Last month I mentioned the Heythrop Essay Prize 2014, the poster for which I’d seen in the sixth form area at my school. Well, after over a month of procrastinating, I’ve finally gotten down to doing it. Well, planning it. I haven’t actually written any of it yet, although I might do later this evening. My main motivation for doing the essay is that there’s a slim possibility that I might win the first place prize of £500. I mean, not that I’m completely crazy for money, but five-hundred quid would be quite nice, you know?
I decided to do my essay on the title “How do you know you are not a brain in a vat?” firstly because all my detailed notes concerning the other title choice (“Is the problem of evil fatal to traditional theism?”) are in the hands of my friend who’s using my revision notes, and I don’t trust my memory enough to be confident in writing the essay without my notes. Also, I figured that because the subject matter surrounding the “brain in a vat” question isn’t on the A-Level Philosophy and Ethics syllabus, doing the BIV essay would be a little less main-stream. If I could write an excellent essay on a topic that’s not on the syllabus, that will make the judges pay attention, right? That’s what I figured anyway.
So, because this whole “brain in a vat” argument is new to me, today I set about researching it and making notes and collecting quotes and scholars to use in my essay and I tell you now, I am completely worn out. The amount of academic papers and website essays I’ve read on the argument is ridiculous and at numerous points I felt like giving up on the whole thing because there was just so darn much to read, but then I metaphorically slapped myself in the face, told myself to stop being such a baby and got on with it. So now it’s 5:40PM and I have four pages worth of notes etc. for my essay, all of which are a result of reading and re-reading articles online and looking up the definitions of phrases such as “disjunctive proposition” and “Modus tollens“. I’m going to use a grand total of two Latin phrases, a) because they look fancy, and b) because they’re actually relevant.
Unfortunately I had to discard the idea of using Muse lyrics, because I thought that would be pushing my luck and although the lyrics actually had significance within what I was going to say, I decided to cut out that bit because the essay was probably already going to be too long. I was going to write about the idea that a universe in which every sentient being was a brain in vat, being fed electrical signals and impulses from some kind of supercomputer, might not be physically possible due to the laws of thermodynamics (more specifically the second law of thermodynamics). The Muse lyrics I was considering were from their song ‘The 2nd Law: Unsustainable’, which go: All natural and technological processes proceed in such a way that the availability of the remaining energy decreases. In all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves an isolated system the entropy of that system increases…The fundamental laws of thermodynamics will place fixed limits on technological innovation and human advancement.
The lyrics contain sound chemistry and physics and we’ve done entropy in Chemistry, so I was going to suggest that it would be impossible to reach such a point where every sentient being is a brain in a vat being controlled by a supercomputer, because that level of technological advancement is too high and the available energy in the universe wouldn’t be enough to allow for it. But anyway, if by some stroke of luck I’m struggling for words, I’ll include the idea, but I think that it’s going to be discarded in favour of my ideas on Spinoza.
Anyway, I’m working tomorrow so I’ll have to crack on with the essay on Tuesday. The deadline for entries is the 30th, so I haven’t left myself much time but I find that when it comes to essays and written work I do better under pressure. Unfortunately I don’t know the quality of essay that usually gets entered for the Heythrop Essay Prize because they don’t publish the previous winners’ essays, so I’m just going to have to do my best. Fingers crossed it’s enough.