Announcement: Your votes are in! The January 2019 Philosophy Book of the Month is The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by David Eagleman and Anthony Brandt.

Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Use this philosophy forum to discuss and debate general philosophy topics that don't fit into one of the other categories.

This forum is NOT for factual, informational or scientific questions about philosophy (e.g. "What year was Socrates born?"); such homework-help-style questions can be asked and answered on PhiloPedia: The Philosophy Wiki. If your question is not already answered on the appropriate PhiloPedia page, then see How to Request Content on PhiloPedia to see how to ask your informational question using the wiki.
User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 7428
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Greta » September 17th, 2018, 5:39 am

Where is the dividing line between a subjective perspective and not? Either in evolution on in individual development?

Perhaps an impossible question (Nagle)?

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2863
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Burning ghost » September 17th, 2018, 6:08 am

That is something that intrigues me Greta. I have asked before (on a different forum I think?) about antonyms and whether or not “subjective” and “objective” are true antonyms. The item of “nothing” is very much in this area as far as I can make out because “nothing” and “something” don’t appear to be true antonyms either.

Then we can look at different types of antonyms and we’re firmly in the field linguistics.

From a psychological stance the “subjective” and “not subjective” could well be framed as what is being attended to. I imagine everyday that average folk like us don’t spend much time attending to the fact that we’re standing on a big rock with a molten core spinning around a huge nuclear reactor. Something is “subjective” only when we attend to it in this way. Here comes the issue of “knowledge”! Again there are certain ways to look at knowledge yet we’re driven by the “none subjective” understanding in common parse. The pedant (aka. “Philosopher”) is then driven further to analyse where/if the boundaries of what is called “knowledge” bleed into the unknown/unknowable and what these mean (hence the spin-off of “epistemology”)

Where does that leave us? We have some useful terms we can apply and define when we express something. Knowledge as “apodictic”, meaning that we’re all Ior as good as “all”) happy to say we’re on a spinning rock going around the Sun. Knowledge as “factual”, meaning that within certain varified rules and limits facts can be determined as “true” - basic arithmetic such as 1+1=2 is not a matter of “opinion” it is a hard fact set upon the rules of basic atithmetic (math is something more magical and mysterious!)

What always bother me about the term “knowledge” is I understand it as meaning “that which can be attended to” and embedded within that “that which can be doubted/questioned”.

We can find within the use of language certain examples of complete nonsense yet we’re constantly driven to make sense of what doesn’t make sense. So when I say “imagine seeing an object that sheds no light and reflects no light” you’ll try to attend to this task even though it is a ridiculous one. This is because,or so I think, we always attend to whatever we’re presented with as having meaning and sense. Given our ability to abstract we’re often lost between categories of distinction thinking we’ve discovered soem “new” idea rather than simply pretending we can think the unthinkable.

If there is no space between objects there are no objects. If there is no mass in space there is no space. “Nothing” in this sense is no different to “everything all filled in completely” which begs the question what the hell does any of that really mean if anything? All I know is I’m limited and can attend to things because I am limited not in spite of it. To know anything as some absolute rule bound thing without any possiblel avenue of doubt is likley to be nought. The meaning seems to stem from the ability to doubt what appears to be true, yet set out on a foundation of what is taken as an apodictic truth because we simply cannot attend to eveyrthing at once and if we could it doesn’t seem like it is something akin to what we call a “conscious state” - and this is the further division in psychology set out as “unconsciousness” and “consciousness”.

It’s pretty messy and pretty doubtful. I like it :)
AKA badgerjelly

User avatar
Mark1955
Posts: 501
Joined: July 21st, 2015, 4:02 am
Favorite Philosopher: David Hume
Location: Nottingham, England.

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Mark1955 » September 17th, 2018, 7:51 am

Burning ghost wrote:
September 17th, 2018, 3:59 am
And the point of the OP referring to Heidegger was to say that WE understand the concept “nothing” so it is therefore something in an abstract way. We do not “sensibly experience” nothing - nor can we.

Essentially this is an argument of ontology over epistemology. Which I find interesting because there is a point where you cannot disentangle one from the other.

To experience “nothing” is akin to “the loss of” whereas the “something” need never even be brought to our attention accept when it is no longer present. The question is not one of physics but more along the lines of psychology and linguistics.
My core philosophical belief, which no one on this board has shaken yet, is that we cannot understand what we cannot describe in terms of experience. we cannot therefore understand 'nothing' except in the imprecise way of saying, 'not something'.

Efforts to show otherwise seem to me to always require a specific definition of a word to mean exactly what the proponent wants it to mean and the existence of the word to 'prove' the existence of our understanding of the phenomena, when all it actually creates is a circular argument. Since psychologically most humans are loath to admit that they just don't know, it's not a popular position to hold.
If you think you know the answer you probably don't understand the question.

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2863
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Burning ghost » September 17th, 2018, 10:43 am

Mark -

I agree completely. The argument I can squeeze out against is to suggest something nonsensical (such as is being put forward by talk of “experiencing nothing” can lead to some curiously creative thoughts.)

Like you say, if there is phenomena to understand then it is there to be understood. If there isn’t phenomena then ... well what the hell is the “it”. Just a misuse/overextension of language, nothing more than that.
AKA badgerjelly

Tamminen
Posts: 749
Joined: April 19th, 2016, 2:53 pm

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Tamminen » September 17th, 2018, 2:38 pm

Greta wrote:
September 17th, 2018, 5:39 am
Where is the dividing line between a subjective perspective and not? Either in evolution on in individual development?

Perhaps an impossible question (Nagle)?
Yes, it is perhaps an impossible question. However, BG's definition
Burning ghost wrote:
September 17th, 2018, 4:20 am
Nothing is the absence of a subjective perspective of any kind.
sounds perfect to me. But I think you know my view on this.

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 7428
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Greta » September 17th, 2018, 6:23 pm

Burning ghost wrote:
September 17th, 2018, 6:08 am
That is something that intrigues me Greta. I have asked before (on a different forum I think?) about antonyms and whether or not “subjective” and “objective” are true antonyms. The item of “nothing” is very much in this area as far as I can make out because “nothing” and “something” don’t appear to be true antonyms either.

Then we can look at different types of antonyms and we’re firmly in the field linguistics.

From a psychological stance the “subjective” and “not subjective” could well be framed as what is being attended to. I imagine everyday that average folk like us don’t spend much time attending to the fact that we’re standing on a big rock with a molten core spinning around a huge nuclear reactor. Something is “subjective” only when we attend to it in this way. Here comes the issue of “knowledge”! Again there are certain ways to look at knowledge yet we’re driven by the “none subjective” understanding in common parse. The pedant (aka. “Philosopher”) is then driven further to analyse where/if the boundaries of what is called “knowledge” bleed into the unknown/unknowable and what these mean (hence the spin-off of “epistemology”)
I would like to dial it back much further, BG.

In considering the concept of "nothing", in the subjective sense we assume zero consciousness in objects and the vast majority of other organisms. I personally suspect that we have this wildly wrong, that the processing of energy itself is proto-consciousness, with each process effectively being a unit of consciousness from which awareness can rise not vastly differently to how cells combine to form multicellular organisms.

So I'm interested in the subjective states of either our gestating/breastfeeding selves and of simpler organisms, which we (wrongly) assume to be entirely lacking experience. My gut feeling then, which you touched on, is that the concept of nothingness is as theoretical and unreal in the subjective domain as in the objective one. Reality in all domains appears to exist in relativities, with absolutes such as "nothing" and "everything" only ever being apparent and relative.

Fooloso4
Moderator
Posts: 3484
Joined: February 28th, 2014, 4:50 pm

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Fooloso4 » September 17th, 2018, 6:46 pm

Burning ghost:
Essentially this is an argument of ontology over epistemology.
For Heidegger it is a relationship between Being and man’s mode of being. Ontology and epistemology are on the same side, the human side. Ontology is logos regarding ontos, that is, what we say about what is. Being is prior to and a necessary condition for epistemology. Epistemology is prior to ontology in the sense of talk about being.

There are two difference senses of ontology that should not be conflated. Our being is not a condition for whatever was, is, and will be.
How about this as a defintion!

Nothing is the absence of a subjective perspective of any kind.
In that case something not experienced is nothing unless there have been subjective beings as long as there has been anything.

Kant’s Copernican Revolution was about displacing us from not putting us at the center. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism is about the conditions that make experience possible.

Either something appears or nothing appears, and since nothing cannot appear, everything that appears is the appearance of something. Some thing must be in order to be experienced. Whether it appears or not it is still something. It existence is not dependent on its being experienced.

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2863
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Burning ghost » September 17th, 2018, 10:55 pm

Fool -
In that case something not experienced is nothing unless there have been subjective beings as long as there has been anything.

Kant’s Copernican Revolution was about displacing us from not putting us at the center. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism is about the conditions that make experience possible.

Either something appears or nothing appears, and since nothing cannot appear, everything that appears is the appearance of something. Some thing must be in order to be experienced. Whether it appears or not it is still something. It existence is not dependent on its being experienced.
That is not what I meant. Either way I could say that “existence”, the only kind we know, is “human existence”. So it is dependent upon human experience. The rest is speculation and inference.

Given that we’re talking about “nothing” then my definition is perfectly exceptable outside of physics. Our “being” is precisely what it is whether we like it or not.

You’ll have to back up the following rather than leave it hanging (for me at least) :
Our being is not a condition for whatever was, is, and will be.
AKA badgerjelly

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2863
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Burning ghost » September 17th, 2018, 11:06 pm

Greta -

I don’t buy that in the slightest. “Consciousness” means there is a brain. Plants are not “conscious” and rocks cetainly not, given that they don’t exist beyond human consciousness as any real bound entity.

I find panpsychism to be a Swiss cheese of an idea.

Fool -

To amend the above slightly for clarity (I’ve said it before numerous times.) I was talking about what is not open to sensory experience (eg. “Nothing”), not merely something yet to be experienced - the distinction would be Kantian phenomenon and Kantian noumenon.
AKA badgerjelly

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 7428
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Greta » September 18th, 2018, 3:01 am

Burning ghost wrote:
September 17th, 2018, 11:06 pm
Greta -

I don’t buy that in the slightest. “Consciousness” means there is a brain. Plants are not “conscious” and rocks cetainly not, given that they don’t exist beyond human consciousness as any real bound entity.
You have not seriously considered proto-consciousness and simply made declarations based on the incomplete evidence with significant gaps that is simply the current orthodoxy in this area, eg. abiogenesis and the full evolutionary path leading to nervous systems and brains.

For instance, there must logically be some kind of difference in the internality of being a plant and being a rock. Plants do experience events, and then they respond reflexively. Consciousness would seem to simply be an especially complex suite of such reflexes, with each of those simple reflexes entailing some measure of experience.

There is obviously an emergent effect in the systematisation of those reflexes. It seems that emergence of brains resulted in a significant qualitative difference in consciousness, but the reflexes of simple life are still a remarkable emergence too in their own right and certainly more sensate than rocks or neutrinos. Not zero. In this I'm with Kaku.

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2863
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Burning ghost » September 18th, 2018, 3:22 am

Greta -

It doesn’t really matter to me what consciousness is to you unless you state what you mean. In neuroscience there is a difference between conscious and unconscious action. Consciousness (as we humans are) seems very strongly tied to mobility. There are no organisms in known existence that have a nervous system and don’t ever move.

I also have a very large issue with how you frame the meaning of “experience” above.

The idea of panpsychism doesn’t hold up for me. My argument remains that if there is a “proto-consciousness” then we don’t know what it is just like we don’t have anything to say about a godlike consciousness. I think it is not a sensible use of language to use the term “consciousness” so loosely whe the only established understanding we have of it is in human beings and that it is known that consciousness requires sensibility and quite blatantly a nervous system - nothing along those lines makes me consider plants as being “conscious” or makes me feel the need to attach the term “proto-consciousness” to either. There is a reasonable amount of data about other mammals and birds in which the neural structures have semblances of human structures, and what makes us different is we’ve got a combination of various apparatus that is found spread among other species. In all cases a nervous system is paramount (even if we’re going to consider bacterial interactions with the human/animal body and how it works with the nervous system spreading its influence.) Not to mention the role of viruses in evolution too.

The only effect plants have on consciousness is by the way they’re consumed by sentient beings. I won’t be shifted on this in the slightest. The only possible consolidating possible is through me having to discard how words are conventionally used to suit the sibjective purposes of the writer. When we’ve got rasonably well established terms already this is an issue because it makes broad discussion between several people near impossible.

If you wish to go down that path you’re going to have to differentiate between the terms such as “memory”, “reaction”, “instinct”, “reflex”, “consciousness”, “conscious” (of which there are two ways to biew this term academically - that I know of!), “awareness”, “self-awareness”, “theory of mind”, etc.,.

To be clear. A plant doesn’t “experience” anything simply because it reacts to environmental changes. If you wish to say “plant experience” then I will protest the use of “experience” in such a case - and be quite unwilling to accommodate such terminology becasue I believe it will lead to further analogy and conflation.
AKA badgerjelly

User avatar
Greta
Site Admin
Posts: 7428
Joined: December 16th, 2013, 9:05 pm

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Greta » September 18th, 2018, 3:57 am

Burning ghost wrote:
September 18th, 2018, 3:22 am
If you wish to go down that path you’re going to have to differentiate between the terms such as “memory”, “reaction”, “instinct”, “reflex”, “consciousness”, “conscious” (of which there are two ways to biew this term academically - that I know of!), “awareness”, “self-awareness”, “theory of mind”, etc.,.

To be clear. A plant doesn’t “experience” anything simply because it reacts to environmental changes. If you wish to say “plant experience” then I will protest the use of “experience” in such a case - and be quite unwilling to accommodate such terminology becasue I believe it will lead to further analogy and conflation.
There are no special definitions needed here, Andy Gibb.

Reflexes are well known and defined:
Physiology. noting or pertaining to an involuntary response to a stimulus, the nerve impulse from a receptor being transmitted inward to a nerve centre that in turn transmits it outward to an effector.
We can, of course, extend this to other involuntary responses, such as those of microbes whose golgi apparatus act as a simple nervous system that triggers naturally selected responses to stimuli.

Plants clearly sense, not in the same way as animals, but they do sense stimuli and respond: https://www.newscientist.com/round-up/plant-senses/.

Still, I get your point. You are arguing that absolute subjective nothingness is true. I still think the situation is more complex, that what we call consciousness is only one part of broader spectra of reactivity in reality.

User avatar
Burning ghost
Posts: 2863
Joined: February 27th, 2016, 3:10 am

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Burning ghost » September 18th, 2018, 4:13 am

Greta -
We can, of course, extend this to other involuntary responses, such as those of microbes whose golgi apparatus act as a simple nervous system that triggers naturally selected responses to stimuli.
As, and only as, an analogy we can. As a physiological definition ... no. Plants have sensory no nervous system. Again, you can grasp for the idea of a “proto-nervous system” but I’m not buying that ticket without great suspicion.
AKA badgerjelly

User avatar
ThomasHobbes
Posts: 1122
Joined: May 5th, 2018, 5:53 pm

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by ThomasHobbes » September 18th, 2018, 5:26 am

New Scientist is not what it used to be.

Plant senses, need to be taken with a pinch of salt and not sexed up, as the article does. It is an abuse of language to say that when a plant is able to respond to scent molecules that is the same as "Smell" - it just is not.
This sort of article feeds the loony/green/alternative/"its all too beautiful"/interconnectedness/ plants have rights brigade.

User avatar
Hereandnow
Posts: 2059
Joined: July 11th, 2012, 9:16 pm
Favorite Philosopher: the moon and the stars

Re: Why is there anything at all and rather not nothing

Post by Hereandnow » September 18th, 2018, 7:31 am

Not to mention that mode of nothingness that is perhaps most salient in our world: the future. Every step we take is into the abyss,the nothingness where no action or thought has occurred.....yet. This is as well the source of human freedom: to be able to acknowledge the nothingness that lies before you is to establish distance between you and possibilities, and in this distance, you can choose.

Post Reply