2018 Newsletter 11: Leave the vat alone

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Note: One more on Vatman; I will be back on political matters in the next email.

It’s both the most ordinary and the most profound thing in the world, but you have only been you and no one else. You might have been a virtuous worm in your last life. With any luck you will make it to minor deity status after the clock has struck twelve, but this time around you are you. That’s the only me you’ll ever be.

Except at night. When you’re sleeping your soul takes a break from its body and travels the world. You might find yourself the queen of Russia one night and a pauper on the street the next. It doesn’t matter that the nighttime travels are the doing of your brain - isn’t that the whole point of the brain in the vat?

There’s no vatman without that prison of the self; if we could be someone else on demand, we wouldn’t be asking any of the deeper philosophical questions that come out of probing our isolation. Even worse than this isolation is the fact that it ends. One being infinitely greater than zero, being only one is better than being no one.

So you’re stuck between zero, i.e., non-existence, and two, which is communal existence; one day you’re Rajesh and another day you’re Bob. I forgot to add 1.5, which is life as we normally experience it; while we have a privileged role in our experience, other people and creatures play supporting roles in our home movie. We experience them as beings too.

Is 1.5 a good thing? Some of those beings are deadly, aren’t they, with sharp teeth and stale breath? Why bother engaging with the terrors of the world?

In contrast, the vat has all the advantages of the womb. The juice comes without fail every day. Rene Descartes, one of the great vat masters of all time, conceived many of his brilliant ideas while stuffing himself in a stove - it was warmer than the Dutch winter he was forced to endure in exile and it’s comfortable warmth was better than being burnt at the stake by the French inquisition. Being vatman can be the most comfortable thing in the world.

Then there’s the powerful Cartesian demonstration that the vat has the greatest purchase on certainty there is - step outside and you might see some stars, but that twinkling light could turn out to be a heat-seeking missile.

Why forsake the comforts of certainty?