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My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Discuss any topics related to metaphysics (the philosophical study of the principles of reality) or epistemology (the philosophical study of knowledge) in this forum.
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Halc
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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by Halc » December 3rd, 2019, 7:44 pm

Felix wrote:
December 3rd, 2019, 5:54 pm
So you are a member of a water fowl species? You share the same level of intelligence?
That I happen to share a world with water foul species does not mean that I share all their properties.
To test for [the existence of a set or world], I'd have to be outside the [world], and somehow be able to apply a test to it, and there is no empirical way to do either.
Huh? :? In terms of intelligence and self-awareness, humans are indeed "outside the set of swans," and it is intelligence that makes empirical investigation possible.
I'd have to be outside said world to empirically test for its existence relative to this alternate reference, and even then, it arguably just makes that world larger, thus invalidating the test. There is no view from nowhere from which any empirical test for objective existence must be made.

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by PAntoneO » December 3rd, 2019, 10:44 pm

chewybrian wrote:
December 3rd, 2019, 8:58 am
My contention is that 'real' gathers up and includes both those kinds of existence. In the past, I've found that many folks here do not agree. My dog and the fourth amendment are both real, even though only one has a physical existence. I can encounter them both, and they both impact the world. Neither existed in the past, both exist now, and either could cease to exist (though a lot of people would have to forget or die to eliminate the fourth amendment; even if it was repealed, the concept would carry on for a long time).
I partially agree.
Reality does indeed "gather up and include" both physical and conceptual existence, but part of the definition of nothing is that it generally refers to physical things. I would argue that my concept of [what it means to be your dog] is an example of nothing, because it doesn't exist physically. The irony of it is that nothing is something.

Perhaps the best way to understand this is to think in terms of sets. Keep in mind that I'm using a highly nontraditional understanding of sets for this explanation. But your dog can be defined by two types of sets. The first is an enumeration set, which lists each element separately. So this could be represented by the set {your dog}. The second type of set is an abstraction set, which defines what it is to be an instance of the set. It takes the format, {x: x is n}, where : can be read as "such that." So in this case we might say the abstraction set is "x such that x is a dog that belongs to you" which can also be written as {x: x is a dog that belongs to you}.

Now, the abstraction set that defines nothing is {x: x is the absence of some thing}. This is something. It is the abstraction set that defines what it means to be nothing. There is no corresponding enumeration set that defines nothing... because to enumerate anything would be to violate the meaning of nothing. Some would argue that the empty set would be the enumeration set that I should have given, but I would argue that the empty set would more accurately be understood as the absence of a set.

KEEP IN MIND I SAID THIS WAS AN UNCONVENTIONAL INTERPRETATION OF SETS.

Without getting any further into the weeds of my own personal theory... the point is that just because we define nothing as the [absence of something], that doesn't mean that nothing isn't something.

How can this be? Well keep in mind that nothing is the name of what we are talking about. Just is Antone is the name of the physical object that is me. But Antone isn't the same as that physical thing that is me. The name Antone doesn't have blood running through it's non-existent veins. In this case, it's nothing more than pixels on a screen. It names me, but it is not identical to me. In exactly the same way, "nothing" names a particular concept that we can define as "the absence of something"... but it is not itself that absence. And it is something. It's even something physical. Because the pixels on the screen are physically real. In the same way, the fourth amendment does indeed exist in a physical sense, for it is physically written down on numerous documents. None of those documents (nor all of them collectively) are the concept of the fourth amendment, however. That concept is a distinctly independent thing--just as the abstraction set is a distinctly different thing from the enumeration set.

How do we know this? Easy. These sets do not share many of the same characteristics. Consider the collection of all the planets that circle our sun. We can create the abstraction set, {x: x is a planet} and we can enumerate what those planets are. But when I was in school, Pluto was one of the elements that belonged in that set. I don't think it still is, and if it is, it certainly wasn't a few years back. the way I see it, the abstraction set contains one element, [being a planet]. The definition of that set never changes, whether or not Pluto is understood to be an element of the enumeration set or not. By contrast, the enumeration set (when I was in school) contained nine elements and the the elements were able to change depending on how we defined what it means to be a planet. In other words, the instances that define the enumeration set are defined by the definition of the defining aspect of the abstraction set; so what it means to be a planet determines what goes into the enumeration set.

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by Consul » December 3rd, 2019, 11:03 pm

There is something rather than nothing, because there is something and…

"There is just no alternative to being."

(Rundle, Bede. Why there is Something rather than Nothing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 112)

Being is and nonbeing cannot be, so being must be—which explains why being is and nonbeing is not.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by Consul » December 3rd, 2019, 11:19 pm

PAntoneO wrote:
December 3rd, 2019, 12:36 am
I think the fundamental problem is your definition of nothing. Nothing is not the [existence of nothing]; rather it is the [absence of some thing]. The [absence of some thing] cannot be a physical thing; but it is something. And what it is, is a concept.

Nothing cannot exist in physical reality, by definition. But if it didn't exist in conceptual reality, there wouldn't be a word to refer to it.

Being more specific, then, I think we can reword your argument as follows:

1. To actualize physical [nothingness] there would have to be an absence of all things, there could be no physical space, no physical time, no physical thought, and no physical experience.
2. If physical nothing is the absence of all physical things, then it can't exist physically.
3. So nothing can't exist physically, but since there is something we refer to as "nothing" it would seem that it must exist in some other way, else there would be nothing for "nothing" to refer to.
Therefore, "nothing" must be a non-physical concept, which has no corresponding physical presence.
The (actual) existence of the concept of nothingness (nonbeing/nonexistence) or the noun "nothingness" ("nonbeing"/"nonexistence") is one thing, and the (possible) existence of nothingness (nonbeing/nonexistence) is another.
(We have concepts of impossible things such as married bachelors and square circles.)

As for your premise 3, conceptual or linguistic reference isn't always existence-entailing, because it can be a "unilateral" intentional relation between a concept- or language-user and a nonexistent object of thought.

Absences mustn't be reified as "negative entities" (existing alongside presences or "positive entities"), because they are simply nonentities.
"We may philosophize well or ill, but we must philosophize." – Wilfrid Sellars

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by Felix » December 4th, 2019, 2:48 am

Halc: I'd have to be outside said world to empirically test for its existence relative to this alternate reference...
I'm still not following you, you seem to be saying that human beings are incapable of empirical objectivity. As I said, in the example you gave, of swans, we are indeed "outside" their world in terms of awareness, we live in different experiential realities. This allows us to take an objective view of them and it is what makes empirical science possible.
"We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are." - Anaïs Nin

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by chewybrian » December 4th, 2019, 5:43 am

Felix wrote:
December 4th, 2019, 2:48 am
Halc: I'd have to be outside said world to empirically test for its existence relative to this alternate reference...
I'm still not following you, you seem to be saying that human beings are incapable of empirical objectivity. As I said, in the example you gave, of swans, we are indeed "outside" their world in terms of awareness, we live in different experiential realities. This allows us to take an objective view of them and it is what makes empirical science possible.
Image

I doubt we could take a truly objective look. We do share a lot with swans, really, like a desire for food or companionship.

On the other hand, we are able to look at other people as objects when it suits our desires, like when we want to conquer them and take their land.

We try to be objective for the sake of science, and it feels like we are doing it, but we are trapped in our own perspective. Perhaps, some very different being from another planet could come and open our eyes to how far we are from true objectivity.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by Steve3007 » December 4th, 2019, 6:40 am

chewybrian wrote:My contention is that 'real' gathers up and includes both those kinds of existence. In the past, I've found that many folks here do not agree. My dog and the fourth amendment are both real, even though only one has a physical existence. I can encounter them both, and they both impact the world. Neither existed in the past, both exist now, and either could cease to exist (though a lot of people would have to forget or die to eliminate the fourth amendment; even if it was repealed, the concept would carry on for a long time).
I suppose one unambiguous difference between the existence of your dog and of the 4th amendment to the US Constitution is that we've all collectively agreed that the question of whether your dog exists at any given time is not dependent on whether people decide that it exists. Whereas, also by collective agreement, the 4th amendment exists only because a group of people willed it into existence and, by following various collectively agreed protocols (which were also willed into existence), a group people could will it out of existence again. This is independent of whether the piece of paper on which that legislation is written exists. If that piece of paper was destroyed, perhaps by a terrible fire in the National Archives Building in Washington DC, I doubt whether that amendment would be deemed to have ceased to exist. Conversely, if that legislation was repealed I presume the piece of paper on which it is written wouldn't be destroyed.

So it seems useful to regard formal decisions made by groups of people (such as legislation) as existing and it is in the nature of decisions that the people who make the rules governing those decisions have the power to cause those decisions to no longer exist. I wonder if the same applies to informal decisions? Or decisions made by just one person? If I decide to create an amendment to my personal rules of behaviour while at work and resolve to spend more time working and less time procrastinating on philosophy discussion websites, does that decision exist in the same sense that the 4th amendment does? If I repeal that amendment (perhaps because I'm bored with work) does it no longer exist?

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by Steve3007 » December 4th, 2019, 7:39 am

Halc wrote:Agree, but I was speaking of the evidence of objective existence (the subject of this topic), not relative existence (what Felix seems to reference).
Ok, sorry, I should have seen your post more in the context of the post by Felix from which you quoted.
An empirical test can only demonstrate evidence of the latter, that the black swan say exists in relation to that which measured it, but that test works whether or not the measuring thing objectively exists or not.
I don't agree that empirical tests can only demonstrate evidence of relationships and cannot demonstrate evidence of objective existence. It's an issue that I discussed a lot with RJG quite recently. I would agree that empirical tests cannot provide conclusive, 100% certain logical proof of objective existence. But they do provide evidence. To me that means that they provide valid reasons to believe in the utility of the concept of objective existence.

If I see a black swan then that act of perception is indeed a function of both the black swan and me. So, as you've said, it is a function of a relationship. But it provides evidence that the black swan is an object; that it exists objectively. If I see a black swan and, as a result of that relationship-based perception, I utter the objective proposition:

"A black swan exists."

I am not proposing something about relationships or individual perceptions. I am proposing that there exists an objective, relationship-independent world which (I propose in that statement) is the potential cause of an arbitrarily large number of possible relationship-based perceptions, of which mine is but one example.
For example, 9 is a perfect square if there exists a whole number which when squared yields the 9. 3 satisfies this, therefore 3 exists. This is not a valid demonstration of the objective (platonic) existence of 3, just a demonstration that 3 exists in relation to 9, both being members of the set of whole numbers.
I don't see it as a demonstration of the existence of the number 3 in any sense at all. I see it as a demonstration of one of the mathematical properties of the number 3, which we have already decided exists. I don't see the phrase "3 satisfies this, therefore 3 exists" as valid at all. I see it as a begging the question fallacy. In order to state "3 satisfies this" we must have already decided that 3 exists.
Similarly, I am a member of the same set as the black swan (assuming I see one), and the empirical test is evidence of that, but not evidence that the set itself exists. To test for that, I'd have to be outside the set, and somehow be able to apply a test to it, and there is no empirical way to do either.
Interesting perspective. But, for reasons I gave above, I don't see it as a particularly useful one. I think that one member of that set perceiving another member of that set provides evidence (though not logically certain proof) that the set exists.

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by Halc » December 4th, 2019, 2:34 pm

Felix wrote:
December 4th, 2019, 2:48 am
As I said, in the example you gave, of swans, we are indeed "outside" their world in terms of awareness, we live in different experiential realities.
You continue to make it about humans, awareness, and experience, despite my repeated corrections on this. I'm not taking the idealistic stance that the universe exists because we're aware of it, or superior in any way to swans and rocks and such.

I don't think I can explain it to you. The view doesn't give any meaning to 'there is something', that being an incomplete statement. Hence I consider the title question to be begging.
Steve3007 wrote:
December 4th, 2019, 7:39 am
Halc wrote:An empirical test can only demonstrate evidence of the latter, that the black swan say exists in relation to that which measured it, but that test works whether or not the measuring thing objectively exists or not.
I don't agree that empirical tests can only demonstrate evidence of relationships and cannot demonstrate evidence of objective existence.
Most don't agree with this. But the alternate stance then needs to deal with the title question, which I have never seen answered satisfactorily.

It's an issue that I discussed a lot with RJG quite recently. I would agree that empirical tests cannot provide conclusive, 100% certain logical proof of objective existence. But they do provide evidence. To me that means that they provide valid reasons to believe in the utility of the concept of objective existence.
If I see a black swan then that act of perception is indeed a function of both the black swan and me. So, as you've said, it is a function of a relationship. But it provides evidence that the black swan is an object; that it exists objectively.
My take is that even if the two of us didn't have this ontological property, we'd still measure each other the same. Hence ontology has not been shown to be necessary for said perception and the perception is thus not evidence either for or against objective existence.
If I see a black swan and, as a result of that relationship-based perception, I utter the objective proposition:

"A black swan exists."
I understand, but I don't see how that follows. The uttered conclusion requires assumptions that I question. So do other philosophies. An idealist would deny the black swan exists, saying it is only the perception that exists (a dream so to speak, but an idealist rarely phrases things that way). No, I'm not an idealist (the ultimate in 'the universe is all about me'), but I find I borrow some of the concepts.
I am not proposing something about relationships or individual perceptions. I am proposing that there exists an objective, relationship-independent world which (I propose in that statement) is the potential cause of an arbitrarily large number of possible relationship-based perceptions, of which mine is but one example.
Sounds like the principle of counterfactual definiteness. I find it more offensive to violate the principle of locality, but that's just me. The former principle is kind of a mainstay of many forms of realism, but not all of them.
For example, 9 is a perfect square if there exists a whole number which when squared yields the 9. 3 satisfies this, therefore 3 exists. This is not a valid demonstration of the objective (platonic) existence of 3, just a demonstration that 3 exists in relation to 9, both being members of the set of whole numbers.
I don't see it as a demonstration of the existence of the number 3 in any sense at all.
Neither do I, but that's the same logic that is used to conclude the swan exists, and I wanted to point out the inconsistency of applying the bias in only one of the two cases.
I think that one member of that set perceiving another member of that set provides evidence (though not logically certain proof) that the set exists.
Try to word it without the word 'perception' since I'm not talking about perception at all. The realists assert that the Earth existed for instance long before there was any perception of it. Perception-based existence is not that sort of realism.

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by PAntoneO » December 4th, 2019, 8:02 pm

Consul wrote:
December 3rd, 2019, 11:19 pm
The (actual) existence of the concept of nothingness (nonbeing/nonexistence) or the noun "nothingness" ("nonbeing"/"nonexistence") is one thing, and the (possible) existence of nothingness (nonbeing/nonexistence) is another.
(We have concepts of impossible things such as married bachelors and square circles.
I would argue that a [square circle] is a name of a potential concept, it is not the name of an actual concept. You can't think of something that is a square circle the way you can think of something that is your body. The concept of your body (while it is the opposite of your physical body in a number of important ways, none-the-less mirrors your body to a certain extent. There is no concept that mirrors what it would mean to be a square circle.

By contrast, there is a concept that mirrors what it means for there to be an actualized nothing. It is the absence of a specific physical things. If I say, "I have nothing in my pocket," what I really mean is that I have nothing unusual in my pocket. Or, in other words, given the set of things that you might put in your pocket, I have none of them in my pocket. It doesn't exclude the necessity that there is air in my pocket. And the fact that there is air in my pocket doesn't invalidate the fact that there is nothing in my pocket.

The reason is because such an absolute interpretation of the meaning of nothing would indeed turn it into something that necessarily cannot exist--which would make it a meaningless word and concept. The fact that it does have meaning necessarily implies that this is not how the word nothing is used. It's not what it means. And thus a logical argument that assumes it must be that meaning is flawed from the beginning.

Although they're not as common as other types of words, there are a few other words that create strange situations. For example, consider the word "heap". A physical heap is a specific thing that has a specific size at any given moment in time. The the concept of a heap is something that can be virtually any size--within a very wide range of latitude. A heap is strange because it acts a lot like an infinite set. Just as an infinite set plus one is still just an infinite set, so to a [heap of sand] plus [one grain of sand] is still just a heap. You can add or subtract from a heap; you can multiply or divide... and in most cases the result is still just a heap. In virtually every way--except for the fact that a heap is finite instead of infinite, a heap and an infinite set are identical in the way they respond to mathematical manipulations.

Both the words [infinite] and [heap] have strange characteristics because the conceptual and physical aspects do not mirror each other with respect to number, the way that most other words do. Because of this mismatch, we get results that seem strange. In a similar way, nothing creates philosophical problems because unlike virtually every other word, the concept refers to the absence of a physical thing, instead of the presence. This unusual structure is the main thing that makes nothing seem problematic. But it's no more problematic that the word heap. It's simply unusual; an exception to the general rule that concepts refer to physical things.

A concept that refers to a mythical unicorn, still reflects the idea that that mythical unicorn is a physical thing. It's just a physical thing that doesn't actually exist. Nothing is the opposite of that. It's a concept that can exist physically, but it exists by being the absence of a specific physical thing. In every single case where "nothing" can be used, it is referring to a limited range of things. It NEVER refers to everything that exists.

Even a statement like, "Before the big bang there was nothing." is only true because we choose to limit the range of what the statement means. Supposedly there was nothing, except the condensed matter or the energy that was used to create everything from nothing... or the entity or forces etc that created the big bang. There was nothing that we would recognize as something--but there was still something, just as there is air in my pocket even though I say there is nothing. There is only nothing because we chose to ignore what their is.

That, by definition, is what nothing means.

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Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

Post by chewybrian » December 5th, 2019, 6:20 am

    Thomyum2 wrote:
    December 2nd, 2019, 10:56 am
    This very question was discussed on the Philosophy for our Times podcast earlier this year. It was a while ago that I heard it, but as I recall it was a really good talk and I'd recommend giving it a listen. You can find it here, or on the various sites or aps that offer free podcast downloads.

    https://player.fm/series/philosophy-for ... -sheldrake
    I finally got around to listening to this. It was interesting, but I did not come away with a theory of why there is something rather than nothing, much less a fact or belief. Sheldrake was worth the time to listen, saying things like "consciousness is an embarrassment to materialism; it should not exist". He also put forth a compelling chicken and egg problem about consciousness and the material world. If you question which came first, then it opens the door much wider for God. It is counterintuitive to say consciousness precedes life, but also to say that consciousness emerged from a world without life. He doesn't really convince me of anything, either, but rather is eloquent in expressing doubts that I think we should all have, yet often do not.
    "If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."

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    Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

    Post by PAntoneO » December 5th, 2019, 10:06 pm

    Thomyum2 wrote:
    December 2nd, 2019, 10:56 am
    This very question was discussed on the Philosophy for our Times podcast earlier this year. It was a while ago that I heard it, but as I recall it was a really good talk and I'd recommend giving it a listen. You can find it here, or on the various sites or aps that offer free podcast downloads.

    I finally got around to listening to this. It was interesting, but I did not come away with a theory of why there is something rather than nothing, much less a fact or belief. Sheldrake was worth the time to listen, saying things like "consciousness is an embarrassment to materialism; it should not exist". He also put forth a compelling chicken and egg problem about consciousness and the material world. If you question which came first, then it opens the door much wider for God. It is counterintuitive to say consciousness precedes life, but also to say that consciousness emerged from a world without life. He doesn't really convince me of anything, either, but rather is eloquent in expressing doubts that I think we should all have, yet often do not.

    Sheldrake is a very interesting man. His theories are original and unconventional. His banned Ted talk on the 10 dogmas of science is particularly fascinationg--as is the general framework of his Morphic Resonance theory. I think both are well worth looking into.

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    Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

    Post by Prof Bulani » December 6th, 2019, 11:16 am

    Dr_Savage_Henry wrote:
    December 1st, 2019, 1:34 pm
    The Arguement Goes as Follows:
    1. 'Nothing' is non-existence, no space, no time, no thought, no experience.
    2. If nothing is non-existence then it can't exist. If it did 'exist' then it wouldn't be 'nothing'.
    3. So nothing can't exist, but the only logical alternative is 'something'.
    In your premise 1, let's replace the word "no" with zero. Would you argue that zero can't exist, and by extension zero space, zero time, zero thought and zero experience?

    Zero is not only something that exists, but it is the axis of all quantities that can exist. Therefore the quantity zero is as valid a quantity as any other, and has an equal right to possibly exist than any other.

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    Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

    Post by Dr_Savage_Henry » Yesterday, 1:15 pm

    chewybrian wrote:
    December 1st, 2019, 7:03 pm
    This whole argument seems to imply that existence of some type, of some thing, is necessary. But, it is only necessary to us, for our understanding. We find it difficult to imagine complete nothingness, the lack of anything for us to understand, along with our not being around to understand it. But, that difficulty does not make anything necessary, including us. Nothingness seems to make as much sense as the reality we see, if we are able to pretend to view these issues from the imaginary, nonexistent 'outside' of non-existence.
    You're right, just because we can't imagine 'nothing' doesn't mean it can't exist, but that's not my argument. My arguement is that 'nothingness' by definition cannot be, so if it cannot be, the only logical alternative is something.

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    Re: My Argument: Why there is Something, Rather than Nothing.

    Post by Dr_Savage_Henry » Yesterday, 1:19 pm

    Felix wrote:
    December 2nd, 2019, 4:30 pm
    chewybrian: This whole argument seems to imply that existence of some type, of some thing, is necessary. But, it is only necessary to us, for our understanding.
    Yes, the OP is actually addressing another perennial question, i.e., "what must the world be like in order that man may know it?"

    There's an inherent anthropocentric bias: we are material beings so we assume that existence must have a material basis. Or to put it another way, we cannot prove a negative, i.e., that nothing (an immaterial reality) exists, we can only prove a positive, that something exists.
    I'm not saying existence is material or immaterial, I'm not saying anything about the nature of 'something' only about the nature of 'nothing'. I'm sure we can at least agree that no matter something's nature it either is or isn't, if it has a nature of any sort, it 'is', it has some form of reality. Nothing is, no nature and no reality, 'nothing' cannot be!

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