Two ways of not existing

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Sep 7, 2012.

  1. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    But our nothingness referred to here is really figurative, as Jesse Bering reminds us below. It's just where consciousness terminates (in either temporal direction) and accordingly becomes the absence of everything formerly (or yet to be) presented and apprehended (ourselves and the world). We never get outside of conscious experience to categorize / perceive a nothingness or to be aware of a what it's like to 'not be'.

    Jesse Bering - "The problem applies even to those who claim not to believe in an afterlife. As philosopher and Center for Naturalism founder Thomas W. Clark wrote in a 1994 article for the Humanist:

    'Here ... is the view at issue: When we die, what's next is nothing; death is an abyss, a black hole, the end of experience; it is eternal nothingness, the permanent extinction of being. And here, in a nutshell, is the error contained in that view: It is to reify nothingness and make it a positive condition or quality (for example, of blackness)and then to place the individual in it after death, so that we somehow fall into nothingness, to remain there eternally.'

    "Consider the rather startling fact that you will never know you have died. You may feel yourself slipping away, but it isn't as though there will be a 'you' around who is capable of ascertaining that, once all is said and done, it has actually happened. Just to remind you, you need a working cerebral cortex to harbor propositional knowledge of any sort, including the fact that you've died, and once you've died your brain is about as phenomenally generative as a head of lettuce. In a 2007 article published in the journal Synthese, University of Arizona philosopher Shaun Nichols puts it this way: 'When I try to imagine my own non-existence I have to imagine that I perceive or know about my non-existence. No wonder there's an obstacle!'

    "This observation may not sound like a major revelation to you, but I bet you've never considered what it actually means, which is that your own mortality is unfalsifiable from the first-person perspective. This obstacle is why writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe allegedly remarked that 'everyone carries the proof of his own immortality within himself.'"
    --Never Say Die: Why We Can't Imagine Death; Scientific American

    This eventually leads into the Greek idea of substance (below), but later information philosophy perhaps clarifies better how living organisms fit into it: "Information is neither matter nor energy, but it needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication. Immaterial information is perhaps as close as a physical scientist can get to the idea of a soul or spirit that departs the body at death. When a living being dies, it is the maintenance of biological information that ceases. The matter remains."

    Kelley L. Ross - "Since Parmenides did not believe that not being could exist, then Being could not become Not Being and Not Being could not become Being. [...But] there is one area where predication becomes an issue in the theory of Parmenides. In the world, things seem to come into being and pass out of being. For a while, Prussia is there, and then it is gone. For a while, the Beatles are there; then they are gone. The parrot in the Monty Python skit has 'ceased to be.' Parmenides believes that this violates his principles, since Not Being does not exist for Prussia to become. He therefore says, 'So coming into being is extinguished and perishing unimaginable', and this presumably must apply to every kind of thing.

    "Now, although it does not trouble Parmenides, this looks to be contradicted by experience and common sense. Thus, in Aristotle's metaphysics, substances are durable, but they do come into being and pass out of being. The element that survives from Parmenides is that in this generation and corruption, the substances do not become nothing, they always become something else. That happens because there is a durable underlying reality, the hypokeímenon, that persists through all changes. Aristotle identified that as matter, hýlê. Eventually, rather than Aristotle's substance as Form, we come to think of something like the matter, the underlying thing, as the substance, something that cannot be destroyed or created.

    "Today, however, matter has come to look rather more like Aristotle's substances. Electrons and protons can become neutrons. Electrons and positrons can become energy, etc. Many physicists may now think of the truly 'underlying' thing as energy, but then energy itself always takes some particular form. Electrons and positrons do not just become 'energy' in general. They mutually annihilate to become electromagnetic radiation, because the reaction is mediated by the electromagnetic force. That radiation can then hit something and excite an electron to higher energy level in an atom. I have argued that the thing that truly underlies all these transformations is just space itself, but we need not consider that now.

    "If there is coming into being and perishing, then what survives from Parmenides is the principle of the hypokeímenon, substrance, or conservation. One kind of thing can turn into another, but things cannot simply become nothing, or arise (permanently) out of nothing (there is some fudging on this in quantum mechanics -- only things with no real mass or energy can permanently arise out of the vaccuum)."
    --The Metaphysics of Nothing; Friesian Site

    The macroscopic continuity of an Eternalism structure must deal with the discrete and supposedly random nature of the quantum level. This could be remedied by a mathematical structure more complicated than a block-universe, that features all the deterministic divergences into multiple universes, with subjective experience providing the origin of the apparent randomness of being in one version of reality as opposed to another.

    Max Tegmark - "Although quantum mechanics is often described as inherently random and uncertain, the wave function evolves in a deterministic way. There is nothing random or uncertain about it. The sticky part is how to connect this wave function with what we observe. [...] Unadulterated quantum theory does not, in fact, pose any contradictions. Although it predicts that one classical reality gradually splits into superpositions of many such realities, observers subjectively experience this splitting merely as a slight randomness, with probabilities in exact agreement with those from the old collapse postulate.

    [...] "A mathematical structure is an abstract, immutable entity... If history were a movie, the structure would correspond not to a single frame of it but to the entire videotape. Consider, for example, a world made up of pointlike particles moving around in three-dimensional space. In four-dimensional spacetime --the bird perspective-- these particle trajectories resemble a tangle of spaghetti. If the frog [perspective] sees a particle moving with constant velocity, the bird sees a straight strand of uncooked spaghetti. If the frog sees a pair of orbiting particles, the bird sees two spaghetti strands intertwined like a double helix. To the frog, the world is described by Newton's laws of motion and gravitation. To the bird, it is described by the geometry of the pasta --a mathematical structure. The frog itself is merely a thick bundle of pasta, whose highly complex intertwining corresponds [in is view] to a cluster of particles that store and process information. Our universe is far more complicated than this example, and scientists do not yet know to what, if any, mathematical structure it corresponds."
    --Parallel Universes; Scientific American

    Information philosophy provides a source for novelty being introduced, with the quantum quirkiness still averaging out to a deterministic-appearing universe at the classical level. How this would ever fit into an Eternalism version of a multiverse (above) is up for grabs, however. But it would tentatively appear that any unpredictable 'surprises' would once again be dependent upon what 'route' an individual's own subjective experience took in the course of unfolding events or branching realities.

    Bob Doyle - "In less than two decades of the mid-twentieth century, the word information was transformed from a synonym for knowledge into a mathematical, physical, and biological quantity that can be measured and studied scientifically. [...] Information is constant in a deterministic universe. There is 'nothing new under the sun.' The creation of new information is not possible without the random chance and uncertainty of quantum mechanics, plus the extraordinary temporal stability of quantum mechanical structures. It is of the deepest philosophical significance that information is based on the mathematics of probability. If all outcomes were certain, there would be no 'surprises' in the universe. Information would be conserved and a universal constant, as some mathematicians mistakenly believe. Information philosophy requires the ontological uncertainty and probabilistic outcomes of modern quantum physics to produce new information.

    "But at the same time, without the extraordinary stability of quantized information structures over cosmological time scales, life and the universe we know would not be possible. Quantum mechanics reveals the architecture of the universe to be discrete rather than continuous, to be digital rather than analog. Moreover, the 'correspondence principle' of quantum mechanics and the 'law of large numbers' of statistics ensures that macroscopic objects can normally average out microscopic uncertainties and probabilities to provide the 'adequate determinism' that shows up in all our 'Laws of Nature.'

    "Information philosophy explores some classical problems in philosophy with deeper and more fundamental insights than is possible with the logic and language approach of modern analytic philosophy. By exploring the origins of structure in the universe, information philosophy transcends humanity and even life itself, though it is not a mystical metaphysical transcendence.

    "[...] Information is neither matter nor energy, but it needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication. Immaterial information is perhaps as close as a physical scientist can get to the idea of a soul or spirit that departs the body at death. When a living being dies, it is the maintenance of biological information that ceases. The matter remains.

    "Biological systems are different from purely physical systems primarily because they create, store, and communicate information. Living things store information in a memory of the past that they use to shape their future. Fundamental physical objects like atoms have no history. And when human beings export some of their personal information to make it a part of human culture, that information moves closer to becoming immortal."
    --Dedicated to the new information philosophy; The Information Philosopher

    Seth Lloyd - "It's been known for more than a hundred years, ever since Maxwell, that all physical systems register and process information. For instance, this little inchworm right here has something on the order of Avogadro's number of atoms. And dividing by Boltzmann's concept, its entropy is on the order of Avogadro's number of bits. This means that it would take about Avogadro's number of bits to describe that little guy and how every atom and molecule is jiggling around in his body in full detail. Every physical system registers information, and just by evolving in time, by doing its thing, it changes that information, transforms that information, or, if you like, processes that information. Since I've been building quantum computers I've come around to thinking about the world in terms of how it processes information." --The Computational Universe; Edge [10.22.02]
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  3. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    i find myself attracted to this sort of cybermonism in which information is taken to be the fundamental ontic substrate. I saw Tegmark interviewed on "Thru the Wormhole" and he seemed to be advocating such a primal status of information in the creation of our universe. But I'm not sure where this is different from an information mysticism since information, at least going by how we phenomenally experience it, seems to be fundamentally mental in nature. While I also try to remain open to the theory of quantum mind, either in Bohm's "implicate order" sense or in Hammeroff's/Penrose microtubule sense, I think Tegmark disagrees with it since quantum states would decohere too quickly in a brain to be of much use. But I'm led to wonder as to the mode of being for information itself---is it neither physical NOR mental? Or does it in fact presuppose a containing vessel in some Whiteheadian sense where that entity containing within itself all graded possibilities and values is simply called "God"?
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  5. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    I'm not really an extinctionist when it comes to death, although I often feel myself slipping back into comfortably assuming it based on what mainstream science has come to infer about death--namely that it IS nonexistence. In the very least we would have to say we do "not exist" as who we are at some point--perhaps in the razor knifeedge picosecond between being what we were and being what we become. How do we begin to think a truly transformative process between two instances of being? We certainly experience it all the time: I quit being and start being in time all the time. But it seems impossible. Just one more mysterious thing to spend our lives contemplating.
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  7. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

    Subjectively there is no body lingering after death. Subjectively there is no time after death so there is no after death (or before birth). Because of this there is absolutely no difference between non-existing before birth or non-existing after death. Non-existence doesn't come in flavours so to speak, there can be any number of existences but there are no qualities to non-existence so we all are the same non-existence.
  8. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Even if something like generic subjective continuity was applicable (to which Thomas Clark refers below), it would still seem to be a rather meaningless persistence of experience due to the memory of the former person not surviving. Any underlying principles for phenomenal consciousness, no matter how universal, would be disinterested in their own immortality; that is, lacking reflective thought that it was even the case as well as having reasons and passions to care. Only the temporary agents / identities possess the latter, and their concern and level of continuance perishes with the decayed memory structures of their lifeless brains.

    Thomas W. Clark, from Death, Nothingness, and Subjectivity - "Although this transformation [death] has disrupted the personal subjective continuity imparted by a stable context of memory and personality, there is another sort of continuity or sameness, that created by the shared sense of always having been present. Such generic subjective continuity is independent of the context of memory and personality (that is, of being a particular person), and it amounts simply to the fact that, whoever wakes up feels as if they've always been here, that there has been no subjective blank or emptiness 'in front' of their current experience.

    "[...] There will be no future personal state of non-experience to which we can compare our present state of being conscious. All we have, as subjects, is this block of experience. We know, of course, that it is a finite block, but since that's all we have, we cannot experience its finitude. As much as we can know with certainty that this particular collection of memories, desires, intentions, and habits will cease, this cessation will not be a concrete fact for us, but can only be hearsay, so to speak. Hence (and this may start to sound a little fishy) as far as we're concerned as subjects, we're always situated here in the midst of experience.

    "Even given all this, when we imagine our death being imminent (a minute or two away, let us suppose) it is still difficult not to ask the questions 'What will happen to me?' or 'What's next?', and then anticipate the onset of nothingness. It is extraordinarily tempting to project ourselves--this locus of awareness--into the future, entering the blackness or emptiness of non-experience. But since we've ruled out nothingness or non-experience as the fate of subjectivity what, then, are plausible answers to such questions? The first one we can dispense with fairly readily. The 'me' characterized by personality and memory simply ends. No longer will experience occur in the context of such personality and memory. The second question ('What's next?') is a little trickier, because, unless we suppose that my death is coincident with the end of the entire universe, we can't responsibly answer 'nothing.' Nothing is precisely what can't happen next. What happens next must be something, and part of that something consists in various sorts of consciousness. In the very ordinary sense that other centers of awareness exist and come into being, experience continues after my death. This is the something (along with many other things) which follows the end of my particular set of experiences.

    "[...] we know, as persons who have survived and witnessed, perhaps, the death of others, that the world does not fade out. It continues on in all sorts of ways, including the persistence of our particular subjective worlds. Death ends individual subjectivities while at the same time others are continuing or being created.

    "[...] As I tried to make clear [elsewhere], subjectivities--centers of awareness--don't have beginnings and endings for themselves, rather they simply find themselves in the world. From their perspective, it's as if they have always been present, always here; as if the various worlds evoked by consciousness were always 'in place.' Of course we know that they are not always in place from an objective standpoint, but their own non-being is never an experienced actuality for them. This fact, along with the fact that other subjectivities succeed us after we die, suggests an alternative to the intuition of impending nothingness in the face of death. (Be warned that this suggestion will likely seem obscure until it gets fleshed out using the thought experiment below.) Instead of anticipating nothingness at death, I propose that we should anticipate the subjective sense of always having been present, experienced within a different context, the context provided by those subjectivities which exist or come into being.

    "In proposing this I don't mean to suggest that there exist some supernatural, death-defying connections between consciousnesses which could somehow preserve elements of memory or personality. This is not at all what I have in mind, since material evidence suggests that everything a person consists of--a living body, awareness, personality, memories, preferences, expectations, etc.--is erased at death. Personal subjective continuity as I defined it above requires that experiences be those of a particular person; hence, this sort of continuity is bounded by death. So when I say that you should look forward, at death, to the 'subjective sense of always having been present,' I am speaking rather loosely, for it is not you--not this set of personal characteristics--that will experience 'being present.' Rather, it will be another set of characteristics (in fact, countless sets) with the capacity, perhaps, for completely different sorts of experience. But, despite these (perhaps radical) differences, it will share the qualitatively very same sense of always having been here, and, like you, will never experience its cessation."
  9. Lakon Valued Senior Member

    Apologies for delay in response. I only just saw this.

    Cool. I have a lot of respect for buddhism.

    Have you read Ouspensky ? He has some fascinating stuff on that, and eternal return, etc. Not saying I believe, but he's a fascinating read. Most of his stuff is available on line free.

    I don't know much at all about the quantum world, but still find materialisaing an apple out of thin air by thought, incredulous to say the least. If there was the remotest possibility, there'd be some proof ?

    Anyway, all interesting stuff.

  10. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Of course this -

    indeed is "roughly the conventional / default view of a science forum (minus the opinions of its religious and pseudoscience participants, etc.); or the most widely accepted or warranted conclusion that has been outputted by naturalist methodology; that phenomenal consciousness (experience) and understanding are products of brains, and not universal or fundamental."

    Using naturalist terminology, as is usually insisted in these discussions, presets the conclusions - which just further (seem to) verify the naturalist outlook.

    IOW, the whole thing is circular and bound to prove itself ...
  11. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

    I agree that it is the conventional view, but I think that if it is fundamental remains to be seen. Most seem to regard it as a illusion of existence, that we only seem to exist, but it is a illusion of something fundamental, and because we do exist subjectively because of this "illusion" then we should regard that existence also as fundamental (because it actually produces the fundamental quality of existence).
  12. wynn ˙ Valued Senior Member

    Perhaps that illusion arises because of the way the key terms are defined; ie. the way "consciousness," "body," "mind," "life" etc. are defined - all of them neat terms with a long history of dispute over what they mean.
  13. Cyperium I'm always me Valued Senior Member

    Yes, but is the definition essential? Is the definition fundamental? No, but the experience is. It can't be described by words what it is like to exist, to exist is fundamental because it is essential to all other knowledge that can be experienced, without existence it wouldn't be meaningful to ask any question or to define any terms. Whatever we define existence to mean we still mean the same thing.

    This is perhaps controversial, but I think it is doubtful that the world itself would exist if there wasn't any awareness to confirm it, cause by what other measure can something exist? In what manner would the world be different from nothing at all shouldn't anyone be there to confirm that it exists? Perhaps, just as our awareness is essential to confirm our subjective existence, so is awareness in the world essential to confirm that the world exists (even if it is objective, but there is no actual reason to distinguish objective from subjective in terms of existence itself, it is only meaningful from a subjective perspective to distinguish the two, objectively all existence is of the same quality - in essence that it exists instead of not so). Perhaps that is why it is fine-tuned towards existence of subjective beings? It's of course only my pet theory, but I think that subjective existence might have been the realisation of the world, the necessary ingredient for the creation of it.

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