Saturday, April 4, 2020

๐Ÿ“– Immaterialism & George Berkeley: Esse Est Percipi ๐Ÿ“–

George Berkeley was an Irish Bishop and Philosopher who believed that matter doesn’t exist. Instead he advocated for Immaterialism, which is the idea that all that exists in the world are ideas, and perceiving minds. That matter is just a sensory experience. He is famous for proposing his principle “To be is to be perceived,” or in Latin “Esse Est Percipi.”

So what does that mean? It means that (to an Immaterialist), objects are just the experience. There are many ways you can experience objects, you can see them, touch them, smell them but that is all that there is. Berkley didn’t think there was an actual physical property behind the sensory experiences causing them.

Do things exist when there is no one around to percieve them? Berkeley was a deeply religious man. He was a Bishop after all, and he would have said that things do exist when there is no one around to percieve them because God is constantly watching and therefore able to perceive everything. But who is there to perceive God? To Berkeley it would seem obvious that God exists but by that very logic the proposal fails.

So did Bishop Berkeley think that he himself isn't a material and just an object of perception? Berkeley would say that he and others are spirits, rational agents. Minds do exist, but just like everything else in the world, they don't really have any sort of physical extension. So, physical bodies are immaterial, but that doesn't mean spirits, minds, rational agents must also be perceived to exist.

Berkeley's system explains the consistency of our experiences (that when we put a book in a drawer, we will still find it there when we come to take it out later;) and that people generally agree about their experiences of say conversing in a particular room together by holding that the entire universe always exists as experiences in the mind of God. Objects exist because they are perceived, but God guarantees the existence of minds.

Berkeley offered a prize to anyone who could refute this argument and it remains unclaimed to this day. Because of course a proof that "matter" exists beyond perception would have to fall within perception, making a refutation impossible.

Is Berkeley’s proposal convincing? The idea that everything exists because God perceives it, is poor justification. No one perceives God, so how do we know he's there to perceive it? By this very logic, God doesn't exist because no one perceives him, which then leaves the question: Why does the tree change in the winter if no one is there to perceive it? I do however, like the idea of the subjective mind.

In the book Incognito by David Eagleman, he goes into the unconscious mind, and how our reality is shaped by how our brain works, not by how it actually is. They have an experiment where they have people push a button, and after a delay, a sound goes off. As you push the button, you become used to the delay, so it sounds less like a delay and more like it just happens when you hit the button. Your brain connects the two things. But, if they actually change it so it actually does go off when you push it, your brain perceives the sound as going off before you've pressed the button. This isn't true, but it is in your reality.

Then there are the people with Anton's Syndrome, a very strange condition where these people are blind, but don't know that they're blind. They will get angry and uncooperative if you tell them they are blind, because they say they can see. They will say confidently that you have 2 fingers up and in a blue shirt, when you actually have 4 and in a red shirt. The brain generates these images. Their brains' have lost the ability to make sense of and take in information, so it makes it up. That's what your mind has to do. And when it doesn't understand, it fills in the gaps. What you perceive is not an objective look at the world.
There are specific parts of your brain where it's their job to interpret the information coming into your system. Parts that can have lots of strange effects, like capgras syndrome. People who experience this syndrome will have an irrational belief that someone they know or recognize has been replaced by an imposter. There are countless examples to prove that our brains are unreliable to percieve reality and that our reality is shaped by how our brain works, not by how it actually is.

How the mind interprets the world is complex and difficult to understand. I think Berkeley was just starting to get on to something when he stopped to say that “God did it.” Berkeley’s proposal would have succeeded in convincing me had he been less religious in his explanation and had a more refined argument. Although proof that "matter" exists beyond perception would have to fall within perception. However his proposal is still disproven because no one perceives God, so we do not know that He is there to perceive it.

“Others indeed may talk, and write, and fight about liberty, and make an outward pretence to it; but the free-thinker alone is truly free.” - George Berkeley

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