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disillusioned

Something rather than nothing

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It's just the classic head scratcher of how you could ever get to "now" if time recedes infinitely back into the past.  From our time-bound perspective, there has to be some kind of "beginning", but even if such a transcendental event occurred, it's still not something we're really equipped to understand.

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Another perspective on the original question which I've just now come across while listening to a lecture on Hegel's Science of Logic is that the question itself doesn't make sense, the reason being that any answer which might be given would amount to an appeal to something. So if the answer to "why is there something rather than nothing?" is "because X", well, X is something. So the question can't ever get off the ground, because there is no possibility of an answer.

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How can either "something" or "nothing" exist without the other? How would you know that you had "something" unless there was also "nothing?" Each only can exist because the other one does.

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28 minutes ago, florduh said:

How can either "something" or "nothing" exist without the other? How would you know that you had "something" unless there was also "nothing?" Each only can exist because the other one does.

 

Well that's part of the irony. We've never had nothing to ever compare to, yet whenever we say nothing we actually mean something most of the time.

 

Name a point in your life where you literally experience nothing in order to know you had something? I think it's quite possible that nothing is merely a concept that we can imagine of what it would be like if we took away all somethings.

 

Is nothing the absence of something (Making something the de facto state), or is something existing despite coming from nothing?

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35 minutes ago, florduh said:

How can either "something" or "nothing" exist without the other? How would you know that you had "something" unless there was also "nothing?" Each only can exist because the other one does.

 

This is the essence of Hegel's starting point, if I understand it correctly (which I probably don't).

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Maybe I'm just too simple. It seems to me there is an "up" only because there is also a "down." It also seems impossible to have existence without non existence. I'm a simple guy, so these deep philosophical rabbit holes are probably best left to the more learned ones. Carry on and perhaps I'll find some problems with my simple views.

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You are certainly correct from an intuitive sense. I think my point is that we have direct experience of up vs down, left vs right, wet vs dry etc. Most opposites we experience both of, but something vs nothing no one has ever experienced ever. In fact even the universe itself has never experienced nothing. Tis a bit head scratchy.

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26 minutes ago, florduh said:

Maybe I'm just too simple. It seems to me there is an "up" only because there is also a "down." It also seems impossible to have existence without non existence. I'm a simple guy, so these deep philosophical rabbit holes are probably best left to the more learned ones. Carry on and perhaps I'll find some problems with my simple views.

 

Maybe, but I would never say of you that you're "too simple".

 

I think that often these issues become confused because they are not easily understood.  So people think about them for a while,  asign a lot of fancy sounding jargon, restate the original questions, and then pretend like they have a superior understanding because they sound smarter.

 

This is not in any way to say that there is nothing to be learned by careful consideration of these issues,  or that I think that those who have thought about them more than I have do not understand them better.  No,  I'm just saying that there are often simple ways of stating profound philosophical (and mathematical, and scientific!) truths, and quite often, in my limited experience, when one looks at an issue long enough, one finds oneself presented with sonething which approaches a "common sense" solution, albeit dressed up in, perhaps unnecessary, technojargon.

 

What I think Hegel was trying to say (and perhaps someone more knowledgeable will correct me...) was that if we are to start philosophy without presuppositions, what we have is being (here we are), and, potentially,  nothing (we might not be). And maybe, when nothing becomes being and being becomes nothing,  we have becomming. But here we seem to have nothing and being as two sides of the same coin, and becomming as a kind of flipping the coin. I don't know that this is necessarily inherently more complicated than what you wrote.

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1 hour ago, florduh said:

How can either "something" or "nothing" exist without the other? How would you know that you had "something" unless there was also "nothing?" Each only can exist because the other one does.

I've often pondered this in relation to the existence of god.  If god exists, then "not god" must also exist in relation to it.  It's easy to say that "not god" would consist of "creation", i.e. humanity, earth, trees, Luth-ifer and the fallen angels, etc.  But what about before "In the beginning..."?  What about before "not god" was created?  What did god exist in relation to before there was "not god"?  How did god exist without "not god"?

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22 hours ago, Improbability said:

It's just the classic head scratcher of how you could ever get to "now" if time recedes infinitely back into the past.  From our time-bound perspective, there has to be some kind of "beginning", but even if such a transcendental event occurred, it's still not something we're really equipped to understand.

 

Now, this seems slightly different to how I orginally understood your meaning. But still a good point.

 

The way I see it, time may be thought of as asymptotically approaching zero as we move towards "the beginning" (the big bang, singularity, whatever). Thus, we can have an infinite regress in time without having an actual infinty in the past. To my mind,  this solves a lot of issues.

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1 hour ago, TheRedneckProfessor said:

I've often pondered this in relation to the existence of god.  If god exists, then "not god" must also exist in relation to it.  It's easy to say that "not god" would consist of "creation", i.e. humanity, earth, trees, Luth-ifer and the fallen angels, etc.  But what about before "In the beginning..."?  What about before "not god" was created?  What did god exist in relation to before there was "not god"?  How did god exist without "not god"?

 

Answering for rhetorical purposes: the trinity. God has always existed in relation to the other parts of God. Not a good answer,  in my view,  but an answer nonetheless.

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3 minutes ago, disillusioned said:

 

Answering for rhetorical purposes: the trinity. God has always existed in relation to the other parts of God. Not a good answer,  in my view,  but an answer nonetheless.

No.  Not a good answer.  Because the other parts of god are still god, not "not god". 

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1 hour ago, TheRedneckProfessor said:

If god exists, then "not god" must also exist in relation to it.

I can see that in terms of there is no good without evil. As far as a god, it's like saying there is no Santa Clause without a Not Santa Clause. It doesn't make sense to me to posit that anything we can merely assert to exist must have a counterpart.

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11 minutes ago, TheRedneckProfessor said:

No.  Not a good answer.  Because the other parts of god are still god, not "not god". 

 

I agree,  not a good answer.

 

But still. The premise of your post was that if God exists,  then "not God" must exist in relation to it.  I think it's relatively easy,  on a trinitarian point of view, to simply assert that you are wrong,  and that God may simply exist in relation solely to the other parts of God.

 

Note that I don't espouse this point of view.

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One can assert that there is a god/creator that exists beyond time and space. A god that has always existed before there was anything else, and everything else was created by that god.

 

I fail to see the usefulness of such an assertion as there is no basis for it in fact or logic. It is merely a wild assertion.

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54 minutes ago, florduh said:

I can see that in terms of there is no good without evil. As far as a god, it's like saying there is no Santa Clause without a Not Santa Clause. It doesn't make sense to me to posit that anything we can merely assert to exist must have a counterpart.

I see that.  Perhaps it would be more relevant, or accurate, to say that in order for existence to have any meaning, the thing must exist in relation to the "not thing".  A table could exist without a chair; but how much meaning would it have?

 

Not that I'm trying to assert anything here, just musing.

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3 hours ago, LogicalFallacy said:

 

Well that's part of the irony. We've never had nothing to ever compare to, yet whenever we say nothing we actually mean something most of the time.

 

Name a point in your life where you literally experience nothing in order to know you had something? I think it's quite possible that nothing is merely a concept that we can imagine of what it would be like if we took away all somethings.

 

Is nothing the absence of something (Making something the de facto state), or is something existing despite coming from nothing?

 

You might be on to something.  😛

 

It's probably important to distinguish between contextual nothing and absolute nothing.  Contextual nothing is defined relative to the lack of something.  It requires an observer to make that distinction which implies a context where there is not nothing.  Absolute nothing on the other hand is total nihility.  This is less useful for finding a basis for understanding because it precludes us or anything resembling us; even a single atom is not absolute nothing.

 

Contextual nothing is the only nothing we have a hope of bending our minds to really understand, but it doesn't answer the question of where the context came from which loops back around to the beginning and makes me wonder if there's any potential for the question itself to have meaning.

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2 hours ago, disillusioned said:

 

Now, this seems slightly different to how I orginally understood your meaning. But still a good point.

 

The way I see it, time may be thought of as asymptotically approaching zero as we move towards "the beginning" (the big bang, singularity, whatever). Thus, we can have an infinite regress in time without having an actual infinty in the past. To my mind,  this solves a lot of issues.

 

I think that gets you in trouble with Zeno's Paradox if you try to use it as a physical explanation.  An event horizon may be an apt metaphor for this conceptual barrier that we can't imagine the other side of, and in my own mind I don't have a better image for it, but it can't be a physical thing without breaking our intuition of time; not that such an intuition does us much good on a cosmic scale.

 

I just want to be able to lounge in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and ogle the annihilation of the cosmos while sipping something fruity.  That elevation to godlike status goes far beyond whatever piddly self awareness we got from the Tree of Life, and if there's an appeal to the theistic view of the world, it's that there's a chance to know what to our limited, ephemeral minds is always going to be hopelessly out of reach.

 

There's a trippy little game called Everything that takes on the preposterous challenge of representing the entire scale of the universe from subatomic to intergalactic, and the clever bit is that the inconceivably big loops around to the inconceivably small through a weird, incomprehensible bridging phase where the scale stops mattering and you realize that the existential mechanics you've been learning all along mean the same thing no matter what modality you're currently inhabiting.

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13 hours ago, Improbability said:

 

I think that gets you in trouble with Zeno's Paradox if you try to use it as a physical explanation.

 

On the contrary,  Zeno's paradoxes are basically parallel to what I'm saying here. We can get as close as we like to the beginning of time,  but never quite reach it. 

 

The problem with Zeno is that he says things like "you can't ever reach the wall". Well, obviously I can prove him wrong by simply touching the wall.  What I'm saying is similar formally but significantly different practically. The beginning of time is not something we can simply reach out and touch. So I think I can avoid the problems associated with Zeno's paradoxes, even if there is a similarity between them and my underlying point. 

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An interesting point came up in another thread which might have some relevance to this topic. The question of what happens when we die may be asked. My default answer to this is "nothing". Does this run counter to the assertion that the idea that there could not actually be nothing rather than something,  or that the idea of "nothing" itself, doesn't really make sense?

 

I think the answer here is "no", but justifying the answer fully requires that we get a bit more clear on a few underlying notions. Take the question of what happens when I die. To answer this question properly,  we first need to know what "I" am,  and what it means for me to die.

 

On my view,  I am a biological organism which functions in such a way as to give rise to consciousness. I am a body that works in a particular way. The way it works makes me a person. At the end of the day,  it is my consciousness which I take to be the defining feature of my personhood. When my body ceases to function in such a way as to produce consciousness,  I will be dead. So when I say that there will be nothing after death,  what I mean is that there will be nothing for me, not that there will actually be nothing. Obviously my body will remain,  and even after it falls apart its constituent matter will remain. So there will still be something. Just not for me.

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I completely agree with this. Your post is so succinct and agreeable with me I don't know what else to add.

 

Reminds me of the quote from lion king: "When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great Circle of Life."

 

That is probably the best way to explain the concept to a child. I heard a scientist put this is very similar terms about his atoms eventually forming a new star. I'll see if I can find it.

 

Not quite what I was looking for but Tyson discussing essentially the lion king concept above.

 

 

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hakuna matata

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On 8/15/2019 at 2:13 PM, disillusioned said:

We can approach the beginning of the universe asymptotically, but not absolutely. As I've said before,  we can wind the clock back as far as we like, but we can't quite get to zero,  because when we do,  the clock disappears. 

 

Well, if  the clock disappears then you got to absolute zero and if you never quite get to zero then there isn't any reason for there to be a clock.  

 

 

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On 8/21/2019 at 2:10 AM, disillusioned said:

On my view,  I am a biological organism which functions in such a way as to give rise to consciousness. I am a body that works in a particular way. The way it works makes me a person. At the end of the day,  it is my consciousness which I take to be the defining feature of my personhood. When my body ceases to function in such a way as to produce consciousness,  I will be dead. So when I say that there will be nothing after death,  what I mean is that there will be nothing for me, not that there will actually be nothing. Obviously my body will remain,  and even after it falls apart its constituent matter will remain. So there will still be something. Just not for me.

 

I also understand my defining feature as a person to be consciousness yet physical science would like to say that consciousness, what I call me,  is a byproduct of the biological organism. If my physical body gives rise to an epi-phenomenon, then wouldnt my body be my defining feature? Why does consciousness seem to be important?

 

Why do we talk about consciousness as if it 'were' something, when from a physical science view there really is no consciousness thing. Only neurons firing. 

 

When you decide to do something, like anything at all, is it your consciousness doing this? Or is it your neurons deciding it? Or maybe both? Or neither. :) 

 

I have a hard time conceptualizing this truly amazing awareness that we have (or create), and all of its various states, to just be electrical signals traveling along a piece of meat. I am aware though, that stimulating the brain in certain areas causes different things to happen, different thoughts, simulated experiences, etc.  And administering the right drugs causes unconsciousness. At least temporarily. Other drugs cause ecstasy or a God experience. Is a God experience simply an electro-chemical response? Or do the drugs allow something greater than us contact us? :)

 

After we die, I'm fairly confident this body will decay and return to the earth. My consciousness may indeed be nothing more than electrical signals travelling along billions of biological wires...somehow observing each other in some way. But my guess is that something else is going on with consciousness. 

 

If this sense of me can be here right now, why couldn't it reappear in some other body at some point? Why does this sense of I seem so near and dear and important? 

 

Anyway, enough of my nonsense. Take care. 

 

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43 minutes ago, midniterider said:

 

If my physical body gives rise to an epi-phenomenon, then wouldnt my body be my defining feature?

 

 

That is an interesting point.  No matter what christians say about the existence of a soul, the unescapable fact is that it is dependent on a body.  Dementia is a perfect (sad) example.  When someone who used to be vibrant and devoted to their family, no longer knows their children and lashes out in anger when someone tries to feed or bathe them, one can’t help but think they are not the person they used to be.  And it is because their brain is not what it used to be.

 

The Hindu concept of atman is a little more interesting than the western concept of a soul; in the former, as I understand it, one’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions are a part of the body like everything else, and the atman transcends all of it.  So the symptoms of dementia do not really affect the self.

 

Concerning some of the rest of this thread, being sort of a dialectical monist myself, I see “nothing” as the undifferentiated center from which all “somethings” come.  First there is nothing; then when there is light, there is also darkness; when there is good, there is also evil; when there is up, there is also down; and so on.  I don’t know how scientific this is.  It is basically neoplatonism, and consistent with Taoism and Heraclitus.

 

It seems that both believers and unbelievers ultimately say that something came from nothing; for believers, that “something” is god, and for unbelievers it is the physical universe.  So when a believer ridicules you for believing that something came from nothing, I guess you can respond, “So do you.”

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