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The Michael Shermer Show

A series of conversations between Dr. Michael Shermer and leading scientists, philosophers, historians, scholars, writers and thinkers about the most important issues of our time.

Watch or listen here or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

EPISODE # 255

David Chalmers — Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy

Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy (book cover)

Virtual reality is genuine reality; that’s the central thesis of Reality+. In a highly original work of “technophilosophy,” David Chalmers gives a compelling analysis of our technological future. He argues that virtual worlds are not second-class worlds, and that we can live a meaningful life in virtual reality. We may even be in a virtual world already.

Along the way, Chalmers conducts a grand tour of big ideas in philosophy and science. He uses virtual reality technology to offer a new perspective on long-established philosophical questions. How do we know that there’s an external world? Is there a god? What is the nature of reality? What’s the relation between mind and body? How can we lead a good life? All of these questions are illuminated or transformed by Chalmers’ mind-bending analysis.

Dr. David Chalmers is University Professor of Philosophy and Neural Science and codirector of the Center for Mind, Brain and Consciousness at New York University. He is the author of The Conscious Mind, The Character of Consciousness, and Constructing the World. He has given the John Locke Lectures and has been awarded the Jean Nicod Prize. He is known for formulating the “hard problem” of consciousness, which inspired Tom Stoppard’s play The Hard Problem, and for the idea of the “extended mind,” which says that the tools we use can become parts of our minds.

Shermer and Chalmers discuss:

  • hard problem of consciousness
  • Star Trek TNG episode 138 “Ship in a Bottle”: a VR inside a VR that is indistinguishable from Reality. Are we living in a simulation that itself is inside a simulation?
  • What is a virtual world?
  • VR, AR and AI
  • Does Deep Blue know that it beat the great Gary Kasparov in chess?
  • Does Watson know that it beat the great Ken Jennings in Jeopardy!?
  • Is Data on Star Trek sentient, conscious, and with feelings?
  • Is VR an illusion?
  • What are virtual objects?
  • Does AR genuinely augment reality?
  • Can you live a good life in VR?
  • How should you behave in a virtual world?
  • Are Deep Fakes real in VR?
  • Can AI systems be conscious?
  • It-from-bit hypothesis: physical objects are real and they are digital

Big Questions in philosophy

  • philosophical zombies and the “other minds problem”
  • How do mind and body interact?
  • What is consciousness?
  • Does the mind extend beyond the body?
  • What makes for a good life?
  • What is the difference between right and wrong?
  • free will, determinism, compatibilism, and panpsychism
  • objective moral values
  • How should society be organized?
  • Is there a God?

At the beginning of the podcast Dr. Shermer discussed the results of Chalmer’s 2009 survey that asked 3,226 philosophy professors and graduate students to weigh in on 30 different subjects of concern in their field, from a priori knowledge, aesthetic value, and God to knowledge, mind, and moral realism.

Now, from a scientific perspective it shouldn’t matter how many people support one or another position. Only the quality of the evidence and arguments should matter. As Einstein said in response to a 1931 book skeptical of relativity theory titled A Hundred Authors Against Einstein, “Why one hundred? If I were wrong, one would have been enough.”

But there is something revealing about these figures, and that is this: if the most qualified people to assess a problem are not in agreement on an answer — and the free-will/determinism problem has been around for thousands of years — it may be that it is an insoluble one. For example, is it really reasonable for the 12.2 percent of philosophers who are determinists to conclude that 59.1 percent of their professional colleagues are simply wrong in taking the compatibilist position? Isn’t it more likely that the issue comes down to language and what is meant by the terms “free will” and “determinism”?

If you enjoy the podcast, please show your support by making a $5 or $10 monthly donation.

This episode is sponsored by Wondrium:

Wondrium (sponsor)

This episode was released on March 19, 2022.

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