On proof of existence.

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Reply Tue 30 Oct, 2007 04:12 pm
I've often heard the phrase "I think therefore I am." When I was young I didn't understand what that meant. When I got old enough to understand why someone would say that, I thought it was stupid. When I got a little older and thought a little deeper, I ended up appreciating it and decided that it was a briliant last resort against the chaos my questioning mind. And since then I've come to believe that even that isn't enough.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia's article on epistemology, which pretty well sums up the argument as I understand it:

", prominent philosopher and supporter of internalism wrote that, since the only method by which we perceive the external world is through our senses, and that, since the senses are not infallable, we should not consider our concept of knowledge to be infallable. The only way to find anything that could be described as "infallably true," he advocates, would be to pretend that an omnipotent, deceitful being is tampering with one's perception of the universe, and that the logical thing to do is to question anything that involves the senses. "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) is commonly associated with Descartes' theory, because he postulated that the only thing that he could not logically bring himself to doubt is his own existence: "I do not exist" is a contradiction in terms; the act of saying that one does not exist assumes that someone must be making the statement in the first place."

I follow the line of reasoning, but to me it falls apart under some more "questioning". He is willing to question and disbelieve everything, including his senses, but fails to question his own ability to reason! The final sentence in the above quote is completely dependant on his "blind faith" in his own logic. Why, in all the universe, is his own logic above reproach? The reason is that he just believes in logic. It seems arbitrary to me, and based on his own preconceptioins and beliefs, not on fact. Factually it can be seen that logic, or at least the human ability to use logic, is many times flawed. Even geniuses like Aristotle and Nueton have eventually been shown to be wrong or at least incomplete in their logic. But really, it is enough to know that even logic earnestly believed CAN be flawed.

Beyond that we can see that our abilities to logically understand are limited, as we can find paradoxes that must have answers yet we can not comprehend one (ie. does the universe have a begining). Moreover there are questions that can be asked to which logic has no ability to try to answer (ie. is there an omnipotent being which would have the power to make an autonomous universe). Finaly, if a decietful and omnipotent being exists, why is my own belief and logic beyond his manipulative abilities? Simply put: we know that human logic is flawed, and even if we didn't know for sure that it is flawed, we couldn't prove it isn't. So why should my ability to reason be beyond doubt, and why does this blind belief in logic prove anything? (As a side note, I'd also like to point out that since we disbelieve our senses, you should not be tempted to believe the phrase in quesiton based other people's agreement with it. You are alone on this one.)

Well, needless to say, that was about as far as I got going in that direction. I came to the conclusion that if I am honestly willing to question everything, I will never find more than chaotic nonsense. On top of that, I realised that any consious decision I make (ie. to eat, move, etc.) as well as the very act of trying to reason is operating on the assumtion that both I and (when physical action is the result) the universe exist. It is senseless to live in that sort of confused hypocracy. So, with all that in mind, I now blieve (or assume) some basics on blind faith, or maybe on my un-faith in my own logical abilities. Indeed, I don't think anyone else is doing otherwise, but at least I know it and I can be at peace about it.

All this is not at all to say that I think logic and reason are useless. On the contrary I think they are some of humanity's greatest tools, but they are more useful and apropriate when one accepts their limits. An axe is a powerful tool, but it would be the wrong one for brain surgury! Wink

If you care to see how this applies to my overall view on truth: check out this thread, a question there sparked this thread.
http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/epistemology/653-my-perspective-truth.html
 
nameless
 
Reply Sat 24 Nov, 2007 03:08 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
Everything exists.
Existence is contextual/definitional.
Everything that exists, exists within 'context' and by 'definition'.
Ex; A pink elephant exists as poetry, painting, literature, concept, memory, etc..
If it can be conceived, it exists.
There is nothing to prove.
That is the 'set'. There are many subsets, such as is the 'concept' in question 'material'? Is it a 'fantasy' (which has existence in it's own right)? Those are all subsets of the set "Everything exists".
Existence IS Context (duality).
 
boagie
 
Reply Sat 24 Nov, 2007 05:07 pm
@nameless,
nameless wrote:
Everything exists.
Existence is contextual/definitional.
Everything that exists, exists within 'context' and by 'definition'.
Ex; A pink elephant exists as poetry, painting, literature, concept, memory, etc..
If it can be conceived, it exists.
There is nothing to prove.
That is the 'set'. There are many subsets, such as is the 'concept' in question 'material'? Is it a 'fantasy' (which has existence in it's own right)? Those are all subsets of the set "Everything exists".
Existence IS Context (duality).


Nameless,Smile

Smile I would say existence is holistic, in other words in a real way a monism. I know that makes day in day out figureing somewhat complicated or extremely simple, but who said life is a rosegarden. If the totality can be said to be of a relational nature, then it is difficult to escape this monism.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sat 24 Nov, 2007 06:09 pm
@boagie,
Descrates, and his Cartesian system, has been pretty well criticized; to the point of being little more than something we study because of it's influence over the history of philosophy. Cartesianism, for the most part, is no longer taken seriously in philosophy. "I think, therefore I am", while certainly brilliant (along with all of Descartes' work), no longer carries serious weight - nor should it.

As for monism, boagie, I think you are correct. Though, I also think we should be careful with the term and not tie ourselves to it - after all, the notion of monism is useless unless we have some notion of multiple individual things, which, according to monism, is an illusion. The Tao-Te-Ching might be useful when trying to hammer out such complications.
 
boagie
 
Reply Sat 24 Nov, 2007 07:05 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
Descrates, and his Cartesian system, has been pretty well criticized; to the point of being little more than something we study because of it's influence over the history of philosophy. Cartesianism, for the most part, is no longer taken seriously in philosophy. "I think, therefore I am", while certainly brilliant (along with all of Descartes' work), no longer carries serious weight - nor should it.

As for monism, boagie, I think you are correct. Though, I also think we should be careful with the term and not tie ourselves to it - after all, the notion of monism is useless unless we have some notion of multiple individual things, which, according to monism, is an illusion. The Tao-Te-Ching might be useful when trying to hammer out such complications.


Hi Didymos Thomas,Smile

Smile I agree about the complications involved but it is a much more interesting perspective than the one it is complimenting. Just as traditional science relyed upon reductionism, and parts, this new systems approach in science takes our imaginations on a holistic journey where systems within systems within systems within systems gives us a greater sense of a relative totality, perhaps even a greater sense of spirituality not possiable with traditional science.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 04:47 am
@boagie,
I'm not sure why monism brings any radical change to what you call "traditional science". To be honest, I'm not sure what you mean by "traditional science". Science simply deals with physical observation - through which scientists were quick to realize that such observation can be misleading and then began the difficult task of learn how and why such observations can be problematic. Science is remarkable in that it is not upset by new discoveries, rather, science exists because of them. Remember, Newton was first and foremost a philosopher. Philosophy has always been a great influence upon science.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 08:37 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
"I think, therefore I am", while certainly brilliant (along with all of Descartes' work), no longer carries serious weight - nor should it.



Hmm. I didn't know that. If the Cogito no longer "carries serious weight" then there must be objections to it which are decisive. Could you please mention one or two of the objections?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 08:46 am
@nameless,
nameless wrote:
Everything exists.
A pink elephant exists as poetry, painting, literature, concept, memory, etc..
If it can be conceived, it exists.
.


Although poems, paintings, stories, concepts, memories (?) of pink elephants do exist, how does any of that show that pink elephants exist. A painting of a pink elephant is not a pink elephant (I hope you agree), and neither is a concept of a pink elephant a pink elephant (I hope you agree) and so on for the rest.

I can conceive (I think) of the Spaghetti Monster ( I think I can, anyway). But I don't, for a moment believe that there is a Spaghetti Monster, although if I can conceived of a Spaghetti Monster, then there certainly is a conception of a Spaghetti Monster. But, as I have already pointed out, a conception of X is not an X.
 
boagie
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 09:43 am
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
I'm not sure why monism brings any radical change to what you call "traditional science". To be honest, I'm not sure what you mean by "traditional science". Science simply deals with physical observation - through which scientists were quick to realize that such observation can be misleading and then began the difficult task of learn how and why such observations can be problematic. Science is remarkable in that it is not upset by new discoveries, rather, science exists because of them. Remember, Newton was first and foremost a philosopher. Philosophy has always been a great influence upon science.


Didymos Thomas,Smile

Smile Monism is more readily appreciated after the population became familar with what they called General Systems Theory, which in essence is a wholistic approach to science. Traditional science involved dissection of what was to be understood, a reductionism. It was thought that if you understand the parts individually then you understand the whole, which is not quite true. This new science of wholes or new science of systems does not replace traditional science but compliments traditional science. Emergent qualities became the buzz word of systems science, which mean't that the quality found to be a property of the whole was not indicated by the parts themselves, the emergent quality is the property of a whole, a property of its entire interrelations upon which at dissection I imagine the quality then disappears. This systems theory is revolutionary and it is uniting the various disciplines as nothing ever has, it is the science of systems, the science of wholes and the commonalities of all systems ties them together into a relational understanding never before possiable.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 05:48 pm
@boagie,
"Hmm. I didn't know that. If the Cogito no longer "carries serious weight" then there must be objections to it which are decisive. Could you please mention one or two of the objections?"

Don't get me wrong, Cartesianism still exists and is still taken seriously by some; I have a couple of friends who are strong supporter's of Descartes' philosophy. But, generally, Cartesianism is taken to be outdated and is studied as being influential in the history of philosophy, not as being a possible solution to so many problems in philosophy. The simplest argument I see against "I think; therefore, I am" is that it presupposes that you, the individual, does the thinking. Descartes did not show that he thought, only that thinking took place. More importantly if we are criticizing Descartes, however, is Descartes' reliance on Cartesian dualism, that there is a non-physical mind and a physical reality to go along with this non-physical mind.

boagie - I see where you are going now, and couldn't agree more. Thanks for bearing with me.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 05:56 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
"Hmm. I didn't know that. If the Cogito no longer "carries serious weight" then there must be objections to it which are decisive. Could you please mention one or two of the objections?"

Don't get me wrong, Cartesianism still exists and is still taken seriously by some; I have a couple of friends who are strong supporter's of Descartes' philosophy. But, generally, Cartesianism is taken to be outdated and is studied as being influential in the history of philosophy, not as being a possible solution to so many problems in philosophy. The simplest argument I see against "I think; therefore, I am" is that it presupposes that you, the individual, does the thinking. Descartes did not show that he thought, only that thinking took place. More importantly if we are criticizing Descartes, however, is Descartes' reliance on Cartesian dualism, that there is a non-physical mind and a physical reality to go along with this non-physical mind.

boagie - I see where you are going now, and couldn't agree more. Thanks for bearing with me.


How could thinking take place unless someone were thinking, just as, how could walking take place without someone walking? "Thinking is going on, but nothing is thinking", makes as much sense as, "walking is going on, but no one is walking".
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 06:01 pm
@kennethamy,
If you'd like for me to argue against Descartes, I'll be happy to do so, but I was asked for some common issues with his philosophy, which I provided. That said, even your response relies on the assumption that it takes an individual to think. Perhaps there is no thinking at all - Descrates introduced that demon which deceived him at every point - couldn't his individuality be a deception? Couldn't thinking be a deception? Descartes does little to clear up these concerns.
 
Fido
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 08:54 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
NeitherExtreme wrote:
I've often heard the phrase "I think therefore I am." When I was young I didn't understand what that meant. When I got old enough to understand why someone would say that, I thought it was stupid. When I got a little older and thought a little deeper, I ended up appreciating it and decided that it was a briliant last resort against the chaos my questioning mind. And since then I've come to believe that even that isn't enough.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia's article on epistemology, which pretty well sums up the argument as I understand it:

", prominent philosopher and supporter of internalism wrote that, since the only method by which we perceive the external world is through our senses, and that, since the senses are not infallable, we should not consider our concept of knowledge to be infallable. The only way to find anything that could be described as "infallably true," he advocates, would be to pretend that an omnipotent, deceitful being is tampering with one's perception of the universe, and that the logical thing to do is to question anything that involves the senses. "Cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am) is commonly associated with Descartes' theory, because he postulated that the only thing that he could not logically bring himself to doubt is his own existence: "I do not exist" is a contradiction in terms; the act of saying that one does not exist assumes that someone must be making the statement in the first place."

I follow the line of reasoning, but to me it falls apart under some more "questioning". He is willing to question and disbelieve everything, including his senses, but fails to question his own ability to reason! The final sentence in the above quote is completely dependant on his "blind faith" in his own logic. Why, in all the universe, is his own logic above reproach? The reason is that he just believes in logic. It seems arbitrary to me, and based on his own preconceptioins and beliefs, not on fact. Factually it can be seen that logic, or at least the human ability to use logic, is many times flawed. Even geniuses like Aristotle and Nueton have eventually been shown to be wrong or at least incomplete in their logic. But really, it is enough to know that even logic earnestly believed CAN be flawed.

Beyond that we can see that our abilities to logically understand are limited, as we can find paradoxes that must have answers yet we can not comprehend one (ie. does the universe have a begining). Moreover there are questions that can be asked to which logic has no ability to try to answer (ie. is there an omnipotent being which would have the power to make an autonomous universe). Finaly, if a decietful and omnipotent being exists, why is my own belief and logic beyond his manipulative abilities? Simply put: we know that human logic is flawed, and even if we didn't know for sure that it is flawed, we couldn't prove it isn't. So why should my ability to reason be beyond doubt, and why does this blind belief in logic prove anything? (As a side note, I'd also like to point out that since we disbelieve our senses, you should not be tempted to believe the phrase in quesiton based other people's agreement with it. You are alone on this one.)

Well, needless to say, that was about as far as I got going in that direction. I came to the conclusion that if I am honestly willing to question everything, I will never find more than chaotic nonsense. On top of that, I realised that any consious decision I make (ie. to eat, move, etc.) as well as the very act of trying to reason is operating on the assumtion that both I and (when physical action is the result) the universe exist. It is senseless to live in that sort of confused hypocracy. So, with all that in mind, I now blieve (or assume) some basics on blind faith, or maybe on my un-faith in my own logical abilities. Indeed, I don't think anyone else is doing otherwise, but at least I know it and I can be at peace about it.

All this is not at all to say that I think logic and reason are useless. On the contrary I think they are some of humanity's greatest tools, but they are more useful and apropriate when one accepts their limits. An axe is a powerful tool, but it would be the wrong one for brain surgury! Wink

If you care to see how this applies to my overall view on truth: check out this thread, a question there sparked this thread.
http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/epistemology/653-my-perspective-truth.html[/URL]


The fact is sort of a Ren'e points out, we can't prove anything of existence. Within our context every thing is real, litteraly. But all we have is our concepts to suggest our reality. Let me try this another way. All we do is about proving our reality, and not other external reality, what you call existence. By this I mean that all our forms (concepts, and ideas), and all our formal relationships like society, marriage, friendship, and etc., are about recognition, and realization. First, all these forms and formal relationships are how we navigate life and survive. But short term, we have no objective proof of what we all feel is the most objective reality: our own lives. So we form formal relationships with others so we can say how do you do, and good morning -to others, and they can say the same to us. We can know in this fashion when we no longer exist because people will quit responding to us. As long as people respond to us, and recognize us we can be assured that we are real. The obvious problem this presents is to people who no one wants to see, like the poor, the insane, the dirty, the maimed, and the dispised. How they know they are real is a mystery since they are invisible to everyone else, and visibly loud to me.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 09:47 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
If you'd like for me to argue against Descartes, I'll be happy to do so, but I was asked for some common issues with his philosophy, which I provided. That said, even your response relies on the assumption that it takes an individual to think. Perhaps there is no thinking at all - Descrates introduced that demon which deceived him at every point - couldn't his individuality be a deception? Couldn't thinking be a deception? Descartes does little to clear up these concerns.


As Descartes pointed out quite clearly, in order to be deceived, you have to exist.

But there is I know not what being, who is possessed at once of the highest power and the deepest cunning, who is constantly employing all his ingenuity in deceiving me. Doubtless, then, I exist, since I am deceived; and, let him deceive me as he may, he can never bring it about that I am nothing, so long as I shall be conscious that I am something.(Meditation 2)

So, Descartes did a lot to clear up that concern. Don't you agree?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 09:52 pm
@Fido,
Fido wrote:
The fact is sort of a Ren'e points out, we can't prove anything of existence. Within our context every thing is real, litteraly. But all we have is our concepts to suggest our reality. Let me try this another way. All we do is about proving our reality, and not other external reality, what you call existence. By this I mean that all our forms (concepts, and ideas), and all our formal relationships like society, marriage, friendship, and etc., are about recognition, and realization. First, all these forms and formal relationships are how we navigate life and survive. But short term, we have no objective proof of what we all feel is the most objective reality: our own lives. So we form formal relationships with others so we can say how do you do, and good morning -to others, and they can say the same to us. We can know in this fashion when we no longer exist because people will quit responding to us. As long as people respond to us, and recognize us we can be assured that we are real. The obvious problem this presents is to people who no one wants to see, like the poor, the insane, the dirty, the maimed, and the dispised. How they know they are real is a mystery since they are invisible to everyone else, and visibly loud to me.


In fact, Rene' as you call him, provides a proof (with which you may not agree) that he is a mind, and not a body. The God exists (indeed three such proofs) and that there is an external material world. So, it is not true that he "point out that we cannot prove 'anything of existence". On the contrary, he proves a lot of things "of existence". Himself, God, and the world.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 25 Nov, 2007 11:45 pm
@kennethamy,
"So, Descartes did a lot to clear up that concern. Don't you agree?"

No. He made it clear that something must exist, that something must be deceived. He began with the notion that he could be deceived, and then concluded that to be deceived he must exist. Circular, dont you agree?

To be honest, the most significant problem I have with Descartes is his dualism. I've always been a fan of his work, and certainly have nothing against him. There are Cartesians in this world who I am sure could tear me appart in debate.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 26 Nov, 2007 07:00 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
"So, Descartes did a lot to clear up that concern. Don't you agree?"

No. He made it clear that something must exist, that something must be deceived. He began with the notion that he could be deceived, and then concluded that to be deceived he must exist. Circular, dont you agree?

To be honest, the most significant problem I have with Descartes is his dualism. I've always been a fan of his work, and certainly have nothing against him. There are Cartesians in this world who I am sure could tear me appart in debate.


That is right. What Descartes showed is that whoever is deceived must exist. But I don't see what is circular about that. It was you, wasn't it, who argued that since Descartes might be deceived about whether he exists, he might be mistaken about whether he exists? And Descartes refuted your objection, since he showed that even if he is deceived about whether he exists, he must, nevertheless, exist. So, whether or not he is deceived about whether he exists, he must exist.
 
Fido
 
Reply Mon 26 Nov, 2007 08:26 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
In fact, Rene' as you call him, provides a proof (with which you may not agree) that he is a mind, and not a body. The God exists (indeed three such proofs) and that there is an external material world. So, it is not true that he "point out that we cannot prove 'anything of existence". On the contrary, he proves a lot of things "of existence". Himself, God, and the world.


One cannot prove an infinite nor conceive of an infinite, and people spend the greater part of their lives looking for assurance of their existence, so Descartes proofs must not stand for much.

Let me phrase part of the problem in this fashion. We do not know what existence is so we cannot show we exist. We feel we live, but we also feel life is eternal, that is, infinite, because we cannot conceive of death as an infinte, or even as a thing, but as in infinite nothing; and having no proof or existence or death we are left with faith in God as a first cause, and as a first cause God presents some problems. For example, if God is changeless, and powerful enough to create the cosmos, and not be destroyed in the process then God is powerful enough so that if determined to do so, he could plant the notion of existence in non existent non being for his amusment without out ever troubling to make us exist in fact. Any proof of God makes the proof of our existence dependent upon his.

Here is the thing. What proof does a fact require that is obvious to most? Does science look for a proof that gravity acts upon matter? We do not doubt existence, but doubt our own lives. We seek recognition. Why? It is our meaning rather than our existence which is in doubt directly. Yet, if we do not have meaning we will not exist. All that is of no value is swept away. We want recognition to day as an essential quality of reality tomorrow, and if we are real tomorrow we will be recognized then. We do not doubt our being, but our meaning, and must have meaning today to have being tomorrow, and that we do doubt.
 
MJA
 
Reply Mon 26 Nov, 2007 10:11 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Descartes is one of my favorite people to ever live.
I believe he came closest to truth when in a stove in Ulm he reduced the complexities of mankind to "I." Simplicity is the ulitimate process of true searching, and nothing is more productive. Unfortunately he couldn't stop at "I", because he did not know the truth of himself. Had he known the truth of himself, "I" is all he would have needed to say. By adding "think", he stepped into the quagmire and complexity of uncertainty, an uncertainty that still remains today for most, the uncertainty of true thought, or simply the absence of truth.

Furthermore, if he had simply added truth and said: Veritas cogito sum veritas, their would be no doubt of Descartes today.
Truth has no doubt.
Truth was his goal, and truth is all that was missing.
I love Descartes!Smile

=
MJA
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 27 Nov, 2007 05:04 am
@Fido,
Fido wrote:
One cannot prove an infinite nor conceive of an infinite, and people spend the greater part of their lives looking for assurance of their existence, so Descartes proofs must not stand for much.



But, Georg Cantor, the great mathematician, not only conceived of infinite sets like the set of all integers, but also of transfinite sets, like the set of all real numbers. He conceived of grades of infinity. And, what's more, worked out the mathematics.
 
 

 
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