What is existence?
Can we capture it in a word?
An ever-flowing presence
replete in its transformations,
particular to everything?
But where is this everything?
Is it more than our universe
– too big to be seen at once
spanning all pasts and futures,
the seeming we cannot see without?
Evidently, we owe our existence to the presence of a smallish planet orbiting a medium size sun in a named galaxy, the Milky Way, existing among many billions of unnamed counterparts. But that knowledge isn’t sufficient for us to recognise ourselves or place the universe in existence. Indeed, the sheer insurmountability of the problem has encouraged us to adopt an alternative approach, by acknowledging that everything exists ‘in nature’, which we identify as the ‘all encompassing fact of existence’ – as if we can become familiar with the bigger picture by generalising from the details.
However, this introduces another problem. Whereas everything in existence can be represented as a feature of a micro reality, sometimes called the atomic flux, that’s not where we find the reality of things that transpire. In short, we are alive and dynamic in a different way. Nevertheless we presume to gain explanatory depth by tracing our existence back to causes operating at successively lower levels – and our ‘findings’ are taken to be all the more robust when there is nothing else to be found. But the upshot is not realistic, namely that the atoms are living our lives for us. Something else is happening. Something else exists that can’t be found at that level.
So the observation that there must be somewhere for existence ‘to be’ doesn’t prove that everything condenses into its causes in a ‘first place’ – even when there is nothing else to see at that point. And this paradoxical fact carries on up the scale to include the fact of our thinking – seen as located in the brain ‘because there is nowhere else for it to be’. But we could ‘see’ our thoughts long before we sought to ‘find’ them objectively. And our scientific explanations are as much the result of our thinking. Therefore, the ‘discovery’ that the brain is thinking for us doesn’t do justice to our awareness of the fact or the place of sentience within the very real phenomena of change. In fact, only a misplaced awareness would deem to identify itself as a mere superficiality that makes no real difference.
Links: ‘Mindless Replicants’: A ‘Point of View’ by Will Self:
‘Science Stories’: The ‘uncanny valley’ of AI: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06vy2jd/episodes/downloads
Evidently, the universe is observable to us because of a chain of consequences which science endeavours to explain with laws of nature. However, our understandings are not passive representations of the truth, and whilst knowledge might be said to reflect its place in nature, its transformative presence also influences the tide of events. Even so, our intellectual axioms may not give us the final word on the bigger picture in a continuum of change where rules gain exceptions and predictability rubs shoulders with unpredictability. Indeed, behind all the industrious investigations of the ‘open-minded’, we find that every thesis can attract its antithesis. Furthermore, every attempt to ‘get to know’ begins with some idea of what we want to know, in order to recognise a result – so we might expect the same with a knowledge of the universe, which begins with the notional idea of its beginning.
Superficially, all the prominent theories share a common theme or paradigm – that nature is a thing in action. The problem is that the more we analyse it, the less of the ‘thingness’ we find. Instead, we discover that ‘reality’ is a projection of something else, but so is the reality of the ‘something else’. Then is the bigger picture of existence more like a hologram – a projection of another dimension which apparently ends up as the beginnings of the more familiar nature of our universe? And might this question give rise to an exceptional discovery – that we don’t really know what we are talking about in the first place, nor do we actually get to know what we are referring to in the second place – especially if different universes can accommodate different ‘laws of nature’ within the wider ‘reality’ of ‘a multiverse’ yet to be defined.
https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/professor-stephen-hawkings-final-theory-the-universe-is-a-hologram/ar-AAwEA5O?acid=spar (2nd May 2018)
What does it mean to exist? What is our place in existence? What makes nature ‘necessarily so’, perceptible, or an ‘it’? What makes us think that we can capture it in our concepts any more than we can lay claims upon the world through the possession of bodies? What if it is all transitory and our temporary presence is but a faint speck in the ‘cosmic panoply’ – an integration of ‘material’ and ‘mental’ dimensions in which notions of ‘our time’ and ‘our experiences’ furnish vain illusions of self-importance?
However, just as time extends space and vice versa, so the various perceptible dimensions – such as energy, matter, life, consciousness and thought – may be seen to co-exist ‘in nature’ as an extended reality that is simultaneously one thing and another. Hence we cannot specify ‘being’ in terms of the way things are or were, nor ourselves for that matter, any more than we can know the extent of the mind in terms of our contemporary thinking – since there is more to existence than we can find ‘in existence’.
No fact exists alone. Every perceptible fact is the manifestation of a state of existence relative to the existence of other facts. Thereby every fact is distinguishable by what it is and isn’t, including the ‘fact of existence’. Then life is and is not a prominent feature of the way things are – because reality amounts to a continuum of changes that can be traced backwards as a convergence upon what was and forwards as a divergence from the past. Consequently, whatever importance can or cannot be attached to the nature of ‘things in themselves’, it remains a fact that the difference they make is set within a wider reality.
In every case, we may perceive a fact in terms of its origins in something else – that is, relative to some other fact identifiable as its cause. But even then we can never see an ‘original cause’ as it is, on its own, since every cause is manifestly incomplete in the absence of an effect. In turn, effects are seen to make a difference when it becomes apparent that things differ from the way they were – a difference which at first contrasts with the state of ‘the cause’ as it was and afterwards with ‘the effect’ as it furthers a succession of changes.
However, causes do not explain existence. For instance, we do not find the nature of life in the non-living states of its precursors; and it is only after its appearance that we can begin to look for its causes there. So we perceive life as a fact that is wrapped up in a continuum of factors which we cannot explain fully in terms of the way things were – because of the essential ingredient of change. Therefore we can neither explain this vital factor retrospectively as an ‘originating cause’ nor in terms of the difference ‘it makes’, which becomes consummate only in the wake of things yet to be.
Once upon a time Goldilocks chanced upon a baby bear’s bowl of porridge that was just right for the eating. Sometime later, scientists took a fresh look at the fact of a universe that happened to be just right for the emergence of life, and recognised that the necessary fine tuning of the manifold preconditions, the ‘physical constants’, seems more like a contrivance than a coincidence – a conspiracy of coincidences – so named the ‘Goldilocks enigma’ because there is no settled evidence for it beginning other than by chance. But what if both scenarios are true: chance and non-chance – the evidence for the co-existence of chance and non-chance possibilities being everywhere in the world that surrounds us? Then perhaps the enigma is actually a paradox which reflects the true state of existence – something we cannot reduce to our logical truths by which we demarcate the facts as either right or wrong, true or false, possible or impossible. Paradoxically, there is more to the fact of existence than the prerequisite of an explanation that requires itself to be logical. And it is logic, not truth, that requires the facts to be logical. Perhaps our belief in logic is holding us back – believing that logic gives us exclusive access to the ultimate truth – a truth to withstand all contradiction.
Perhaps paradox is nearer to ‘the truth’ than the logic that demands its resolution. So let’s begin with three truisms: ‘the universe’ is vast, ‘everything’ and ‘contains’ life. Given the scale and scope of it all, together with the potential diversity of planetary environments, then the right conditions for life on more than one of these planets becomes a loaded possibility. And though we see life as a novel possibility, it is explained as an effect of causes that subsist within existing boundaries of possibility. Yet the effect causes profound changes. It looks like non-living causes determine the mix of possible preconditions, but, ultimately, it is the potential for life that sets the limits. Furthermore, that potential remains a defiant mystery, regardless of how much we learn about the preconditions for life on earth, or indeed the preconditions for different types of life on different kinds of planet. Moreover, no amount of causal analysis explains how effects ratchet up the course of change, beginning in the observable differences between cause and effect. Indeed the paradox at the heart of existence is the pre-existence of its possibilities, despite their probable absence in certain forms at certain times – subsequently to ‘emerge’ in the times and events an observer chances upon, in the form of co-incidence called ‘reality’.
Whatever else we can know about the beginnings and becomings of the universe, we know it hosts, in us, a reality quite unlike the nature we can find by looking to a universe without – that reality being the fact of our awareness. It is as if the universe has evolved to incorporate something extra, through us, which we know to be real enough simply because we are aware of the fact of awareness in existence – a fact that now seems to exist in addition to everything else. And if that fact only seems to be the case, then the fact of that seeming is still enough to make the case.