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How do we know the world wasn't created 5 minutes ago?

I'm currently having to write an essay on this question, and working from the assumption that it is indeed logically tenable that the world is only five minutes old, as Russell pointed out in his five-minute hypothesis.

Though the real stumbling block for me is how we actually 'know' otherwise.

Through the logic of Karl Popper, I identified the subject as purely philosophical - and so, it is possible to revise the traditional epistemology and criteria of knowing to tackle this question, but I am still unsure whether one is ever able to claim knowledge contrary to the five-minute hypothesis (the problems of which I'm sure you're all aware, it being non-falsifiable and all).

Basically, I'm happy to accept any coherent argument for or against knowing whether the five-minute hypothesis is true - just anything!!

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    We do not...... – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 21 '17 at 10:05
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    Of course, current scientific knowledge does not support this hypothesis. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 21 '17 at 10:05
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    I believe that the consistent histories interpretation of QM allows for this possibility. It is a little ad hoc though as a theory, since the world is not more likely to have begun five minutes ago than to have begun when it appears to have begun. It is more likely that it begins anew in every moment and some do argue that this is the case, but it would begin from where it left off. . – user20253 Jul 21 '17 at 11:04
  • You should read "On Certainty" by Wittgenstein - it deals with this kind of question a fair bit, and would provide an alternative approach to most of the answers here – Franz Jul 21 '17 at 18:26
  • Although we can't prove it, we can say it's improbable based on current facts. Nothing is random. Everything that happens, does so by design. There is no logical purpose for me to have piles except to amuse the creator/s. Beings capable of such an amazing creation have better ways to entertain themselves, so it's improbable the world was created 5 minutes ago. But not impossible. – Zane Scheepers Jul 21 '17 at 20:05
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In the realm of philosophy, it seems like just about anything is possible. So I would say we can't know the world wasn't created just five minutes ago.

But by the same token, we could argue that the world might have been created SEVEN minutes ago or thirteen years in the future. Or maybe there is no world at all. If you're going to accept one "flaky" theory, you kind of have to accept them all.

And if we discovered that the world was indeed created just five minutes ago, it would blow a hole in just about everything we think we know. So why waste time on such absurd propositions?

Of course, I'm just tap dancing around your question. In the end, I have to rely on my mind, logic, scientific evidence, etc. For example, saber mentioned radiocarbon dating, which is a good point.

But if we're going to dive back into anything-goes-philosophy, then we might argue that some kind of god created the universe five minutes ago - and she created things that appear to be much older.

Again, we're stuck in a circular argument. In the end, I have to confess that I can't be 100% certain of anything. But I'm going to use my mind as a guide, because without it I'd be even more hopelessly lost.

History, radiocarbon dating and the speed of light work for me.

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We don't know, but it is also not important to know. What if the hypothesis is true? Will you change the way you are thinking or acting? If it will not change the way you are thinking or acting, avoid answering it from philosophical point of view. You have so many other valuable questions to answer.

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  • yeah, i mean what is the scope of philosophy? – user35983 Mar 15 '19 at 9:22
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Though the real stumbling block for me is how we actually 'know' otherwise.

This really depends on - at least - the theory of epistemic justification that one argues for. Notably that's f.e. foundationalism and coherentism. But there are a lot of nuanced positions. You can find more about it in the SEP.

The five minute hypothesis is a rather typical sceptical challenge. Moore's quite infamous approach is a way of arguing against such challenges. The argument might seem a little absurd at first glance, so I'll explain a little: he uses an argument to mirror the sceptical challenge and forces the choice between conflicting premises. Having no reasons to prefer the sceptical or the non-sceptical premises, we choose based on plausibility. Moore wants to show that we have some basic grounds for knowledge based on common sense. Wittgenstein further argues for such a way in On Certainty, f.e. attacking at least classical foundationalism in favour of this kind of "modest" foundationalism based on an examination of language usage.

Of course there are coherentist or pragmatist approaches as well. But this should be a decent enough impulse to think of a thesis or research more.

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A very similar claim was made by Phillip Henry Gosse in his book, Omphalos where he attempted to reconcile biblical history with that of natural history as discovered by the sciences of geology, paleontology & zoology; he supposed that the earth was created 6000 years ago by God together with the geological strata containing fossils.

As his son, the poet, Edmund Gosse recorded in his memoir, Father & Son, he was laughed at by both the religious and scientific community, despite the 'logical' rigour of his assertion - no-one took it seriously, which just goes to show that science is in no way reducible to logic, though of course it plays it's part.

This is not quite the same as your hypothesis that the universe was created five minutes ago, but it does cover similar territory.

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This question sounds a bit strange to me. If the world had been created five minutes ago, how could I have memories dating back to many years ago ? Would it mean that they are all fake ? And what about History ? Would it also be completely fake ? The thing is, there are actual materials that can be very accurately dated by quantifying how much C14 it contains (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiocarbon_dating). Thus, History cannot be completely made up.

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  • If the world was created, then there must be a creator, capable of creating whatever damn well they please. The science behind radiocarbon dating falls apart once one assumes the existence of an omniscient all-powerful creator. – Imean H Jul 21 '17 at 19:02
  • @Imean H What creator? – John Am Jul 21 '17 at 19:15
  • @John Am the one you can't prove doesn't exist. – Zane Scheepers Jul 21 '17 at 20:41
  • @Zane Scheepers I don't have to prove it, like ghosts etc... Are you afraid of ghosts? – John Am Jul 21 '17 at 21:19
  • @JohnAm What do you mean "what creator"? If something is created, then there must be a creator. Even if it was created out of nothing, then that nothingness is a creator. Either way, the point still stands: if something is created, it can be created into anything, in particular something which fools modern science. – Imean H Jul 21 '17 at 22:50
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This is actually true and false at the same time. If the world was created five minutes ago, in the act of its creation WITH memories in the brains of all conscious beings, then suddenly "5 minutes ago" of your time that you reference in your current life would suddenly be billions of years since time is relative to the observer and everything would be just the way it is right now, because bottom line, "5 minutes" becomes something entirely different the moment you stuff billions of years of (biological and physical) memory into the total consciousness of any realm. So maybe the world WAS created 5 minutes ago but 5 minutes from the perspective of the creator that changed their meaning for the thing being created

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I did like the approach suggested by Giannos Antoniou in an answer:

We don't know, but it is also not important to know

and would ask: "What difference would your uncertainty make to your beliefs or actions"

One embedded assumption made in the argument is that an entity (perhaps God) exists that is capable of making creation and fabricating memories and evidence to fit this cosmic practical joke.

It is not possible that natural forces could have created the world five minutes ago, so we could ask ourselves which is the more likely:

  • The world was in fact not created five minutes ago
  • The world was created five minutes ago which implies:
    • The existence of a super-potent force and
    • That this super-potent force was of a nature that would lead it to creating a false back-story to this new world it had created

On balance of probabilities?

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