Reality: a very short introduction – Jan Westerhoff


Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor is our Reviews Editors. Paul is a professional musician. When he is not on the road with various jazz and Latin bands, he is developing and promoting two of his own inventions: The Blowpipes Trombone Trio, and Trombone Poetry, a solo project.

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Reality: a very short introduction - Jan Westerhoff

OUP, ISBN 10: 0199594414

Westerhoff offers a potted survey of a subject that may be of some interest, though he raises several suspicions as to whether he is a reliable guide through the philosophical labyrinths.

At the outset of the book, he asserts that “beliefs refer to what caused them” (p.12). Obvious counter-examples will spring to mind, such as beliefs about unicorns and gods. The case Westerhoff discusses is that of a hypothetical brain in a vat, having a computer-simulated perception of the Taj Mahal. On his account, this brain’s belief that it is looking at the Taj Mahal refers to a piece of computer code.

“If it believes that the Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, it believes that the Taj Mahal (a piece of computer code) is related to Shah Jahan (another piece of computer code) in a certain way – and this is indeed how it is, since they are related in this way in the simulation.” (p.14)

This seems about as blatantly false as a philosophical claim could be. However disadvantaged this poor brain might be, it is hardly likely to believe that one piece of computer code built another, as it perceives the Taj Mahal.

A few pages later, Westerhoff generously gives away the ending of a Jorge Luis Borges story.

At the end of his own story, he refutes nihilism, the view that nothing exists, with the argument that it implies the existence of at least one thing, namely the truth that nothing exists.

I immediately feel more productive: if I make a cocktail, I actually bring two things into existence: a drink and the truth that the drink exists.

Here’s mud in your eye.

Paul Taylor

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