The Myriad Colors Phantom World Fallacy


A while back (around Easter, maybe?) I saw a couple episodes of Myriad Colors Phantom World. I stopped quickly because it had way more fanservice than it was worth. I might be willing to put up with that for Monogatari, but this show didn’t convince me it was worth it.

Anyways, this line really annoyed me:


Alright, then. Let’s say reality is an illusion created by our brains.

But how do we know we have brains in the first place?

By observing them through dissections, X-rays, fMRI’s, and so on.

And how do we take in the data from dissections, X-rays, fMRI’s, and so on?

Through our senses.

And what do our senses depend on?

Our brains.

Do you see the problem here? The claim is that our perception of reality is illusory because it’s just projected by our brains. But the only way we know we have brains is by observing them using our brains. So if reality is really an illusion projected by our brains, then all our sensory observations are invalidated, and therefore we have no reason to believe we have brains at all—and now we’ve lost our reason for believing reality is an illusion. It’s a self-defeating argument.

This is why you should never trust anime for your philosophy intake (as if anyone needed me to tell them that). Rather, I would highly recommend Ed Feser’s books. If you’re interested in philosophy of mind in particular, then he’s already written just the book for you.

… I was planning on ending the post here, but it just occurred to me, someone could turn this argument on its head and argue that the proposition that our senses are trustworthy is self-defeating.

If we trust our senses, then we come to the conclusion that our senses depend on this thing called the brain. But we can observe that the brain is flawed and frequently misleads us. So by trusting the senses, we come to the conclusion that the senses are untrustworthy.

The problem with this argument is that the only way we know that the brain makes mistakes is by observing that the brain sometimes draws conclusions that differ from reality. But it’s impossible to know that the brain’s conclusions differ from reality unless we already have a way of knowing reality to begin with. And how do we know reality? Through our senses. Thus unless we trust our senses, we have no reason to mistrust our senses. Once again, we have a self-defeating argument.

Further, this argument claims that because we see that the brain makes mistakes sometimes, we can’t even trust it for the most part. But any finite intellectual being will be liable to make mistakes. So if we take the stance that if something makes mistakes sometimes then it’s unqualifiedly untrustworthy, then that means that any finite intellectual being is untrustworthy. This is essentially equivalent to arguing that no one other than God can know anything. Not only is this conclusion outrageous, it’s also, yet again, self-defeating—if every finite intellectual being is untrustworthy, then the argument that finite intellectual beings are untrustworthy becomes untrustworthy, and therefore we no longer have any reason for thinking finite intellectual beings are untrustworthy.

In a word, what all this tells us is that it’s impossible to argue rationally that people can’t know reality, because any such argument would be self-defeating; it would depend on known truths and would therefore presuppose the proposition it’s trying to disprove. On the other hand, it’s also impossible to argue rationally that we can know reality, because any such argument would be circular; it would depend on known truths and therefore presuppose its conclusion. So there’s nothing for it but to make a choice—either you believe that you can know reality, or not.

Incidentally, it seems noteworthy that the contradictions and difficulties only start popping up once you start supposing that reality is unknowable. If you assume that reality is knowable from the beginning, then you can just go on your merry way without any problems. Almost makes you think we weren’t meant to question reality to begin with.

Not to mention, if reality is unknowable, then that raises the question of what it means to “know” something, and hence what it means to deny that anyone “knows” reality. We can’t really talk about whether anyone “knows” anything unless we have experience of beings that actually know things, and for us to have experience of them, such beings would have to exist in reality. For that matter, what are we claiming is unknowable when we say that “reality” is unknowable? And if you claim that reality is unknowable, then aren’t you claiming to know something about reality?

… OK, now I’m done for sure.

This has been my exposition of the philosophical ramifications of a single line in a harem anime. Tune in next time for more quality content.


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