Embodiment or envatment? Reflections on the bodily basis of consciousness
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jack Alan Reynolds
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In J. Stewart, O. Gapenne & E Di Paolo (eds.), Enaction: Towards a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science. MIT Press (web)
Suppose that a team of neurosurgeons and bioengineers were able to remove your brain from your body, suspend it in a life-sustaining vat of liquid nutrients, and connect its neurons and nerve terminals by wires to a supercomputer that would stimulate it with electrical impulses exactly like those it normally receives when embodied. According to this brain-in-a-vat thought experiment, your envatted brain and your embodied brain would have subjectively indistinguishable mental lives. For all you know—so one argument goes—you could be such a brain in a vat right now.1 Daniel Dennett calls this sort of philosophical thought experiment an “intuition pump” (Dennett 1995). An intuition pump is designed to elicit certain intuitive convictions, but is not itself a proper argument: “intuition pumps are fine if they’re used correctly, but they can also be misused. They’re not arguments, they’re stories. Instead of having a conclusion, they pump an intuition. They get you to say ‘Aha! Oh, I get it!’ (Dennett 1995, p. 182). Philosophers have used the brain-in-a-vat story mainly to raise the problem of radical skepticism and to elicit various intuitions about meaning and knowledge (Putnam 1981). The basic intuition the story tries to pump is that the envatted brain, though fully conscious, has systematically false beliefs about the world, including itself. Some philosophers reject this intuition. They propose that the envatted brain’s beliefs are really about its artificial environment or that it..
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