Month: June 2023

On the Meaning of “Exists”

In another essay, I explain the meaning of “exists” like so:

Existence is a predicate. Existence refers to a concept, or we could not speak of it (by the use of a word “existence”). This concept we either attach to another concept (a concept of an object, such as a chair, or unicorns) or not. E.g. you have the idea of a chair, and you either attach the predicate “existence” to it (i.e., you say either “it exists” or “it doesn’t exist”), or in other words you “earmark” it as being extant or not, based on what you reason and perceive about it. You may have never even seen the chair, and you might say that it exists based upon something you’ve read. You could even have been misled by what you’ve read, yet you still say it exists. And you can’t even claim that something exists or not independently of whether you believe it exists, because you will always necessarily claim that it exists if you believe it exists and that it doesn’t if you believe that it doesn’t, so there is no room in your episteme/ideology to claim an existence-status that could vary from your belief about it, when you believe with 100% certainty.

So existence is clearly a concept. Specifically, it is a statement qualifying what we would expect to perceive or not perceive under various hypothetical conditions, conditions imaginable within the model of reality we hold. For example, “that chair exists” means that if I, hypothetically, will myself to do what I believe is activating my motor neurons in order to do what I believe is “walking over to where the chair,” or if I otherwise find myself in that “location” (“location” also being an idea pertaining to world-model that’s ultimately based upon sense impressions), then I should visually perceive “that chair,” meaning I should perceive some image/visual qualia that I abstractly determine meet whatever criteria are attached to the meaning of “a chair,” as well as other criteria attached to the specific chair in question. For the purposes of Descartes’ argument, though, whether existence is or is not a predicate is only relevant for one reason: Descartes wants to have his cake and eat it too by implying existence to be a predicate and to not be a predicate at the same time. That’s what Kant vaguely, if keenly, picked up on.

In the above argument I don’t necessarily mean to imply that there is no reality outside of our conception of it. What I meant to do is show that, in some sense, “existence” is in fact a predicate—if only in the sense that everything we know about and can speak of regarding reality is necessarily ideational.

But, to veer off into a different, but important, subject: if I wanted to make an argument that “the chair” doesn’t actually “exist” in any sense beyond our knowledge of it, I would say that material reality is a specific pattern of molecules that we arbitrarily segregate into conceptually discrete forms. For example, consider the group of molecules comprising “floor and chair.” At some fuzzy place in that set of molecules, where ‘floor’ molecules and the “chair” molecules intermingle, we say “the floor” ends and “the chair” begins. In reality it’s all just a large group of molecules, and it simply suits our purposes to consider it as two separate, discrete objects, and there isn’t even an absolutely exact boundary at which “the floor” ends and “the chair” begins. Is a splinter on the chair part of the chair? Is the paint on it part of the chair? What about the flake of paint that’s about to fall off? What about the flake that just did fall off? Is the rust on it part of it? The dirt left from sitting on it? Etc. It’s all arbitrary.

Now, instead of considering only the particles/energy-patterns composing ‘the chair’ and ‘the floor’, extend that concept to the universe a whole. Now all objects are merely concepts afforded by arbitrary delineations, except for two things: The universe, and individual molecules. And even molecules are, of course, made of even smaller particles (atoms), which are in turn made of even further smaller particles (subatomic particles), some of which are made of a) smaller particles (such as quarks), and b) nobody even knows. Even subatomic particles are not solids with clearly defined borders, as any physicist will tell you; it all boils down to fields. The presence of an electron, for example, actually tapers off gradually with distance. And particles are thought to be local excitations in fields that extend everywhere in space. Quantum entanglement even puts into question the actual separateness of things that are differentiated from each other by their locations. When you get down to string theory would, it almost seems as though the universe is supposed to be made out of pure math. So even imagining that the universe composes a set of objectively-discrete entities called ‘atoms’ (or whatever scale of entities you want to use as a base) doesn’t really work.

Then there is the second part to the argument that ‘the chair’ doesn’t exist beyond our knowledge of it: anything we can know of, insofar as we can know of it and therefore can speak of it, can only be ideational/mental, as knowledge is ideational. (We can also say ‘mental’, ‘conceptual’, ‘cognitive’ or whatever other word that does not seem too limiting.) Our entire understanding and definition of “the chair,” including all its attributes, is ideational. Whereas ‘external reality’ cannot be not ideational–or at least it’s presumed not to be, unless you subscribe to a theory that the entire universe is mental in nature. We’ll assume it isn’t for the sake of the argument, because that’s what most people believe. Since any two things we can compare must be ideas (inasmuch as we can even compare them), the difference between the ideational and the non-ideational (that is, “external reality”) is necessarily of a higher order than any difference we can comprehend. Given that fact, to presume that such ‘reality’ has anything like what we think of as ‘a chair’ in it seems to be a shot in the dark, at best.

I actually believe consciousness is primary and that matter is in some way a derivation of consciousness, I just wanted to take the common conception to its logical conclusion. However, it’s possible that whatever super-mind(s) or super-consciousness(es) the universe belongs to doesn’t particularly think in terms of chairs and floors..

In yet another essay, I explain “exists” like this:

The concept of “existence” is a tricky one. Emmanuel Kant said, in response to the ontological proof of God’s existence, said that “existence is not a predicate.” While his reasoning surrounding this statement was valid, the statement alone isn’t exactly true. Existence is a predicate, it’s just not a normal one. If existence weren’t a predicate, why would we say that a unicorn—or anything else—is either “existent” or “non-existent”? That’s exactly how predicates work.

You could say that the unicorn that’s non-existent can’t have any predicates because it doesn’t even exist, but if you think about it, all objects we can possibly think or talk about are mental objects; they exist primarily in the mind. They may or may not “point” to objects outside of us.

How do we know if a mental object points to something outside of us? Presumably, we can’t directly know of anything that exists outside of our minds. We only infer as a result of sensation. So how do we know the chair exists even while we’re not sensing it? If we expect that, when we will our muscles to contract in certain ways we call “walking into the dining room,” we will see a chair with specific properties there, then we say that that chair “exists” and that our concept of the chair therefore points to something outside of us. But insofar as we can think of or talk about the chair, it exists in our minds.

We don’t even know if reality outside of our minds (if there is such a thing) is made of objects, or if it’s just some continuous field that wouldn’t even look like objects if we could have a “view from nowhere” (or, to be more epistemologically coherent, at least a “more objective” viewpoint). Indeed, “the chair” is just an arbitrary collection of atoms that we separate as “a chair.”

Let’s say the chair is made of wood and, due to attrition, some wood particles on the bottom of the chair’s legs get scraped onto the floor. Exactly which particles belong to the chair, and which belong to the floor? Where does the chair end and the floor begin? What if a child marked the chair 3 years ago with a magic marker? Are those ink particles now part of the chair, or not? If you break apart the chair with a hammer piece by piece, or burn it to the ground, at what point during the process does it cease to be a chair? Etc.

Since any two things we can possibly compare and contrast to each other (presumably using thought) must necessarily be ideas, the schism between the ideational (that in our minds) non-ideational (that outside of us) must necessarily be the biggest possible schism we can imagine—or, arguably, bigger than any schism we can possibly imagine.

So, back to the existence of the chair. To say that it exists is necessarily merely to say that we expect to perceive particular sensations in response to willing (what we think are) our muscles to do certain things. (We don’t know for certain that we have muscles, but we know for certain what we’re willing since that’s a part of our mind and therefore is directly known.)

If you posit something extant that can’t possibly affect us, any possible description of that thing is equally valid, since none of it is provable/demonstrable or falsifiable.

So, to validly posit that something “exists” must imply positing that it can potentially affect us in some way. If we will X, we expect to sense Y, hence Z exists. E.g., if we will walking to the dining room, we expect to have the visual sensation of a brown geometric form whose shape is determined by our perspective, hence the wooden chair exists. Of course, there are a million other ways we could less directly test its existence, and we can guess they’d all work because reality seems to be self-consistent, but that’s beside the point.

One problem with the above descriptions is that they only account for physical objects, yet we may claim that some nonphysical things, like souls, exist, or that some abstract things, like numbers, exist too.

I think that the more general answer to the question of “exists” is that it’s intimately connected with object permanence. Perhaps our concept of conceptualization of existence is connected with object permanence because it’s one of the first things we learn about how the world works. Perhaps it’s also how we realize that things persist independently of our current thoughts about or perceptions of them.

“But numbers don’t have object permanence!”, you say. Well, I’m talking about a more generalized kind of object permanence, one which I might call “concept permanence.”

The number “1” seems to have concept permanence in that you can stop thinking about it, then come back to it, and it’s still there (in your mind) in exactly the same way. It seemingly doesn’t change one bit from mental invocation of it to another.

Furthermore, “1” seems to be discovered rather than arbitrarily imagined. Even though we don’t perceive it sensorially, it seems discovered because it’s an integral element of a framework that’s integral to how we think/how we model and manipulate reality. I.e., we group objects together according to similarity or proximity or something else they have in common that makes the grouping useful, and the cardinality of that group is the number “1”, or “2”, etc.

And, if you were to take “1” out of the picture, you could immediately deduce its “existence” again using math—algebra, arithmetic, whatever. This is another facet of its apparent object/concept permanence. You totally remove it from your mind, then you go looking for it, and there it is again. Not that you could really forget the number “1” even if you wanted to, but if you temporarily pretended it was just something arbitrarily imagined, you know you would soon be proven wrong.

Not that I think numbers really do exist anywhere but in the imagination, as I explain in

That last sentence, by the way, opens a whole other can of worms: why do we say things exist if they’re not merely imaginary, unless we say they “exist in the imagination” or something “exists as a concept”? What does “exists” mean in that case? Maybe it comes from casting the entirety of the imagination as if it were a world of its own, in which case the imaginary concept exists “in that world”?

Or maybe we imagine that we take a freezeframe of the person’s mind with the imaginary element in it, thus seemingly stripping it of its ephemerality that’s otherwise intrinsic to imaginary entities?

Or maybe in this case we use a looser conception of “exists” that doesn’t require the element of discovery or object/concept permanence, but merely the element of being regarded (in this case, by the mind’s eye), because we reason that it must have some kind of existence or exist somewhere or else how would we possibly know about it?

Then there is the issue, as mentioned above, of something like a soul being considered to “exist” (inasmuch as the concept of the soul is itself considered to be legitimate). Does it have object permanence? I guess we imagine it to.

To be honest, another factor in whether something is considered to exist or not, besides object/concept permanence, is probably its apparent objectivity, by which I mean its propensity to be discovered in the same way by others (as believed by the beholder). But it’s hard to think of a case where this property would exist without the property of object/concept permanence or vice versa.

That’s all I have to say about existence.

On the Meaning of Essence

Analytically, one could conclude that essence is category/classification, or the set of the most core properties of a thing, the properties of the thing that aren’t incidental/superficial. This analysis seems to beg for a formal differentiation between the types of properties that are part of the essence and the types that are incidental, but perhaps there are no such categorical differences: the only difference is whether changing a given property makes you think, subjectively, that its “essence” has changed or that it’s a different thing.

One could conclude something similar about the meaning of identity. Are identity and essence equal? Maybe that, too, is a subjective call. One could also say that the “identity” of an object is the set of properties that would have to be equal between that object and another object for those two objects to be considered “identical.” On the other hand, one might posit the same about essence, too.

Going beyond pure analysis and delving into the mystical, essence could be seen as a quality that belongs only to living beings. It would be something akin to a substance, but nonlocal and nonmaterial. It wouldn’t be a set of properties either, but a holistic gestalt of…meaning? It would be “energy” (in the mystical sense), emotion and psyche all at once.

But not all of psyche, only the very core of it, the part one carries/has carried with one after death and before this life, the part of another that one might fall in love with rather than the mere information of their psychology. It would be the aspect of a being that’s most divine and one with God, the part that’s recognized by the Heavens and pervades a million lifetimes and timelines at once. The part that only a big decision can change, the kind of decision that affects the rest of a being’s eternity.

What Is the Meaning of One’s “Heart”?

As I see it, there are three different, probably interrelated possible meanings when one refers to one’s “heart.”

The first meaning, the most obvious and mundane one, is the physical heart, that oxygenates and circulates our blood, among other probable corporeal and incorporeal functions.

The second meaning seems to be an aspect of mind: the core of the mind or emotional body; the part that’s held most dear; the most sacred aspect of one’s disposition; the driving force that all other mental disposition emanates from; maybe even the subconscious or an aspect of the subconscious. This heart also seems to be related to intuition, maybe because this heart has its own way of knowing and wisdom, likely not only a way of “processing information” but also involving some form of psychic perception. It probably also embodies some form of psychic substance and activity.

The third usage seems to refer to the heart chakra, which may be a function of the biological heart. My heart chakra seems to be located right beneath the sternum, around a half an inch to an inch behind the skin.

I know it’s there because I used to feel things there, like emotions but more localized. I used to send bursts of energy to girls I liked from that spot in my chest. I have reasons to believe it was something like “throwing out extension cords” meant to connect my heart with another’s.

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of other essays, I once experimented with this heart function by sending a burst to my friend who could see auras, while she was looking at me. I didn’t make any unordinary physical movements or inform her of what I was doing. As soon as I did it, she opened her eyes really wide like she had seen something incredible.

I also had an experience once where I felt a kind of peace and subtle, divine bliss that I’d never felt before, and it was more or less centered in my heart chakra. I was watching the wind and sunlight play with the leaves of the trees in the yard around the pool while I felt this, and I somehow transcendentally recognized that the trees (or at least their leaves?) were feeling the exact same thing I was feeling in my heart while dancing with the wind.

It seems that there’s some degree of overlap between “heart” as an aspect of mind and “heart” as in the “heart chakra,” as well as the possible overlap mentioned already between “heart” as in the biological organ” and “heart” as in the “heart chakra.” By the transitive property of things being related to each other, this means they’re all likely in some way interrelated.

I have a text of the four or five happiest moments in my life, which includes a more elaborate account of the bliss I felt in my heart that I mentioned above. I’ll include the text here:

I’ve had four moments of true happiness in my life, and they’ve all been completely different kinds of happiness.

One was when I was at my family’s log cabin in Michigan, I woke up and I suddenly just felt soo happy, I have no idea why. I was just so happy to be alive. So I stepped out of the cabin into nature and being there made me so happy that I literally laughed out loud for a second, uncontrollably.That’s the only time I’ve ever been so happy that I had to laugh at nothing.

Another time was when I was swimming in the pool with my little sister (who’s very intuitive), and she had me stay still while she dumped a pale of water on my head. I closed my eyes. You’d think there’s nothing scary about having some water dumped on your head, but for some reason that simple act entailed that I had to trust her, a kind of surrender. I think that was the key to what happened next.. I suddenly felt divine happiness literally in my heart (heart chakra or maybe solar plexus chakra). It was so subtle yet so real and something that was so far from my normal miserable empty experience.

Anyway while in this state I was watching the trees blowing in the wind, and I could actually see the happiness of the trees or their leaves being tickled by the wind and the sun, because it was the same happiness in my heart. So now I know that trees actually are spiritually alive and sensitive and enjoy life.

Sometime not too much later I overheard my mom saying that my sister had told her that a pain she’d had in her hand for years was magically gone. I think it probably had something to do with the divine presence touching my heart while we were in the pool.

The joyous feeling in my heart that time was a living energy, like there was a kind of inner motion to it.

Many years later I read somewhere, I’m pretty sure in The Power of Now, that some special state of consciousness–I forget how he described or named it, something like bliss or enlightenment or connection to and love for all life–is often attained by people who spend many years suffering and then have a moment of surrender.

Another time I had to walk through the cafeteria of my niece’s elementary school while it was chalk full of children, and I didn’t have my hat on which I usually liked to wear to cover up my baldness. I actually felt like I looked a little bit freaky, because I had long wavy hair and was also partially bald. So I was really embarrassed but I decided to have courage and just do it. A minute later when I was back outside of the building walking along the sidewalk, I could perceive this soft white energy filling all the space and surrounding everything in it, and I felt so at peace and comforted by this energy–like it was God or something–that I smiled a huge smile for this little girl that was walking by me from the other direction, and it was genuine.. It would have taken more effort not to smile than to smile. Again, this is extremely unusual in my experience. That’s actually the only time I can remember smiling and not being forced to, besides when I happen to be laughing at something. By the way, I was also carrying an open black umbrella over my head at the time even though it wasn’t raining. =p

The fourth time I was truly happy (fourth in this list, I mean–this probably isn’t in chronological order), I was in a mall and suddenly randomly I felt an actual glow/source of light in the center of my heart (heart chakra or solar plexus chakra area) and I guess it kind of emanated from my whole being in a way because this kid who was in front of me randomly said hi to me.. that like never happens to me.

All of these moments of happiness were truly sublime, but they only lasted a few minutes or maybe less each time.

There was also another time I remember that could possibly have been the happiest moment of my life, it was when I got back home after having been on vacation for a few weeks with some relatives. The door was opened and my mom was in the living room vacuuming and I ran to her and hugged her. I don’t actually remember how that felt, I just remember what I did, or remember remembering it, so I’m not sure if it was the happiest moment of my life or not. Also I’m not sure if there were other equally happy moments during my childhood that I just don’t remember.