TEN QUESTIONS ABOUT EXISTENCE
From the Journey 2004 Journal
ANIL MITRA PHD, COPYRIGHT © January 2007
Document status: January 17, 2007
Outdated; maintained out of interest
Essential content absorbed to and no further action needed for Journey in Being
The concept of EXISTENCE may seem to be too TRIVIAL or too obvious in its nature to merit attention. Obviously, one may think, to EXIST is to BE and existence is the characteristic of all things (that exist.) Alternatively, as the supposed CHARACTERISTIC or PROPERTY of all things, existence may be –and has been– thought of as too BASIC or FUNDAMENTAL to be susceptible to ANALYSIS. However, the question, ‘What exists?’ is not trivial because we may be mistaken in thinking that something exists. This is true for day to day things for it seems on reflection that KNOWLEDGE is an EFFECT of a THING –often thought to be in the BRAIN– and not the THING ITSELF. The HISTORY OF THOUGHT, including the HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND OF PHILOSOPHY, also reveals errors in what has been thought to exist and one factor in progress was the recognition of the errors. Even though the IDEA OF EXISTENCE may be thought to be obvious in its nature, analysis of the idea may help in the recognition of errors. In fact, the apparent obviousness may be, not because the concept of existence is trivial but because existence is so PERVASIVE, at the ROOT of all things. In the discussions that follow, it will be seen that an analysis of existence leads to a knowledge and UNDERSTANDING of things that might otherwise have been only IMAGINED
The questions are designed to show the importance and SOURCE of the FUNDAMENTAL QUESTIONS of the THEORY OF BEING and ILLUSTRATE what is learned –and how it is learned– in ANSWERING the questions. It is shown that answering the questions draws upon all EXPERIENCE and ACCUMULATED KNOWLEDGE and, in turn, sheds light on that experience and the POSSIBILITIES OF BECOMING in the light of the ultimate – the ‘answers’ here are not intended to be complete but to bring out the MEANING AND SIGNIFICANCE of the questions. There is further EXPLANATION and CLARIFICATION in the document, FOUNDATION for a Journey in Being which may be especially useful for the latter questions whose responses here are short and non-explanatory
1 What is EXISTENCE or BEING? Does anything EXIST?
What is existence or BEING? To ask this is to ask ‘What is the MEANING OF BEING?’ Since existence is so FUNDAMENTAL there appears to be nothing more fundamental in terms of which to explain or define it. Therefore, to ask what being is constitutes a question as to the meaning of the word ‘BEING.’ Since the question is fundamental, a DEFINITION is not likely to be ILLUMINATING. What may be illuminating, as in the discussion that follows, is to analyze the VARIETY of CONCERNS that arise in considering being or existence
Whether anything exists could be PUZZLING and it is therefore productive to ask the question in parallel with an INQUIRY into the MEANING OF BEING. In fact, the inquiry into the meaning of being will be seen to be equivalent to inquiry into whether anything exists
Does anything exist? As FACTUAL, this is the most trivial of questions – that the question is asked implies existence. The FORM OF THE RESPONSE ‘that the question is asked implies existence’ is somewhat in error. That the asking of a question is or constitutes a kind of existence is in the meaning of existence or of being. That is, the IMPLICATION is a TAUTOLOGY of the form A & B IMPLIES A – nothing factual has been DEDUCED or DISCOVERED. That there is existence when there is EXPERIENCE is in the meaning of being. Someone may respond that experience may be ILLUSORY but this response is mistaken in that it is not being said that the object of the experience exists but that the experience itself exists. What if the existence of the experience is an ILLUSION? In that case the experience that constitutes the illusion exists. Clearly, this reasoning might constitute an INFINITE REGRESS –which may be considered NEUROTIC except when trying to pin down a logic of the answer to the question of whether anything exists– but the conclusion remains the same
The manner of address to the question in the previous paragraph may be seen as the essence of Descartes’ response, ‘COGITO ERGO SUM’
It is interesting that we can know, with certainty, that something exists without being able to point to any specific thing that exists. This is similar to the trivial fact that either x = Ö2Ö2 or xÖ2 = 2 is an example of an irrational number raised to an irrational power being rational even though it is not trivial to show which of the two numbers is the example
In that it is an IMPLICIT question as to the MEANING OF BEING, the question, ‘Does anything exist?’ is not trivial
2 Is there always some EXISTING THING? Why does something exist, i.e. ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ A comment on TIME!
To answer this question, it is necessary to investigate the nature of the ABSENCE of existing things. However, it would first be necessary to question the nature of ‘thing’ because, otherwise, we may make IMPLICIT assumptions about what exists and the nature of EXISTENCE and so, make a mistaken conclusion regarding the question. Yet it is necessary to begin somewhere. We can begin with what are thought of as COMMON THINGS –the common objects of our world– stones, trees, rivers and so on. It is possible to imagine, starting with any one of the objects, the absence of that OBJECT and then the absence of another object and so on. In the end, there are no objects left. Is anything left? At this point in the imagination game, I might VISUALIZE empty space. In QUANTUM THEORY, the absence of all objects constitutes the QUANTUM VACUUM. Thus, at such points, the imagination has not arrived at COMPLETE ABSENCE. SPACE is the FRAMEWORK OF OBJECTS, the quantum vacuum has a BEHAVIOR that is the behavior of the objects and thus leaving behind the framework or behavior is illicit
Therefore, in complete ‘absence’ not only is there NO THING, there is also no LAW or PATTERN and no framework for things. Another way of stating this is to say that LAWS AND PATTERNS ARE THINGS
If, regarding a state of COMPLETE ABSENCE, one were to say, ‘from that state, nothing will ever change or come into existence’ that would be a law regarding the state and its presence would CONSTITUTE existence. Thus there may be absence of ‘things’ as we recognize them but complete absence is not possible. The closest approach to a state of complete absence is one in which there are no ACTUAL things as such but there is COMPLETE INDETERMINISM which means that from that state the only ACTUAL or imaginable things that cannot become are those whose concept involves a CONTRADICTION. Therefore, ‘SOMETHING’ always exists. This does not mean that something of the kind that is normally RECOGNIZED as a thing, whether in COMMON OR SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE, is ‘always there’
Thus, an examination of the idea of absence as what results from the world by removing things has resulted in clarification of ‘absence’ and of ‘thing’
Since ‘absence’ is considered to BE ‘something’ the question arises, ‘can there be NEGATIVE EXISTENCE?’ If there were a kind of existence that were able to ‘devour’ other kinds of existence we might assign it negative existence. However, there would be no especial significance to the negative aspect of the existence just as the assignment of a negative charge to the electron has no especial intrinsic significance – the significance is that it distinguishes the charge of the electron from that of a proton and that, in a definite sense, positive and negative charges can cancel out in their effect. In a vague sense, ‘absence’ can be thought of as having zero or negative existence but it should be noted that this line of thought is not as well or consistently developed as the theory of electrical charge
An interesting point regarding COMPLETE ABSENCE, is that even when there are things, the things themselves or the collection of them may be regarded as they are plus complete absence. However, complete absence is a state of COMPLETE INDETERMINISM. Therefore the normally observed STABLE BEHAVIOR of our world is not at all necessary; rather, from any actual state any other POSSIBLE state –i.e. one that does not entail a contradiction– may emerge. Thus, SPONTANEOUS ANNIHILATION of things and of the universe is possible. This is equivalent to the logical point that only those states whose concept involves a contradiction are impossible
It is logically necessary for something to exist. I.e. something must exist. This is so because even in COMPLETE ABSENCE of THINGS-AS-WE-THINK-OF-THEM, there is the POTENTIAL for things. Further, the potential is not of the form, ‘something may come into existence’ but ‘some things must and will come into existence.’ That is because permanent absence of any thing that is conceivable –it is inherent in the concept of the CONCEIVABLE that it is identical to being conceivable without CONTRADICTION– would be a LAW and the presence of a law would be in violation of the nature of absence. Must there always BE things-as-we-think-of-them? No, but, as has been just seen, a permanent state of absence is impossible. Therefore even if there are ‘NOW’ no things, there will, subsequently, be things
The question, ‘Why does something exist?’ or its better known form, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ has been called the fundamental problem of metaphysics. The resolution of this question has just been shown to be trivial. It is not always the case that there will always be something but it is necessary that there will sometimes be something. Absolute and eternal nothingness is logically impossible
A possible paradox in the foregoing argument is the apparent ASSUMPTION of the existence of time outside the existence of things. The concept of TIME has been analyzed in the NARRATIVE for and the SUPPLEMENT to Journey in Being. There it has been shown that a single DOMINANT UNIVERSAL TIME-AS-WE-EXPERIENCE-IT –or think we do– need not always BE. However, there is always, at least, a set of PRIMAL TIMES –note the plural– as in the spontaneous ever present GENERATION from COMPLETE ABSENCE of the EPHEMERA. How can time which is apparently directional and one dimensional have plurality? The plurality is in that the connection among entities or domains with distinct times is ‘weak’ i.e. that a CAUSAL-LIKE CONNECTION does not exist and therefore CO-MEASUREMENT can not be set up. Further, it is out of these multiple PRIMITIVE TIMES that a single DOMINANT TIME may emerge in a COHERENT PHASE-EPOCH of the UNIVERSE. It may be noted that in what is called the REAL TIME of a particle in Einstein’s THEORY OF GRAVITATION, there is a single dominant time of the PHYSICAL UNIVERSE as described by that theory. Such primitive times are ever present. However, their effect is usually insignificant. Consistent with the foregoing discussion, it is necessary that their effect will not always be insignificant
3 Why is there SENTIENCE? Why is there AGENCY?
It has been seen that the so-called fundamental problem, ‘Why is there something?’ is trivial. It will now be shown that it is possible to answer the deeper questions of why there is sentience and why there is AGENCY
It does not seem to be necessary that there should BE sentience- or AGENCY-AS-WE-EXPERIENCE-IT in all worlds
There is an advantage to considering BEING rather than some ‘known’ SUBSTANCE such as ‘matter’ as the mark of things. In considering ‘matter’ to be the mark of being, we are committing, in the best view, to regarding a PRACTICAL NECESSITY of our world to be a LOGICAL NECESSITY of ALL BEING; however, even from the point of view of this world it is not even practically necessary that MATTER-AS-WE-KNOW-IT is the mark of being in the world – this follows only on the dominance of a certain WORLD VIEW that has a practical and psychological origin but no logical foundation
From the point of view of being as only partially known, it is possible to see that the separation of the world into mind and matter is merely a separation of the MODE OF AFFECT from the MODE OF EFFECT. Thus, regarding KNOWLEDGE as ‘the effect of the one on the other,’ it is seen that mind and being are COEXTENSIVE and COEVAL and with an extension of the concept it may be possible to say ‘MIND IS BEING’
The necessity of AGENCY follows from the nature of BECOMING in which the nature of becoming becomes INTERNALIZED in DISCRETE BEINGS. Agency is the ability to know what is and what is POSSIBLE and to EFFECT CHANGE in the direction from the ACTUAL to the possible
Morals are necessary in the nature of becoming. However, it is a logical jump from this observation to the justification of specific morals. ETHICS is the understanding of morals and, like all ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE, may remain incomplete
In the nature of becoming, the presence of EFFECT is not due to a fundamental CAUSATION but a QUASI-EFFECT or QUASI-CAUSATION arises from SELECTION of NEAR-SYMMETRIC, NEAR-STABLE STRUCTURES from among the EPHEMERAL and necessary becomings from the VOID. It is the patterns of the more DURABLE STRUCTURES that statistically populate ACTUALITY that manifest as effect and cause but are, in reality, only presentations of causation but not actualities. That is, we have notions of causation based in our INTUITION of this world; such causation is not the ORDER OF ALL BEING but REGIMES OF BEING may arise where there is PROBABILISTIC EMERGENCE of AS-IF CAUSATION. The theory of what constitutes the more DURABLE STRUCTURES and their HISTORY is the THEORY OF EVOLUTION, of ESSENTIAL VARIATION from FUNDAMENTAL INDETERMINISM, and of population –selection– of structures that are near-symmetric and therefore near-stable and more durable
4 What things EXIST? What kinds of things exist or may exist? What is the NATURE OF BEING?
This is perhaps the DEEPEST OF ALL QUESTIONS because ANSWERING it entails answering all other questions. In answering this question, it is found that the existence of some things will be the compounding of other things; and, for the most FUNDAMENTAL of things whose existence is not explained – not because it is impossible but because it is not necessary in that it is self-evident – existence will be explained from NECESSITY e.g. in BECOMING. Thus in answering this question one is asking, also, ‘WHAT IS THE NATURE OF BEING?’ i.e. Heidegger’s question of being, ‘What makes the common – and uncommon – objects of the world – the UNIVERSE – the entities that they are?’
This question, and not the question of why something exists, is the FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM OF METAPHYSICS and determines the nature and status of metaphysics. Metaphysics is the most fundamental discipline and, as seen below, may be considered to be the discipline whose only limits are NECESSARY LIMITS
Given that there is EXPERIENCE, one may say that anything that affects experience also exists. Thus POWER, the ability to have an EFFECT, is taken to be the measure of existence. There appears to be a number of problems with asserting power as a –or the– measure of existence. The first problem is that it reduces the question of the being of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE to our presence. The response is that in terms of observation, the COMMUNITY OF SENTIENT BEINGS –in this case the HUMAN or ANIMAL community– can do no better. However, we will see that there is an alternative logical answer, below, in the consideration of the nature of COMPLETE ABSENCE of things. That answer, of its own accord, will tell us nothing definite but it will provide a FRAMEWORK for the more immediate response that those things that have an affect on our ‘community’ or ‘world’ are the things that have being
The second objection is that the CRITERION OF POWER does not really tell us what exists or what kinds of THING exist but simply that when there is an EFFECT there is something that exists. The problem, again, is that we are trying to find a FOUNDATION for the most fundamental of things. Here, again, the theory of absence can provide a generic foundation but it is our being in the world beyond which there is nothing more experientially more fundamental that we are led into accepting. We can do no better. The expectation that we can do better is a mistake based on the enterprise of discovery in which more and more fundamental things are discovered as in, for example, SCIENCE. However, science remains within our world. Therefore, the true conclusion is that there is nothing ultimately fundamental about the CATEGORIES to which we assign existence. They may, however, be of immense significance to us and in our world. Further, some of the categories may turn out to have fundamental significance in terms of absence, BECOMING and LOGIC
Thus, a detailed discussion of what things exist is out of place here, in this document, in which the objective is to focus on some principles of THOUGHT regarding the issues – there is further discussion in FOUNDATION and other essays at the Journey in Being . Practically, we may take the NORMAL CATEGORIES as marking existence. The logic just referred to may provide some analyses of these categories over and above the practical necessities and may sometimes overrule those practical necessities e.g. that something cannot come from nothing. That logic, combined with imagination and EXPERIENCE –the extent of experience of the community– may also provide insight into what kinds of things may exist. For example, we saw above that only the LOGICALLY IMPOSSIBLE is actually impossible and that the logically possible is actually necessary. Therefore, for example, while MIRACLES –exceptions to the observed laws of this world– are unlikely and therefore be regarded as impossible, miracles are both possible and –occasionally– necessary
While it is practical to regard many ‘laws’ of our world as indicating IMPOSSIBILITY or necessity, it is often that they merely point to IMPROBABILITY or PROBABILITY
5 What is the –most– FUNDAMENTAL KIND OF BEING? On MIND and MATTER! What is the relation between knowing –mind– and being or existing?
There is a sense in which ‘absence’ is most fundamental. The theory of the nature of absence, the VOID, shows that it is EQUIVALENT to ALL BEING, that the number of FUNDAMENTAL SUBSTANCES is zero –i.e. the FUNDAMENTAL ONTOLOGY based in the theory requires no SUBSTANCE– and that there is no need for INFINITE REGRESS in UNDERSTANDING, THEORY or EXPLANATION. However, in a trivially obvious sense, absence is not being
Next, consider matter, mind, and, e.g., Aristotle’s abstract MODES OF BEING including RELATION. Of these, it has been shown in FOUNDATION, that mind may be seen as the most fundamental form of being. It should be noted that mind, as understood there, is not MIND-as-we-EXPERIENCE-it but an EXTENSION OF THAT CONCEPT to the PRIMAL. The extension is made in more than one stage. The stages include: individual experience, a theory of –HUMAN and other– mind, PRIMAL MIND – mind as the EFFECT of the one on the other, and, finally, extension from mind as relation to mind as being. Thus, the assertion that mind is the basic kind of being is not subject to the criticism that it is an absurd PAN-PSYCHISM. This is because, pan-psychism is traditionally the idea that MIND-AS-WE-EXPERIENCE-IT is the FUNDAMENTAL SUBSTANCE. Matter-as-we-understand-it might be conceptually extended and the extension could be taken to be the ‘MOST FUNDAMENTAL KIND of being.’ Every suggestion as to the ‘most fundamental kind’ is of this kind. And every suggestion would be subject to criticism based on its limited conceptual formulation, e.g. the AS-WE-EXPERIENCE-IT FORMULATION. If we avoid the limited formulation, the criticism is avoided. Obviously, there are some kinds whose CONNOTATIONS are so limited that they are not suitable, even with extension, as candidates for the most fundamental kind. Thus, mind and matter are both acceptable as the fundamental kind of ACTUAL being. With appropriate interpretation, it is possible to see mind or matter even in absence i.e. the void. The problem with matter appears to be its INERT character, the problem with mind appears to be its special status. Both the inert character of matter and the special status of mind are ERRORS OF THOUGHT. However, the CHOICE of mind is more suggestive of the real nature of being which is not inert. Therefore, I select mind as the fundamental kind of being. This might appear to be contradictory the assertion that the universal ontology is zero substance ontology. However, at root mind as conceived here is not a substance and there is, therefore, no contradiction; in a NORMAL COSMOLOGY, however, mind may be considered to be the underlying substance-as-substance
Must an object be known in order to have being. Clearly, the existence of a tree is not dependent on its being perceived by a human being. However, human cognition contributes to the perception of the tree-as-tree. From among the myriad forms ‘behind’ the object, the perceived form is the tree. Although the cognition is not universally stable, it has what may be called NORMAL stability. The forms behind the object are not the creation of human cognition even though their apprehension requires their cognition – this is inherent in the nature of the apprehension… and even though even in the apprehension cognition contributes. It has been seen that, at root, mind is being. Thus being known and being are identical in their categorial nature but it may not be said that being known is the cause or prior condition of being
6 What is the valid FORM OF THOUGHT about these issues? With what degree of COMPLETENESS is thought on the issues POSSIBLE?
The response regarding the valid form of thought is LOGIC which is METAPHYSICS i.e. the THEORY OF BEING and includes EPISTEMOLOGY
The responses regarding completeness would have to do with the ‘KNOWLEDGE BASE’ or ‘HUMAN KNOWLEDGE BASE’ and with logic. Although completeness is possible it does not appear to be EMBEDDED COMPLETENESS
7 What are the implications for SPIRIT, MYTH and RELIGION?
In the first place, what may be said about these topics depends on the MEANING of the words that we use. In referring to ‘spirit’ are we talking of a side of HUMAN EXPERIENCE or a ‘SEPARATE WORLD.’
As seen in FOUNDATION and related documents, anything that is POSSIBLE is MATERIALLY NECESSARY. Therefore the only restriction on the existence of spirit, of the objects of myth and religion, including GOD, is the REQUIREMENT OF CONSISTENCY. In A LETTER TO MICHAEL GREENBERG, I identified two kinds of consistency – external and INTERNAL CONSISTENCY. EXTERNAL CONSISTENCY may be seen as consistency requirements arising from the fact that, although it is thought that a concept refers to a specific PHASE-EPOCH OF THE UNIVERSE, the concept actually refers to more than that – even to or in the entire universe. Certain restrictions follow from the multiple application and these restrictions have implications for the natures of the concepts
Regarding the significance of the concepts other than the MORAL SIGNIFICANCE or the ‘message’ the question of PROBABILITY arises. However, assertions such as the ARTICLES OF FAITH that do not fit within the COMMON UNDERSTANDING including, e.g., SCIENCE also contain or imply a moral message – ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ This is a moral message because a limited understanding, i.e. a limitation on truth, is a limitation on FREEDOM and POSSIBILITY
Regarding LITERAL TRUTH, we must turn to ‘PRINCIPLES OF EVIDENCE.’ These are not given for ALL TIME but have some evolution with the inquiry. The question of EVIDENCE has bearing on the truth of myth and PARABLE. It may be in the nature of GROUP VALUE AND ACTION that there is a tendency to ascribe truth to myth – to FUNDAMENTALISM. However, except in extreme cases, even fundamentalists compartmentalize their ‘knowledge’ into the immediately applicable and the domain of myth that has no obvious material application. This truth is noted even in anthropological studies. It should be noted that there is always the potential for confusion of FUNCTION with DESIGNATED FUNCTION. Whereas the truth of a SCRIPTURE may be the ‘designated’ function, this does not IMPLY that it is the actual function which may be one of ILLUMINATION, one of parable, one of MORAL MESSAGE, one of SOCIAL BONDING… or to an aggregate of these spoken and other functions
8 What the possibilities, necessities and DESIRABLES of BEING in general and of HUMAN BEING?
This is the enterprise or ‘JOURNEY IN BEING.’ In taking up the possibilities, it will be useful to understand the nature of (human) being. There is an extensive literature –not all equally enlightening– on this question. The natures of being and human being have been discussed extensively, imaginatively and critically in the Journey in BEING Website and, specifically, in FOUNDATION and JOURNEY IN BEING
9 Is the undertaking of the JOURNEY –UNDERSTANDING and TRANSFORMATION OF BEING– GOOD? Or, do we prefer to accept nature – our nature?
CHOICE between the journey and acceptance of nature is not necessary. To seek transformation and understanding –in balance with pure BE-ING– is in human nature. BECOMING is built upon being; and without becoming there is DECLINE. I have written that the TWO FUNDAMENTAL IMPERATIVES –so fundamental that they need not be experienced as imperative– are ENJOYMENT OF BEING and ENJOYMENT OF BECOMING and that the two enjoyments are not completely distinguished
In choosing, considerations of ETHICS or DESIRABILITY is important. The determination of what is desirable is conditioned by feasible. Some ‘ideals’ may be impossible, or prohibitively expensive or destructive. Sometimes, an ideal becomes infeasible when universalized
There is no ONE right way. The human journey is the union of individual journeys – of complementary paths. There is a place for devotion of some energies to ends whose value is great even when the means have limited feasibility
It is natural in the COMMUNITY OF BEING that there is a choice of emphasis in enjoyment – and perhaps inessential disagreement on such choice
Logically, there is no absolute choice –even though there are practical choices– both being and becoming are in the nature of being
10 Is PURE ACTION necessary in the REALIZATION of the GOOD and the POSSIBLE?
It appears that pure action is necessary when KNOWLEDGE is silent. In the absence of PURE ACTION, i.e. of RISK and the possibility of ERROR and ANNIHILATION, the necessary outcome is DECLINE or DISSOLUTION. Knowledge is silent in two generic cases, (1) occasionally in the lack of resources or time and thus it is that in day-to-day activities, e.g. in WAR AND PEACE, that pure action is often necessary; and (2) in the question of THE ACTUAL ULTIMATE
It is not being said that pure action is necessary when knowledge does provide a guide. Thus gratuitous error is unnecessary. However, since there appears to be no complete and EMBEDDED KNOWLEDGE, occasions of ACTUALITY arise and OPPORTUNITY is ever present for essentially pure action or risk