The Matrix, Skepticism, & Wonder
Dear Wonderfest friend,
In 1999’s The Matrix, heroic Neo must choose between a red pill and a blue pill. The red pill will awaken Neo to the real world; the blue pill will keep him in a computer-fabricated pseudo-reality, the eponymous Matrix.
The blue pill presents an intriguing challenge that reminds us of Rene Descartes’ 17th-century “evil genius.” This great creation of philosophy could, right now, be deceiving us about the nature of reality. Perhaps this electronic newsletter, the chilly winter air, and all the stars above are impenetrable illusions created by the evil genius.
Such thoughts animate late-night dormitory discussions, but they don’t have popular staying power. Most of us eventually shrug-off questions about reality, artificial or not, as Woody Allen did: “I hate reality, but it’s still the best place to get a good steak.”
David Hume, in the 18th century, did not shrug Descartes off. In a sense, Hume one-upped Descartes by leaving us with a skeptical insight that can’t be shaken off. It lies, today, at the heart of science, and it can fill us with a continuous sense of wonder.
This month’s Wonderfest presentation is co-produced with the Bay Area Skeptics. Its title is Overconfidence and the Frailty of Knowledge, and it addresses skepticism about what we know — both at the personal level and at the universal level. We will examine ourselves for signs of overconfidence, and we’ll probe deep into the heart of science to discover unavoidable Humian frailty.
The two speakers are psychologist Dr. Marilin Colon of Cal State East Bay and a certain Tucker Hiatt of Wonderfest. The time is Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 7:30pm; and the place is Berkeley’s La Peña Lounge, 3105 Shattuck Avenue. The subject is more than the red or blue bill. It is key issues in how well we really know most any matter of fact. I hope you can come.
P.S. Please join Wonderfest on Facebook, and share this information with your friends. We also have a Meetup group with almost 300 members. Come take part!