Existence of things – Ontological questions

unfolding (Photo credit: ecstaticist)

“Just the two of us”. This song by Bill_Withers encapsulates the idea of a pair of people (male and female from the context) and the separation of the pair from everyone around them. The lyrics assert that “we can make it if we try”, although what “it” refers to is not made apparent. It’s a pleasant, smooth song and serves well enough to introduce my post for this week. I like it.

Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair
Eggistentialism 1.5 or Three of a Perfect Pair (Photo credit: bitzcelt)

The idea of a couple or pair is a concept that acts to separate or compartmentalise one object and another related object from all possible instances of the class of object. Eleven and twelve. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. POTUS and FLOTUS. Mercury and Venus.

It can also relate members of one class of object with another class of object. Seven and fourteen (the seventh natural number and the seventh even natural number).  28th and January. “x” and “y”.

Complete coloring sample of Clebsch Graph with...
Complete coloring sample of Clebsch Graph with 8 colors (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can also be a generator of other objects. The number one and the operation of addition leads to two, three, four and so on for ever. (OK, I missed a huge chunk of detail there and it is nowhere near as simple as that).

Another twoism is the concept of opposites. Black and white, top and bottom, man and woman. OK, that last concept is a bit blurry these days, but everyone (with the exception of a few genetically different individuals) is genetically male or female. XY or XX.

DNA, human male chromosomes
DNA, human male chromosomes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The big twoism is the concept of existence/non-existence. Is there a river of lava flowing through my garden? No, there isn’t. Such a river does not exist. But if I lived in Iceland or in Hawaii, or in another location near a volcano, such a river might exist. My cat Madonna doesn’t exist, but my dog Ben does.

This seems such a definite concept, but looked at a bit closer, and it begins to get fuzzy. There is in fact a river of lava flowing through my garden! Eh? Well let me start up Minecraft and the world where I’ve been building a garden, with a lava river flowing through it.

Minecraft/DwarfFortress Entrance with Lava Trap
Minecraft/DwarfFortress Entrance with Lava Trap (Photo credit: colmmcsky)

Of course you might argue that the Minecraft world doesn’t really exist. But it does! It exists in Minecraft, and Minecraft exists in this world, so the Minecraft lava river exists in this world. If A exists in B, and B exists in C then A exists in C.

Actually the Minecraft world only exists in my thoughts. I haven’t built a garden in Minecraft and I haven’t got a river of lava flowing through it, but by the logic above, the river of lava exists in my mind in a Minecraft world, my mind exists in the real world, so the river of lava exists. If A exists in B, and B exists in C then A exists in C.

English: illustration for the transitive relat...
English: illustration for the transitive relation Magyar: illusztráció a tranzitivitáshoz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, some people might have issues with that logic. Does the lava river really exist? Well, I maintain that it does, but it is necessary to specify that it exists in my mind. Anything that I can think of exists in my mind and since my mind is part of the real world, “anything that I can think of” exists in the real world.

There is a difficulty here. Consider the sentence “The present King of France is bald“.  The issue is whether or not this sentence is true. It would appear not, since there is no present King of France, but the negation “It is not true that the present King of France is bald” is also (apparently) not true. The difficulty is that there is no present King of France, since France is a republic.

Portrait of Louis XIV
Portrait of Louis XIV (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However “the present King of France” exists in my mind, and the mind of anyone who reads the sentence. The King of France in my mind may be bald or he may not, so the sentence may be true or false, and the difficulty does not arise. Provided we consider the sentence as applying to a mental image of the King of France.

The King of France, bald-headed or not, exists in my mind if I consider him, and my mind exists in the real world so in that sense he exists. What though, of the existence of things that exist in the real world, but differently in one’s mind?

Paradoxes, I
Paradoxes, I (Photo credit: Newtown grafitti)

The British TV Series “Call the Midwife” is set in the 1950s. It is obviously not the 50s. At the time Queen Elizabeth was about to ascend the throne, or had already done so. Does Jenny Lee live at Nonnatus House? Since neither exist in the real world, my argument above applies. However,  consider the question “Has Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne yet?” We have no difficulty in ascertaining that the question is most likely about a fictitious or historical event, since it is well known that she has been Queen for a long time.

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X
Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I suggest that the same is true of the bald/not bald King of France. We know that there is no present King of France so can conclude that the King of France in question must be a historical or fictional figure. If I have no preconceptions about the fictitious King of France, I might envisage him in ‘period’ costume with a huge powdered wig (is that in period? I’m not sure), so I would probably guess that he was shaven-headed if not bald. But you might disagree. Your “present King of France” could sport a full head of hair.

One Young Man in a Powdered Wig
One Young Man in a Powdered Wig (Photo credit: Emily Barney)

But what of things that don’t exist in the (loosely speaking) real world, and no one has ever thought about? Do they exist in any sense? I believe that the Universe is deterministic, so any future event or thing, is implied by the current state of the Universe, so if anyone will think of something, or if some event happens in the future, then it exists in the present, and not even simply as a potential. If the Universe is deterministic, it must happen.

I was going to talk about Schrödinger’s cat in the context of existence but he was squeezed out by the present King of France. Maybe I’ll get to the cat in another post.

English: Diagram of Schrodinger's cat theory. ...
English: Diagram of Schrodinger’s cat theory. Roughly based on Image:Schroedingerscat3.jpg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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