A Sample from The Hour of Judgment Transcripts on The Thinking Man's CDROM
Guest: Mitchell Porter (of Internet fame)
Hosts: Kevin Solway & David Quinn
Date: 10th September, 1995
David: Hello, and welcome to what is probably the only radio program in the world which actually caters for geniuses - The Hour of Judgment. My name is David Quinn and alongside me is Kevin Solway, and tonight we'll be examining the nature of existence. That is, how do things exist? Can things really exist in their own right? Can there be an objective reality? Or is mind necessary for the existence for things? And to help us in this we've invited along an interesting fellow, called Mitchell Porter. You'd describe yourself, Mitchell, as - I've got it here - "a transhumanist and internet personality, whose immediate goal is The Theory of Everything".
Mitchell: Hmm, hmm.
David: That's rather a mouthful. Do you want to elaborate on that?
Mitchell: Well, transhumanism, first of all, is the idea that the human condition can be transcended and should be transcended. The idea is that, by virtue of being human, we have limitations, such as our lifespan, our faculties, our intelligence, and that we should take means to improve.
David: So you're thinking along technological lines, are you?
Mitchell: Well, they seem to be the most powerful ones in prospect.
David: But not the only ones.
David: And do you do any work in this field yourself, or what?
Mitchell: No, I had ambitions to do so at one time. It was part of my "Internet personality" - trying to lead such campaigns. But it got me to naught. So I'm now following the second goal which you mentioned - The Theory of Everything.
David: Right, and that's what interests me more, actually, this Theory of Everything, because it seems to relate to ultimate knowledge, or to gaining an understanding of reality. Now Kevin and I claim this for a goal as well. Each week, over the various programs, we have been saying that our goal is the understanding of reality, but I suspect that we're talking about two different things here.
Mitchell: Quite possibly.
David: What do you mean by it?
Mitchell: What do I mean? I mean finding a notion of what it is that exists, which is adequate to the facts. So I conceive of what it is to be known as being the set of all facts - all those things which are true of reality.
David: So this is science you're talking about . . . ?
Mitchell: Well, science might tell us about some of those facts, but I think there's a place for conceptual analysis as well.
David: It sounds to me a bit like the traditional Western philosophical goal - a system of knowledge which explains everything.
David: So you're really a traditional philosopher in a way.
David: Would you say that ultimate certainty is your goal?
Mitchell: I have to say I don't think it's a realistic goal. It sounds attractive, so long as you're not fooling yourself. But when it comes to certain sorts of facts I do not see how one can be certain of them.
David: So you're saying that no-one can ever come to an ultimate understanding of reality? I mean, you say that your goal is the understanding of reality - but not certainty.
Mitchell: Well . . . because I do not see how certainty can be achieved.
Kevin: So what role, Mitchell, do you think the word "certainty" has? In what situations would you yourself use the word "certainty"?
Mitchell: In most situations I would describe a thing as "certain" if it seemed reasonable that it was so. But on a philosophical plane I have to say that any hypothesis might be wrong. So there is an absolute sense in which everything is uncertain. But then there's the question of what it is that you will actually think is the case.
Kevin: All right, let's take the idea that everything is uncertain. Would you say that that itself is certain?
Kevin: So the idea that everything is uncertain is itself uncertain.
David: So you're open to the possibility that certainty is possible?
David: So this belief that nothing is certain and that no-one can come to an understanding of ultimate certainty . . . you're not really sure of it?
David: It's just your surmise at this stage . . . ?
Mitchell: Yes, because when I look at how the world seems to be first of all, I can then think of other ways that the world could have been and still present the same aspect. And I do not see how one could exclude those sorts of ideas. Now this makes me uncomfortable, but it's a common perception amongst physicists, for example, who do not see any violations of the physical laws, but nonetheless they have to admit the possibility that behind their backs, so to speak, at some point in the past when they weren't looking, some process occurred which did not conform to those universally observed regularities.
David: Right, so scientists are doomed forever to this failure, or this inherent uncertainty, in their work. But, Kevin, we claim an ultimate certainty, don't we. How would you say this differs from the scientists?
Kevin: There's two kinds of certainty - two spheres of knowledge. One sphere of knowledge is empirical scientific knowledge, and in this I'd include most of everyday life. Most of what people do is in fact empirical, in the sense that it is to do with appearances, it is to do with objects in the material world. But there's another sphere of knowledge, and that's the sphere of logical knowledge, which is a knowledge of definitions. It's a knowledge that is . . . I suppose you could almost describe it as mathematical. In a very simple sense, for example, if I define a bicycle as having two wheels then I can state as an absolute certainty that the bicycle has two wheels. Does this kind of certainty interest you, Mitchell?
Mitchell: Yes, because I think that logical knowledge is part of the set of facts about reality. So it's a fact that if there was a bicycle then it would have two wheels, by the way you've defined it. But it is a matter of empirical fact as to whether there are any bicycles in the first place. And I don't see how logical knowledge pertains to that question - of whether there have been bicycles in the history of the world.
Kevin: Right, but if bicycles, or anything in fact . . . if a thing appears to us, and it is useful to us, then surely for practical purposes we can say that the thing exists. Whether it really exists is not relevant. What is truly relevant is what appears to us and what we can make use of.
Mitchell: Well, I consider it important - this question of what it is that's real. I grant that we are confined to appearances, if you include not only perceptual appearances but also appearances of intellect - impressions as to what reality is. And that's why I attach importance to the principle of total uncertainty, because I see it as a matter of logical knowledge and not something that you can prove by experiment. Nonetheless, it's still a matter of fact as to whether or not there were bicycles in the world, and it's something you can try to find out about through the usual scientific method.
Kevin: Yes. Whether things exist or not depends in fact on how we define them to be. We define a bicycle in a certain way. If we perceived the world in a different way these bicycles may not exist. They may actually merge into some other objects - they might just be part of the earth, for example. We may not perceive them to be anything different from just the earth in general. Therefore, they would exist if we wanted to find them, but our senses and our minds may not see any reason for their existence. I would place this kind of knowledge as being fundamental to any kind of understanding of reality.
Mitchell: If you're going to find something you're going to have to look for it . . . ?
Kevin: The subjective element. Things will only exist if we make them exist.
Mitchell: Well, I would disagree.
Kevin: The reason is our senses make things exist, to some extent. Our senses have evolved in a certain way which places boundaries around things. For example, our consciousness has evolved to see contrasts in light and shade, to see contrasts in certain wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. If we had different senses we would see different boundaries and therefore existence itself would change.
Mitchell: Our experience of existence would change. Now amongst the set of all facts about reality are the facts about what we experience. But I would say they're not the whole set of facts, even about material reality.
David: I think we should make a distinction. You're saying, Kevin, that it's our conceptualizing mind which creates objects . . . which actually creates their existence.
Kevin: Exactly. For example, if we had no senses whatsoever - if we never perceived any boundaries, and also if we had no consciousness which was capable of creating logical boundaries - then no existence would occur to us, and therefore there would be no existence.
David: Right, so this is different from saying that things are created by our whims. You know, people might think that if things are created by our minds, then if I have a whim to make this chair disappear it'll then suddenly disappear!
Kevin: Yes, I'm not saying that things are merely created by our whims.
David: It's a complete difference.
Mitchell: But this is what it sounds like though.
Kevin: Maybe, but nonetheless--
Mitchell: If we are caused to not see the chair there, then the chair is not there?
Kevin: Yes, but that's different from a whim.
Mitchell: But it's still saying that the existence of the chair is dependent upon what it is that we perceive, and I categorically disagree with that.
David: But it's not dependent on our whims.
Mitchell: Yes, it could be the result of a brain defect.
David: Whatever, but what we call "objective reality" is just things which are not immediately subject to our whims. For example, we can't wish the sky out of existence just like that. It seems to be permanent and independent of our ideas of it in a way. But this is different from our saying that our minds are a necessary cause of the sky. Without mind there can be no sky.
Mitchell: Are you agreeing that without mind there can be no sky?
Kevin: Well, that definitely is the case, because "sky" only means something in relation to other appearances. The "sky" means something in relation to, say, the "horizon". So without any of these appearances there can be no horizon, there can be no earth, there can be no sky.
Mitchell: Well, in the case of the sky, that could be an observer-dependent concept, since you're on the ground looking up. But in the case of the earth . . . the earth is an aggregate of atoms held together by gravitation.
Kevin: But it also is an appearance to us, and it exists relative to other appearances. The earth exists relative to the sun and relative to space. So everything which appears to us is dependent on a whole range of other appearances, and without the appearance of any of those things, things would not exist.
Mitchell: You said that the earth is an appearance. I would say that the earth presents an appearance. It's one of the earth's properties, when there are observers there, but it's a property which is independent of the earth's being.
David: So you're saying that the earth can exist independently of mind?
David: But this is an hypothesis on your part.
Kevin: This is actually meaningless without--
David: Well, let's first establish that it's an hypothesis.
Mitchell: Yes, because there are philosophers like Berkeley who hold that to "be" is to be perceived and that you couldn't have things which weren't being perceived--
David: So this idea of an independent existence is just an idea to help explain what we see around us. Now you were going to say it's meaningless, Kevin, but it's also irrational . . . same thing, at bottom.
Kevin: Well, it's an hypothesis, granted, but it holds no water because any kind of earth that we can conceive of has attributes and has properties, all of which appear to our senses--
Mitchell: No. If I conceive of the earth as containing an inordinately large number of atoms, then this is a property which does not appear to anyone.
Kevin: It appears to our mind.
Mitchell: But what if I stipulate that my hypothetical earth is not perceived by anyone, and it's part of the concept that it is not seen?
Kevin: Well, it's still perceived by your mind, isn't it.
David: It's an hypothesis, nothing more than that.
Mitchell: Well, this isn't even an hypothesis, since I'm not really advancing that the earth has these properties. There are observers who have seen the earth, and, according to my theory, the earth was there before it was seen, and it had properties in that time.
Kevin: But you're actually perceiving it. Let's use a slightly different example - the Universe itself. Now most people think of the Universe as having existed long before there was human life on this planet - and obviously the Universe existed before human life evolved. It seems likely the Universe existed before consciousness evolved. But the thing is we are conceiving of the Universe as having existed before there was consciousness, and it's that conceiving of existence which gives rise to existence. If no being ever conceives of existence, then existence never comes about.
David: So are you suggesting, Kevin, that if everybody suddenly believed that there was no Universe before human life, then that would be the reality?
Kevin: That would be the reality because reality is only what we talk about and what appears to us.
David: It sounds as though you're saying one minute there was a Big Bang fifteen billion years ago, and the next minute there was no Big Bang fifteen billion years ago, depending on our ideas of what happened back then.
Kevin: Yes, reality changes depending on what the mind informs us.
David: So there's no objective Big Bang? Is this what you're saying?
Kevin: There's none that we can know of. It all comes down to definitions again.
David: But that's not saying that there wasn't one - or are you saying something stronger? Are you saying that there can't be anything beyond the mind - whether it be existence or non-existence?
Kevin: There can't be anything independent of the mind.
David: Either Big Bang or not Big Bang.
Kevin: Even if we conceive of things which are independent of the mind, the very fact that we're conceiving of them makes them dependent, because they have no existence outside of our minds. Any world that we can conceive of exists inside our minds.
David: Well, people would argue that the Big Bang didn't depend on any human consciousness at all, because there were no humans back then. You know, it just exploded! Doesn't that defeat your argument?
Kevin: It actually agrees with my argument because they are imagining the Big Bang. They are coming up with the concept of "Big Bang"; they have the words "Big Bang"; they have an idea of what they mean; they perceive something in their visual cortex, presumably--
David: So you're saying that everything is an appearance, and we can't get beyond the appearances.
Kevin: That's right. I'm not saying that things don't exist. I'm saying that existence and non-existence are created by the mind. So, ultimately, you can't really say that things exist, and you can't really say they don't exist.
David: So what created the mind?
Kevin: It doesn't matter really, does it? The mind is just a concept.
David: But if you're saying it's an absolute truth that all things are created by mind, then the next obvious question is: "Where does mind come from?"
Kevin: Mind itself comes from mind.
David: So are you saying there's an infinite regression here?
Kevin: All we need to know is that things have causes. Mitchell, what do you think about cause and effect? Do you believe that everything has a cause? Have you given it any thought?
Mitchell: I think there are causes for some things but not for others.
Kevin: And what would be an example of something that doesn't have a cause?
Mitchell: The fact that there's something rather than nothing - or, as Leibniz put it, the Universe exists. There is something there. Reality exists.
David: The totality.
David: Right, but that couldn't really be classed as a thing, could it? Obviously, "everything" can't have a cause.
Mitchell: Well, it's a thing if you allow sets to be things, collections to be things.
David: But "everything" can't have a cause.
Mitchell: The original question was, "Do you think everything has a cause?" I'm saying no because the totality of things doesn't have a cause as far as I can see.
David: And I'm saying that this "thing" is not really a thing because there's nothing beyond it.
Mitchell: Well, there's nothing other than it.
David: Yes, it's infinite.
Mitchell: Well, that's an hypothesis.
David: No, by infinite I mean that there's nowhere where you can say that it ends.
Kevin: It's a definition. "Everything" by definition is infinite, because "everything" has no limit.
Mitchell: No, what about the things which don't exist, and situations which are never realized?
Kevin: Like I say, "everything" includes everything. It includes all possibilities. Anything which can be conceived of is included in the concept of "everything", and so it is by definition infinite. We can talk about "it", but it's not truly a thing.
Mitchell: Well, suppose that I'm talking about every actual thing - things which actually exist--
David: But what about the actual potentialities as well - the actual possibilities? You see, it just comes down to how you look at it. Kevin is talking about "everything" - nothing excluded at all.
Mitchell: Well, I think that the possibilities that aren't realized don't exist. The fact of the possibility exists, but it's not the thing itself.
David: So what's your point? You're trying to argue that the totality is a thing?
Mitchell: Yes, and that the totality does not have a cause. Now you seem willing to agree that it doesn't have a cause, but you say that the totality is not a "thing".
David: Yes, and because it's not a thing it doesn't have a cause.
Kevin: But there's a big difference between ordinary things which appear to us in everyday life - cups of coffee and microphones and so on - and the totality. Ordinary things have causes, obviously . . . well, I don't know . . . Mitchell, would you agree that ordinary things have causes? I'm not talking about the totality - just ordinary things in everyday life.
Mitchell: I would class that as an hypothesis.
Kevin: Give me an example of something which doesn't have a cause.
Mitchell: No, I'll give you an example of why I class this as an hypothesis. An example of a causal explanation in physics is that a thing drops because of the gravitational attraction. So you could have a completely law-abiding Universe which conforms to gravitational laws, and this would be a possible state of affairs - the way that the Universe could have been. But, by this principle of total uncertainty, the Universe could have had a blip in its program, so to speak. There could have been a period where the gravitational laws didn't operate. Now in that case you still would have had things occurring, but since the gravitational law doesn't hold universally, it doesn't seem you can say that mass is the cause of gravity - because if it was, then it would apply invariably.
David: Well, this new behaviour was caused by the blip.
Mitchell: No, the blip was the new behaviour. The blip was the period where the normal behaviour didn't occur. This is Hume's argument: instead of "cause", we have a constant conjunction of things.
Kevin: But remember there's two spheres of knowledge here. There's the empirical scientific knowledge where we can't say anything with certainty, but there's also the logical knowledge as well. Now have you given any thought to the idea that things logically have causes? Or do you think that things are logically independent of causes?
Mitchell: Well, I don't know if "cause" is the right term for logical relations. I mean, your logical truths - where something is true by definition--
Kevin: Well, let's take something like a cup. It is dependent on certain things; its existence is dependent on certain things. It is dependent on what makes it - whatever that may be. For example, it's made up of certain parts. Now I can divide a cup up into halves or quarters, and without those components the cup wouldn't exist. So an example of a logical cause would be to say that the parts of the cup are the cause of the cup, because the cup wouldn't exist without its parts.
Mitchell: Well, I call that a precondition, but that's perhaps a terminological distinction.
David: If you define "cause" in an absolute sense, and in a broadly sweeping sense, that something depends on something else, then without one thing the other thing can't exist. So without the parts of a cup there can't be a cup.
Mitchell: It's not a sufficient cause, though. You could have the parts without the cup.
David: Right, but it's still a necessary cause.
Kevin: Also, a cup can't exist without its attributes. Without all the things which appear to us--
David: The solidness and the colour and so on.
Kevin: Yes, without those things the cup wouldn't exist.
Mitchell: Yes, so long as those attributes are part of the definition of "cup".
David: So the attributes are a necessary cause. Then would you agree, Mitchell, that everything must be like this? Things must depend on their parts, their attributes, space, and so on.
Mitchell: Well, the interesting thing here is that if all those things count as causes, then we have this question why does everything exist? Why is there something there?
David: Why the totality?
Mitchell: Well, perhaps its not the totality, but just the fact that something exists. That's more where I'd focus.
David: We should look at this problem, because it's a common one: Why is there something and not nothing?
Kevin: Well, let's go back again and let's stop talking about "everything" as being a thing. Because it's a valid question to ask why a particular thing exists - why a coffee cup exists - but it's not valid to ask why "everything" is, as it has nothing to be compared to.
Mitchell: Except for that which does not exist.
Kevin: Well, that which doesn't exist, doesn't exist! Non- existence is just a concept anyway and is therefore part of the totality.
Mitchell: The concept of "non-existence" exists, but non- existence itself doesn't exist.
Kevin: . . . Non-existence doesn't exist . . . ?
Mitchell: By definition.
David: Phew! That's a brain teaser!
Kevin: No, we can't think about what doesn't exist.
David: This "non-existence", since it can be conceived of, necessarily has some kind of existence.
Kevin: The totality, by definition, includes everything that can be conceived of - including "non-existence".
Mitchell: I will qualify what I said, in that contextual non- existence does exist in the sense that it happens. Hypothetically, there are no elephants in this booth with us, so there is a form of non-existence there, in a manner of speaking.
David: Right, so there's an infinite number of non-existences in this room, because there's an infinite number of forms that aren't here.
Mitchell: But again, it's a manner of speaking.
David: That's right, it's a concept that we use.
Mitchell: But in the sense of total non-existence - that is, nothing at all existing anywhere - I would say that is not the case.
David: So what's your question?
Kevin: No, no, I think Mitchell was saying that non-existence is something separate from the totality.
David: Or that there can be such a state as non-existence - total non-existence.
Mitchell: Well, if you could establish that there couldn't be - well, then you've answered Leibniz's question. So why couldn't there have been nothing?
David: Because the very concept of nothing means "absence of something". You couldn't have the nothing without the something, otherwise "nothing" would be meaningless.
Mitchell: So "nothing" is the same as "absence of something" . . . ?
David: That's what it means, by definition.
Mitchell: So if there was nothing there would be something. . . . ?
David: Yes, so we've proved Leibniz wrong there.
Kevin: And the totality includes both of those polar opposites. Both nothing and something, or existence and non- existence, are included in the totality.
David: So I wouldn't regard the totality, or Reality, as being either a something or a nothing. They're both wrong. So the whole question of "Why something?" is wrong. It's a meaningless question because it's not a "something".
Kevin: You can't explain the totality by anything because anything which could explain it would actually be part of the totality. It's like the question, "Where did God come from?" I mean, if God was created by someone then the one who created Him must be God. And then you can ask the question where did this God come from . . . The totality includes everything, so you can't ask the question--
Mitchell: Well, you can.
Kevin: You can, but you can't ask it rationally.
Mitchell: So this is why I say there's something without a cause. There is a fact without a cause, a fact without an explanation.
David: Yes, as long as you don't conceive of it as a thing.
Mitchell: That's why I call it a fact - a fact which has no explanation.
Kevin: No, you can't conceive of it as a fact, either.
Mitchell: Why not? There is the fact that something exists. I'm not saying that the fact is everything, but that it's a fact about reality.
Kevin: The totality itself is not a fact.
Mitchell: I'm not saying the totality is a fact. I'm just saying this is a fact about reality - and the fact is that something exists.
Kevin: Okay, but you can't say it exists. You can't say the totality exists.
Mitchell: Well, I didn't actually say the totality exists, just that something exists. But why can't I say the totality exists?
Kevin: Well, like I was saying before, we can say that things exist in a scientific way, and we can investigate why they exist for practical purposes. For any object in reality we can ask these questions quite validly.
Mitchell: Do you mean, "Does it exist or not?"
Kevin: No, I mean why it exists. It exists because we can darn well see the thing and it plays a part in our lives - therefore it exists.
Mitchell: Ah, but wait. If we see a cup, perhaps we are justified in assuming there is something there. But our concept of the cup could be wrong.
Kevin: It doesn't matter. Whatever appears to us we can validly ask questions about.
Kevin: But the totality itself doesn't appear to us . . .
David: It's an abstract concept.
Kevin: Yes, it's an abstraction, and because it is infinite - has no limits, and has nothing outside it - there's no non-existence outside of it, there's no consciousness outside of it. It is everything. We cannot sanely ask the question: Where did it come from? Because it's not an "it".
David: Likewise, you can't even ask for an explanation. The whole thing of requiring an explanation is wrong. The totality transcends all these things.
Kevin: I think we should have a short break here to catch our breath.
David: What have we got?
Kevin: Some thinking music.
[ MUSIC BREAK ]
David: Now, Mitchell, are you suggesting that the totality - which doesn't have an explanation, obviously, because causes go back forever - are you saying that we're lacking knowledge here, or that there is an inherent flaw in the totality? Is there a flaw in the scheme of things concerning the fact that we can't explain the totality?.
Mitchell: No, I'm not saying it's a flaw. I'm just saying it's a fact.
David: But you're still asking, "Why something? Why this process of cause and effect?"
David: Now I'd say that this is meaningless, because when we ask the question "Why?", then we're really asking what causes something. When we ask, "Why is the cup here?", we're really asking what caused the cup to be here. So when you say, "Why this cause and effect process?", you're really asking what causes the cause and effect process.
David: And you can see at once that the question falls on its face.
Mitchell: Well, because we can't conceive of an answer.
David: No, because it's logically invalid. It's logically meaningless because you're trying to explain the process of cause and effect via a cause.
Mitchell: So, in other words, there is no cause for the existence of cause and effect?
David: And no not-cause. The whole thing is meaningless. So the totality of cause and effect transcends every attempt to even begin to ask this question. It's wrong to even begin to ask where it came from or why it's here.
Mitchell: Well, I have to say it sounds like obfuscation to me. I mean, "It's wrong to even begin to ask the question."!
David: Yes, it's logically meaningless. We're not evading anything here. It's just a logical truth that the totality of cause and effect can't have any outside cause, because whatever you postulate as an outside cause is part of that process of cause and effect.
Mitchell: Yes, but "cause" seems to mean reasons as well. You know, a cause is the reason why it is so.
Mitchell: And so we go back to this "something exists", and there's no reason why.
David: What exists?
Mitchell: The cup, the world, consciousness . . .
David: Yes, but not the totality.
Mitchell: The totality doesn't exist? All the things which make it up exist, but the totality itself doesn't exist?
David: Well, obviously - I mean, ultimately - even the things within, which we call existing, have no ultimate existence.
Kevin: Let's go back to that question before. All the things which exist inside the totality exist because they exist relative to other things. But when you are talking about the totality itself, there are no other things. That's why the totality is composed of things which exist, but the totality itself cannot be said to exist. Existence is purely existence relative to something else. So even though it might sound superficially unbelievable that the totality is indeed composed of lots of things which exist, but which doesn't exist itself, nonetheless, this is logically, necessarily, the case.
Mitchell: I don't believe in this relative existence. An existence is an absolute thing. A thing either is or it isn't.
David: Right, and so?
Mitchell: Well, Kevin was saying that things which exist exist relative to other things. They may exist in certain relations to them, but that's not the same thing as there being relative existence.
Kevin: No, it's impossible, logically, for a thing to not exist relative to other things, because if there's any kind of a boundary perceived - it doesn't matter what you're conceiving of; a cup, for example, has a perceived boundary - if there's any kind of limitation to the thing . . . I mean, absolutely any concept at all has a boundary to it, and outside of that boundary is something else - something other than the thing that is perceived. So whenever something exists there is always something other than itself. For example, just postulate a thing called "A", then immediately there's "not-A". When there's a number two, there's also a number one and a number three. The number two doesn't exist without the number one and the number three. So in this way all of these things exist relatively.
Mitchell: Well, no, I disagree. There are relations between them. "A" is not "not- A". "Not-A" is not "A". One is not two. Two is not three.
David: But the two things must arise together. You can see that if there is no "not- A", then there can't be an "A". They're dependent on each other for their existence.
Kevin: There must be one for there to be the other and vice- versa. So there's always going to be at least two things.
David: So what you're saying, Kevin, is that nothing can exist in its own right?
David: And you disagree with this, Mitchell?
Mitchell: Well, it depends by what we mean by "in its own right".
David: I mean completely independent, where it doesn't depend on anything whatsoever for its existence.
Kevin: So it doesn't even depend on there being something other than itself.
Mitchell: Well, the totality seems to be the one thing that gets along without anything else.
David: That's right.
Kevin: And that's why we say it doesn't exist.
Mitchell: But if we could focus on something more concrete, like the cup. Since we are talking about hypothetical situations, we're saying that the "cup" can't be without "everything other than the cup". Now I put it to you that this cup is here in this world. Could the world have got along without, say, one of the atoms in this desk?
Kevin: Look at it this way. Everything in this world which is other than this cup - let's give it a name and call it "not-cup"; that's everything in the world which is not the cup, and it doesn't matter what it actually is, for this illustration - the fact is we have two things here. We have "cup" and we have "not-cup". Those two things are intimately related to each other. So much so that one would not exist without the other.
Mitchell: Although "not-cup" could be different from the way it actually is?
Kevin: It doesn't matter. Ignore what "not-cup" actually is. The fact is we've given it a name - it exists - and the cup exists. So these two are intimately related.
Mitchell: Okay, so let us suppose I say there is no possible world in which there is a cup without there being anything else. What's the significance of that conclusion?
Kevin: Well, it means that all things which exist, exist relative to other things.
Mitchell: Not that they have relations to one another, like this one is nearer than that one?
Kevin: Relative just means dependent. The cup doesn't exist unless there is something which is not the cup. You see, it's important to understand the difference between this dualistic knowledge, which is the realm of science, and ultimate knowledge, which is the realm of the highest philosophy.
Mitchell: Well, in the case of the cup, what is it that the cup is dependent on? You said it doesn't matter whether "not-cup" can change or not, but I think it does if you're trying to be precise about what it is that the cup depends on.
Kevin: Well, "not-cup" actually can't change, because it's just one thing, and we've given it a name - it's one object. It's a logical entity. It's a black box. You don't need to know what's inside it.
David: It's just for the purpose of illustrating this duality. We don't need to know anything more about it because we're just concentrating on this division of "cup" and "not-cup".
Kevin: Reality is really this simple. Boundaries are wherever we choose to draw them. I mean, if we're really thirsty, all that exists is the coffee that we're drinking or the water that we're drinking. The rest of the Universe doesn't exist as far as we're concerned - and so in reality it doesn't exist. The only thing which exists for a man who is dying of thirst is water. And that's reality. He doesn't care how galaxies are changing in a possible other Universe.
Mitchell: Or even in his own. But they are still there changing.
Kevin: Only if he can conceive of them. All of these things are not independent of concepts. They can't exist without concepts.
David: So all the complexity that we see around us is composed of this simple duality.
Kevin: In the short time we have left I think we should talk about the importance of the mind in placing boundaries on things. You know how it's the fashion these days for scientists, physicists especially, to be interested in this Theory of Everything. This theory may come in a simple form, as a simple formula, or it may come as a twenty volume set of theories which are interrelated - but I really think the whole thing is a joke. Because depending on how we want to look at the world, depending on how we want to categorize things, depending on where we want to place the boundaries, everything changes. For example, someone may devote their whole life to coming up with a Theory of Everything - a twenty volume set - but that person has certain goals and values in life which will influence where he places boundaries, in what he chooses to call a coffee cup, for example.
David: But that doesn't change the empirical properties of what we call entities. We can look at a cup in a thousand different ways, but it's still going to sit there and hold water.
Mitchell: Indeed. The true Theory of Everything should tell you the results of every possible way of drawing boundaries.
Kevin: Well, in that case the Theory of Everything would have to include an infinite number of volumes of books, and it would actually have to include the whole Universe itself.
Mitchell: No, not if it can be reduced to a simple formula. Because, in that case, what you do is work out the implications of this formula for a particular way of drawing boundaries.
Kevin: Yes, but you see, any formula is itself a set of boundaries. No matter what the formula contains, it contains symbols which refer to something.
Mitchell: Okay, so the formula is supposed to refer to reality. So it may say something like: there exists these types of particles which interact in these ways--
Kevin: Regardless, it doesn't matter what things are referred to, somebody else can look at those same things and they will see something different, depending on the way that they're looking at it, depending on what they're interested in. They may be a biologist, or a sociologist, or a psychologist--
Mitchell: But all those perceptions, all those views which this person develops . . . if they are developed and they are seen, then they must be part of the history of the Universe. And therefore if this Theory of Everything truly describes everything, they must fall within the scope of that description.
David: But the formula would be describing finite things, like particles, and just the fact that you're conceiving of these particles creates gaps in your knowledge. You're actually creating the gaps by dividing the Universe into finite packages.
Kevin: You're narrowing your vision so that you're seeing the world in this particular way.
David: It's a bit like Chaos theory in science, when you're trying to measure, for example, the future weather patterns. When you measure what the weather is doing at any moment in time you have to draw a line somewhere. You can only zero-in to a certain degree of accuracy, in which case there's always a little bit of error in the measurements, because you can't be one hundred percent accurate. For example, when you try to measure the pressure of the atmosphere you can only do so to a certain degree of precision. Now the error multiplies over time, and that's why the weather becomes unpredicatable when you look more than a couple of weeks into the future.
Kevin: And it's the same with any "Theory of Everything". There are still going to be things which appear and which have to be taken account of, and those things will have inherent errors in them--
Mitchell: Which things?
Kevin: Whatever things the theory is about. The theory is going to be about "things" - it doesn't matter what things they are.
Mitchell: What are the inherent errors in a theory? David, you talked about creating gaps in our knowledge by our postulating particles . . .
David: Or things. Finite things.
Mitchell: Okay, so we create a gap in our knowledge by postulating anything at all?
Mitchell: And how is that? It seems a harmless enough act to postulate something: one is just allowing that, maybe, this "thing" is there, along with whatever else one already thinks is there.
David: Well, it's useful for most purposes. For most practical purposes, conceiving of things as existing is good enough to get by in life. It's good enough for most scientific purposes. But when you come to the Theory of Everything--
Mitchell: It would have to tell us all the truths that there are.
David: Right. So that's where it breaks down.
David: Because you're trying to cut up what is infinite and put it into something finite. So it creates the gaps.
Kevin: And it relates to what I was saying before about how you can place these boundaries. You can cut up the Universe in an infinite number of different ways.
Mitchell: Well, you might not be able to. If the Universe has finitely many constituents, then there will only be a finite number of ways you can cut it up.
Kevin: No, when I say "cut up" I'm not talking about materially cutting the Universe up, but mentally cutting the Universe up. Because, in the real world, we don't cut things up materially - we cut them up mentally.
Mitchell: So there are infinitely many possible - what? - perceptions, opinions?
Kevin: There are an infinitely large number of ways of viewing the world which are valid.
David: Not scientifically . . . ?
Kevin: Yes, scientifically. A way of viewing the world is valid if it helps us to achieve our goals. That's what valid means, basically.
Mitchell: Valid means "not corresponds to truth, or what is correct, but what helps us to achieve our goals"?
Kevin: What is correct doesn't matter. In science, that which is correct doesn't really matter. Science is concerned about what works. And what works is not necessarily what is correct.
Mitchell: There can be infinitely many valid points of view, but there's no inherent contradiction between that and the Theory of Everything, which is correct in every particular.
Kevin: But there are in fact an infinite number of equally valid Theories of Everything. And depending on what a person's values are, and depending on what their goals are in life, they will have a different Theory of Everything.
Mitchell: But if there's something which they don't know about, and it isn't taken account of in their Theory of Everything, then they're wrong.
David: Well, you could say that one Theory of Everything is: "God created everything".
Mitchell: Well, that's a theory. But if God didn't, then it's wrong.
Kevin: Another Theory of Everything is cause and effect. "Everything has a cause".
Mitchell: And if there's something without a cause, then it's wrong.
Kevin: Exactly. But, as we've discussed, it's impossible for something to exist without a cause. I know you say that the totality is without a cause, but then the totality is not a thing. So I find it funny that the scientists are spending millions of dollars searching for the Theory of Everything and we already have it! We've known for thousands of years what the Theory of Everything is - and, of course, it is the fact that everything has a cause.
Mitchell: But it doesn't tell us any particulars.
Kevin: It does if you extrapolate.
Mitchell: Cause and effect is part of the Theory of Everything at best.
Kevin: No, it is the one kernel Theory of Everything. And what you'll find is that, as science comes closer and closer to a Theory of Everything, if it does, what you will discover is that the Theory of Everything will come closer and closer to the theory of cause and effect. And when they finally concentrate it down to the ultimate kernel, and the formula gets smaller and smaller--
David: Ockham's razor: pht! pht! pht! pht!
Kevin: Yes, with Ockham's razor, cause and effect will be the result. I guarantee it.
Mitchell: Well, there will be cause and effect in the theory presumably.
Kevin: No, it will be just the concept of cause and effect. That's all it will be.
Mitchell: So there's no need to say that there are human beings, that there are particles, that there are fifteen billion years of history in the Universe?
Kevin: Cause and effect is fundamental to all those things.
Mitchell: Can you deduce the existence of human beings from the notion that cause and effect operates, and nothing else?
Mitchell: You can get human beings out of that? You don't need any empirical knowledge? You don't need to observe anything?
Kevin: That's right. Anything which exists you can arrive at simply with the concept of cause and effect, for the reason that I stated before, that everything exists relative to some other thing. For example, human beings exist relative to what is not human beings. So regardless of anything else . . . Ockham's razor . . . get rid of all the irrelevant things . . .
Mitchell: Can you show me how it is that this cup exists just from the law of cause and effect?
Kevin: I already have, because I've explained that without everything that is not the cup, the cup would not exist.
Mitchell: But you don't know that "not-cup" exists.
David: By conceiving of the cup, "not-cup" immediately arises.
Mitchell: You're talking about conceiving of things.
David: Well, we're talking about a cup, so we're all conceiving of a cup.
Kevin: The fact that we have a word "cup" means that the cup exists.
David: Yes, and so "not-cup" is the sole cause of "cup".
Kevin: Yes. I don't think Mitchell likes the idea of these logical truths. We're flipping backwards and forwards between scientific truths and logical truths, as though they were somehow related - which, of course, they are. But most people in the world today think that these things are completely isolated. And in universities, especially, you won't find anyone who considers there to be true relations between empirical science and logical reasoning.
Mitchell: Well, I think it's unfortunate that you include among your logical truths such things as "things neither exist nor not exist", and, "things exist only by virtue of our happening to perceive them". You're giving logic a bad name here.
David: Why is that?
Mitchell: Because they don't follow logically. The idea that things exists and does not exist violates the idea of the excluded middle, which is an old principle of logic.
David: The law of contradiction, you mean?
Mitchell: No, it's not a contradiction because you haven't actually affirmed anything. You've just said it's neither this nor that.
David: Yes, so it's just negating delusions.
Mitchell: It's negating everything.
David: It's negating false concepts about existence.
Kevin: There's nothing illogical about negating everything which is false. So if I said that the Universe, or the totality, neither exists and nor not exists, that's not an illogical statement. It's just a negation of what is false.
Mitchell: And of what is true. Because you said that the Universe does not exist as part of the statement.
Kevin: I said that neither of them are true.
Mitchell: Yes, which means that neither of them individually is true. I would say that it's a valid deduction that if the universe neither exists nor not exists, then the Universe does not exist.
David: That's not valid, because we've already denied that the Universe doesn't exist.
Mitchell: Your statement was that the Universe neither exists nor does it not exist--
Kevin: Stop! There's nowhere further to go.
Mitchell: I'm not allowed to draw the logical conclusion?
Kevin: There is no conclusion. There's nowhere left to go. It's the end of the journey.
Mitchell: I call it a cul-de-sac.
David: I call it liberation, actually! It's funny, isn't it . . .
Kevin: We've a couple of minutes left. Mitchell, do you want to become immortal?
Mitchell: Sure, so long as life remains pleasing.
Kevin: What is it, do you think, that would become immortal?
Mitchell: Well, it's not about becoming immortal; it's what I already am would continue to exist, and presumably change, radically.
Kevin: Right, now the fact that you change all the time - from moment to moment you're changing, and in fact everything about you is changing--
Kevin: What isn't changing about you?
Mitchell: My constituents, the fact that I exist in space and time--
Kevin: You mean the concept of your existence in space and time.
Mitchell: Well, the concept isn't part of me.
David: So what is this "you"? What is this something that doesn't exist as a concept?
Mitchell: It's the physical individual.
David: And what's that?
Mitchell: It's a system of particles.
Kevin: But that's in continual flux, isn't it?
Mitchell: This is part of my research. You want to be able to establish an absolute criterion as to whether a particular particle is part of a system or not. If you can do that unambiguously then there's no problem in there being flux, so long as the boundaries are always quite distinct.
Kevin: Right, so let's, for example, take a fountain coming out of a lake. Now the fountain has a certain form. We have a name for the thing, and we call it a "fountain". And yet all the things which compose the fountain are continually changing from moment to moment. Do you think your body is exactly like this?
Mitchell: I think my body is like a fountain, in the sense that there's flux through it.
Kevin: Is there any difference?
Mitchell: Well, a fountain's made of water.
Kevin: Do you think there's any more permanence to you than there is to a fountain?
David: Well, we'll have to finish up there. Thanks Mitchell.
Mitchell: Thank you.
David: That was an interesting conversation. Kevin and I will be back next week. See you.