Here is the first reading for the class from Bertrand Russell. Read the selection by Russell
and answer the following questions in a total of 800 words minimum, either one continuous
essay or several separate sections. You may want to print out the reading if reading off a
computer screen is difficult.
1. A friend of yours holds a piece of white chalk in their hand. You ask them what they
know for certain about the chalk and they reply, "Well, I'm certain it is a cylinder, it
is pure white in color, it is hard, and it is smooth. Of these points, there can be no
doubt." In Russell's view, what errors have they made in their claims of certainty and why
are they errors?
2. You hold a red rose in your hand and inhale deeply. What are the differences between (a)
the sense-data, (b) the sensations, and (c) the rose itself? What are the relationships
between these three? Does the rose continue to exist if you lock it into a chest and bury
the chest under the ground? How do you know?
Answer both questions one and two. You can also answer any of the following questions if
they interest you and you have not yet completed the minimum word count.
3. How do you know you are not right now a brain in a vat?
4. Here is a passage from an ancient Chinese text, translated by Lin Yu-Tang:
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all
intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware
that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know
whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming
I am a man.
Is there any way of answering this uncertainty?
5. Qualia is the term used for the seemingly incommunicable qualities of our conscious experience;
the taste of strawberries, the color of red, the timbre of a French horn are all qualia. Now it is
fairly well accepted that our conscious experience is determined by the workings of our nervous
system, by the transportation of ions and neurotransmitters throughout our network of neurons. But
where in all of this transportation is the color red? Where is the taste of strawberries? This is
called the problem of qualia. A related question is the question of whether or not computers could
ever experience qualia.
6. Do you experience the same reality as others do? Are the qualia you experience the same as
the qualia a friend experiences? How do you know?
7. What do optical illusions tell us about perception?