How do you know you’re real? It’s an obvious question until you try to answer it, but let’s take it seriously. How do you really know you exist?
In his “Meditations on First Philosophy,”
René Descartes tried to answer that very question, demolishing all his preconceived notions and opinions to begin again from the foundations. All his knowledge had come from his sensory perceptions of the world. Same as you, right? You know you’re reading this article with your eyes. Your senses show you the world as it is. They aren’t deceiving you, but sometimes they do. You might mistake a person far away for someone else, or you’re sure you’re about to catch a fly ball, and it hits the ground in front of you. But come on, right here and now, you know what’s right in front of you is real. Your eyes, your hands, your body: that’s you.
Only crazy people would deny that, and you know you’re not crazy. Anyone who’d doubt that must be dreaming.
Oh no, what if you’re dreaming? Dreams feel real. You can believe you’re swimming, flying or fighting off monsters with your bare hands, when your real body is lying in bed. No, no, no. When you’re awake, you know you’re awake.
Ah! But when you aren’t, you don’t know you aren’t, so you can’t prove you aren’t dreaming. Maybe the body you perceive yourself to have isn’t really there. Maybe all of reality, even its abstract concepts, like time, shape, color and number are false, all just deceptions concocted by an evil genius! No, seriously.
Descartes asks if you can disprove the idea that an evil genius demon has tricked you into believing reality is real. Perhaps this diabolical deceiver has duped you. The world, your perceptions of it, your very body. You can’t disprove that they’re all just made up, and how could you exist without them? You couldn’t! So, you don’t. Life is but a dream, and I bet you aren’t row, row, rowing the boat merrily at all, are you? No, you’re rowing it wearily like the duped, nonexistent doof you are/aren’t.