Philosophers have been puzzling over the 'Brain in a Vat' problem for several decades. The 'problem' comes down to arguments over whether it's possible (or not) to philosophically 'prove' that one (i.e. the observer) is not simply an isolated brain that is, in effect, imagining the entire world around it.
Many treatises have been written about the problem. Some insisting that one could, theoretically, be able to work out if one was simply a brain in a vat - and others which maintain the opposite.
Here are some example papers :
Do You Know That You Are Not a Brain in a Vat? Logos & Episteme, Volume 5, Issue 2, 2014, Pages 161-181
How Both You and the Brain in a Vat Can Know Whether or Not You Are Envatted [ paywalled ] Aristotelian Society Supplementary, Volume 92, Issue 1, 2018, Pages 151ā181
How I Know Iām Not a Brain in a Vat [ paywalled ] Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplements, Volume 64
Serious theories and skeptical theories: Why you are probably not a brain in a vat [ paywalled ] Philosophical Studies, volume 173, pages1031ā1052(2016)
The prospect of being able to keep an adult human brain fully functioning in isolation is currently extremely remote. On a very small scale however, viable self-configuring collections of human brain cells - grown from stem-cells - are now a lab-based reality.
Production of these 'mini brains' has added urgency to ethical and philosophical considerations of such research.
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