientific conclusions, we should bare in mind the fallibility and limitations of scientific knowledge. Therefore, we should look at the world with an acknowledgement that there may be alternatives to what we take for granted.

To conclude, while Rana’s article is limited in terms of their interpretation of the idea of spirituality, they make an excellent point that science is not the totalitarian entity which we take it to be. We need to acknowledge that science can be wrong and has limitations on what it can discover. Therefore, we need to approach knowledge with an open mind, leaving room for a reasonable level of doubt.

What it Means to be a Civilised Society: A Response

Umair Haque wrote an article called “What it Means to be a Civilised Society”. In it he argues that dignity and human rights can cure violence, creating a civilised society. While he is partially correct, this essay will examine problems with this account. It will then look at the Paradox of Intolerance and generate a more coherent definition by its consequences.

The article argues that society is becoming more violent, and as a result, society is becoming less civilised. For instance, he sites the number of mass shootings in America makes it seem America is not a civilised society. This is a problem because incivility leads to inequality, stagnation and austerity, to the extent that Haque compares such characteristics to the Nazis. Haque blames this on neoliberalism and capitalist societies which value money over other values such as meaning and purpose. This leads to a lack of dignity for individuals which is connected to barbarianism. The lack of dignity makes people feel worthless and invalidated, leading to people acting violently. This cycle of more violence creating more barbarianism creating more violence leads to a downward spiral into an uncivilised society. To prevent this, Haque argues that the dignity of individuals is preserved through rights. So, by having rights, it allows individuals to have dignity, which leads to civility.

An issue with the article is that it blames incivility on a capitalist model and the values that a capitalist society promotes. However, it is evident that other models also contain incivility. For instance, in 1918 the Gulag in Russia (the main administration of labour camps) was set up. These camps led to the mass starvation and poor treatment of millions. Under the articles definition ( and for most people) this would count as incivility due to the barbaric nature of the camps. While I would not conclude this is the fault of the ideals of communism (which is another debate) it suggests that it is unfair to blame modern day barbarism purely on capitalism, as the economic structure of a country does not impact on the level of its civility.  Therefore, it is an unsubstantiated claim that incivility is linked to capitalism and neo-liberal society.

On top of this, the article suggests that incivility is cured by the promotion of civil rights. Because of this, it would make more sense that within liberal societies that there is greater civility as liberal societies preserve human rights. However, the article highlights that America is an uncivilised society, due to the amount of violence that occurs in the country through guns and school shootings. America is one of the most liberal societies in the world with a significant number of human rights.  As a result, there does not seem to be a link between civil rights and increased levels of civility. Therefore, there is something that the article is missing in how it views civility and how to encourage.

A greater issue is with the article is how it equates non-civility to violence as it highlights the Paradox of Intolerance. The paradox is most famously associated with Karl Popper and suggests that if we extend tolerance to everyone, even the intolerant, then the intolerant will remove the liberal society that allows the freedom of a tolerant society. The main consequence of this is the idea that liberal societies often need to use violence in order to protect society from the intolerant. As a result, sometimes it is necessary for civilised societies to use violence to preserve themselves. Therefore, Haque’s equation of civility to purely a lack of violence is misguided as violence can play a role in civilised society.

However, this does not mean violence does not play a role when defining civility; in civilised societies there is less violence than in barbaric ones. For instance, there is less violence in today’s society than during periods when there was extensive warfare and imperialism. We would also argue that civility is more prominent today than during those times. Therefore, violence does play a role in these changes, but is not the sole issue.

While the Paradox of Intolerance can be seen as a criticism of the article, it can also be used to describe civility and explain when violence is necessary. Popper believed that violence was never the first resort to intolerance, as this would purely breed further intolerance. Instead, he argued that rational debate should be used to diminish intolerant positions by demonstrating them as incoherent. However, if this is not possible, then violence should be used in order to protect liberal societies. Therefore, it is not just violence that is needed, but also the knowledge to know when violence is needed or whether it is more appropriate to dispel intolerance with rational.

This can drastically improve our definition of civility for many reasons. Firstly, it keeps intact the initial thought that human rights lead to greater civility as the protection of tolerance leads to the dignity and rights of many people. However, it acknowledges that some violence is needed to protect this system. Therefore, some violence within societies does not undermine its civility if that violence is necessary to protecting tolerance. On top of this, places where there are significant human rights but unjustified violence and incivility does not mean that the definition of incivility is incorrect. Instead, it demonstrates that the society doesn’t have or use sufficient knowledge for when violence is used. Therefore, America can be viewed as uncivilised while having a liberal society and not undermine the definition of civility.

To conclude, the article gives arise to many issues when looking at liberalism, violence and civility. This is due to equating civility to purely lack of violence. However, by examining the Paradox of Intolerance, we can change civility to using violence purely when it is necessary to prevent intolerance rising. This overcomes the problems within the article to create a more valid definition of civility.


What it Means to be Civilised  By Umair Haque

Paradox of Intolerance

Philosopher’s Boxing Ring: Hume vs Paley


Paley’s design argument argues for the existence of a wondrous God from the design elements of the universe. However, many years before Paley wrote his design argument, Hume wrote a series of criticisms against it. This essay will explore the debate between Paley and Hume and demonstrate why Paley’s design argument fails.

Paley’s Argument From Design

Paley starts by asking us to imagine what we would think if we came across the stone. He asserts that we would not need an explanation for how it got there. However, if it was a watch, then we would. Why is there a distinction between the stone and the rock? It is because it has elements of design; it has several parts made of a specific material to create a motion where they work together for a specific purpose. If these parts were any different, then the watch would not work. It is from these features that we conclude someone must have designed it. Paley then argues that these features are also seen within the natural world. Therefore, it can be concluded that the universe was designed. Paley then goes further and concludes that, because the universe is]wondrous, it must have been a wondrous designer, which we call God.

1. We don’t know much about watch making. 

It can be argued that the argument above works because we have some concept about how a watch is made. If we didn’t have this concept, then we wouldn’t be able to conclude that the watch was designed, even if it demonstrated such characteristics. This is the difference between the watch and the universe.Therefore, we cannot conclude that the universe was designed as we cannot assert what the features of design within a universe are. As a result, Paley’s argument fails because he cannot insist on the existence of God by supposed elements of “design” within the universe.

Paley considers this objection, but rejects it as, even though we don’t know how universes are made, we can still see elements of design. He uses the example of ancient objects. Although we weren’t there when they were made, we can still conclude someone designed them from the way they were put together. For example, an artefact was found of the Greek Island of Antikythera in 1902. The artefact had cogs, gears, dials and inscriptions which suggested there was a designer. Through reverse engineering scientists worked out that the artefact was something which was used in Babylon astronomy. The scientists were not there when this artefact was created, but still could see the elements of design. If this is the case, then it is not a stretch to assert that, even though we didn’t see the universe being made, we can still infer it has a designer. Therefore, it could be argued that Paley can still prove the existence of God from the elements of design within the universe.

However, Hume argues that Paley underestimates the criticism. We can infer design from ancient artefacts because they were formed under the same rules. The making of a watch is not too different from the Antikythera artefact. However, the making of the universe could be drastically different to how a watch is made. This is emphasised by Hume when he asserts that we can’t conclude from the formation of a hair how a man is formed. This means that we can’t use parts of the universe to conclude how the entire universe was formed. Therefore, Paley cannot conclude from the elements of design within the universe that there is a God that designed them as we do not have experience of how the universe was made. Therefore, Paley fails in his mission to prove the existence of God.

2. There are problems with the watch/ It does not demonstrate a perfect being/ Arguments from analogy are weak.

When we come across the watch, it is possible that parts of it may appear broken. This is the same for the universe. For some people, when they look at the world around us, they see suffering and assume that the world could not have been designed. This is promoted by Hume, who engages with the evidential problem of evil which suggests when faced with the problem of evil and suffering, it is a more likely hypothesis that God does not exist than does. Therefore, Paley’s argument fails because we cannot conclude that God exists from the elements of design within the universe because of the presence of evil, which a designer would not have put in.

However, Paley would argue that this doesn’t undermine his argument for two reasons. Firstly, it is based on the assumption that evil and suffering are errors within the universe. It could be argued that they play an important role within the universe. For instance, Hick would argue that evil and suffering develops us as people. Therefore, he would argue that evil and suffering are not mistakes with the universe, and so cannot be used to criticise the Paley’s design argument. However, this is not a sufficient argument, due to the randomness of suffering within the universe. As a result, evil and suffering can criticise Paley’s design argument and therefore, Paley’s design argument fails.

Secondly, Paley would argue that just because the universe may be broken doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a designer. If we look at a watch, the screen may be cracked or the hands may not move. However, we can still see elements of design and conclude there was a designer. In the same way, there may be faults with the universe, such as natural disasters and man-made evil. However, we can still see elements of design, such as the rotation of the planets. Therefore, Paley would argue that he can still prove the existence of God despite the problem of evil as elements of design within the universe still suggest a designer.

However, Paley fails to take into consideration the wider consequences of the problem of evil. If we assume that Paley’s argument can prove the existence of God, it is still not enough for believers and Paley. It needs to prove the God of the Bible. That is to say, a God who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent. If we were to suggest that God designed the world, then having flaws within it would suggest that God himself is flawed, and this will not do for religious believers. Therefore, not only does Paley’s account of the design argument fail to prove the existence of God, he also fails to prove that such a God would be the God of the Bible which is necessary for religious believers.

This demonstrates a wider problem with the design argument; the fact it is based on an analogy. In order for analogies to work, there needs to be great similarities between the two objects for an analogy to work. It is evident that there are extensive differences between a watch and a universe; there are hardly any similarities between the two. Even if there were, some philosophers still reject an argument from analogy as they would argue analogies only work if there is some way of verifying the conclusion independently of the analogy. As Paley’s argument is based on an analogy, then his argument is weak, and can’t prove the existence of God.

It is possible to argue that Paley’s argument doesn’t need to be based on an analogy. Without the watch, we can still assert that objects which are designed have specific features. If the universe has these features, then we can still conclude that there is evidence of design and that God designed the universe. However, this argument is not sufficient to overcome the problem of evil. As such, Paley’s argument fails to prove the existence of God.

3.The watch may have formed without a designer.

Despite the features of design within the universe, Hume still argues that it is possible that the world was formed through random process without a designer. For instance, the Epicurean Hypothesis asserts that if there are a finite series of particles in an infinite amount of time, then eventually this world would form. As a result, a designer is not required to explain the features of design within the universe and Paley’s argument is slightly weakened by this conclusion as the need for God is no longer necessary.

This argument isn’t as strong as Hume’s other arguments as it doesn’t directly attack Paley’s argument. Instead it offers a possible alternative. Also, the chances of the world being formed by random process is infinitely small. This means that a designer designing the universe is more likely than the universe being formed via random chance. Therefore, this criticism is not enough to refute Paley’s design argument. However, as we have seen, this is a tiny victory compared to the other major issues with Paley’s design argument.


Paley’s design argument is inadequate when faced with Hume’s criticisms. The crucial part to this is the fact Paley cannot prove the existence of the God of the Bible. This is because, even if Paley could overcome Hume’s other criticisms, it still would not be good enough as the argument doesn’t prove the existence of God in the way Paley wants it to. Therefore, Paley’s design argument fails. However, it should be noted just because Paley’s argument fails, the design argument does not but Swinburne’s
design argument is for another blog…

How does VR provide justification to the "Brain in the Vat" hypothesis?

Scepticism about the external world is an idea which is begrudgingly acknowledged within philosophy; it seems to absurd to suggest that there is no external world, yet it cannot be refuted. This gives rise to the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis, which suggests that there may be no external world. Instead, the sensations presented to us are provided by a computer which is hooked up to our brain floating in a vat. Most people would view this as nonsensical and dismiss it immediately. However, this article will argue that a thought experiment could provide some evidence towards the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis and as such would suggest that it is a stronger theory than it is given credit for. Despite this, the article will not argue for the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis. Instead, it will strengthen its position.

Scepticism about the external world arises due to the Vale of Perception provided by theories related to indirect realism. This is because such theories suggest that what we are directly perceiving is mind dependant; the qualities which we believe objects to have exist only in our mind. Consequently, we can never be sure of the true nature of the external world as we can not step beyond the vale. We cannot occupy a “God’s Eye View” of what the world actually looks like and therefore the exact nature of the external world is unknown.

Some philosophers take this a step further and suggest that we cannot be sure that there is in fact an external world. This causes the arise of multiple different ideas, such as idealism ( the idea all qualities are mind dependant) and solipsism (the only thing that exists is my mind alone).

A suggestion which particular arises from these two positions is the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis. Imagine that in the future, you are forced to remove someone’s brain due to the injury of the rest of their body. In order to keep it alive, you put it in a vat ( a container with liquid that keeps the brain alive). Over time, you are slowly able to connect this brain to a computer which provides the brain with stimulation which make it appear to the brain they are in a different world. It is suggested that this brain could in fact be you right now. There may be no external world at all. Instead, you are a brain hooked up to a computer which makes it appear to you that there is an external world.

This is a slightly uncomfortable position. There is no way of categorically proving that we are not brains in vats due to the Vale of Perception. However, it is a mostly discarded idea. One of this is due to the idea of infinite regress. How do we know that the scientist who put us into the vat isn’t in a vat himself. If so, who put them into the vat? Is this person also in a vat. The idea of being in a vat leads to infinite regress, were we never stop looking for the answer. Most often, philosophers reject the idea of infinite regress and therefore would reject the idea the “Brain in a Vat” hypothesis. Another reason why it is discarded is due to Russell’s best hypothesis. This is the idea were, we cannot categorically prove that there is an external world, but it is the best explanation for the regularity and consistency in the universe. Because of this, Russell would argue that we are fairly safe in assuming that there is an external world. Furthermore, the science behind the “Brain in a Vat” hypothesis is pseudo-science. It is highly unlikely that we could ever create a substance which could support a brain, let alone understand the brain enough to stimulate it correctly to create a consistent external world. As a result, the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis does not provide a substantive alternative to an external world, and therefore should be rejected.

But does the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis truly provide the strongest case for scepticism about the external world. Or is there a thought experiment which could provide better support? I would argue that a stronger argument could be made by a VR experiment which could expressed as the following;

1. We are able to create a visual world within VR. This creates the same visual stimulation as the external world.

2. Other technology can be incorporated into this to engage our other senses in this new world. For instance, the use of pressure suits or incorporating sense of smell.

3. Eventually technology will develop so that there is no difference between the new world and the external world.

4. We may eventually forget there is an external world and that the new world is an external world.

5. This seems plausible based on our current understanding of science. However, it poses the exact same problem as the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis.

6. Therefore, there is some hypothetical possibility to suggest that the external world is merely an illusion.

How does this argument deal with the objections against the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis? To start with, it doesn’t deal with the problem of infinite regress. It is still possible that the world which put us into VR was also a VR world and continues going back. However, it could be argued that the thought experiment doesn’t need to deal with this. The argument isn’t suggesting that there is external regress. Infinite regress is merely the example being taken to the extreme. It is only at this extreme that the argument doesn’t work. When considering if the external world is a true representation of a different world or whether the external world doesn’t exist, at a maximum there only needs to be one separate world, not multiple. This is not a causation argument. It is an epistemological one.

This may not be a convincing argument for some. However, what the argument does deal well with is the pseudo-science of the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis. In the hypothesis, it relies on us being able to develop a substance to keep a brain alive, developing sufficient knowledge of the brain to know how to stimulate it and then developing a computer to fulfil the task. Science is no where near being able to do this. In contrast, virtual reality is something that has already developed. We can already create new visual worlds and have already started to create “4D” experiences with other senses. As a result, the thought experiment provides a better hypothetical scenario which is more attainable and therefore provides a stronger argument than the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis.

Finally, the thought experiment goes part way to challenging Russell’s “Best Hypothesis” theory. This is because it provides a more rational explanation to the “Brain in the Vat” hypothesis as it is more scientifically attainable. On top of this, it provides an explanation for why the world has continuity and consistency; because it was designed in a similar way to a VR game. Despite this, Russell’s theory is stronger than the thought experiment as it is a simpler explanation and therefore (according to Occam’s Razor) is the more probable one.

To conclude, VR can provide a stronger case for scepticism about the external world due to it being founded on technology that is already available today. However, it doesn’t persuade that there isn’t an external world due to Russell’s “Best Hypothesis” theory being a simpler theory and therefore more likely. Despite this, the VR thought experiment is still important, as it can be seen to strengthen the position of scepticism about the external world, and give it some support which otherwise it would not have had.

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