Nihilism

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/0a/William_Blake_-_America._A_Prophecy%2C_Plate_1%2C_Frontispiece_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg/734px-William_Blake_-_America._A_Prophecy%2C_Plate_1%2C_Frontispiece_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgHow do you prove that we exist?

I am not sure I do, actually. Given that my metabolic processes are constant, I am not quite the same object that got out of my bed this morning, and given that I am constantly taking in sense-impressions, and processing them, I am not quite the same mind or soul either. If the words mind, soul, prove, we, exist have any meaning.

What would “exist” mean? If I am part of a simulation in an alien battle-computer deciding whether to invade this galaxy I imagine myself part of, I still “exist” in the sense that it behoves me to imagine that I do. Resistance is futile!

So, I can’t prove that I exist, never mind that we exist, but it appears useful to act as if there is a sequence of entities with a certain degree of continuity, which might be referred to as “Clare Flourish”, and that it is in a “world” where there are similar sequences of entities. I act as if my sense-impressions register something other than myself, in a useful manner which allows me to make predictions and decisions- until it doesn’t. I behave like a naïve realist, in other words.

Klovax asked this. She self-identifies as a nihilist. My understanding was that a nihilist believed nothing had value- Oh, OK, then- but her identification moved me to read further: if she finds value in nihilism, it is worth checking out. I turn to my Oxford Companion to Philosophy which tells me that nihilist is more usually a term of abuse, meaning someone who believes there is no justification for values or morality. So when Klovax tells me I have dodged the question, which is true, I could reply that she has no grounds to object to that. I choose to act as if values had meaning. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/06/William_Blake_-_Jerusalem%2C_Plate_1%2C_Frontispiece_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg/848px-William_Blake_-_Jerusalem%2C_Plate_1%2C_Frontispiece_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgI find hers a wonderful question, and am grateful.

I then had a look at the entry for existence. It tells me that “exist” does not express a property of objects, as verbs like “shine” or “fall” do, but a property of properties- to say “God exists” is to say “the property of God-hood is instantiated”.

This is not a book I get down from my shelves often.

It goes on to say that David Lewis espouses an idea called Modal Realism, in which Pegasus- or, I don’t know, Doctor Who- has full-blooded existence in other possible worlds. Lovely as the thought that The Doctor exists is, Lewis admits he is not “actual”. You see what I mean about “it depends what ‘exist’ means”.

The biggest metaphysical problem is why anything should exist at all. I am unaware whether there is an Answer to this question. When I read that God, angels and demons have necessary existence, but this does not mean that they necessarily exist, I give up on the thought of proving existence.

I do not share enough William Blake.

10 thoughts on “Nihilism

  1. The celebrated nihilists Abbott and Costello had one treatise where Lou proved to Bud that he wasn’t there. At the end of the proof, Bud Abbott walks away with Lou’s dollar and Lou smacks himself in the face, which is yet another indication that he was there after all.

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  2. As usual, your instincts are sound, Clare. On the subject of human existence, philosophy will take you only so far before you get bogged down in various paradoxes. Ecclesiastes is a good bridge between academic philosophy and a deeper spirituality.

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  3. Thank you Clare, for answering the question. I was quite pleased to see you make the attempt, though unfortunately, my search for the answer must continue. Your philosophy has, however, helped me.

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      • It looks to me as if we exist within a universe, and that universe appears to obey physical laws. If we found how that universe came to be, we would be within a larger system- it is elephants all the way down. If that universe is inside a computer simulation, or only the room I sit in exists- my memories of the outside were created with me- I will still be “hungry” if I do not “eat”. The only way I could check is to kill myself, which might prove nothing at all, and actually I would prefer to explore the simulation I find myself in, for now.

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